Pitching a concern as Rays, Mariners finish series

As the Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays complete their three-game series Thursday in St. Petersburg, Fla., the traditional “getaway day” phrase doesn’t quite fit.

These two teams will face each other again in exactly one week. The only thing that will change is the venue. From May 5-8, the Mariners will host the Rays in Seattle.

That’s good news for Seattle, despite its 3-2 loss on Wednesday. The Mariners have won 24 of their past 34 games against the Rays, and Seattle owns a 7-2 mark in the past nine meetings.

Don’t expect a pitcher’s duel in this one. The Mariners will start righty Chris Flexen (1-2, 3.63 ERA) and the Rays will counter with left-hander Jeffrey Springs (1-0, 0.00), whose only two career starts came as a rookie with the Texas Rangers back in 2018.

Even though Springs is fresh off the COVID-related injury list, the Rays will hand him the ball. They don’t have much choice because they don’t have a lot of healthy arms with injuries taking a toll on the pitching staff.

The Rays will turn to the opener concept manager Kevin Cash unveiled in 2018 and hope they can get a couple innings out of Springs, who has pitched seven innings, all in relief, this year, before tapping into the rest of their staff.

Springs has limited experience against the Mariners. He has faced them eight times, going 1-0 with a 4.09 ERA. It’s also a concern that he will have to face Seattle’s J.P. Crawford, who has three homers vs. lefties this season.

Crawford extended his hitting streak to six games with a home run on Wednesday, but he had his streak of multi-hit games end at four. Crawford has been on a roll since April 20, amassing eight of his nine RBIs in that span while belting three home runs.

The Rays have recently found a power surge of their own — in a most unlikely place. Kevin Kiermaier, who usually bats in the lower third of the order, hit a two-run home run Wednesday. That followed his walk-off home run in a Saturday win over the Boston Red Sox.

“I’m starting to feel more athletic up there and swinging with a little bit more authority,” Kiermaier said. “I’d still like to make a couple more adjustments, but we’re heading in the right direction and that’s all you can ask for.”

Although Flexen has more experience as a starter than Springs, he doesn’t have a strong track record against the Rays. He is 1-1 with a 6.52 in two career starts vs. Tampa Bay.

Seattle also has had injuries to its pitching staff, but the Mariners might have dodged a bullet Wednesday night.

Starter Marco Gonzales threw only 11 pitches before exiting the game after he was struck by a line drive off the bat of Harold Ramirez. X-rays were negative, but Seattle manager Scott Servais wasn’t ready to declare Gonzales healthy for his next scheduled start on Monday in Houston.

“It’s probably not the best,” Servais said. “We have a lot of baseball ahead of us and he’s such a big part of what we do and a stabilizer within our rotation. But we’re in April.”

–Field Level Media

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