MLB Hoosiers (Sept. 19): Aaron Slegers Helps Rays Stay Atop AL East Race

Tom Brew

When there's a division title and top seed in the playoffs on the line, every pitch matters. Aaron Slegers knows that all too well.

Slegers, the former Indiana star who's now a big part of Tampa Bay's nasty bullpen, pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings on Saturday night, helping the Rays to a 3-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. He came in with two outs in the sixth inning and retired eight of the nine batters he faced, allowing only a harmless single and striking out two.

The win was huge for Tampa Bay, because it is trying to hold off the red-hot New York Yankees in the American League race. The Rays are now 35-18 with seven games to go and have a three-game lead on New York, which has won 10 games in a row. The Rays also have the best record in the AL, a half-game ahead of the Chicago White Sox.

So, yes, every win matters. And matters a lot.

"We’re not overly concerned with what they’re doing,'' Rays manager Kevin Cash said of the Yankees. "We don’t plan on losing either.''

Tampa Bay, a low-budget outfit that tries to compete in the AL East with free-spending teams like New York and the Boston Red Sox, has only won the division twice in its history, which started in 1998. So this would be big, short season or not.

"We’re seeing the Yankees, and they’re playing great baseball right now,'' Tampa Bay starter Charlie Morton said. "We’re starting to pay attention to all these games that are going on and how that impacts us and where we stand.

"But it’s in our hands, it’s in our control. That’s all you really can ask for. We’re in a good spot.''

Slegers was called up on Aug. 12 and he's been very good after his rocky debut, where he gave up a grand slam and five runs to the Red Sox. Since then, he's pitched 21 innings and allowed only four earned runs, which would be good for a 1.71 ERA. Even with that shaky start, he's at 3.52 and is part of a bullpen that is dominant.

Anonymous, yes, but dominant anyway. And they're a team that will be fun to watch in the playoffs when they start next week.

"We’re just a bunch of gritty, scrappy players, top to bottom, one through 25,'' Tampa Bay center fielder and team leader Kevin Kiermaier said. "We might not have many household names, I guess you could say, but we’re completely OK with that. Guys are out here trying to make a name for themselves. We know at the end of the day our opposition, the team that’s on the other side, they know what we can do, and we have a lot of confidence in our bunch.

“We’re a small-market team, and we go up against some big dogs with a lot of attention, a big payroll and all that. But it’s very fulfilling being on a team like ours where there are no egos or anything that is a distraction each and every day.''

Slegers is one of five former Indiana baseball players currently in the major leagues. He pitched at Indiana from 2011 to 2013. He was the winning pitcher when Indiana won the Big Ten tournament in 2013, and pitched well throughout Indiana's run to the College World Series that year.

Hoosiers in the Pros on Saturday

  • Caleb Baragar, San Francisco Giants: Baragar didn't play in the Giants' 6-0 loss to the Oakland A's. The loss dropped San Francisco to 25-26 on the season and left them in a virtual tie with the Cincinnati Reds for the final playoff spot in the National League.
  • Alex Dickerson, San Francisco Giants: Dickerson didn't play in the Giants' 6-0 loss to the Oakland A's.
  • Kyle Schwarber, Chicago Cubs: Schwarber was 0-for-4 in the Cubs' 8-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins.  Schwarber has really been struggling of late and is now just  2-for-38 in his last 13 games. The Cubs are 31-21 on the season and have a 4.5-game lead in the National League Central over the St. Louis Cardinals.
  • Jonathan Stiever, Chicago White Sox:  Stiever did not pitch in Chicago's 5-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds. With the win, the White Sox raised their record to 34-18 and maintained their three-game lead over the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central. 
  • * Kyle Hart, Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox placed Hart on the 45-day injury list on Tuesday, so his season is done with Boston. He struggled in his major-league debut, appearing in four games — three starts — but allowing 19 runs and 24 hits in just 11 innings.
  • * Josh Phegley, Chicago Cubs: Phegley was designated for assignment by the Cubs and was sent to their alternate site on Sept. 3. 

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