ST. PETERSBURG -- The Tampa Bay Rays have struggled to a 3-11 start, the worst 14-game opening in franchise history and the worst record in the American League.
No one aspect of their struggles is entirely responsible, but injuries impacting their starting rotation has certainly been part of the problem. Their three actual starters -- Chris Archer, Blake Snell and Jake Faria -- are a combined 2-3 with an ERA over 6.00 on the season, while the collective efforts of their "bullpen day" outings are considerably better, with a 1.15 ERA on the season.
The Rays will try another "bullpen day" Sunday against Philadelphia.
Trying to avoid a season sweep and turning to rookie left-hander Ryan Yarbrough, who makes his first career start after three outings, two in extended work as a long reliever.
Yarbrough has thrown four innings twice, going 73 pitches each time, and such an outing would be no worse than what the established starters have offered up. Yonny Chirinos may have the inside track on the No. 4 starting nod for now, and Andrew Kittredge has also pitched well in his spot starts.
Rays manager Kevin Cash -- who got a longer outing from reliever Austin Pruitt's five innings than he did from Chris Archer's four in Saturday's 9-4 loss -- is getting by with short-term solutions on the mound.
"It still takes some guys more time to get into the flow of the game," Rays manager Kevin Cash said after losing his third straight game Saturday. "A lot of credit goes to Philadelphia's lineup, they came out and attacked and didn't miss pitches."
Philadelphia (8-5) is in a much different place entering Sunday's season finale, having won five straight and seven of eight since opening the year 1-4. First-year manager Gabe Kapler is working with a largely young rotation -- he had Jake Arrieta on Saturday -- and Sunday starter Ben Lively is a big part of that.
Lively is 0-1 this season with a 5.56 ERA. He has lasted exactly 5 2/3 innings in each of his two starts, most recently giving up five runs against the Cincinnati Reds on Monday. He's never faced the Rays, and he's had only two interleague outings in his career, facing Oakland and Boston as a rookie last year and getting a 4.50 ERA between the two.
Philadelphia has momentum, and a solid start by Lively against a struggling Rays lineup would keep that going to close out their first trip to Tropicana Field since 2009.
"I think that it's about our players," Kapler said after Saturday's win. "They are producing every night. Our hitters continue to work deep counts and whoever is in the lineup that night is stepping up."
Odubel Herrera had three hits in Saturday's win, and J.P. Crawford drove in two runs and showed some offensive promise to go with his defense.
Philadelphia has a tougher task ahead opening a series against Atlanta on Monday, while the Rays stay home to play host to the Rangers in a series starting on Monday as well.