Rays might have to settle for an okay homestand

Tampa Bay’s second straight loss to Oakland puts a crimp in what looked like a promising coming-home party.
Rays reliever Colin Poche (38) gave up the game-deciding grand slam Wednesday in the Rays' 6-2 loss to Oakland. DIRK SHADD   |   Times
Rays reliever Colin Poche (38) gave up the game-deciding grand slam Wednesday in the Rays' 6-2 loss to Oakland. DIRK SHADD | Times
Published June 12

ST. PETERSBURG — Wednesday afternoon’s game essentially ended in the top of the eighth, with Oakland A’s circling the bases after a grand slam to punctuate the Rays’ bullpen butchery in a 6-2 loss.

Colin Poche, a promising call­up from Triple-A Durham, had no answer, particularly for Oakland’s Ramon Laureano, who wiped the bases clean. Rays manager Kevin Cash rightly admitted that maybe he shouldn’t have had the 25-year-old reliever out there with the bases loaded at Tropicana Field.

It’s all part of living and learning, and managing, in this still-promising Rays season, which has deviated slightly with Tampa Bay dropping out of a tie with the Yankees atop the AL East. The Rays dropped the last two of its three-game series with Oakland.

[ MORE RAYS: Rays fall out of first with 6-2 loss to Oakland A’s ]

I had this homestand earmarked for 5-2, coming as it does against a .500 A’s club and a sub-.500 Angels team that hits the Trop on Thursday; 5-2 is what you do when you’re serious about a baseball summer, especially after taking three of four in Boston last weekend.

Stops and starts, starts and stops. That might be this Rays team, clearly good enough to be 41-26 but just as capable of making mistakes in the field (shortstop Willy Adames unable to make a throw Wednesday, letting in an A’s run) and on the bases (Yandy Diaz caught off second). They even wasted a decent turn by starter Yonny Chirinos.

Chirinos, the mystery man, the wild card, has been great this season, going 7-2 with a 2.88 ERA. With Blake Snell trying to recapture his Cy-ness, Chirinos has picked up the slack between Charlie Morton — The Man Who Wouldn’t Lose — and the rest of the staff, who together have combined for an MLB-best 2.90 ERA.

[ MORE RAYS: Matt Baker’s takeaways from Rays-A’s ]

Cash lifted Chirinos after six innings Wednesday and two earned runs. Ryne Stanek pitched a scoreless seventh, then the Rays scraped up two runs in the bottom of the inning to tie. So far, so good.

Then the bullpen mishmash caught up with them. Whatever buttons Cash pushed were the wrong ones. Lefty Adam Kolarek gave up a hit. Righty Chaz Roe came in and walked two, one intentionally. In came lefty Poche and out went Laureano on a 2-and-2 count.

[ MORE RAYS: Rays’ Ryan Yarbrough faces a tough test vs. Angels ]

And that is how a home­stand gets twisted and tangled. It might have helped if the Rays could manage a few more timely hits. They managed 12 Wednesday, three each from Diaz and Tommy Pham, but came up with just two runs.

That’s how you fall out of first, even if only by a half-game. On the horizon is a big series in New York next week, with the Yankees about to get sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton back from the injured list. Chirinos might get the ball in the series opener on Monday.

It’s no time to count out the Rays, or this summer, but just know that nothing is a given. That expected 5-2 homestand just started out 1-2, so there is work to do. These wouldn’t be the Rays if there wasn’t.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.