Preview: Sunday’s showdown gives Rays chance to split series with Mariners

TV: FOX Sports Sun

TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays ended an eight-game losing streak Saturday, and can bounce back with a chance to split their four-game series against the Seattle Mariners in Sunday’s finale.

“We’ve been battling together, taking losses together, so getting this win is uplifting for everybody,” Rays outfielder Mallex Smith said after a 7-3 win at Tropicana Field.

The Rays (29-34) are getting contributions from newcomers — rookie first baseman Jake Bauers produced his first major-league hit in Saturday’s win, joining a wave of promotions as the franchise puts its eye more squarely on the future.

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On Sunday, that will include pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, who has pitched well in his first two starts since returning from Tommy John surgery.

Eovaldi threw six no-hit, shutout innings in his Rays debut, then gave up four runs in five innings in his second start against the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, putting him at 1-1 with a 3.27 ERA. He has strong numbers against Seattle — a 0.75 ERA in two career starts with 10 strikeouts and one run in 12 innings, but those outings were in 2012 and 2014.

Seattle will start James Paxton, who hasn’t taken a loss since his first start of the season. He has a win or no-decision in his last 12 outings.

Paxton (5-1, 2.95 ERA) is best known for a no-hitter on May 8. He has gone four straight starts allowing two earned runs or less, and like Eovaldi, has a solid history against the Rays with a 2-0 record and a 3.00 ERA from outings in 2013 and 2016.

The Rays broke out of an eight-game skid Saturday by beating another pitcher who traditionally owned them in Seattle’s Felix Hernandez.

The Mariners had significant momentum with 16 wins in 20 games entering Saturday, and will now look to bounce back as the series wraps up.

“We didn’t really score enough anyway to really help him out,” catcher Mike Zunino said of Seattle’s offense Saturday.

Tampa Bay had gone 39 innings without a lead, so the win helps reset things after they’d matched their longest losing streak of the season.

The Rays have struggled to keep starting pitching healthy and consistent, and if Eovaldi can become a consistent pitcher as Saturday starter Blake Snell has, Tampa Bay can be much less reliant on its bullpen as it has been.

“We needed that stopper performance,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We got it from him. We had some good at-bats against Felix and that ultimately led to a win to snap out of this funk.”

Seattle, leading the American League West, will return home for its next seven games against the Los Angeles Angels and the Boston Red Sox.

The Rays will resume their pursuit of a .500 record with three home games against the Toronto Blue Jays. After that, seven of their next 10 games are against the New York Yankees, so it’s crucial that the Rays can build confidence with positive momentum on Sunday and at home against Toronto.