Normally, Joe Maddon will walk out of the clubhouse and head to the dugout feeling good about the Tampa Bay Rays’ chances that night.
Two words: starting pitching.
Now, Maddon admitted, things have been kind of awkward.
“I haven’t had that real consistent feeling in a bit,” Maddon said after Friday’s 7-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals in front of 13,407 fans at Tropicana Field.
Matt Moore continued his monthlong struggles with another loss, his third in as many starts.
He has allowed 19 runs in 1261/37 innings over that stretch.
“Just thinking about what I’ve done the last three starts, it’s pretty disappointing,” Moore said.
Moore also added to the recent woes by the Rays’ rotation, which is supposed to be the team’s strength.
“All the starters on the staff, we’re pretty good,” Moore said. “I think it’s just a matter of us doing what we’re capable of doing, staying within ourselves.
“You get going on some good streaks, you have some bad streaks as well, so we’re hoping it ends pretty quick.”
The Rays are 1-6 during their last seven games, largely because the rotation has allowed 32 runs over 31 innings.
They are not pitching as deep into the game as expected, and they are being victimized by the big inning.
“It’s different,” right fielder Matt Joyce said. “We’re not used to those guys struggling, and, obviously, we know how talented they are and how talented they can be, so I think for us, we’re not panicking. We’re not hitting the panic button, whatsoever.
“Shoot, man, the offense has struggled a little bit. The pitching has struggled a little bit. Maybe next week everyone will be on the same page and we’ll get on a nice little winning streak.”
The offense has been doing more than struggle in the first two games of this series with the Royals. They were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position Friday and are 1-for-22 in their past three games — all losses.
“We can talk about our offense all we want, but until we start pitching like we can, it’s going to be tough for us to get on a roll,” Maddon said. “We have to pitch.”
Alex Cobb, today’s starter, agreed.
“As a complete group, we haven’t been able to put together that consistent six, seven, eight innings by everybody every night,” Cobb said. “That’s not the kind of baseball we play.
“We know as starters we need to step up and go deeper and take some of the burden off the bullpen. They’ve been pitching excellent for us and keeping us in ball games, but we don’t want to rely on that.”
Moore was wild in the first inning, hitting the first batter he faced then walking the second. But after allowing a run-scoring single to Billy Butler with one out, Moore started the unusual 1-4-2 double play. That ended the inning and started a stretch where Moore retired 10 of the 11 batters.
He took a 2-1 lead into the fifth inning, thanks to Joyce’s third career leadoff home run and his second of the week, and a run-scoring double by Evan Longoria that scored Ben Zobrist (walk) from first base.
But a leadoff single to Jeff Francoeur was followed by a triple by former Ray Elliot Johnson and an infield hit by Alcides Escobar, a run that put the Royals ahead 3-2.
“The big inning has kind of been a pain in the backside,” Maddon said.
They scored two more runs that inning, and with Luis Mendoza getting the Rays to chase pitches out of the strike zone and come up nearly empty with runners in scoring position, those four runs were enough.
“I’m not overly worried about (Moore),” Maddon said. “I don’t know exactly when it’s going to be consistent, but this guy is going to be a very, very good major league pitcher, already is.
“It’s a little bit frustrating to watch that right now, and it’s becoming a little bit of an epidemic among the group.”