Pitching-rich Dodgers, Rays face off in series finale

Field Level Media

Two of the best pitching staffs in baseball will not have much time to get acquainted as their two-game interleague series concludes Wednesday night in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The Tampa Bay Rays, who lead baseball with a 3.05 staff ERA, are playing host to a Los Angeles Dodgers team that is trying its best to be an unruly visitor. The Dodgers took a 7-3 victory in the series opener Tuesday as Clayton Kershaw held the Rays scoreless into the seventh inning.

The strong outing from Kershaw gives the Dodgers a 3.36 staff ERA, which ranks second in the National League. The Cincinnati Reds passed the Dodgers for first place in the NL at 3.34 when they shut out the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday.

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The Dodgers now turn to another left-hander, Rich Hill, who was an unexpected weak link on the starting staff after he returned from a knee injury that delayed the start to his season.

Hill gave up 11 runs over his first three starts beginning with his April 28 return, but his 4.20 ERA at that point could have been worse if not for four unearned runs. Then came his start Friday at Cincinnati when he struck out 10 and gave up two hits over six scoreless innings, doing it all in a tidy 84 pitches.

It left Hill 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA and a sense that the expected No. 2 starter when the season began is now in sync with his trusty breaking ball and a far simpler plan moving forward.

"We really just went back to the drawing board, stuck with fastballs and breaking balls," Hill said after Friday's game. "Just getting the fastball down and throwing everything downhill so it opens up the top of the zone as well."

Because of his time in the American League, the veteran Hill does have 11 appearances (two starts) against the Rays and has a 2-0 record with a 4.82 ERA.

Hunter Wood started and gave up an unearned run in two innings Tuesday for Tampa Bay. That gives Rays starters an AL-leading 2.48 ERA, the best in baseball. After Kershaw allowed two runs, the Dodgers' ERA is 2.99 from their starters, best in the NL.

After Tuesday's game, the Rays named right-hander Ryne Stanek (0-1, 3.70 ERA) as their opener on Wednesday. Stanek will be making his major-league-leading 13th start, but none have gone more than two innings.

His last outing as an opener came Friday against the New York Yankees when he gave up one run over two innings and struck out three. He has never faced the Dodgers during his three major league seasons.

While the clash between top pitching staffs was quick, there is another short series between the teams later this season. The Rays will visit Dodger Stadium for two games Sept. 17-18.

Tuesday was the start of a stretch where the Rays will play 13 consecutive days, followed by a stretch where they play 21 games in 20 days.

"It's going to be a test, physically and mentally," Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. "You have to find ways."

The Rays expect infielder Yandy Diaz to return to the lineup Wednesday. He was a late scratch Tuesday, two days after he was hit on the left hand by a pitch in a Sunday road game against the New York Yankees.

--Field Level Media

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