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Carlos Rodón’s first-inning woes, Yankees’ struggles continue in loss to Rays

New York Yankees starter Carlos Rodón pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning of a baseball game Tuesday, July 9, 2024, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)
New York Yankees starter Carlos Rodón pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning of a baseball game Tuesday, July 9, 2024, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

ST. PETERSBURG — Before taking the mound at Tropicana Field on Tuesday, Carlos Rodón had a 7.50 ERA in the first inning. That number didn’t go down in the Yankees’ 5-3 loss to the Rays.

Instead, Rodón spoiled an early 1-0 lead when Tampa Bay responded with four runs in the bottom of the first.

The Rays first plated a run when Randy Arozarena doubled a misplaced slider down the left field line. Alex Verdugo was charged with an error on the play after bobbling the ball on the warning track, but the run was earned nonetheless.

So were the three that came from Isaac Paredes’ home run a few batters later. The third baseman drove a lower-middle fastball to left field.

“That’s gotta be a shutdown inning after [we] score one,” Rodón said.

While Rodón did not allow another run after the first, he only lasted four innings while totaling five hits, two walks and five strikeouts. He has now allowed 15 first-inning runs in his last six starts. While Rodón didn’t allow any against the Reds his last time out, he’s surrendered 19 total first-inning runs this season.

Only Austin Gomber (23) and Griffin Canning (22) have permitted more, according to .

“It has not been fun, that’s for sure,” Rodón said. “I’m just not really giving my team a chance to win giving up runs early.”

Asked about the starter’s first-inning struggles, Aaron Boone reasoned that Rodón could alter his pregame bullpen routine. But at the end of the day, it comes down to hitting spots and executing, the manager said.

“We’ll maybe try and get creative there a little bit,” Boone added. “I know Matt [Blake] and the pitching guys will get with Carlos and see if there’s something we can unlock there in the first, because once he gets settled, it seems like he’s got a lot of ways of getting you out.”

Rodón wasn’t so sure about changing his routine. Instead, he said “deploying the whole arsenal” could help, but that’s a concept he’s acknowledged throughout this stretch.

Diversifying his pitch mix has been a problem for Rodón, whose fastball keeps getting hammered, especially in the first inning. On Tuesday, he threw 46 four-seamers, 26 changeups, 13 sliders and 10 curveballs. The lefty didn’t touch his cutter over the course of 95 pitches.

Boone didn’t have a problem with the pitch mix. However, Rodón did after throwing 16 fastballs over 30 pitches in the first, including nine to the Rays’ first four hitters.

“I think it’s partially I try to attack with fastballs, be in the zone, and they’ve been getting on some heaters,” Rodón said of flailing in the first. “We get out there in the second, we start mixing. We mixed changeups, we mixed curveballs. I gotta make that adjustment as the game begins. Just [be] ready to use the whole arsenal from the get-go.”

Rodón’s poor opening contributed to the Yankees’ 17th loss in their last 23 games, but so did Ryan Pepiot’s evening.

The Rays’ righty rebounded nicely from a Gleyber Torres RBI single in the first, refusing to let the Yankees score again over 5.2 frames. Pepiot tallied four hits, three walks, seven strikeouts and 101 pitches.

The Yankees managed to cut the Rays’ lead to one when Ben Rice stayed hot with a two-run homer in the seventh. The rookie now has five dingers in 19 career games after leaving the yard three times on Saturday, but his Tuesday shot wasn’t enough to spark a Yankees win.

“Obviously, I wasn’t here for the majority of the first part of the year, but everyone saw what we could do when we’re at our best,” Rice said. “So I think it’s just a matter of time before we dig ourselves out.”

With the Rays also benefiting from a Jonny DeLuca RBI double in the eighth, the Bombers fell to 13-17 against American League East rivals this season.

“We got a losing record, so not well enough,” Boone said of the Yankees’ divisional record before Tuesday’s game. “Hopefully, that’s something we can improve on moving forward.”

The Yankees also haven’t won seven straight series. That streak would continue with a loss on Wednesday.

Marcus Stroman will try to prevent that, as he’s scheduled to start for the Yanks. Zach Eflin will face the Yankees as Boone tries to get his team back on track.

“It starts with me, and I filter in through the coaches,” he said. “It’s about us trying to get these guys prepared the best we can, setting a tone with how we present ourselves. But it’s on us as coaches to put our players in the best position possible to go out there and be successful.

“We gotta continue to try and do that to the best of our ability and trust that the ball is going to start to bounce our way a little bit and we can get it rolling here.”

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