Bullpen soars, then sinks against Twins

Bullpen soars, then sinks against Twins

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Rays' bullpen came through in two clutch spots on Saturday, but unfortunately, the third time was not a charm.

Reliever Tommy Hunter gave up a two-out, two-run homer to Brian Dozier in the eighth inning as Tampa Bay dropped a 5-3 decision to the Twins.

Tied at 2 to start the frame, reliever Danny Farquhar (2-2) walked leadoff hitter Chris Gimenez. He made his way to third base on a sacrifice bunt and a groundout, and with Minnesota's 2016 home run leader due up, Rays manager Kevin Cash turned to Hunter, a key piece of the Tampa Bay bullpen this season.

The right-hander fell behind in the count 2-0, but instead of grooving one over the middle, Hunter threw a 96-mph fastball on the outer third of the plate. Dozier, known as a dead pull hitter, went with the pitch and hit it off the facing of the second deck in right-center to put the Twins on top.

"I fell behind, so that's the big thing. You've got to get the first strike in that situation and I fell behind," Hunter said. "He put the barrel on the ball, and that's what happens with guys like him. It's just a situation that you don't want to have happen, at all, period. But it happened."

Hunter had missed a month earlier this season due to a right calf strain, but he was activated on Thursday and worked a scoreless inning against the Angels later that day. He came into the game with a 0.96 ERA, and he hadn't given up a run in his last five appearances, so the decision to bring him in wasn't that difficult for Cash.

"He's good," Cash said, describing both Hunter's calf and his overall confidence in the veteran reliever. "Brian's shown he can hit the ball out of the ballpark and he made the most of it and put a good swing on it."

Earlier in the game, Cash had pushed the right buttons with his bullpen in a couple of key spots. With two on and two out in the sixth, he brought on Jose Alvarado in relief of starter Jake Odorizzi. Alvarado retired Joe Mauer on a routine fly to left to strand the runners.

"Alvarado came in and did a fantastic job against a great hitter over his career," said Odorizzi, who had thrown 118 pitches by that point. "It was a tough out. He was able to get it for me and get me off the hook."

Then in the seventh inning, Alvarado walked leadoff man Robbie Grossman. One out later, Cash turned to Farquhar to get the final two outs, starting with pinch-hitter Miguel Sano. The situation got stickier when Farquhar threw errantly on a pickoff attempt and pinch runner Byron Buxton sped to third base with one out.

Farquhar settled down to strike out Sano and get Eduardo Escobar on a fly ball to left to end that threat. But his walk to Gimenez leading off the eighth turned out to be one of the key at-bats of the game.

"Danny comes in, gets out of a bind there in his first frame," Cash said. "But in his next one, walks are going to haunt you, and that's ultimately what happened."

Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to MLB.com based in Minneapolis and covered the Rays on Saturday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.