TORONTO — It’s all clicking now for Rays OF Mallex Smith, who continues to ride a prolonged hot streak and flash game-changing ability at the top of Tampa Bay’s lineup.
A hot April from Smith generated plenty of buzz, but that quieted through the summer. The 25-year-old has been in a groove since the calendar flipped to July, though, and he’s only getting hotter.
Smith entered Friday’s series in Toronto hitting 14-for-30 (.467) over his previous 10 games and has been making hard contact consistently, but the most impressive part of this streak has been his improved plate approach with eight walks over that span.
“To put it as simply as possible, it’s swinging at the pitches I like and not at the pitches I don’t,” Smith said before Friday’s series opener in Toronto. Manager Kevin Cash went a little deeper on Smith, well, going a little deeper.
“He’s really confident right now,” Cash said. “Hitters go through different periods of the season where they see the ball really well. He’s confident hitting behind in the count, so he’s not going up there looking to get the at-bat over. He’ll swing early on, but if not, has full confidence in his ability that he can work deep.”
Smith has speed to burn, which has always been his most impressive tool dating to his days as a prospect in San Diego and Atlanta. In 2013 and 2014, which Smith split between Class-A and high-A in the Padres system, he stole 64 and 88 bases.
With his average hovering near .300 this year and the top on-base percentage on the team behind the injured Daniel Robertson, Smith is seeing more opportunities to run.
He plans on taking them, too.
“I think of myself as a base stealer, and base stealers need to steal bases,” Smith said. “It’s all about picking the right spots.”
When dealing with a younger team, part of Cash’s job is encouraging players who are performing better than their stat line might suggest.
Ryan Yarbrough was the most recent rookie to have that talk after surrendering two home runs in each of his last two outings. That bumped the 26-year-old’s ERA up from 3.67 to 4.24, but Cash is still impressed with the overall package of Yarbrough’s season.
“We talked with Yarbrough the other day. He’s frustrated,” Cash said. “Two outings where he was not pleased with himself, but it’s easy to look at his stats and remind him he’s got 11 wins, he’s basically been under a four ERA all year long as a rookie pitcher.”
Roe begins rehab
Relief pitcher Chaz Roe made his first rehab appearance on Thursday after missing a month with a torn left meniscus. It was a fine first step, too, as Roe struck out the side on 18 pitches with high-A Charlotte.
Roe was one of Tampa Bay’s busiest arms before hitting the disabled list with a 3.60 ERA over 41 appearances and 35 innings.
This and that
The Rays entered their series in Toronto riding a streak of six one-run games. It’s the second time that has happened in franchise history, and the second time it’s happened in the majors this season … Time to get familiar, because 13 of the Rays final 47 games (including Friday) are against the Blue Jays … Only 14 players on Friday’s active roster were on it when the Rays last faced the Blue Jays on June 13 at Tropicana Field. That’s 11 new faces in under two months.
The University of Maryland isn’t a baseball factory. The school has put 34 players in the major leagues, and those appearances have been mostly both few and far between, but inside the Tampa Bay Rays clubhouse, two former Terps are making history together.
When fast-rising prospect Brandon Lowe, the Rays’ third-round draft pick out of Maryland in 2015, was called up from Triple-A Durham on Saturday, he joined former Terps left-hander Adam Kolarek on the major league roster, marking the first time two Maryland products were teammates at the major league level in 68 years, when Hal Keller and Sherry Robertson played for the Washington Senators together in 1950.
Lowe made his major league debut Sunday, and in Tuesday’s game against the Orioles, they were on the same field together — Kolarek entered the game in the seventh inning and Lowe was the starting left fielder.
“It’s crazy. It’s nice to be able to not only talk about school and stuff with [him], but it’s also getting Maryland on the map really,” Lowe said. “I really think that when you look around baseball, it’s really been changing, especially dating back to when Adam was there. That’s when the program really started turning around and it’s been turning out some very good talent out of there.”
Currently, the Rays’ Maryland duo makes up two-thirds of the Terps’ current big league contingency. St. Louis Cardinals reliever Brett Cecil is the only other Maryland product on a big league roster. And while the school hasn’t produced many major league players, outfielder Justin Maxwell played parts of seven seasons in the majors from 2007 to 2015 and left-hander Eric Milton’s 11-year big league career included 89 wins and an All-Star appearance in 2001.
“It’s very special,” said Kolarek, a Catonsville native. “Growing up in Maryland, I was always a Maryland Terrapins fan in all the sports and then getting the chance to play there, it was definitely at a time when we were rebuilding to be competitive in college baseball. The fact that where the school is at now, you’re proud to see where the program is at now and realize you were a part of the building blocks and being on the ground floor. I think that’s definitely what it’s taken.
“You look at Brett Cecil, he’s a guy who left right when I got there. And to see a reliever get to the big leagues and get a lot of success, it shows that just because you’re not from a perennial school, it doesn’t mean that all the lessons and mental toughness you learned in college playing college baseball, it can’t continue into pro ball and hopefully get you as far as here.”
While Lowe, 24, and Kolarek, 29, missed playing with each other in College Park by five years, some of their college teammates overlapped. But their times at Maryland and their paths to the big leagues were much different.
Kolarek played on three losing teams at Maryland, including a 5-25 team his last year. He was drafted after his junior year, an 11th-round pick of the New York Mets, and pitched out of minor league bullpens for parts of eight seasons before receiving his first big league call-up from the Rays last season.
He didn’t make the Rays’ Opening Day roster this season, but was recalled in early July after posting a 1.70 ERA at Durham. After seven relief appearances with the Rays, he was briefly sent down to Triple-A, but returned last week.
Lowe was a key cog on two of Maryland’s best teams, ones that advanced to the NCAA super regional round in 2014 and 2015. After a redshirt sophomore season when he posted a .978 OPS in 66 games, Lowe was selected in the third round of the 2015 draft and received an above-slot $697,500 signing bonus.
He moved up through the Rays farm system quickly and has emerged as one of the organization’s top prospects after posting a .949 OPS with 54 extra-base hits (31 doubles, one triple and 22 homers) in 100 games between Double-A Montgomery and Durham this season. Lowe hit 14 homers in just 46 games at the Triple-A level before receiving his first big league call-up. While Lowe came up as a second baseman, he’s made a steady transition in the minors to playing left field, where he’s made his first two big league starts.
“Really just hunting a pitch you can do damage to, don’t take that soft contact,” Lowe said of his success at the plate this season. “Find something you can drive and hit it hard and good things are going to happen when you stay aggressive. … It started in the [High-A] Florida State League [in 2017] and I think that really made all the difference honestly. Down there, the fields are huge, the ball doesn’t fly and you just try to drive the gaps. And when you drive the gaps, you can get out in front of one a little bit and hit it to the right part of the field where it’s a little shorter there and it all works out. But really it was staying aggressive and getting a pitch to drive.”
While there’s only three Terps currently on big league rosters, Lowe points out there are many more coming up through other minor league systems. In the past five draft classes, 23 Terps have been selected. As many as were drafted in the previous 30 years before that.
Two former Terps – both of whom played with Lowe — are knocking on the big league door.
Right-hander Mike Shawaryn, a fifth-round pick by the Boston Red Sox two years ago, is ranked seventh among Boston’s top prospects by Baseball America and was just promoted to Triple-A last week after posting a 3.28 ERA in 19 Double-A starts.
Outfielder LaMonte Wade, a St. Paul’s School product, has shown five-tool potential while reaching the Triple-A level in the Minnesota Twins organization. He is ranked Minnesota’s 13th-best prospect by MLB Pipeline.
“I think what’s really cool now is that you look at even the higher levels of the minor leagues now, there’s a lot of Terps players in Double-A and Triple-A who you hope everything goes right for them and then we start being all over the major leagues,” Kolarek said. “I think it’s cool because there’s an underdog mentality that you have a lot of pride that you went to Maryland and you had to fight for everything and every win, and that kind of carries over. Brandon’s not the biggest guy. I’m not the hardest thrower. So you’re still fighting that underdog role.”
ST. PETERSBURG — The Baltimore Orioles went into Wednesday night’s game tied for the worst record in baseball, then committed five errors for the first time since 1999 and still managed to beat the Tampa Bay Rays for the fourth time in five games.
As the teams meet on Thursday at Tropicana Field to close out a three-game series, how’s this for improbable: The Orioles went into Wednesday’s game 1-71 when trailing after eight innings, and the Rays were 46-2 when leading after eight.
But Trey Mancini‘s two-run double off Rays closer Sergio Romo was enough to hand Tampa Bay its 27th one-run loss of the season, a major league high.
“It’s been a challenge for us, and we have to get better,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said after the game. “You just don’t win major league games very often like that.”
The Orioles hadn’t won a game while committing five or more errors since 1983, a span of more than 5,000 games. Baltimore had two errors with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, putting the tying run at third base before getting the final out to end the rally.
Thursday’s starter, then, is a fitting one, featuring a pitcher who can’t beat anyone except Tampa Bay this season. David Hess (2-6, 6.41 ERA) is 2-0 with a 1.98 ERA against the Rays this year, but 0-6 with a 7.94 ERA against everyone else. He hasn’t won since beating Tampa Bay on May 25, and he’s allowed at least five earned runs in each of his last five starts.
The Rays will again go with their reliever-as-opener strategy, turning to rookie Hunter Wood (0-0, 3.22 ERA) to start, with another rookie, Yonny Chirinos, likely to come in after him.
Wood has faced the Orioles twice this season, both in late July, with seven strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings, but he also allowed five hits and two earned runs for a 5.40 ERA.
The Rays have received promising outings from their young newcomers this week, with Tyler Glasnow pitching well Tuesday and Jalen Beeks throwing a solid five innings in Wednesday’s loss. Both were acquired in deadline deals with Pittsburgh and Boston.
Tampa Bay continues to deal with one-run losses — the team is on pace for 38 this season, which would be the most by any American League team since the 1968 Chicago White Sox had 44.
The Rays were facing a one-run deficit in the seventh, rallied for a one-run lead, only to turn it back into a one-run loss thanks to Romo, tied for the major league lead now with seven blown saves. He gave up two runs Wednesday, as many as he had allowed in his previous 23 outings combined.
“He’s allowed a hiccup,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. “If you look at what he’s done for almost two months now, he’s really reset his season. … It’s unfortunate it happened there in a one-run ballgame, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. He’ll bounce right back and be fine.”
Trey Mancini hit a go-ahead, two-run double to left field in the ninth inning as the Baltimore Orioles blew a late lead but came back to trim the Tampa Bay Rays 5-4 on Wednesday night in St. Petersburg, Fla.
With Tampa Bay on top 4-3, Orioles designated hitter Mark Trumbo, who homered earlier in the game, opened the top of the ninth with a single against Rays closer Sergio Romo (2-3). Danny Valencia also singled, sending pinch runner Jace Peterson to third. Joey Rickard pinch-ran for Valencia and stole second.
Both runs scored on Mancini’s double, his second hit of the game.
Baltimore right-hander Mychal Givens survived the bottom of the ninth to record his third save. The Rays’ Mallex Smith reached on a two-out error, Baltimore’s fourth miscue of the game, stole second and went to third when catcher Caleb Joseph’s throw went into center field for error No. 5.
The game ended when Matt Duffy hit a hard line drive to second.
The Rays, stymied most of the night by Orioles right-hander Andrew Cashner, took advantage of bad Baltimore defense to tie the game in the seventh. Aided by an error, Tampa Bay scored on a sacrifice fly by Michael Perez to shallow left field that drove in Carlos Gomez.
In the eighth, Gomez doubled in the go-ahead run against Baltimore reliever Mike Wright Jr., who replaced Tanner Scott with two runners on and one out. Wright (3-0) struck out pinch hitter C.J. Cron before Gomez’s double but got the win when the Orioles rallied.
Cashner gave up only four hits and was victimized by three Baltimore errors, two in the first inning when the Rays bunched three soft hits with two errors to score two runs.
Jake Bauers and Joey Wendle singled in runs in the inning to tie the game at 2-2 after the Orioles scored two in the top of the first. Just one out into the contest, Tim Beckham and Adam Jones hit consecutive pitches for home runs against Ryne Stanek.
Trumbo added his blast to right-center in the fourth inning against the Rays’ second pitcher, lefty Jalen Beeks.
After the runs scored in the first, Cashner retired 10 in a row, and 17 of 18 through the sixth inning. He wound up charged with three runs (two earned) in seven innings. He yielded four hits and a walk while striking out two.
Beeks went five innings for the Rays, allowing only the home run to Trumbo. He gave up two hits and two walks while striking out three.
Sergio Romo (2-3) allowed consecutive hits to Mark Trumbo, Danny Valencia and Mancini in the ninth, the only three batters he faced. It was Romo’s seventh blown save. Tampa Bay has played five straight one-run games and lost four of them.
Mike Wright Jr. (3-0) got two outs in relief, and Mychal Givens pitched the ninth for his third save.
Carlos Gomez put Tampa Bay ahead 4-3 in the eighth with an RBI double off Wright. He also scored the tying run in the seventh on a sacrifice fly fielded by the shortstop.
Tim Beckham and Adam Jones homered on consecutive pitches in the first inning off opener Ryne Stanek. Trumbo led off the fourth with his 16th homer, extending his hitting streak to 10 games
Baltimore starter Andrew Cashner gave up three runs and four hits in seven innings. Only one of the runs was earned.
After giving up three singles and two runs in the first inning, Cashner retired 18 of his next 19 before hitting Gomez with a pitch in the seventh. Kevin Kiermaier then bounced into an apparent forceout, but Beckham, playing shortstop, missed the base with his foot, one of five Oriole errors in the game.
Willy Adames followed with a hit when Beckham lost his footing on a grounder to deep short, loading the bases. And after Beckham caught Michael Perez’s flyball in short left field, Gomez tagged up. Beckham’s throw was way off line, allowing Gomez to score.
Stanek pitched two innings, giving up the homers to Beckham and Jones while striking out four. It was Beckham’s sixth home run and Jones’ 12th.
Orioles: Switch-hitting INF Steve Wilkerson (left oblique strain) still has some discomfort swinging from the left side and is not ready for a rehab assignment.
Rays: OF Tommy Pham (hairline right foot fracture) played catch and hit off a tee, and could return later this month. … Reliever Chaz Roe (left knee) will start a rehab assignment Thursday night was Class A Charlotte.
RHP David Hess, who pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings against the Rays in his last victory on May 25, will pitch Thursday night’s series finale for the Orioles against a Rays opener, probably Hunter Wood.
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Duffy went 2-for-4 with a run in a win over the Orioles on Tuesday.
Duffy produced a pedestrian .250 average in July after an outstanding first three-plus months of the season, but he looks to be heating back up as August unfolds. Factoring in Tuesday’s production, the 27-year-old has hit safely in five of the first six games of the month, and eight of his last nine overall. What’s largely been missing this season has been power, as Duffy has only four home runs and hasn’t gone deep since June 16.