Bullpen ready to step up and perform
Tampa Bay (36-25) at Texas (31-32), Saturday, 8:05 p.m. ET
ARLINGTON -- When closer Troy Percival was placed on the 15-day disabled list on May 29, the common consensus was -- obviously -- the rest of the Rays bullpen would need to help fill the later innings.
But in the wake of Thursday night's starter, James Shields, getting ejected in the second inning and -- along with starter Edwin Jackson -- facing a suspension that could involve missing at least one start, the 'pen's performance will be paramount for the young club.
Carrying a 1-3 record into the midway point of a nine-game road trip, the Rays' relievers will be relied on heavily with shifts in the rotation expected as a result of suspensions from the Red Sox fracas.
"Obviously, we had to cover some innings [Thursday] night," Grant Balfour said. "That takes a little bit of a toll on the bullpen."
The reliever tossed 2 1/3 innings in Thursday's loss, his longest outing since being recalled from Triple-A Durham to take Percival's spot on the roster.
Balfour was one of five Rays relievers to try to contain the Sox following Shields' ejection in Thursday night's loss.
"We're going to do whatever it takes to go after [Texas]," Balfour said, adding that he will be ready whenever the Rays hand him the ball.
Ditto for J.P. Howell, who was instrumental in the series win over the White Sox last weekend and had a 4-0 record as a reliever.
The lefty is equally dangerous to left-handed hitters (.205 batting average against) as he is to righties (.207 BAA)
Howell, who has appeared in 21 games this season, said that added usage is something the relievers' arms are well-equipped to handle.
"It's what we train for, we know that," he said. "This might be a longer road trip than usual, but we'll get our breaks down the road from our starters. It kind of goes in cycles."
A repeat appearance like that of Friday night's starter, Scott Kazmir, would certainly help. The Rays' ace and reigning American League Pitcher of the Month, Kazmir held Texas to two runs over eight innings for his sixth win this season.
"Hopefully we get some good starts," added Balfour. "We're always looking for the starters to go deep into the game. If they do that, we're going to be in good shape."
Saturday's starter, Andy Sonnanstine, will aim for the longevity that has eluded him in his short career against the Rangers. The right-hander hasn't exceeded five innings in his last two appearances vs. Texas, and has yet to win a decision in three starts against the club.
The hurler will look to shut down the league leaders in runs scored at homer-friendly Rangers Ballpark.
Of course, some offensive spillover from the Rays' 13-hit performance on Friday night wouldn't hurt either, as the club generated only three runs behind Sonnanstine's no-decision on June 1.Pitching matchup
TB: RHP Andy Sonnanstine (6-3, 4.96 ERA)
After back-to-back tough outings, the right-hander's most recent performance was much improved, as Sonnanstine held the White Sox to three runs through 5 2/3 innings. He did allow 10 hits, however, and has yet to regain the early-season form Sonnanstine showed when he won four straight decisions. He is a master of deception off the mound, throwing an array of pitches from all different angles, but is at his best when he leads with his fastball. Sonnanstine has lost both of his decisions against Texas, posting a 6.75 ERA. TEX: RHP Scott Feldman (1-2, 4.56 ERA)
Feldman posted his fifth quality start of the season last Sunday against Oakland. He went six innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on four hits in an 85-pitch effort. Feldman left the game with a 7-4 lead, but the bullpen gave up nine runs to spoil his outing as he got a no-decision. "It's always frustrating to lose," Feldman said. "I felt fine out there and tried to get the job done." In four lifetime appearances against Tampa Bay, Feldman is 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA after allowing two runs, both earned, on five hits over five innings. Tidbits
According to Elias Sports Bureau, the 12 hit-batsmen between the Rays and Red Sox are the most between any two teams in the Majors this season. ... Rocco Baldelli went 1-for-6 in an extended Spring Training game Friday with a walk and a single. He will play again Monday and Wednesday in extended Spring Training games. ... B.J. Upton's home run on Friday night was his first since April 29 against Baltimore. ... Ian Kinsler's solo homer in the bottom of the eighth inning was the first allowed by Kazmir in his seven starts this season. Tickets
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Sunday: Rays (Matt Garza, 4-2, 4.21) at Rangers (Doug Mathis, 1-1, 9.00), 5:05 p.m. ET
Monday: Rays (Edwin Jackson, 3-5, 3.95) at Angels (Joe Saunders, 9-2, 2.63), 10:05 p.m. ET
Tuesday: Rays (TBD) at Angels (Jered Weaver, 5-6, 4.79), 10:05 p.m. ET
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.