ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Two teams working to bounce back from rough starts will meet this weekend as the Tampa Bay Rays play host to the Philadelphia Phillies in an early interleague series at Tropicana Field.
Philadelphia (6-5) has rebounded from a 1-4 start, winning five of six under first-year manager Gabe Kapler, who finished his career with the Rays in 2009-10.
“I think our guys are fighting. They’re battling. They’re grinding,” Kapler said after Wednesday’s win in 12 innings over the Cincinnati Reds. “They’re definitely coming together and working real hard to look out for each other, standing shoulder to shoulder. I’m really glad for our players. They’re doing their jobs. They’re coming up in big situations and getting big hits.”
Outfielder Rhys Hoskins, who finished last season with 18 home runs in 170 at-bats as a late callup, has continued where he left off, leading the team with a .364 average, to go with two home runs and nine RBIs.
As a team, Philadelphia is hitting just .221, and it’s third in the majors with 11 steals but also third with 11 errors in an up-and-down first two weeks of the season.
The Rays (3-9) have also reset themselves after an eight-game losing streak, largely against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. They took two of three games against the Chicago White Sox, the loss coming on a late blown lead that spoiled what would have been a confidence-building sweep.
“We had our opportunities, there’s no doubt,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said after Wednesday’s 2-1 loss that saw the team leave 32 runners on base in the three-game series.
Tampa Bay’s bullpen has had a rough start, leading the majors with six losses, but their 4.64 ERA could be worse. The Rays, battling injuries in their rotation, can only hope to get a different look from Friday starter Jacob Faria.
Faria (0-1) has a 14.29 ERA in two starts, and his last was his worst — 73 pitches in just 1 2/3 innings, giving up eight runs, five hits and five walks.
The 24-year-old right-hander went 5-4 with a 3.43 ERA as a rookie last season, and this is his first outing against the Phillies. He pitched well in his only previous interleague appearance, holding Milwaukee to one run in six innings with nine strikeouts in a hard-luck loss.
Philadelphia starter Vince Velasquez (1-1, 5.19 ERA) can only hope to get the run support he got Sunday, when the Phillies cruised to a 20-1 win over the Miami Marlins. Velasquez held Miami to one run and four hits in his six innings.
A win Friday would match Velasquez’s season total from all 2017 — he went 2-7 a year ago with a 5.13 ERA. He has never faced the Rays and is 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA for his career in interleague outings.
The Rays will be glad to be home in climate-controlled Tropicana Field after a cold trip that saw snow and near-freezing temperatures. The smallest difference could help them — they’re 2-6 in one-run games already in 2018.