CHICAGO — Manager Joe Maddon has said on a number of occasions that for the Rays to make a run at a playoff spot, they need the bullpen to be locked down. And for that to happen, they need RHP Joel Peralta and RHP Grant Balfour to pitch at their highest level.
Peralta has turned the corner after returning from the disabled list. Sunday was his seventh consecutive scoreless outing.
Balfour, though, continues to struggle.
He gave up a two-out double and triple in the seventh inning that allowed the Cubs to tie the score in a game they won 3-2 in 12 innings.
“It’s been an up-and-down year for me,” Balfour said. “I’m in the groove for a little bit there and for some reason I’ll go out of it and go back into these habits of flying open and not allowing my body and my arm to do what I want to do. And make the pitches that over the past four, five, six years I can just see myself making that pitch time and time again, hitting down and away.”
Balfour said he made a good pitch to Chris Coghlan that ran the count to 3-2, then felt his shoulder fly open on the next pitch, which became the hanging curveball that Coghlan drilled into right field to drive in the tying run.
Balfour said he worked on his delivery in the clubhouse after he was removed from the game in an effort to find that comfortable slot.
“I need to get out there and throw up a zero and get that confidence back out there,” Balfour said.
Sunday’s outcome might have changed had the wind not been blowing in toward that plate at Wrigley Field.
Sean Rodriguez, who played four positions during the game, drove a ball into right field in the sixth inning that Justin Ruggiano caught at the wall. Rodriguez hit a ball even harder in the seventh to left field that was knocked down by the wind and robbed Rodriguez of a three-run homer.
“I bet you if you asked him, he can’t hit the ball any better than that. I mean that sincerely,” Maddon said. “In Tropicana Field, which is a hard home run field, I believe back row at least or even the cigar deck.”
C Jose Molina is scheduled to play tonight, meaning LHP Drew Smyly will be working his unique system of getting his signs from an unfamiliar catcher for his second straight start as a Ray.
Smyly often has trouble seeing the signs from the catcher since he doesn’t want to wear contacts while he pitches. Sometimes the catcher will paint his finger nails a bright color or wrap his fingers with bright colored tape. Other times the catcher will use hand gestures to signal for the pitch.
“That’s just kind of what I like to do. I don’t see why you guys are talking about it. That’s just how I get my signs,” Smyly said. “Everyone has different signs, whether it’s fingers, the way you give the signs, everyone is different.”
Maddon said he doesn’t see this as being an issue with Smyly.
“That’s between him, the catcher and the pitching coach. Whatever they decide on is fine with me,” Maddon said. “I don’t think it’s a big deal. Having been a catcher, I don’t think it’s a big deal. ... Molina might paint his fingers up, I don’t know. Whatever it takes, they’ll figure it out.”
Whole lot of K’s
The Rays set a record for strikeouts in a three-game series with 44.
Included in that was Saturday’s 15-strikeout, zero-walk, zero-run game, the second time the Rays turned that trick in 18 days. That has happened two other times this season (Miami RHP and former Alonso High standout Jose Fernandez was a part of one of those games on April 22 at Atlanta, striking out 14 in a 1-0 victory) and just 19 times in the past 100 years.
Saturday also marked the eighth time this season the Rays recorded at least 10 strikeouts and no walks in a shutout. That’s the most for one team in one season during the past 100 years.
Rays pitchers walked two batters in 311⁄3 innings during the three-game series. ... The Rays went 10-10 in interleague play. ... RHP Jake Odorizzi leads all major-league rookies with 139 strikeouts. ... Rays TV play-by-play announcer Dewayne Staats sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch. Staats, who used to call Cubs games, also participated in the Wrigley Field tradition in 2003 when the Rays last played the Cubs in Chicago.