Rays fall flat against MLB-worst White Sox

CHICAGO — Once the afternoon rain stopped, Friday’s game on the South Side of Chicago seemed like the fitting place for the Rays, who have sputtered through the first month of the season, to start getting right.

They came in with the momentum of Wednesday’s win over the Tigers, and the rest from Thursday’s day off.

They had their No. 1 starter, Zach Eflin, on the mound.

They were playing against a White Sox team with a majors-worst 3-22 record that had just returned from an 0-7 road trip (in which it was outscored 49-18) and had lost 13 of its last 14.

And they were facing a starter, Chris Flexen, who had been hit early and often over his first five appearances.

Yet, the Rays faltered again.

The 9-4 defeat was bad enough, dropping the Rays back under .500 at 13-14 as they lost for the fourth time in five games.

Making it worse was the setting — facing a bad team, on a cold and wet night, with a few thousand people in the stands (from an announced 10,323).

“At the end of the day, it’s a big-league team,” Eflin said. “There’s not bad hitters out there. It’s a series that we should win, right? We need to come out prepared to win each and every single game. Fortunately for us, we have two more (games). We have time to win the series. We have plenty of time this season to right the ship.”

The Rays have a lot to address, as they were done in by a similar formula to other losses.

The offense was again ineffective, held to two hits through five-plus innings by Flexen, and nine for the game. The Rays were 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position, leaving a season-high 12 on.

“I don’t think we had the best approach (Friday) with Flexen,” manager Kevin Cash said. “We probably expanded off more pitches off the zone. Even early in the count, it seemed like we were overly aggressive. Maybe that’s a sign of an offensive group that’s recognizing they’re not doing what they’re capable of, and they were probably trying to do too much (Friday).”

The defense has been sloppy, with an error leading to the first White Sox run.

And the pitching has had lapses, such as Eflin keeping the Sox to two runs into the sixth, then allowing two one-out singles and a three-run homer — on a sinker over the middle that was “a really good pitch to hit” — to No. 9 hitter Martin Maldonado, who was 0-for-his-last-28.

“Overall, I didn’t feel like I had my good command all game,” Eflin said, “and it finally caught up to me in the sixth inning.”

About the only good news for the Rays was the negative X-rays of Yandy Diaz’s left hand after he was hit by a 99.3 mph Michael Kopech fastball in the eighth inning. Diaz said he was sore but should be available, at least to pinch hit, on Saturday.

Otherwise, it was another frustrating night in a tough opening month of the season.

“It’s going to all click. It seems like we’re just not all playing good together, like defense, offense, pitching, it’s not all clicking at the same time,” Eflin said. “I tell you guys all the time, it’s 162 games in a season. You’re going to go through some dead spots, you’re going to go through spots where you win 13 in a row.

“So, I think it’s really just keeping our heads high and showing up with as much energy as possible each and every single day. That’s really the one thing we can control right now is our attitude, our will to win, the passion for the game, the energy. Sucks that we’re kind of in a little rut, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

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