ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays are mired in the worst offensive slump in their history, scoring eight runs in eight games with five shutout losses in that stretch.
Now they have to face Cleveland’s Corey Kluber.
The Rays (59-59) are back at .500 for the first time in nearly two months — they were 35-35 on June 16 — and as they struggle to stay in the American League wild-card chase, they’ll close out a three-game series with the Indians against another All-Star pitcher.
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“More of the same. I don’t have any explanation,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said after Saturday’s 3-0 loss, their second straight shutout against Cleveland. “We are in an offensive funk. It is what it is. We are going to get out of it eventually. We need to turn things around. I think the guys know that. … Get ready to face a good pitcher in Corey Kluber tomorrow.”
Kluber is 10-3 with a 2.65 ERA, coming off back-to-back complete games, the last a three-hit, one-run gem in a win over Colorado. Kluber has struck out at least 11 batters in five straight starts as well.
Kluber is making his eighth career start against the Rays, with a 2.23 ERA and somehow only a 3-2 career record. He last faced the Rays in June 2016, tossing a three-hit shutout with nine strikeouts.
Cleveland’s dominance on the mound has also gotten an assist behind the plate — Roberto Perez not only called a strong game on Saturday but threw out a runner trying to steal third base, taking away a potential scoring threat. He worked with Mike Clevinger in taking away the Rays’ bats again on Saturday.
“They both had a plan, they followed it and executed it, and that’s how you get wins and how you throw shutouts,” Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor said, “by following your catcher and executing the pitches that you have to execute.”
The Rays, meanwhile, send rookie Austin Pruitt, who has moved from the bullpen and the minors in a recent rash of injuries to Tampa Bay starters. Pruitt is 6-3 but carries a 5.14 ERA. He pitched well in his last start, holding Boston to one run in six innings, getting the Red Sox to go 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
Pruitt has fared much better as a starter than a reliever. His ERA in the bullpen was 6.91 in 17 appearances, but as a starter it’s 2.66. He has made four starts and held opponents to one run or fewer in three of them.
Pruitt has never faced the Indians, but this will be the third All-Star he has faced in four starts, joining Houston’s Dallas Keuchel and Boston’s Chris Sale.
“Good pitching and us not having our timing at the plate right now — those two things happening at one time, you are going to spiral offensively, and I think that’s what we’ve done here in the last five, six games,” Cash said. “It’s unfortunate, but we have to have to bounce back somehow.”