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Yankees’ bats can’t support James Paxton, lose to Rays 2-1

Brett Gardner stayed hot, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Rays.

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

It was another close game in Tampa, but like yesterday, the Yankees couldn’t quite come up with a win. James Paxton and Charlie Morton both made great starts, and neither lineup ever got much going. Unfortunately, the Rays had just enough to edge out a win, forcing a series split with their division rival.

The Rays got to Paxton early with three consecutive hits to open the game. Travis d’Arnaud led off with a cheap double down the right field line. He was clearly late on Paxton’s fastball, but it snuck through the infield and allowed d’Arnaud to reach second. Tommy Pham brought the run in to score in the very next at-bat, and he took second when no infielder covered second base on the play. Yandy Diaz had the third hit of the inning on a single to right. It didn’t bring in a run, but Avisail Garcia did with a fielder’s choice in the next at-bat.

Paxton’s first inning struggles aren’t a new problem. He brought a 9.64 first inning ERA into this start and allowed two more runs today. Paxton had a 5.00 ERA in the first inning last year, but it doesn’t appear to be a problem that’s followed him for his entire career. Maybe there’s something in Paxton’s pre-game routine that could be streamlined to avoid this issue, or maybe it’s just one of those weird baseball things. I’ll leave this one to better minds to solve.

The Yankees’ only run scored in the second inning. After two quick outs, Brett Gardner put another ball in the seats at Tropicana Field. It was a 390-foot line drive to right field and his third homer of the series. Gardy set a career-high in homers back in 2017 with 21, and he has 15 at the All-Star break this year.

Outside a couple of early runs, both starting pitchers held both offenses in check. Morton looked like the AL ERA and FIP leader today, and not the guy the Yankees battered around back in mid-May. He struck out 10 in 5.2 innings, walked just one, and allowed just the Gardner homer. He had 13 swinging strikes, including four on his curveball.

Paxton was right there with Morton, despite giving up one more run. He went six full innings, struck out 11 hitters, and didn’t issue a free pass all day. However, the seven hits and two runs he surrendered put him in line for the loss when he left the game. It’s a shame because Paxton’s overall body of work was great. He just didn’t get enough run support today.

The Yankees’ bullpen allowed three hits in two innings, but no runs came across to score. Tommy Kahnle and Adam Ottavino worked together in the seventh, and Ottavino came back out for just one out in the eighth. Chad Green finished the eighth, racking up a strikeout along the way.

In the ninth inning, the Yankees sent Gary Sanchez, Edwin Encarnacion, and Brett Gardner to the plate, but they couldn’t get any offense going. Sanchez struck out. Encarnacion weakly flew out to right, and Gardner, despite going 7-14 in the series to that point, couldn’t do anything against Emilio Pagan. He struck out on four consecutive fastballs.

With this loss, the Yankees split this four-game series with the Rays and remain 6.5 games ahead of them going into the All Star break. Most of the Yankees will have the week off, but fans can still see a handful of players at the All-Star Game on Tuesday. DJ LeMahieu, Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres, Masahiro Tanaka, and Aroldis Chapman will all be eligible to play, and CC Sabathia is going to be honored in Cleveland before the game begins. The Yankees are back in action on Friday against the Blue Jays at home.