ST. PETERSBURG — To get a sense of how things are going for the Rays right now, consider that opening day starter Chris Archer was wearing a promotional DJ Kitty head in the dugout and veteran OF Carlos Gomez was playing second base during Saturday's game.
It was that kind of night for the Rays, who lost another game, 3-2 to the Marlins, and potentially another player to injury, as SS Adeiny Hechavarria left due to left oblique soreness.
Hechavarria's departure in the seventh inning forced Rays prospect OF Justin Williams, just called up from Triple-A Durham, to make a challenging debut, pinch-hitting left on left against Miami's Adam Conley, and in a key situation, two on and one out. Williams, 22, who made it hurriedly from Buffalo, N.Y., to the Trop and into the dugout in the third inning, didn't deliver a moment to remember, grounding into a double play.
"It was crazy,'' Williams said. "I was nervous after the first pitch. My mind was saying, 'Just try to get the job done.' ''
With CF Kevin Kiermaier (foot) and 3B Matt Duffy (back) sidelined, and only backup C Adam Moore on the bench, the Rays put Williams in rightfield and moved Gomez to second. It wasn't totally wacky, as Gomez played there once in 2015, an inning for the Brewers, and does take ground balls there often, given a heads-up before the game he could be used. "I'm ready,'' he said. "I tell my manager any position I'm ready to play.''
Hechavarria said he felt only "a little pinch'' while fielding a grounder in the sixth and took himself out as a precaution, and the Rays feel they caught it in time to avoid a DL stay. Still, he likely will be out a couple days so expect Willy Adames, who cleared the 10-day minimum stay after an option to Durham, to rejoin the Rays Sunday. Also, Duffy is slated to return to duty.
The Marlins grabbed the lead in the fourth with a quick start against Ryan Yarbrough. Justin Bour walked, Starlin Castro singled and Martin Prado doubled for one run. A one-out grounder by Miguel Rojas scored the other.
The Rays halved the lead when Joey Wendle opened the home fourth with a homer to center, which was the Rays' first hit off Miami starter Pablo Lopez.
The Marlins extended the lead to 3-1 in the seventh when Cameron Maybin homered on a misplaced fastball by Hunter Wood, the third of five Rays pitchers in a game started by opener Ryne Stanek. The Rays cut it back to 3-2 on a ninth-inning blast by Ji-Man Choi that struck high off the batter's eye in centerfield.
Cash credited Lopez for making good use of an inconsistent fastball, but said his hitters have been complicit in the back-to-back losses to open post-break play that dropped them back to .500 at 49-49.
"Yeah, it's frustrating,'' Cash said. "I don't like to say it's disappointing because I know the guys' effort level is there. We aren't just piecing together any hits. They are frustrated. We've been pitched pretty good. I know our offense is better than that. We're better at putting pressure on pitchers, we just haven't done that with the exception of the ninth inning (Friday) night."
How badly did Williams want to make sure he made his flights for his first callup?
He ran — literally —from the Buffalo hotel to the stadium to get his equipment packed so he could head to the airport ASAP. "It was like six minutes, seven minutes, just right around the corner,'' Williams said. "Didn't want to wait on the Uber, I was afraid it was going to take too long.''
He made the first flight to Detroit then with only about 20 minutes until his connecting flight to Tampa and — you guessed it — ran through the airport to that gate. That flight landed around 6 and he made it into the dugout in his No. 6 uniform around the third inning. The day overall? "Rushed,'' he said.
Williams, 22, is probably the Rays most advanced outfield prospect, but wasn't necessarily ready for a callup, having hit .267 with eight homers, 45 RBIs and a .715 OPS. But with Kiermaier sidelined for a couple days (but not on the DL), Williams was the choice since he was already on the 40-man roster, though he is expected to have a short stay.
"He's an exciting young player,'' Cash said. "He's made progress. … Obviously any guy at Triple A still has room to improve but Justin has done some good things. I know our hitting coordinators really like that he hits the ball really hard.''
LHP Hoby Milner was optioned to Durham to make room for Williams.
• Ji-Man Choi's 460-foot homer was the longest by a Ray at the Trop in the StatCast era (since 2015) and longest by a Ray anywhere since Evan Longoria launched 462 feet at Colorado in 2016.
• The Rays lost for a majors-most 17th time when allowing three or fewer runs.
• With Yarbrough and Wood working Saturday, RHP Matt Andriese is probably in line to follow an opener on Monday.
• LHP Jonny Venters (hamstring) was rained out of a planned second rehab outing with the Stone Crabs in Port Charlotte.