The Tampa Bay Devil Rays are stumbling into the All-Star break. A struggling bullpen is a big part of the problem.
The Devil Rays try to avoid dropping their fourth straight series when they conclude a three-game set with the Kansas City Royals on Sunday at Kauffman Stadium.
Tampa Bay (34-52) dropped 11 straight games - the longest skid in the majors this year - before beating Kansas City 6-5 in Friday’s series opener. The Devil Rays couldn’t follow it up, however, suffering a wild 8-7 defeat to the Royals on Saturday.
Tampa Bay led 6-4, but relievers Jay Witasick and Casey Fossum combined to walk the first five batters of the eighth inning. The Royals took a one-run lead before the Devil Rays tied it up in the ninth.
Kansas City (37-50) then won on Mark Grudzielanek’s RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
“They couldn’t find the strike zone and we had enough patience to continue to let them throw the ball out of the strike zone,” Royals manager Buddy Bell said. “So I guess we should take some of the credit. But you just don’t expect that to happen.”
The Devil Rays’ bullpen has posted a 7.54 ERA over the last 13 games, and an even worse 12.19 over the last three. The relievers have allowed 14 runs in their last 10 1-3 innings while allowing opponents to hit .447.
“When you walk five guys in a row at that juncture in the game, bad things normally happen,” Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s really unfortunate. We played well again and we’ve had that happen way too often this year.”
The Devil Rays hope for a lengthy outing from Scott Kazmir (5-5, 4.28 ERA) when he takes the ball on Sunday. The left-hander has lost consecutive starts, including a 4-1 defeat to Boston on Tuesday.
He allowed four runs - three earned - and six hits over six innings while walking three and striking out six. Kazmir is 1-1 with a 5.63 ERA in four career games versus the Royals.
They’ll face now Kansas City starter Jorge De La Rosa (6-9, 5.27), who is trying to win his third straight start. The left-hander went 0-6 with a 9.90 ERA in seven games from May 24-June 22, but has recovered to pitch effectively while winning his last two starts.
De La Rosa gave up three runs and eight hits over seven innings in a 17-3 win over Seattle on Tuesday. He has never faced Tampa Bay.