ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rangers turned in their first clunker of the season on Friday night at Tropicana Field. The Rangers would prefer to throw this one into the bay or the fish tank in center field.
They committed four errors that ended up costing three runs. They were held scoreless on three singles over six innings by the Rays' No. 5 starter and a base-running mixup scuttled their one potentially big rally. Starter Joe Saunders walked three in 3 2/3 innings and two of them ended up scoring. Saunders also hit a batter to force in one of those runs.
The Rangers even had an instant replay challenge go against them.
"It was one of those games," outfielder Alex Rios said. "Every season you are going to see a few games like that. There is nothing you can do."
Nothing really went right for the Rangers in an 8-1 loss to the Rays in the opener of their three-game series. Saunders had to exit the game after getting hit by a line drive on the outside of his left ankle. X-rays were negative and the injury is listed as a bruise.
"X-rays were negative, so that's a good thing, but it hurts," Saunders said afterwards.
Saunders' next start is scheduled for next Friday at home against the Astros. That's also one day after the Rangers either have to put Colby Lewis on the 25-man roster or risk losing him to free agency, but the concern right now is Saunders' foot.
Saunders left because of the injury, but wasn't going to be around much longer after allowing five runs -- four earned -- on six hits and three walks while striking out four. Rangers starters have pitched just 18 1/3 innings over four games and none of the four has yet to pitch at least six innings. Saunders outing was the shortest of the four.
"Looking back, I felt my stuff was a lot better than the results," Saunders said. "I thought I threw the ball well, but they worked some counts on me and I got behind some hitters. I tried to stay in the game as long as I could."
The Rangers defense didn't help him out either.
"We certainly have to tighten down our defense," manager Ron Washington said. "We can't give the other team four outs. It has to get better, and it will. We have the people to do it."
Rays pitcher Jake Odorizzi was making just his seventh Major League start, but used his newly-developed changeup to help keep the Rangers off-balance. He walked three and struck out four.
"We went to [the changeup] a lot in big situations, just about any situation," Odorizzi said. "And, it's just a lot of hard work that's paying off, and we're seeing dividends now."
Saunders put himself in trouble in the first when he walked Will Myers and Ben Zobrist with one out. Evan Longoria's single loaded the bases. Saunders struck out Logan Forsythe but hit Sean Rodriguez in the leg with a 2-2 slider to force in a run.
Saunders looked sharper in a scoreless second, and appeared like he might be getting into his rhythm. But shortstop Elvis Andrus bobbled Ben Zobrist's grounder to start the third and Saunders walked Longoria. After Forsythe flied out, Rodriguez hit a 2-1 fastball into the left-field seats to give the Rays a 4-0 lead.
"The first inning I was a little too fine and the walks hurt me," Saunders said. "The pitch to Rodriguez wasn't bad, he just put a good swing on it. I guess it was the wrong pitch at the wrong time."
The Rangers got something started in the top of the fourth against Odorizzi when Prince Fielder led off with a single and went to second on a one-out single by Rios. Mitch Moreland then ripped a hit down the right-field line that Myers cut off deep before it got to the wall.
Fielder stopped at third despite being waved home by third base coach Gary Pettis, but Rios and Moreland did not. As a result, the Rangers were about to have two men on third base. Fielder tried to score, but was thrown out easily in a rundown.
"I didn't get a good jump and I didn't pick up G in time," Fielder said. "It was my fault."
Donnie Murphy struck out to end the inning.
"You never know, we might have only scored one run anyway," Washington said. "But it's a different situation with runners at second and third with one out. You never know what might happen, but I would have liked to have seen what happened."
That was the Rangers' only chance to make this one competitive. Saunders gave up an RBI single to Myers in the fourth and Daniel McCutchen gave up a three-run home run to Ryan Hanigan in the fifth. Errors by Fielder, who dropped a routine foul pop, and Beltre, who fumbled a grounder right at him, helped set up the home run.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.