Rays’ hitters picking up pace, face Royals

Facing the host Kansas City Royals in Thursday night’s rubber game, the Tampa Bay Rays will look to win their fifth straight series.

For much of the season’s first half, the Rays’ bats have lacked their usual pop. Tampa Bay’s 78 home runs are tied for last in the American League, and the club’s 776 strikeouts are fourth worst.

Yandy Diaz is the only Tampa Bay hitter ranking in the top 50 for average exit velocity (17th at 92.5 mph). He is third in the majors with 141 hard-hit balls.

During the club’s recent run of success, winning nine of 13 games while outscoring opponents 59-41, Diaz’s teammates are turning things around.

Brandon Lowe has six homers and 16 RBIs in 19 games since June 4, and Randy Arozarena has a season-high 16-game streak of reaching base safely, including seven extra-base hits.

Isaac Paredes has reached base safely in 14 straight games, with seven extra-base hits and eight RBIs, and Richie Palacios is batting .400 with two doubles, four RBIs, three walks and three steals in his last eight games, including four multi-hit games.

“He hit the ball hard twice tonight,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said after Palacios’ three-hit game in Tuesday’s 5-1 win. “The ball that he got right down the line, he crushed that one.”

“I hit it pretty square. I think it went through his legs,” Palacios said, laughing. “We wanted to make sure we came out (after a long rain delay) and grabbed some more runs. We made sure we put good at-bats together, which we’ve been doing the past couple of weeks.”

In Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to Kansas City, Tampa Bay got the tying run to the plate in each of the last four innings before falling short.

“I like the way we put a lot of pressure on there at the end,” Cash said. “We had guys all over the bases. Felt good about our at-bats. Just couldn’t get that big hit.”

Right-handers Zach Eflin (4-5, 3.92 ERA) of Tampa Bay and Alec Marsh (6-5, 4.19) of Kansas City will take the mound on Thursday.

In three career starts against the Royals, Eflin is 2-1 with a 4.00 ERA. The Royals’ Salvador Perez and Hunter Renfroe each have homered against Eflin.

Eflin threw six shutout innings to beat the Washington Nationals 3-1 on June 28. In nine starts since May 1, he has walked just three of 213 batters while striking out 39.

In his lone outing against the Rays, Marsh surrendered a pair of solo homers, taking the loss despite striking out 11 in six innings on July 15, 2023.

During Kansas City’s 10-3 victory over Cleveland on June 28, Marsh got aggressive with his fastball, touching 98 mph to strike out slugger Jose Ramirez with the go-ahead runner on base in the third inning. Ramirez had homered in the first inning.

“He’s gotten me a lot,” Marsh said. “That was just an angry fastball. I was just trying to surprise him with a fastball. I just gave him my best one, gave it everything I had.”

Marsh allowed six baserunners in six innings and induced three double plays.

“I really thought the curveball was good,” he said. “So when I get that to good location, it’s a good ground-ball pitch. Just having a lot of trust in that and trust in the defense. I’ve been dying for some double plays. They came in a bunch.”

“They made him work,” Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. “He had an answer. He made quality pitches, and the defense played (well).”

–Field Level Media