After losing their series with their American League East rival, the New York Yankees, the Tampa Bay Rays will host a relatively unfamiliar foe -- the Pittsburgh Pirates -- in a three-game series in St. Petersburg, Fla., starting Friday night.
Most recently, the Pirates won two of three at home against Tampa Bay in 2017, but their last visit to the domed stadium was eight seasons ago. They hold a 9-6 all-time mark against the defending AL East champions.
The only familiarity between the teams is their spring proximity before the season, as both train and face each other on Florida's Gulf Coast. The Pirates hold their spring training in Bradenton, while the Rays are an hour south in Port Charlotte.
But this weekend's matchup isn't a spring training game where the starters play half a game and prospects trot over from the back fields to get an at-bat in the final few innings. And both teams certainly would enjoy a boost on the scoreboard.
Pittsburgh trailed 10-1 at home against the Chicago Cubs Wednesday night, resulting in second baseman Diego Castillo finishing the 14-5 blowout by mopping up on the mound in the ninth inning to save the bullpen.
"We've talked about this a lot, but this group continues to play hard," Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. "That game got out of hand a little bit today, but our effort level did not. We continued to still go after it."
Pittsburgh beat the Cubs 8-7 in 10 innings on Thursday, but the club is just 5-12 in the past 17 games.
The Rays let a victory against the first-place New York Yankees slip away from them Wednesday in the finale of a three-game set. The culprit proved to be a lack of quality pitching depth.
Starter Shane Baz lasted just 4 2/3 innings before being lifted, and six relievers failed to hold a three-run lead in the hope of giving the club a series win over the Yankees.
Instead, Jose Trevino cracked a go-ahead, two-run homer off seldom-used reliever Ralph Garza Jr. to propel the AL East leaders to a 5-4 win -- their 51st victory.
The right-hander allowed just one hit in two innings -- Trevino's shot -- but issued three of the Rays' eight walks, including Isiah Kiner-Falefa's leadoff walk that came home as the tying run.
Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash took part of the blame, having failed to call on Garza more often in recent situations.
"That ain't on Garza, not at all. That's on me as much as anybody," Cash said. "We optioned him, he comes back, so he had a layoff there just waiting for that spot. It kind of caught up on us."
Winners of just three of their past 12 games, the Rays have slipped into fourth in the division -- much closer to last-place Baltimore than to the Yankees.
In need of bullpen arms, the Rays acquired right-hander David McKay from the Yankees for cash considerations on Thursday.
Both teams will send out starting pitchers Friday who will make their first career appearances against the opposition -- Pirates right-hander Mitch Keller (2-5, 4.72 ERA) and Rays lefty Jeffrey Springs (3-2, 2.00).
--Field Level Media