ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Make no mistake, there’s little margin for error if you pitch for the White Sox.
It took excellent starts from Chris Sale, Carlos Rodon and Jose Quintana for the Sox to sweep the Houston Astros, and it would have taken more of the same Friday for John Danks to beat the Tampa Bay Rays and keep a needed winning streak going in the first game of a five-game road trip.
That’s a lot to ask from the fifth starter. Danks wasn’t great but he wasn’t bad, and he fell to 3-6 and the Sox fell to 28-31 as the Rays held on for a 7-5 victory.
“Like I told Coop [pitching coach Don Cooper] the other day, sometimes we feel like we have to pitch perfectly because we can’t give up a whole lot,’’ said bench coach Mark Parent, who is taking over for Robin Ventura this weekend while the Sox manager attends his daughter’s college graduation. “We’re not really swinging like we’re capable of.’’
The Sox rank near the bottom of the American League in runs, homers and on-base percentage, among other offensive categories. They’ve scored two runs or less 21 times.
They get their fourth and fifth runs in this one on Jose Abreu’s homer off the right-field foul pole with two outs in the seventh inning, cutting the Rays lead to 6-5. But this was a night when that Sox bugaboo, defense, bit them where it hurts.
Five runs might have been enough had the Sox played cleaner D. An error by Abreu on a perfect throw from third baseman Gordon Beckham and a passed ball by Tyler Flowers led to two unearned runs in the Rays’ sixth.
“It was my fault,’’ acknowledged Abreu, who said he stretched to far too soon for the throw. “I just missed it.’’
After the Abreu homer, 30-year old right-hander Junior Guerra’s debut got off to a rough start when shortstop Alexei Ramirez failed to make a running catch on a soft liner that fell for a hit by Jake Elmore — the first batter Guerra faced in his career — who would score the Rays’ seventh run. It wasn’t scored an error, but it’s a play that Ramirez often makes.
None of the three Rays who scored in the sixth hit the ball out of the infield.
“I felt good with what I had going, throwing strikes with multiple pitches, was down in the zone,’’ Danks said. “It’s just one of those nights where it couldn’t bounce my way.’’
It took a bunt for a hit by Adam Eaton and Rays catcher Rene Rivera’s errant throw allowing Carlos Sanchez to score from first to get the Sox offense going against rookie Matt Andriese. Eaton scampered all the way to third and scored on Alexei Ramirez’ sacrifice fly to tie the game at 2.
Danks worked through a typical start, going 5 1/3 innings and allowing five runs (three earned) on eight hits and a walk. Cleaner defense would have given him a quality start.
“It’s baseball,’’ Danks said. “They put the ball in play, made things happen and it worked out for them.’’
NOTES: Abreu’s homer marked the first time in his career he has gone deep in three consecutive games.
*With the exception of first-round pick Carson Fulmer, who is pitching in the College World Series and ineligible to sign, the Sox haveagreed to terms with their top 15 draft picks – including seventh-round Simeon product Blake Hickman of Iowa — and 26 of their 38 picks.
Fulmer is expected to sign after Vanderbilt is finished competing in the College World Series. He is pitching Sunday night vs. Cal State Fullerton (ESPN2).
*Probables for Pirates in Pittsburgh: Monday, Carlos Rodon vs. Francisco Liriano; Tuesday, Jose Quintna vs. Charlie Morton.