A frustrating road trip seems to be getting to the Tampa Bay Rays.
A day after Rays teammates scuffled in the dugout, Tampa Bay will have to figure out one of the toughest pitchers in the majors when it opens a three-game series against Joe Saunders and the AL West-leading Los Angeles Angels.
Starting pitcher Matt Garza and catcher Dioner Navarro had to be separated in the dugout during Sunday’s 6-3 loss in Texas, minutes after an angry confrontation on the mound. Garza met with manager Joe Maddon behind closed doors for about 20 minutes after the game.
“It was nothing, in-house kind of stuff, things that happen on occasion and we took care of it,” Maddon said. “It was shoving, that was it. It’s been taken care of.”
The loss spoiled Tampa Bay’s chances of pulling off its first road sweep of the season. The Rays (37-26) dropped to 2-4 on their current nine-game trip, which opened with three straight losses in Boston.
That sweep, which knocked the Rays out of first place in the AL East, included Thursday’s bench-clearing brawl that resulted in the staggered suspension of eight players, including five Rays. Jonny Gomes served the second of his five-game suspension Sunday.
Eric Hinske was also ejected from Sunday’s game for arguing balls and strikes after a called third strike.
“I let him know that I thought it was a ball,” Hinske said. “It was kind of an ugly game. We want to just put this game behind us.”
The Rays have plenty of incentive to rally together for Monday’s opener, as Saunders (9-2, 2.63 ERA) will be trying to become the first pitcher in the AL to 10 wins. New York’s Mike Mussina and Cleveland’s Cliff Lee also have nine wins and both are pitching Monday.
Saunders, who shuttled back and forth between the minors and majors before this season, became the first to nine wins on Tuesday, allowing four runs - one earned - in seven innings of a 5-4 victory in Seattle.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “You always dream about winning every game, putting up every win you can. It’s a nice roll to be on now.”
Saunders took his first loss of the season in his only previous start against Tampa Bay on May 10, yielding one run in six innings of a 2-0 road defeat.
The Angels (39-25) had a season-best, seven-game winning streak snapped on Sunday, falling 7-3 in 12 innings to Oakland as Chris Bootcheck gave up Mark Ellis’ walk-off grand slam. Still, Los Angeles wrapped up an encouraging 5-1 road trip that included a three-game sweep in Seattle.
“You have to stay positive,” center fielder Torii Hunter said. “A five-out-of-six road trip isn’t bad.”
The Angels will be trying to bounce back against Edwin Jackson (3-5, 3.95), who lost his second straight start on Wednesday, allowing four runs in five innings of a 5-1 defeat in Boston.
The right-hander has struggled against the Angels, going 0-2 with a 6.00 ERA in six appearances, including three starts. The losses came in his two starts against them last season.
Jackson was hit with a five-game suspension for his role in the brawl with the Red Sox, but it is scheduled to begin on June 13. Jackson is expected to appeal before the suspension starts.