Charging Rays aim to surge past skidding Orioles

Field Level Media

September 16, 2023 at 11:07 am.

The American League East race is re-set.

The Tampa Bay Rays beat the host Baltimore Orioles for the second straight game on Friday night, and the teams enter their Saturday night matchup tied atop the division.

While the Rays (92-57) have won nine of their past 11 games, the Orioles (91-56) have lost four straight — matching their season high — while scoring only six runs.

“Nobody said this was going to be easy,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “These things happen. You’ve just got to stay positive, and tomorrow’s a new day and we’ve still got a lot of baseball left.”

After trailing Baltimore by four games entering play on Saturday, the Rays are tied for first for the first time since July 21.

Tampa Bay’s Zach Eflin became the latest pitcher to stymie the Orioles, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning of a 7-1 win on Friday before settling for seven innings of one-hit, one-run ball.

“He’s come up big for us all season long,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “To date you could probably make the case this is the biggest game of the year for us. (He) had certainly the right mentality, the approach, the efficiency, the willingness to just kind of attack.”

Tampa Bay’s bullpen added two scoreless innings, running its streak to 36 without allowing an earned run.

The Rays got a pinch-hit, three-run homer from Harold Ramirez and a solo shot from Brandon Lowe.

“Give them credit,” Hyde said of the Rays. “They swung the bat really well and they’re hitting the ball to all fields. Lowe kind of got (Orioles starter Jack Flaherty) there on a pitch in the middle of the plate. Good hitters.”

The bright spot for Baltimore was rookie Heston Kjerstad. Making his first start, Kjerstad broke up Eflin’s no-hitter with his first major league hit, a homer leading off the sixth inning.

On Saturday, Tampa Bay’s Tyler Glasnow (9-5, 3.15 ERA) will oppose rookie right-hander Grayson Rodriguez (5-4, 4.88) in a matchup of right-handers.

Glasnow has won his last two starts, allowing a combined five runs over 12 innings and striking out 22 while walking three. Last time out, he permitted four runs on six hits — two of them homers — over six innings during a win over the Minnesota Twins on Monday.

He is 0-1 with a 6.35 ERA in two starts vs. the Orioles this season and 4-1 with a 3.13 ERA in eight career starts against Baltimore.

Rodriguez has lowered his ERA from 7.33 to 4.88 over his past nine starts, giving up three earned runs or less in each outing. He is 2-1 with a 2.20 ERA over his past three starts. The loss came in his latest appearance, when he gave up four runs, two earned, in 4 1/3 innings against the Boston Red Sox on Sunday.

Rodriguez is 1-0 with a 3.18 ERA in two starts vs. Tampa Bay this season.

The Orioles continue to get good news on injured closer Felix Bautista, who did some long-tossing Friday before batting practice. Bautista hopes to return this season from an ulnar collateral ligament tear.

“Making great progress,” Hyde said. “He feels good.”

Hyde also said that first baseman Ryan Mountcastle, who left Wednesday night’s game with left shoulder discomfort and hasn’t played since, is improving and could return soon.

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