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Yankees 4, Rays 7: Bullpen blows comeback attempt

The Yankees have now failed to win a series in their last 10 tries.

New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

On a day when Carlos Rodón actually found some effectiveness and the offense looked alive early, it was the Yankees’ bullpen that played spoiler, squandering a comeback by the bats and relegating the Bombers to their eighth-straight rubber game defeat. The team now has just one series win in 16 tries dating back to the start of July — a sweep of the lowly Royals almost five weeks ago.

Things could not have gotten off to a more inauspicious start at the Trop as it appeared the Yankees were once again primed to piss away an opportunity at a series win. Randy Arozarena singled to lead off, stole second, advanced to third on an errant Kyle Higashioka throw, and scored on a wild Harrison Bader throw that missed both cutoff men in the closest approximation to Little League baseball as you are likely to see on an MLB diamond this weekend. Rodón appeared to have lost concentration after the comedy of errors, and grooved an 0-2 fastball to Brandon Lowe, who deposited it in the Rays tank to make it 2-0 Tampa. The home team would even load the bases in the inning, but Rodón bore down to retire the final two batters and leave the bases juiced.

Reflecting on Carlos Rodón’s previous starts and watching the first inning today, I once again found myself feeling that there’s something seriously wrong with the Yankees southpaw. One of the best starting pitchers in baseball over the last two seasons, Rodón has produced close to the most negative value (-0.5 fWAR) of any pitcher in the league despite throwing just 33 innings entering today. During that past run of dominance, he was a nightmare against lefty hitters, holding them to a three home runs and a .207 average between 2021 and 2022. With Lowe’s solo shot in the first, Rodón has already matched those three home runs served to lefties in under 1/5 of the inning pitched. It was also the 10thhome run Rodón has given up in 34 innings this year, after allowing just 12 in 178 innings last season.

I like to look at execution in two-strikes counts as a proxy for a pitcher’s effectiveness. The top pitchers in the league usually salivate over two-strike counts — the hitter is on the back foot while the pitcher is on the attack with an expanded array of options at his disposal both in terms of pitch selection and location. That’s why it’s so alarming to see Rodón — one of the premier strikeout artists of the last two years — struggling mightily in these situations. His strikeout rate is practically cut in half relative to that stretch and indeed that trend repeated in the first today, with three of the four Rays hits coming in two-strike counts.

There’s plenty of chatter that Rodón’s limited repertoire — he throws the fastball and slider a combined 93.6 percent of the time — is the culprit. However, that he was so successful with a similar pitch mix over the last two seasons suggests that deeper digging is required. The biggest thing that stands out to me is the location of his pitches, with too many fastballs coming in belt-high or lower and not enough sliders landing below the zone, but in truth the sample size is too small to draw any meaningful conclusions about whether he is a fundamentally different pitcher than the one they thought they were signing or whether this is still just the rust of having missed the first half of the season.

To his credit, Rodón settled into the outing after the hectic first, at one point retiring 11 batters in a row. This allowed his offense to relax and go to work against Zack Littell, with the opening salvo coming in the form of back-to-back solo shots in the third by Kyle Higashioka and DJ LeMahieu — the latter’s third home run this series — to tie the game at two apiece.

New York would grab a lead the following inning, as rookie Everson Pereira led off with a single to set up a two-run opposite field bomb by fellow rookie Anthony Volpe, the shortstop’s 18th of the year.

Despite pitching with a 4-2 lead, the smooth sailing for Rodón ended in the fifth, as he issued a pair of walks to Jonathan Aranda and Brandon Lowe sandwiched around a pair of strikeouts of Randy Arozarena and Harold Ramírez to end his outing. Aaron Boone called on Ian Hamilton out of the bullpen, who promptly hit Isaac Paredes in the helmet with a fastball to load the bases. However, he managed to strike out Josh Lowe meaning the Rays once again left all three ducks on the pond.

He would not get so lucky the following inning. After converting a pair of quick outs, Hamilton ceded a single to Christian Bethancourt, plunked Aranda, and induced a soft Arozarena grounder that the Tampa outfielder beat out for an infield single. The third time was the charm for the Rays with the bases loaded, as Ramírez was able to foul of pitch after pitch before dunking a single in to plate a pair and tie the game, 4-4.

For whatever reason, Torres’ first move was to saunter backwards, and by the time he realized he needed to quicken his pace it was too late, with the bloop sailing agonizingly close over his outstretched glove. It’s exactly this lack of urgency that has symbolized the Yankees’ inability to get back into the Wild Card race. After Hamilton failed to replicate the disappearing act from the prior inning, Boone went to Wandy Peralta, who immediately surrendered a two-run single to Lowe to put the final nail in the Yankees’ coffin, 6-4.

Their offense never had a chance once Littell departed the game, failing to record a baserunner from the end of the fourth inning on. These are the series when you need your biggest players to make a statement, but unfortunately Aaron Judge finished the three-game set 0-for-12 with eight strikeouts — including a hat trick today.

Things got a little spicy at the end when Albert Abreu hit Arozarena in the ribs with a 96-mph sinker. It was the third hit batter by Yankees pitchers this game and the 12th time they’ve plunked a Ray this season. Both benches cleared as Arozarena and Abreu stared each other down.

After a bit of posturing both teams cleared the field, and Arozarena did what every hitter should do after getting plunked, stealing second and third. The benches cleared again as he and Abreu jawed at each other after the steal of third, but the dust settled quickly, allowing Lowe to club a double to the right-center field gap to plate Arozarena, giving the Rays’ second baseman three hits and four RBI on the contest as well as extending his team’s lead to the eventual final score, 7-4.

The Yankees will next travel to Detroit in their quest to finally win another series. The Tigers aren’t good, but alas, neither are the Yankees, so we’ll see what happens. Luis Severino faces Reese Olson with first pitch coming at 6:40pm ET.

Box Score