Unhappy birthday for Rays’ Zach Eflin in loss to Angels

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Zach Eflin’s 30th birthday didn’t turn out to be very fun.

Pitching for the first time on the big day in his nine-season major-league career, Eflin got hit early and often by the Angels, allowing the first five runs in a 7-1 Rays loss.

His teammates didn’t do much to help the vibe, managing just four hits off Angels lefty starter Tyler Anderson over the first seven innings and eight total, scoring their lone run on a ground-ball double play in the ninth.

The Rays were hoping to build on the momentum of back-to-back victories over the Rockies and their first series win, but instead dropped to 5-6 in what has been an inconsistent start to the season.

“We’ve got to get going. There’s no doubt we don’t feel like we’re playing our best baseball by any stretch right now,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We just came off to pretty exciting wins in Colorado, and then (Monday) we just couldn’t get anything going.”

Eflin lasted only five innings, allowing the five runs on nine hits and took the blame, saying he didn’t have his best command.

“I was missing over the middle of the plate for the most part,” he said. “I threw a lot of hittable pitches. They put some good (at-bats) against me and took advantage of it.”

Eflin said the most frustrating part of the night was “the consistency and the quality of the pitches, honestly.”

“There’s going to be a lot of outings throughout the year where I miss middle,” he said. “It just so happened (Monday) they took advantage of it. Guys in scoring position, they got base hits. They worked the count on me. They fought me (Monday).”

Cash said there was definitely some credit due to the the Angels hitters, led by their best one, three-time American League MVP Mike Trout, who tripled in the first of two Angels runs in the opening frame and hit a two-out homer in the third that left the bat at 108.7 mph and carried 423 feet.

“Good hitter got (Eflin),” Cash said. “They got guys on base, and Trout came up with some big hits. The rest of their lineup had good at-bats, too, but that’s probably the last guy you want to come up to the plate.”

Eflin kept it to 3-0 going into the fifth, then the Angels (5-5) created what Cash called “the separator” by scoring two more. With two on, one out and first base open, the Rays opted to pitch to Trout and Eflin prevailed, getting him to ground out to shortstop Jose Caballero with the runners holding.

But Taylor Ward followed with a liner to right that dropped in front of Amed Rosario, who is still trying to adjust to outfield play after spending most of his career as an infielder and looked to hesitate coming in on the ball. That expanded the deficit to 5-0 and led to Eflin’s departure, though he had thrown only 76 pitches.

Cash said he thought off the bat it was a hit. Rosario acknowledged that he opted to play it safe, though with the runners breaking on contact with two outs both scored anyway.

“It was a ball I think because I’m not a natural outfielder I didn’t really want to go for it, because I didn’t have anyone backing me up,” he said, via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “I’d just rather have him get the hit than anything else.”

The Rays’ other problem was the inability to get anything going against Anderson.

With lefty hitters Josh Lowe and Johnathan Aranda sidelined by injury and Brandon Lowe batting just .185, the Rays have a deeper and more potent lineup when facing left-handed starters.

Going into play Monday, they were 2-1 in games started by lefties with a .278 average against all left-handers, compared to 3-4, .236 against righties.

But Anderson, a 34-year-old on his sixth team, pretty much had his way.

“You’ve got to give credit to Anderson, he did a tremendous job,” Rosario said. “I think we just needed to just have a better approach in the at-bats. Let him pitch a little bit and just get used to how he is, according to our approach.”

The Rays had one prime opportunity. Down 3-0 in the fourth, Randy Arozarena walked and Isaac Paredes doubled. Rosario laced a ball that first baseman Brandon Drury snagged, and Curtis Mead drove a ball 383 feet to center that Trout ran down.

“Curtis Mead hit some balls hard,” Cash said. “That one just got a little bit too high, didn’t quite carry enough.”

For the most part, Anderson was vexing.

“Really good fastball-changeup combination, a couple occasional cutters. It seemed like we couldn’t get on one pitch,” Cash said. “Whatever pitch we were on, he was throwing the opposite. So he really kept us off-balance. Really efficient and executed pitches. When you look at the locations of those pitches after the inning was over, you could tell there were just a a lot of pitches to the edge or to the bottom of the zone.”

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