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No decision but Rays RHP Nathan Eovaldi takes positive step

Nathan Eovaldi

Sunday afternoon’s result didn’t please Tampa Bay Rays starter Nathan Eovaldi, but it was still a positive step down the comeback trail.

The Rays fell 5-4 against the visiting Seattle Mariners and the 28-year-old didn’t factor into the decision. Eovaldi was pitching with a 3-1 lead entering the sixth inning but Mike Zunino followed Ben Gamel’s leadoff single with a 2-run shot to left field.

The home run ended Eovaldi’s afternoon but it marked a mini-milestone for the two-time Tommy John surgery recipient: His first 100-pitch outing. He threw 70 over six scoreless innings in a May 30 debut win at Oakland and 86 over five innings when the Rays lost 4-2 at Washington on Tuesday. Eovaldi factored into both decisions.

“In fairness to Nate and any of our starters, I think the most we’ve taken any of our starters is like 114 this year,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said after the loss that dropped Tampa Bay to 29-35 on the season. “We’re not going much past 100-105. Different circumstances, extra days off here and there, maybe we’ll do that.

“But Nate looks 100 percent healthy, which is ultimately really, really good.”

The righty had held Seattle to two hits and no walks through the first five innings and one of those hits came on a bunt single up the third-base line by former Rays outfield Denard Span. The first hit surrendered, however, was Nelson Cruz’s line-drive rocket to left-center that opened the day’s scoring.

Even when hits weren’t coming, one thing Seattle batters did well Sunday was make Eovaldi work. Three Mariners struck out against Eovaldi and no one drew a walk, but the right-hander’s pitch count was up to 61 after three innings and 102 by the time he got pulled following Zunino’s homer two batters into the sixth. The Mariners fouled off 37 pitches Sunday, many of which extended at bats and further ran up Eovaldi’s count.

“I felt like I was ahead most of the time in the counts and I was just struggling to put them away,” Eovaldi said from in front of his locker. “I feel like they were swinging at pitches inside the zone and outside the zone and getting a little contact on it and making me work deep into the counts. Other than that I just have to do a better job when I’m ahead in the count and varying the pitches and trying to get quicker outs.

Eovaldi remains 1-1 after three starts and is carrying a 3.94 ERA and impressive 0.63 WHIP. Opposing batters are hitting just .143 against him over his 16 innings of work.

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