Nelson Cruz returned from the COVID-19 list, played first base for the first time in his career and hit a tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth inning for the Tampa Bay Rays, who beat the Philadelphia Phillies 3-1 on Tuesday night.
The 41-year-old Cruz, Tampa Bay’s designated hitter who had never played first in the majors or the minors, handled all his chances cleanly in his first action anywhere on defense since he played right field for Seattle in 2018. With two on in the first, Didi Gregorius hit a grounder that shortstop Wander Franco threw from the outfield grass, and Cruz made a nifty pick of a short hop to end the inning.
“I haven’t had that much fun in a while,” Cruz said.
Cruz had missed the Rays’ victory over the Chicago White Sox on Sunday while on the COVID-19 list but was reinstated before the game, and manager Kevin Cash started him at first to get his bat in the lineup in the NL park. He singled in the first and sixth innings before his big hit in the eighth, a line drive off Archie Bradley (7-2) that got past left fielder Odubel Herrera and scored Brett Phillips and Randy Arozarena.
Cruz’s work was done: Yandy Díaz replaced him at first in the bottom of the eighth.
“He looked comfortable enough over there,” Cash said.
JT Chargois (2-0) struck out the only batter he faced to end the seventh, and Andrew Kittredge worked the last two innings for his third save.
“Just an overall good game,” Cash said.
Brandon Lowe also drove in a run for the AL East-leading Rays, who have won seven of eight. Tampa Bay upped its AL-best record to 78-48. The Rays maintained their four-game lead over the Yankees, who won at Atlanta.
“We have fun, we enjoy each other and that shows up every single day,” said Cruz, who joined Tampa Bay last month in a trade from Minnesota.
Gregorius had a pair of hits and Brad Miller added an RBI double for the Phillies, who have lost five of seven.
“We just weren’t able to do much tonight,” manager Joe Girardi said.
Philadelphia remained 4 1/2 games behind Atlanta in the NL East. The Phillies are 4-9 since ending an eight-game winning streak on Aug. 8.
“We need to pick up our offense,” Bryce Harper said. “We’re wasting time. We have to get going.”
Lowe put the Rays ahead with an RBI single in the fourth, and the Phillies tied it in the bottom of the inning on Miller’s two-out double to right.
Rays starter Drew Rasmussen allowed one run on four hits in five innings. The 26-year-old right-hander was making his 15th appearance and fifth start, including three in a row. He has a 1.38 ERA over those three starts, allowing six hits in 13 innings.
Phillies starter Ranger Suarez gave up a run on six hits in 6 2/3 innings. Suarez has a 1.46 ERA in 32 games, five of which have been starts.
Franco, Tampa’s 20-year-old rookie, extended his on-base streak to 25 straight games with a fourth-inning single. It’s the longest active streak in the majors.
Bryan Minniti and Scott Proefrock are out as assistant general managers and Josh Bonfiay was removed as director of player development, Phillies GM Dave Dombroski announced.
Rays: 1B Ji-Man Choi (left hamstring strain) was placed on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to Aug. 23. … RHP Chris Archer will throw a bullpen session on Wednesday. Archer left Sunday’s start after two innings with left hip tightness.
Phillies: 1B Rhys Hoskins was not in the lineup a game after returning from a groin injury that had sidelined him since Aug. 5. Hoskins entered as a pinch-hitter in the ninth and popped out to end the game. Girardi said Hoskins would be in the lineup on Wednesday. … INF Freddy Galvis (right quad strain) and RHP Sam Coonrod (right forearm tendinitis) were activated from the IL. … Zach Eflin, out since July 16 with right knee tendinitis, will start Thursday, Girardi said.
The teams conclude the two-game series on Wednesday night. The Phillies will send ace RHP Zack Wheeler (10-8, 2.27 ERA) to the mound while Tampa Bay hasn’t announced a starter.
Cruz leads Rays past Phillies with bat and, yes, mitt