Rays counting on strong pitching against Rangers

MLB

With the weekend series against the Texas Rangers knotted at a win each, the Tampa Bay Rays will look to their strong pitching and stellar defense to claim the series finale Sunday afternoon in Arlington, Texas.

Rays manager Kevin Cash can only hope Sunday’s contest, which will be a bullpen game led by Michael Wacha, is as good as Saturday’s start by Rich Hill in the visitors’ 3-0 shutout in the middle game of the set.

Named the American League Pitcher of the Month for May earlier in the week, the 41-year-old Hill looked every bit the part in stifling the Rangers’ attack.

In firing five innings of two-hit ball and efficiently using just 59 pitches, Hill (5-2) anchored the staff’s whitewashing — the seventh time the Rangers have failed to score in a game.

Relievers Ryan Thompson, Jeffrey Springs, Pete Fairbanks and Diego Castillo came in to shut down Texas in the Rays’ fifth shutout, but it was Hill who cleverly kept the home side’s bats quiet.

“I thought Rich was really good again, really impressive,” Cash said. “Rich set the tone and was really outstanding.”

The defense has been a huge plus as well.

The game’s best play may have been catcher Mike Zunino’s amazing stop in the first inning of a pitch in the dirt, allowing him to fire down to second base and get Texas’ Adolis Garcia in a rundown for the third out with slugger Joey Gallo at the plate.

“That was like a magic play, to scoop that ball up and throw the guy out,” added Cash.

Wacha (1-1, 4.63 ERA) will make his fourth appearance since coming off the 10-day injured list after suffering hamstring tightness. He has yielded three runs in 6 2/3 innings in his return.

The veteran right-hander has made one career appearance against Texas, tossing 7 2/3 innings and surrendering six hits and one run in a June 17, 2016 start while pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals.

A day after his offense performed well in a 5-4 series-opening win to break a nine-game losing streak, Texas manager Chris Woodward said his club just ran into a hot pitcher in Hill — despite roughing up the southpaw for four runs on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings on April 15 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“Rich Hill’s been one of the better starters in baseball for the last however long,” Woodward said plainly. “He pitched really well, and after that we had to face their best arms out of the bullpen. That makes it tough.”

The Rangers produced just four hits in the loss — a triple by Charlie Culberson and singles from Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Garcia and Willie Calhoun.

In a day of scant offense, Tampa Bay went 1-for-4 with runners in scoring position — Austin Meadows’ two-run single in the first inning — while Texas was 0-for-1 in the situation.

A much more effective pitcher on home turf, Dane Dunning (2-4, 4.67) will start Sunday for Texas. The right-hander owns a 2.33 ERA in five outings at his home park but has a 7.20 ERA in six road starts.

In his lone career appearance against the Rays on April 12, Dunning earned a no-decision with four scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and fanning five.

–Field Level Media

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