As the Tampa Bay Rays head into the final game of a six-day visit to Chicago on Wednesday night, there are two things they desperately need.
A win against the Cubs and some rest.
A victory would give Tampa Bay a 2-1 series triumph and would allow the Rays to finish 3-3 on a trip that started with three games against the White Sox.
While a positive result on Wednesday would be nice for the Rays in the short term, some much-needed rest could end up being far beneficial in the long term.
Since opening the season on April 8, the Rays have not had a day off. They will get one Thursday and another Monday sandwiched around a three-game home series against the Boston Red Sox.
Throughout their 6-6 start, the Rays have been plagued by injuries to their pitching staff. They pieced things together on Tuesday by employing the “opener” strategy. Matt Wisler got the start and tossed 1 2/3 scoreless innings, helping lead Tampa Bay to a 6-5 victory over the Cubs.
Josh Fleming followed Wisler to the mound and emerged as the winner after throwing 3 1/3 innings of three-run ball. Four other Tampa Bay pitchers appeared, with Andrew Kittredge firing two perfect innings to record his second save.
Don’t look for a similar strategy on Wednesday. Right-hander Drew Rasmussen (0-1, 5.00 ERA) will get the start, and he will be expected to go much longer than Wisler did.
Rasmussen took a loss in his latest outing, when he yielded three runs on five hits in five innings during a 3-2 setback against the White Sox on Friday. In three career appearances against the Cubs, all in relief, Rasmussen has pitched 2 1/3 innings and allowed two runs.
He will hope for support from some Tampa Bay bats that are coming to life. Shortstop Wander Franco had three hits on Tuesday, including his first home run of the season. He finished a triple short of the cycle and raised his season batting average to .404.
“He’s a really good player who is playing well right now,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s locking in on fastballs and breaking balls. You just don’t see him getting fooled very much.”
The Cubs will counter with right-hander Marcus Stroman (0-1, 6.00), who has a lengthy history against the Rays, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing. In 15 games vs. Tampa Bay, Stroman is 5-7 with a 4.57 ERA.
The only time he faced Tampa Bay last year, Stroman gave up five runs on six hits in six innings during a 7-1 loss on May 16. In his latest appearance, on Friday, he surrendered five runs on six hits over four innings in a 6-5 defeat against the Colorado Rockies.
The Cubs will need more production from an offense that has been led by rookie Seiya Suzuki since the start of the season. Suzuki will look to bounce back after having a nine-game hitting streak broken. The streak tied Akinori Iwamura’s record for the longest such stretch to open a season by a Japanese-born player.
Even though Suzuki went hitless, Tampa Bay may have been pitching around him Tuesday. He finished 0-for-1 and walked three times.
“It’s so impressive, man,” Cub starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks said of Suzuki. “Every-at bat. He doesn’t take an at-bat off. Plate discipline from the start. I know facing guys like that, it’s a headache. Every at-bat is tough.”
–Field Level Media