Fossum's short start sets Rays back
Lefty allows five runs over one-plus innings; bats manage little
ST. PETERSBURG -- Starting pitching can carry a team -- or weigh it down.
The Devil Rays are experiencing the latter, as three of the team's five starting pitchers have been as inconsistent as their ERAs are high.
On Tuesday night, the Rays experienced yet another premature end to a winning streak -- this one topped out at two games -- when the Tigers pounded out 22 hits en route to a 14-2 win in front of a crowd of 11,518 at Tropicana Field.
"That was not a very pleasant experience and they pitched a lot better than we did today," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Casey Fossum started for the Rays and got roughed up early when he allowed five runs on seven hits -- including a home run -- in one-plus inning of work.
"I feel fine," said Fossum, whose health always is in question since September's shoulder surgery. "My arm feels good. I don't think my velocity is where I'm used to it and it's been kind of tough pitching where I am. I just have to figure out what to do and make adjustments.
"Some games it's worked and some games it hasn't. And obviously, today was one of those games where I just wasn't getting any ground balls. They were getting everything up in the air the other way."
Gary Sheffield began the Tigers' hit parade with his 11th home run of the season, a two-run shot to left field on an 0-2 Fossum pitch. Three successive hits followed to put the Tigers up 3-0 before Omar Infante grounded into a 6-4-3 inning-ending double-play.
Fossum pitched to three batters in the second before Tim Corcoran took over with the bases loaded. Maddon could not pinpoint Fossum's problem on Tuesday night.
"They were hitting the fastball and he wasn't even able to get to the breaking ball in most situations," Maddon said. "I really don't have a solid answer for you. I think velocity-wise, he was down maybe just a click. I can't give you a specific reason as to why tonight. He was throwing strikes and they were hitting them."
Corcoran immediately got Placido Polanco to hit into what appeared to be a 1-6-3 double-play. Ivan Rodriguez changed that perception with a hard slide into shortstop Brendan Harris, which resulted in a throwing error that allowed the second run of the inning to score.
"That was a great slide," Maddon said. "It was a hard baseball play. And that was a big play for them. That's part of why they are as good as they are. They play the game hard and properly."
Corcoran retired the next eight hitters he faced to keep the Rays in the game until the Tigers finally caught up to him in the sixth with three consecutive singles to load the bases. Shawn Camp came in and surrendered a two-run single to Brandon Inge. Two outs later, Sheffield added his second home run of the game -- a three-run shot -- to put the Tigers up 10-1. The Tigers added two in the seventh and two in the ninth to equal the final margin.
"Our guys kept battling away," Maddon said. "It was 5-1 into the sixth. That's why I brought Camper out there, because I felt if we kept it there we still had a very good chance."
Playing catch-up ball makes winning a difficult proposition, and like so many times this season, the Rays took the early hit from the Tigers. They have now been outscored 43-16 in the first inning. Meanwhile, the starting troika of Fossum, Edwin Jackson and Jae Seo -- who have the ball on the nights when James Shields and Scott Kazmir do not -- have not lived up to expectations thus far this season, putting together a collective resume that explains a lot about the Rays' slow start. In 29 starts, they have allowed 124 earned runs on 208 hits in 144 1/3 innings for a 6-15 record and a 7.74 ERA.
Seo already has been relegated to the bullpen -- and he allowed two earned runs on five hits in two innings worked during his first bullpen stint of the season on Tuesday night -- and Maddon did not dismiss the idea that more changes could be in the air.
When asked if Fossum could be bumped from the rotation, Maddon replied: "We're evaluating things constantly. And we'll just see what we're going to do next. But for right now I really have nothing concrete to tell you."
Maddon also acknowledged the organization has promising arms at Triple-A Durham.
"We actually have several [pitchers] who have been pitchers of the week in the International League," Maddon said. "There are different considerations that we're going through. We do have pitchers there."
Pitchers who might be taking the Durham to St. Petersburg shuttle any day now.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.