Rays Bats Come Alive; Reward Snell’s Performance and Fans’ Patience

An offensive explosion was just what the Rays–and their fans–needed

The bad news continues to pile up for the Rays.  Before the game, it was announced that Kevin Kiermaier would head to the 10-day DL with a torn ligament in his right thumb.  The injury happened as a result of a head-first slide into second base where his hand caught the base in an uncomfortable way.  Surgery has been scheduled, and the center fielder will miss significant time for the third season in a row.  Now with Matt Duffy having left the game early on Monday night, it could be another regular player for the Rays missing time.

The reality is brutal.  The Rays are going to lose, and they are going to lose a lot.  The crowds are going to dwindle, fans of opposing teams are going to come in and make noise, and Rays fans will be generally dissatisfied.  Yes, there are going to be silver linings and prospects and moments of promise, but that is little consolation for the fan looking at six more months of getting kicked around the AL East and the American League.

It’s a refreshing change, then, that the Rays used an offensive explosion on Monday night to throttle the Texas Rangers 8-4.  C.J. Cron and Daniel Robertson both homered in the win, Blake Snell had his best performance of the young season, and the Rays cruised to their most convincing victory this season.  The lefty was sharp from the first inning on, striking out Adrian Beltre twice and keeping the Rangers at bay until Joey Gallo got into one in the fourth inning that hit Tropicana Field’s D-ring catwalk, the first fair ball to hit the ring this year.  The blast went 430 feet and put Texas on the board.

The Rays responded to Gallo’s home run with a pair of their own in the bottom of the fourth.  C.J. Cron led off the inning with a home run, then Daniel Robertson put a ball just over the right field fence to extend Tampa Bay’s lead to 8-1.

“Robbie had a tremendous day.  Defensively you saw it all year last year and it was nice to see him make those plays.  Those were game-changing plays.”  Kevin Cash looked more than just enthused with the performance of a few players on Monday night.  He looked relieved that the things he saw in Spring Training and the things he’s been talking about since Opening Day came to fruition in the win.

Daniel Robertson, who moved from second to third base in the second inning due to Duffy’s injury, did not think he did much of anything special on Monday night.  “I think that’s our mindset, as far as me and Mallex.  I know he busts his butt in BP working all three positions out there, taking reads, and the same goes for me.  Even though I’m slated to play second base I’m taking ground balls at short and third and trying to stay as sharp as I can at both positions.”  Robertson didn’t just thrill with the bat, he was spectacular with the glove in making two particularly tough stops at the hot corner.

Matt Duffy left the game in the bottom of the first with right hamstring tightness, escorted to the clubhouse off of third base, to be replaced by Joey Wendle.

“Just kind of at the point where continuing to go, you’re kind of asking for it I think, so better just be smart and shut it down.  See how it feels tomorrow.”  For the most part, it appears that Duffy was removed from the game as a precautionary measure, but more will be revealed tomorrow as more experts are able to take a look at the third baseman.

For Texas, Jurickson Profar left the game early to go through the concussion protocol after falling on his head.  The fall came care of a pop-up slide that sent the shortstop tumbling.  He was replaced by Drew Robinson for the game, and could be out for a while as concussions in baseball are tricky.

Of course everybody understands that the Rays have their eyes on the future, and a young team that could bud into something special before long with just a little seasoning.  That’s not at issue.  The question is, does the future have to seem this interminably far away?  The Tampa Bay Rays are not a minor league baseball team.  They can talk about the future, they can build toward 2019 or 2020, but as a MLB club they need to be competitive to justify the time expenditure. Naturally however, this is so much easier said than done.

Fans understand long term building plans and patience, but the ones who purchase tickets and attend games don’t do so for the benefit of people in 2020.  The Rays sorely need games like Monday night, where they do more than simply look toward the future.  Those glimpses can show fans the light at the end of the tunnel, and hold them over for the time being.

At the moment, most of the good news around the Rays is either distant or hypothetical, sometimes both.  The Ybor site is, at this point in time, no more than a street address and wishful thinking.  Prospects are still developing, as are many of the young players on this team.

It was even better news, then, that Blake Snell was on his game on Monday night.  At just 25, Snell is still a developing pitcher, and nights like Monday show just how much potential the lefty has.

At the same time, the Rays demonstrated one of the chief reasons they’re having such a long season in the top of the eighth inning, surrendering a three run home run to Nomar Mazara as the bullpen reasserted itself as a sore spot in St. Petersburg.

Chih-Wei Hu pitched the final 2.2 innings, giving up those three runs. He showed some good, like getting two straight outs to close the book on Snell with only one run attributed to the starter, but the eighth inning was ugly at times and made the festivities a bit more nervous.  Hu was sent back down to the Durham Bulls after the game, to be replaced on the roster by Hunter Wood.

“He threw strikes,” said Kevin Cash of Hu after the game.  “We needed someone to come in and pick up the bullpen, he did that.  The home runs are going to happen.  He pitches at the top of the strike zone with his fastball.”

In football and basketball, losing on the grandest scale is all but celebrated.  Hooray, we get to pick high in the all-important draft, with hype and instant gratification and mostly-developed players!  Not so in baseball, where even a top draft pick is years away from the great call.  It’s a way to build the team, but not a way to build the team quickly.  This sort of effort is painful to watch at times, rewarding though it may become years later.

The cost of losing on the level the Rays are going to lose this year is that the local ballclub becomes an afterthought at best just weeks into April, playing out a lame duck kind of season almost from Opening Day.  It is worth wondering if the Tampa Bay Rays could lose so much, so often, this season that it makes the people of Hillsborough County think twice about putting down some serious money on a stadium in Ybor City.

No, nobody expected the Rays to start out like title contenders or spend the season in the running for a playoff spot, but this is the worst start in the history of an organization that had an entirely forgettable first ten seasons.

Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.