Daily Process: Bullpen Locks Down Rays Victory

The Rays put up three runs in the second inning by using some unconventional tactics. Tampa Bay scored on the strength of two walks, a hit by pitch, a single, a sacrifice bunt, and three Toronto errors. The team added three more in the third inning, but in more traditional fashion. Following another hit batter (Evan Longoria), Sir Matthew Joyce blasted his seventh home run of the season. Elliot Johnson added a sacrifice-fly later in the inning to cap Tampa Bay’s offense for the night.

Fresh off his first career shutout, Jeremy Hellickson was cruising along until the sixth inning. The right-hander allowed two runs in the first five innings – both on groundball outs – but was still in control. Pitching with a 6-2 lead, Hellickson left several balls elevated and was tagged for two runs on three hits (two doubles) and a walk. He failed to finish the sixth inning after completing all nine last time out.

Hellickson threw 89 pitches following a career-high 120 on Friday. Joe Maddon said he wanted to monitor his pitch count in this one, but the results dictated the hook more than the count. As mentioned, Hellickson was pitching a fine game before the sixth inning including six strikeouts. Overall, he threw 54 strikes with 13 of those coming on swings and misses. Once again, he relied heavily on his changeup (38 pitches) and earned favorable results (27 strikes, 10 whiffs).

Another example of pitching backwards or Pitching 2.0, 14 of the 25 first pitches thrown by Hellickson were not fastballs (eight changeups, six curveballs). The problem with pitching backwards is it is only effective if hitters chase pitches out of the zone or if you are locating the breaking balls and off-speed stuff for strikes. Of the 14 non-fastballs throw on the first pitch, six of them were called balls. It should be noted that home plate umpire Tim Welke did Hellickson no favors. Nonetheless, it was the Blue Jays -not Welke – that knocked Hellickson from the game.

With two out and two on in 6-4 game, Maddon called upon Juan Cruz put out the sixth inning fire. Serving as the new Grant Balfour – coming in to high leverage situations in the middle innings– Cruz retired Rajai Davis to stop the bleeding. Cruz has inherited 11 baserunners thus far and has stranded nine of them.

Cruz started the seventh inning with an out before walking Yunel Escobar. As the left-handed Corey Patterson stepped to the plate, Maddon called on Cesar Ramos to set up a lefty-on-lefty matchup. Patterson worked the count full against Ramos before whiffing on a four-seam fastball.

With Escobar still at first base, and Jose Bautista at the plate – representing the tying run - Maddon elected to walk the best hitter in the American League. By doing so, he put the tying run on base and brought the go-ahead run to the plate. After Ramos handed Bautista the free pass, the Rays’ skipper turned the game over to one of his relief aces, Joel Peralta.

By invoking the Miguel Cabrera Theory, Maddon lowered Tampa Bay’s chances to win by walking Bautista; however, considering the batter, taking a step back in order to move forward was the right call. It took a fantastic catch by Matt Joyce in right field, but Peralta retired Aaron Hill to complete Maddon’s mission.

Once again, the combination of Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth were used for more than six outs over the final few frames of the ballgame. Peralta finished off Hill in the seventh before tossing a perfect eighth inning. Farnsworth allowed a run in the bottom of the ninth inning, but struck out Corey Patterson looking with Jose Bautista looming on deck. The players get credit for executing, but the manager is also owed a tip of the cap for pushing the right buttons.

Although the game was more interesting than it needed to be, the Rays guaranteed themselves at least a split of the series in Toronto.

About Tommy Rancel

Senior Editor/Analyst - The Process Report. Writer/Analyst - Bloomberg Sports. MLB Insider - ESPN 1040
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