Opposite dugout: For openers, Rays’ pitching a patchwork affair

rays-logo.jpgManager: Kevin Cash (4th season)

Record: 56-56

Last 10 games: 4-6

Who to watch: DH C.J. Cron (22 HR), 2B Joey Wendle (.292/.345/.416), 3B Matt Duffy (.301/.353/.383), RF Mallex Smith (23 SB, eight 3B), RHP Tyler Glasnow (4.27 ERA), RHP Sergio Romo (13 saves)

Season series vs. Orioles: 6-7

Pitching probables:

Aug. 7: RHP Alex Cobb (3-14) vs. RHP Tyler Glasnow (1-2), 7:10 p.m., MASN2
Aug. 8: RHP Andrew Cashner (3-10) vs. TBA, 7:10 p.m., MASN2
Aug. 9: RHP David Hess (2-6) vs. TBA, 7:10 p.m., MASN

Inside the Rays:

The Rays now sit exactly at .500. They’ve had worse years. But the Red Sox have pretty much lapped the field in the American League East. Rays manager Kevin Cash has enjoyed some success with his novel “openers” strategy, in which a pitcher who would normally be working toward the end of a game handles the first inning or so, leading a parade of relievers. Under Cash’s creative method of coping with a shortage of conventional starters, the Rays pitching staff has the fifth best ERA in the league. The Rays also sit in fifth place in batting average, but 10th in runs scored. And the handwriting on the divisional wall has prompted management to trade away some talent, including catcher Wilson Ramos, who had been having a career year and was elected the American League starting catcher in this year’s All-Star Game, although he did not play due to injury.

Since Evan Longoria’s offseason departure for San Francisco, former Giant Matt Duffy has been holding the fort at third base for the Rays. While his .960 fielding percentage doesn’t make him a likely Gold Glove Award candidate, his .301 batting average puts him among the majors’ elite at the position. Acquired in an offseason trade with the Athletics, second baseman Joey Wendle is playing his first full season in the big leagues, and is making the most of the opportunity. Wendle had a seven-game hit streak heading into play on Saturday, when the Rays were held to three hits in a 2-1 loss at home against the White Sox. Speedster Mallex Smith has put himself among the league leaders in stolen bases and triples. His .299 batting average puts him behind only Duffy among the club’s regulars. Since Ramos made his exit, C.J. Cron is the only remaining Ray to reach double figures in home runs this year. Center fielder Kevin Kiermaier - like Smith, a stolen-base threat - is finally back on the job after spending most of this season on the disabled list with a torn ligament in his thumb.

Right-hander Tyler Glasnow will open the festivities at Tropicana Field tonight. Glasnow came to the Rays in the trade that sent Chris Archer to the Pirates, and has made just one appearance for the Rays so far. On Aug. 3, Glasnow started and went three innings, matching his season high, and gave up a run to the Angels on a solo homer, one of just two hits he surrendered. Glasnow struck out five that day. As of now, Glasnow is the only announced starting pitcher for the Rays in this series. Righty Ryne Stanek (1-3, 2.27 ERA) has been the Rays’ opener more than anyone, with 17 such appearances this year, none of them longer than two innings. He last pitched Aug. 3, so it wouldn’t be at all surpising to see him kick things off Wednesday or Thursday. If Cash decides to go with a traditional starter, it would probably happen in Thursday’s series finale. Lefty Blake Snell (12-5, 2.27 ERA) last pitched Saturday, giving up just three hits - including the solo homer that accounted for the only run he surrendered - over four innings.

Sergio Romo (1-2, 3.40 ERA) had a few turns in the “opener” role, but once the Rays traded Alex Colomé in late May, Romo became the closer, a job he’d held for years with the Giants. Lefty setup man José Alvarado (1-4, 2.54 ERA) has 20 holds, but took a loss Aug. 3 when he gave up two hits and the go-ahead run against the White Sox.

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