Rays’ pitching takes a hit, actually many, in lopsided loss to Nationals

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The Rays always a have plan. Several actually.

On Wednesday, using Drew Rasmussen as an opener in a National League rules game, in Washington, they saw an opportunity with an early lead to switch from the expected script of having Michael Wacha follow.

Instead, they went to lefty Ryan Sherriff in the third inning, matching him up with the tough lefties at the top of the Nationals’ order. That failed miserably, as Sherriff put four consecutive batters on, and they all scored.

Then the Rays went to Wacha — the displaced starter who had been throwing in the bullpen during the first and second innings — for the fourth, and that went even worse, as he allowed five runs, including three homers.

By the end of the long afternoon, the Rays sustained one of their worst losses, a 15-6 beatdown featuring the most runs and hits (18) they have allowed all season.

“Whatever we were trying today ultimately didn’t work in our favor,’' manager Kevin Cash said.

There were just a few positives, as they Rays lost their third in a row, reaching the halfway point of the season 47-34, and their eighth straight on the road, the longest such skid since 2018.

Yandy Diaz crushed a 424-foot homer, and in the air to left, which he rarely does. Mike Zunino hit his sixth homer in his past nine games, and his 18th overall, most among major-league catchers.

And … and … their plane should have landed in time to get some good wings Wednesday night in Buffalo, N.Y., where they open a series Friday against the Blue Jays, with Rays prospect Luis Patino being called up to start.

“Just one of those days,’' Zunino said. “One of those days where it started from the get-go.’'

Each team scored two in the first, and the Rays took a 4-2 lead in the top of the third on Zunino’s homer off Nats starter Jon Lester that was gone quickly.

Cash said there were two reasons to go to Sherriff, who was called up in the morning when Ryan Thompson went on the injured list.

One was based on preferring the matchup to have him face lefty sluggers Kyle Schwarber, who was due up second in the inning, and Juan Soto, who would have been fourth, than the right-handed Wacha. The other was that the pitcher’s spot in the Rays batting order was due up second in the fourth inning, and Cash said he preferred not to have Wacha hit there.

Wacha, who had a strong outing last Thursday against Boston as a starter and noted how he was more comfortable in that routine, said the extended warmups (which were his idea to throw during the first and second innings) and delayed entry weren’t a major factor.

“I was just trying my best to stay locked in down there and keep throwing and try to come in with my stuff still sharp,’' he said. “I wouldn’t say that threw me off. It was just whenever I went into the game, just was not executing, was not getting ahead. … They’ve got a really good lineup over there. … So just got to do a better job.’'

The Rays’ problems were deeper than Wacha not being totally comfortable anyway, as reliever Pete Fairbanks had a messy eighth. He joined Wacha and Sherriff as the third of their seven pitchers in the game to give up at least four runs. (The Rays also allowed a cycle to Trea Turner, the third of his career, and on his 28th birthday.)

“Everything that takes any of these guys out of what they’re accustomed to and maybe the routine can have an affect,’' Cash said. “Saying that, was that the reason that none of us, myself included, just didn’t have a good day? I don’t know if I can pin it on that.’'

There was a lot of possibilities, that’s for sure.

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