Randy Arozarena leads the way as Rays beat Orioles, 9-3

Randy Arozarena of the Tampa Bay Rays scores on a single by Vidal Brujan against the Baltimore Orioles in the first inning at Tropicana Field on Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Julio Aguilar/Getty Images/TNS)
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Marc Topkin Tampa Bay Times (TNS)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Rays coaches noticed four or five days ago that Randy Arozarena’s bat looked to be quicker after he narrowed his stance. Another promising sign came Monday as he laced two hits off cutters, pitches he had been having trouble with.

Tuesday was even better, as Arozarena ripped a leadoff double and blasted his first homer in more than a month to lead the Rays to a 9-3 win over the Orioles.

Francisco Mejia, starting at catcher with Mike Zunino recovering from left hip tightness, had a big game as well, delivering a two-run homer and three-run triple.

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The Rays needed the offense they could muster. Their defense was a mess, as they posted their first four-error game since May 19, 2019, and had some issues on the mound, including three wild pitches.

The win improved the Rays to 56-29 and moved them to within one game of the American League East-leading Red Sox, who were rained out Tuesday.

Arozarena, the breakout star of the 2020 postseason, has been just OK this year, and somewhat inconsistent. He entered play Tuesday hitting .248 with 10 homers, 42 RBIs and a .724 OPS, a long way from the dynamic performance he showed and impact he had in October. But the Rays have remained hopeful he will regain something close to that form.

“We need Randy. We tell him that all the time,” hitting coach Chad Mottola said. “No one likes to be out of the lineup. He probably takes it the worst out of them all. But my message to him all the time is, ‘We know we’re better with you in the lineup, so we need you to get going,’ without putting unnecessary pressure on him. But we’re a better team when he’s going good.”

The Rays jumped out to a quick lead.

Arozarena, moved to the leadoff spot when Yandy Diaz was a last-minute scratch due to a recurrence of neck spasms, doubled off John Means. Vidal Brujan scored him on a bloop single, with a good send by third-base coach Rodney Linares.

The Rays made it 2-0 as Brujan moved up on a throwing error and hustled home on Wander Franco’s lineout to right.

The Orioles got one run back in their second as Rays starter Shane McClanahan recovered after loading the bases (single, walk, hit batter) to strike out All-Star Cedric Mullins with a 98.3-mph fastball.

Arozarena extended the Rays’ lead to 3-1 with a homer, his first since June 17, ending a stretch of 21 games without one.

And the Rays made it 5-1 in the fourth when Brandon Lowe led off with a bloop single and Mejia crushed a two-run homer. It was Mejia’s first homer since May 23 and his fourth overall.

McClanahan gave up just the one run, but it was a battle to get through five innings, throwing 93 pitches in allowing four hits, walking one, hitting one, and striking out seven. The Rays twice had relievers up in the first five frames.

The Orioles came back with two runs in the eighth off reliever J.P. Feyerisen and some sloppy defense, but Pete Fairbanks got the Rays out of it.

The teams conclude the series with a 12:10 Wednesday matinee.

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