The Tampa Bay Rays have scored one run total in their last two games, and they will try to get out of that slump against a pitcher in the middle of quite a tear.
Atlanta's Julio Teheran will start against the Rays on Wednesday afternoon, wrapping up a two-game series. The two teams will meet again for two more in Atlanta in August. Teheran's overall numbers this season (2-1, 3.65 ERA) aren't overwhelming, but they don't tell the full story.
Teheran, 27, gave up nine earned runs in his first two starts of the season, in a combined eight innings. Since then, he has dominated, allowing a total of six earned runs in five starts over 29 innings, for a 1.86 ERA over that span for the Braves (20-14).
Twice he pitched seven scoreless innings against the Mets, most recently holding them to two hits in an 11-0 win on Thursday. Just 12 days earlier, he had nearly the same outing, holding New York to four hits in a no-decision. He has yet to face the Rays in his major-league career.
The Rays (15-18) will counter with rookie left-hander Ryan Yarbrough, making just his second career start and coming off his best outing in the majors. Yarbrough (2-1, 3.33) gave up a leadoff single last week against Toronto, then threw five scoreless, hitless innings from there in relief, striking out four and earning his second career win.
Tampa Bay has patched together its rotation in the first part of the season, utilizing seven different starters with regular "bullpen days," like Yarbrough's first start, when he lasted 4 2/3 innings, giving up three hits and five runs (only two earned) in a 10-4 loss to the Phillies on April 15.
Rays manager Kevin Cash did not commit to Yarbrough being part of the rotation past Wednesday's start.
"With the lineup that they're featuring, if we're being completely honest, they throw a lot of lefties at the top," Cash said, according to MLB.com. "With (Yarbrough) being left-handed, I think he can give us some length."
The Rays' schedule has allowed them to get by with fewer starting pitchers. They had four off-days in April, and will get their third in eight days when they're off Thursday after the mini-series with the Braves. But from there, they'll play 11 games in 10 days (including a doubleheader Saturday in Baltimore), and after a single day off, they'll play on 13 straight days -- that's 24 games in 24 days, enough to test any pitching staff's depth.
Yarbrough's young season has been much like the Rays. Tampa Bay went 0-4 in his first four appearances, much like they did overall in a 4-13 start. They've gone 4-0 in his last four appearances, and they had clawed back to a 13-14 record before dropping four of their last six games since. Each outing is a chance for him to show he deserves to stick around as other pitchers get healthy.
Atlanta didn't need much offense in Tuesday's series opener, getting a Ronald Acuna home run on the way to a 1-0 victory at Tropicana Field.
Acuna, 20, went 1-for-4 Tuesday and is hitting .320 with three homers and six RBIs, while 21-year-old second baseman Ozzie Albies went 1-for-4 and is hitting .284 at the top of the lineup.
"We've been talking about these guys for a while so it's nice to see them here,'' Braves manager Brian Snitker said, per the Tampa Bay Times. "They're young, obviously. And I always say they are all very talented and confident players. They have a lot of confidence in in their abilities and I don't think they feel like it's a stretch at all that they're here at a young age. I think they all feel like they're right where they should be. And it's fun. It's great watching those young guys.
We've been talking about getting them up here and now that we do, they're making us a better team.''
If Teheran can pitch as he has in the last three weeks -- or like Sean Newcomb did Tuesday -- the Rays will be hard-pressed to get runs, let alone a win.