TORONTO - The Tampa Bay Rays have one of the elite pitching staffs in baseball. No, really.
It is simply that, until James Shields showed why this is so, all the Rays led the league in was weird injuries.
Monday, Shields snapped a four-game losing streak, coming within two outs of a complete game, in a 1-0 win over the Red Sox. Other than that, the Rays come into Toronto after suffering an assortment of bruisings.
During batting practice last week, pitcher Jeremy Hellickson went to the bullpen for a between-starts throwing session — and got beaned by a batting practice hit. He ended up in hospital but has been cleared to start against Toronto.
If that wasn’t curious enough, catcher Chris Gimenez caught a Cesar Ramos fastball between the legs. Yes, there. Talk about a shot heard round the world.
After suffering a bruised testicle, he was back in the lineup this weekend. “Wrong place at the wrong time,” Gimenez said, in what might be the understatement of the year. “I tried to do everything I could to block it. It was just one of those where it kind of skipped and missed me in the glove and hit me perfect ... And it was extremely unpleasant.”
It hasn’t been a whole lot more pleasant on the field. The starters haven’t gone deep enough into games, pitching just 19 1/3 innings in the four-game losing skid. The eighth inning has been a disaster area with Tampa being out-scored 18-0 on the road trip.
Boston out-scored Tampa Bay, 31-12 before Shields salvaged the final game of the series.
Perhaps part of the reason for Tampa’s stop-and-go start is that they open the season with 13 games against some of the AL’s bully boys. They come into Toronto after games against the Tigers, Yankees, Red Sox and run smack into Ricky Romero who has been like kryptonite to them.
Players currently on the Rays’ roster are batting a career .161 against Romero with 32 strikeouts in 112 at-bats.
Shortstop Sean Rodriguez is 1-for-15 against Romero. First baseman Carlos Pena has one hit in 10 at-bats, and designated hitter Luke Scott has a lone base hit in 12 tries. Matthew Joyce and Desmond Jennings are 0-for-12 and 1-for-9 against Romero.
The issues in the rotation wouldn’t be so problematic if the bullpen had been able to hold up — but until Matt Moore went 6 1/3 innings Sunday and Shields got nasty Monday, it had run out of gas. Tampa Bay has allowed 28 runs in the seventh inning or later, which ranked as the most in the major leagues.
All of which made Monday’s start by Shields, and Fernando Rodney’s save a ... well, a relief.