If you did not see the game, then just know that David Price was at his finest. After some early inning struggles, an early exit for Price was conceivable, but he rebounded and completed eight innings on 120 pitches. Price struck out 10 batters, walked one, allowed two earned runs, and ended his afternoon by retiring seven-straight Brewers. Some may point to who Price struck out—four of the Ks came against the pitchers, Josh Wilson, and Carlos Gomez—but credit the big guy for taking advantage of the few slim pickings in the Brewers lineup.
The Rays started the game with a stacked lineup of righties, as even the switch-hitters batted from the right side against Shaun Marcum. Then, entering the fourth inning, the Brewers removed Marcum with the scored at two (thanks to a Kelly Shoppach home run the previous inning). With Marco Estrada entering, suddenly the Rays loaded lineup was facing a pitcher who prefers facing same-handed batters. Estrada reeled off three innings, allowing four baserunners, fanning four batters, and one earned run—thanks to B.J. Upton’s big-time single in the sixth inning.
Booting the starting pitcher in a close, low-scoring game within the first three innings is a rarity nowadays, so the Rays were facing an interesting dilemma. Joe Maddon could have emptied his bench of lefties—or at least the vital ones like Matt Joyce—and rolled the dice that the Rays would have a grip on the game between their entry point and the entrance of a left-handed pitcher, but he chose against that route, opting instead to leave the righties in. I’m not sure which is the appropriate plan of action, but Maddon’s decision worked today.
In the seventh, with two runners on, Elliot Johnson came up to face the right-handed reliever known as Tom Dillard. The Rays already knocked Dillard around on Monday night, and Johnson struck him for a three-run jack today, putting Tampa Bay up by four runs. The home run was Johnson’s first hit since returning from the disabled list nearly two weeks ago (June 12), and really, the first big contribution from him dating back to the middle of May when he had a nice stretch of three games, popping two home runs, driving in five, and recording five hits.
Johnson had hit .233/.298/.279 (50 plate appearances) entering that stretch, and .071/.161/.071 (32 plate appearances) exiting it, so today’s home run serves as a nice gesture—and a much needed one, at that. Per FanGraphs, Johnson entered the day with 36 bunts and strikeouts, a total that composes 38.2 percent of his total plate appearances. Punishing Johnson for doing what the coaching staff asks him to do is unfair, but it’s difficult to be an offensive asset when nearly 40 percent of your plate appearances are tied up in methods of out-making even before you address the balls in play that turn into outs.
I will offer some praise for Johnson, though, as he has hit .273/.400/.303 versus lefties, and ultimately, that’s what the Rays ask him to do. It is a bit whacky that he has a .400 on-base percentage given that he is striking out more than 39 percent of the time versus lefties, but that’s what a walk rate nearing 17 percent can do for you.