For openers, Verlander shuts down Rays

by Gary Shelton on March 29, 2019 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Rays

Blake Snell had a rough opening day./STEVEN MUNCIE

Thursday, 4 a.m.

The folly of Opening Day, as wonderful as it may be, is the eternal search for clues for the season to come.

A great pitcher is bad, and so you can talk yourself into believing that he is doomed to a terrible season. A team doesn't hit against a great pitcher, and you are tempted to believe it will be that way against mediocre pitchers, too. A team stumbles out of the gate, and you are convinced that they are destined for another bad start.

Say hello to your Tampa Bay Rays, the 2019 edition.

And say ouch.

The Rays took it on the chin Thursday against the Houston Verlanders, losing a 5-1 decision that, in reality, counts no more than the other 161 games to follow it. The Rays lost, as ace Blake Snell allowed three home runs in his six innings of work.

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Austin Meadows makes a nice sliding catch./STEVEN MUNCIE

No, it didn't mean that Snell's Cy Young season a year ago was a fluke, and it doesn't mean that he won't rebound this year. To think otherwise would be silly. Houston's Justin Verlander -- also a former Cy Young winner and a pitcher who has finished in the top 10 eight times -- was simply better. He allowed a homer to start off the game by Austin Meadows, and a single by Tommy Pham, but after that, he allowed only one more hit in seven innings of work. Put it this way: Snell would have had to have thrown a shutout to win.

Adames looks over a pitch./STEVEN MUNCIE

If you're going to tear out your hair over Snell, start with this. He had just three strikeouts on the day, hardly one of his more dominating performances.

"First of all, you have to credit the Astros' lineup," said Rays manager Kevin Cash. "It's a pretty talented group to say the least. They ambushed him a couple of times. They're just really talented. I think if Blake wanted anything back, he'd probably ask for the walks to the two hitters leading up to the Springer home run. Other than that, I thought the ball was really jumping out of his hand."

Verlander, on the other hand, was spot on. A year ago, when he was runner-up to Snell -- one of his three second-place finishes -- he had 11 starts where he allowed one run or fewer. Coming in, you knew the Rays would have to scrap for their runs.

Choi had a good game defensively at first base./STEVEN MUNCIE

They got one from Meadows. But they got nothing else. In the second inning, they put the first two runners on base, but they didn't score. In the seventh, they had runners on first and third with no one out but got nothing from it.

The Astros, meanwhile, went yard with homers by Michael Brantley, George Springer and Jose Altuve. Snell said he felt worse about back-to-back walks that turned Springer's homer into a three-run shot.

Jalen Beeks was solid in relief./STEVEN MUNCIE

"Command was good," Snell said. "I was happy with a lot of things I did. The only thing I was upset about was sequencing. I threw a first-pitch curveball to Springer twice, so for him to do what he did, credit him. I fell in love with the curveball. I kept throwing it. I didn't mix up pitches like I should have been doing.

"Frustrating, but there was a lot to learn, so I'm happy about that."

For the Rays, there were a few spots to feel good about.

Brantley is thrown out by Mike Zunino./STEVEN MUNCIE

New catcher Mike Zunino, for instance, threw out two baserunners.

Meadows hit his home run.

Yandy Diaz had a double.

Reliever Jalen Beeks struck out five over three innings and didn't allow a run.

And Tommy Pham, who came to the Rays during last season, had two hits and lined out hard twice.

"It was cool," Meadows said. "It was a pretty good swing on a good pitch he had made, but I was able to get the barrel out and make a good swing on it. It was a lot of fun running around the bases. I kind of blacked out. I don't remember much, but being able to do that on my first at-bat, Opening Day, was special."

The Rays play the Astros again tonight at Tropicana Field. The first pitch is at 7:10 p.m.

Pham gets caught off first base./STEVEN MUNCIE

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