Preview: Rays return home for first series against Blue Jays
TV: FOX Sports Sun
TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Even with a 13-4 loss in the second half of a doubleheader on Thursday night, the Toronto Blue Jays come into Tropicana Field with momentum going into a later-than-usual first series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Before the nightcap loss to Cleveland to finish that series, Toronto (18-14) had won four of its last five games, including a 13-11 win in extra innings earlier Thursday. The Jays come in well behind the Red Sox and Yankees, pacing the American League East, but ahead of the Rays and last-place Orioles.
The Rays (13-16) had bounced back nicely — after a 4-13 start, they won eight straight, against four different teams, to scrape to within one game of .500 baseball. But they’ve dropped three of four since, all by one run, falling to 5-10 in one-run games on the season.
The Jays will send left-hander J.A. Happ, off to a strong start at age 35, to the mound. Happ is 4-1 with a 3.50 ERA, and has quality starts in three of his last four outings — all with at least eight strikeouts. He’s not yet back to the form that saw him go 20-4 in 2016, and that’s the last time he faced the Rays as well.
Happ faced Tampa Bay twice that year — the first was a six-inning gem, with seven strikeouts and no runs allowed. A month later in September, he lasted only 2 2/3 innings, throwing 85 pitches and giving up six hits and three runs in a no-decision.
Happ is 3-3 with a 5.08 ERA in 14 games (13 starters) versus Tampa Bay.
The Rays, who continue to battle multiple injuries in their starting rotation, get a spot start from right-hander Andrew Kittredge, after the team had initially indicated rookie Ryan Yarbrough would start.
Kittredge, 1-2 with a 6.23 ERA, pitched one scoreless, hitless inning Tuesday and again Wednesday, throwing 12 and 11 pitches, so it will literally be a bullpen day for the Rays, with Kittredge capped at about 30 pitches according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Kittredge has faced Toronto once in his two years in the majors — he threw 1 2/3 innings of scoreless, one-hit relief in August in a 7-6 loss to the Jays. Yarbrough had been sent to Triple-A Durham on Sunday, only to be recalled when Yonny Chirinos went on the disabled list with a forearm strain. Kittredge was announced as a replacement after Wednesday’s game.
The schedule has been oddly unbalanced for the Rays, who face the Jays for the first time this season, yet they’ve already faced Boston 10 times.
The hot bat to watch for Toronto is Yangervis Solarte, whose 11th inning grand-slam Thursday night capped a 5-for-6 night with six RBIs, part of a 17-hit night for the Jays.
Tampa Bay has gotten a team-best 22 RBIs from Denard Span, and another newcomer — first baseman C.J. Cron — leads the way with seven home runs and 30 hits. Little-known Joey Wendle, acquired to play second base, is second on the team with a .316 average.