ST. PETERSBURG -- Players can only wear the "top prospect" tag for so long.
Tyson Ross was immediately considered as such after being selected in the second round of the 2008 Draft, hefty expectations following the local product's every move -- and rightfully so, given the 6-foot-6 hurler's obvious talent.
Ross has showcased it several times in multiple stints with the A's in each of the past three seasons. Also on display, though, have been command problems, which again plagued the righty in his most recent start, a 5-0 loss to the Rays on Thursday night.
It was likely Ross' last start with the A's for the season, as he was optioned on Friday to Triple-A Sacramento, where he is expected to pitch out of the bullpen. Reliever Jim Miller was recalled from Sacramento to take Ross' spot on the active roster.
Ross wasn't exactly stunned by the demotion, having been called upon at the last minute only because scheduled starter Bartolo Colon -- the team leader in wins, innings pitched and starts -- was hit the day prior with a 50-game drug suspension.
"I knew it was a possibility," Ross said. "Now I just have to move forward, go down to Sacramento and learn as much as I can about relieving and embrace that role and be ready come September.
"I'm excited for the opportunity. It's kind of been one bad inning here or there that's gotten me, where in the 'pen, in a limited setting, I think I have a chance to help this team win some games."
Four clean innings from Ross were overshadowed by a mess of one, a five-run fifth that propelled the Rays to their shutout of the A's -- Oakland's Major League-leading 15th shutout of the season -- in the first of a three-game set between two of the American League Wild Card contenders.
Oakland now trails Tampa Bay for the first Wild Card slot and is tied with Baltimore and Detroit for the second.
Ross, who went six-plus innings in his first start with the big league club since June 28, extended his losing streak to a career-high six games, a span in which he's allowed 27 earned runs in 37 2/3 innings for a 6.63 ERA. Moreover, in three lifetime starts against the Rays, he has allowed 14 runs, 21 hits and five walks in 10 innings.
The 25-year-old faced just two over the minimum through the first four innings, striking out four along the way. But he offered up a walk and five of his nine hits allowed in the fifth, including a two-run double to Matt Joyce, facing nine batters in the fateful inning.
"It was just limiting the damage," manager Bob Melvin said. "That's what I told him. For the most part, that's as good of stuff as we've seen him have. Plus-fastball with good movement, and as good of a slider as we've seen, and the changeup was working for him as well, so he had three pitches going tonight. [He] just couldn't limit the damage in the one inning they ended up scoring off him."
"It looks like when he went back to Triple-A, he got some things ironed out," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I thought his command overall was a little better this time. Really good. A live fastball with a nasty slider. He's going to be really good, with that little short-arm stroke."
Ross had compiled a 2.58 ERA in 11 starts while working on some mechanical issues at Sacramento. But with Thursday's performance gone awry, his chance at cementing a spot in the rotation will now go to someone else -- likely Dan Straily.
Straily was the logical choice to start this game, but the rookie had yet to tally the required 10 days in Triple-A since his last option. He's eligible to be recalled on Aug. 30, so should the A's choose to go with four starters until then -- which is possible because of Sunday's off-day -- they could slot Straily into Colon's spot. But if Melvin decides to give his starters an extra day of rest, he could turn to long reliever Travis Blackley for a spot start on Wednesday.
"We'll take a look at our options," Melvin said.
Oakland's offense, meanwhile, struggled to provide any support, tagging Rays starter Alex Cobb for just four hits. Stephen Drew, playing in just his third game with the A's, was responsible for half of them, snapping an 0-for-22 slump dating back to his time with the D-backs.
Cobb struck out eight and walked two in the complete game.
"He was mixing his pitches decently," designated hitter Seth Smith said. "He was throwing a lot of fastballs, but he was keeping them in the corners and, for the most part, away from the middle of the plate."
"Just shut [us] down tonight," Melvin said. "We've been pretty good here offensively, but we just couldn't figure him out tonight.
"I don't see us as a team that's been shut out that many times. It's more surprising than early in the year, when we had a string of them. We're starting to figure out the personnel better, which enables us, for the most part, to combat that."