"I don't feel like I've had two good starts in a row," said Rays ace David Price.
This season has been a struggle for the lefty, who has posted a 4-5 record and 4.03 ERA through 13 starts this season. He will try to help the Rays even their four-game series against the Mariners on Monday. Even when he's been strong, the team has faltered, like in his last outing, when he struck out 11 Marlins in 7 1/3 innings, but took the loss.
"I feel like even when somebody's struggling, the other part, offense or defense or the pitching, picks up the other one," Price said. "And that just hasn't been the case thus far this year, and this is what can happen."
Tampa Bay sits 14 games behind Toronto for first place, and the urgency to win now is evident. Fortunately for the Rays, when Price faced the Mariners earlier this year, he turned in his best performance of the season, throwing a complete game with 12 strikeouts, while just allowing one run.
He'll oppose Mariners right-hander Erasmo Ramirez, who appears to be on a short rope after struggling to a 1-4 record and 6.82 ERA in his first seven starts. But he'll get another shot Monday in a tough matchup against Price.
Ramirez, 24, was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma last week, but lasted just three innings in a start at Atlanta, giving up five runs on eight hits, including a pair of home runs in a game the Mariners came back to win, 7-5.
"Ramy struggled," said manager Lloyd McClendon. "You have to make quality pitches, and he just didn't do that. He got behind and was in the middle of the plate. That's a good team [in Atlanta], and they hurt him a little bit."
Ramirez earned a rotation spot with a strong Spring Training and won his first start of the season with an impressive seven inning, two-run outing in Anaheim, but he's since gone 0-4 with a 7.96 ERA in six starts. He was sent down to Tacoma in late April and felt he'd squared away some control issues, but couldn't find that touch at Turner Field on Wednesday.
"I was just missing my spots too much," Ramirez said. "The things I wasn't doing in Triple-A, I did here and I paid for it. They took advantage of every mistake I made. I've been working hard in Tacoma, trying to lower my ERA, and I did it. I was throwing more strikes, controlling my pitches way better than I did [Wednesday]. That's kind of disappointing. I was happy, because the team came back and we got the win, but I have to continue working to bring what I was doing in Tacoma and do it here."
Mariners: Backups shining with two men injured
With first baseman Justin Smoak and right fielder Michael Saunders sidelined the past few games with minor injuries, Willie Bloomquist and Cole Gillespie stepped in and have performed very well.
Bloomquist has played first base in three of the last four games, a position where he hadn't started since 2004, and he's handled things defensively as well as contributed some key hits. Gillespie, who has played parts of the past three years with the D-backs, Giants and Cubs, seems to have found a role with Seattle. The 29-year-old has hit .476 (10-for-21) over his last six starts to raise his average to .341 in 22 games since being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma.
"They've done a nice job," said McClendon. "It's the hardest job in all of baseball to be a guy that comes of the bench and produces. The easiest thing is to play every day, get in a groove and find your swing. When you're not playing every day, it's tough. Some days are better than others, but they seem to have found it and have got big hits for us."
Rays: Maddon thinks McGee has 'All-Star' stuff
Rays manager Joe Maddon delivered his initial stump speech after Friday's game, so consider the campaign to get left-handed reliever Jake McGee on the American League All-Star team officially underway.
Maddon called McGee the Rays' "one true All-Star" on Friday night after he struck out three batters on 15 pitches in a perfect seventh inning against the Mariners, bouncing back from a rare misstep the night before.
McGee, 27, has been all but untouchable this season, even if his middle-relief role might not draw the attention that comes along with being a closer or a starting pitcher. He has a 1.59 ERA and has allowed 16 hits and only six walks in 28 1/3 innings. He's struck out 33 batters. Count Maddon among those who believe that a player's ability is more important than which inning he usually pitches.
"I would like to believe so. I know he's a 'non-closer,' but he's got 'closer' kind of stuff," Maddon said.
• Mariners closer Fernando Rodney recorded his 17th save in 19 chances on Saturday, putting him in a tie for the American League lead with the Royals' Greg Holland. Since June 15, 2013 when he was with the Rays, Rodney has posted a 2.03 ERA, the fourth-best ERA among any AL reliever with at least 50 appearances.
• On Sunday, the Rays began wearing commemorative blue "ZIM" patches on their right sleeves in honor of Don Zimmer.
Jake Kring-Schreifels is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.