ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Christian Bethancourt had two run-scoring hits in the same inning and later moved from behind the plate to the mound to pitch a scoreless ninth as the surging Tampa Bay Rays beat the Los Angeles Angels 11-1 on Tuesday night.
The Rays own the top AL wild-card spot. They have won four straight and 10 of 12, and they moved a season-best 12 games over .500 at 67-55.
Bethancourt homered and hit a two-run single in a six-run seventh that gave the Rays a 9-1 lead. He has homered in a career-high three straight games after going deep just once over a 31-game stretch.
With Tampa Bay ahead by 10 in the ninth, manager Kevin Cash sent his catcher to the mound.
“Makes for an interesting dynamic in the month of September with rosters not being totally able to expand,” Cash said. “Right there, just the strike-throwing alone should give us some confidence he can go out there and pick an inning here and there.”
Bethancourt was no ordinary position player pitching. His fastball topped out at 95 mph as he allowed two hits and struck out Luis Rengifo on 94.4 mph pitch.
“Now I know what it feels like to be (Shohei) Ohtani,” Bethancourt said, referring to the two-way Angels star. “I was trying to get up to 100, but I’ve got some work to do.”
By contrast, Los Angeles infielder Phil Gosselin got three straight outs in the ninth on five pitches that ranged from 48 to 51 mph.
“Process of elimination there, the game where it was,” Angels interim manager Phil Nevin said. “Phil threw all strikes at 50 and got three outs.”
Los Angeles’ Mike Trout homered in the sixth for his 1,500th career hit. It gave him 1,023 runs scored, which is one short of Garret Anderson’s franchise record.
Corey Kluber (8-7) gave up one run on five hits in six innings.
Ohtani singled in three at-bats as the Angels’ designated hitter. The AL MVP left his pitching start at Detroit on Sunday after four innings with a stomach virus, and he pinch-hit in Monday’s 2-1 loss to the Rays.
The Angels have lost seven of eight and have totaled six runs over their last five games. Los Angeles (52-71) fell 19 games under .500 for the first time since Sept. 22, 2016.
Manuel Margot and Harold Ramirez had run-scoring singles in the third off José Suarez (4-6) as the Rays took a 2-0 lead.
Suarez struck out five in a row after Ramirez’s hit. The lefty allowed three runs and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings.
Trout made it 2-1 on his 25th homer off Kluber, a shot that struck an overhanging left field catwalk. Ohtani hit a drive later in the inning that was caught near the warning track in left.
Tampa Bay went up 3-1 in the sixth on Isaac Paredes’ homer.
Taylor Walls had a two-run single in Tampa Bay’s big seventh inning. Yandy Diaz, Margot and Randy Arozarena had RBI doubles.
Trout has three homers is 21 at-bats against Kluber. He has connected eight times in 90 at-bats at Tropicana Field.
Trout, who returned Friday after missing 28 games with an upper back-ribs injury, was lifted in the eighth for pinch-hitter Jo Adell.
“He looks really good,” Nevin said. “Each day you see the timing a little better. His approach is always good. See him get into one like that, it was good.”
Angels: INF Matt Duffy (lower back) continued his rehab assignment with Triple-A Salt Lake.
Rays: RHP Tyler Glasnow (Tommy John surgery) threw 21 pitches during his second bullpen session. … SS Wander Franco (hand soreness) hit in an indoor cage.
Angels RHP Mike Mayers (1-0, 5.22 ERA) will make his first start of the season Wednesday night after 18 relief appearances. He made two of his previous three career starts as an opener last year. The Rays will counter with All-Star Game starter Shane McClanahan (11-5, 2.29). The left-hander has given up four runs over 13 innings in his previous two starts after a two-outing stretch where allowed nine runs in 10 2/3 innings.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports