ST. PETERSBURG -- White Sox fans may look at Sunday's 3-1 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field, marking the South Siders' 19th defeat in their last 23 road games and seventh opponent's series sweep, and see very little to get excited about.
Their team stands a dismal 34-51 and in last place in the American League Central, having 13 games to make up on the division-leading Tigers. Combine the three games at Comerica Park next week with the White Sox 10-27 record since reaching .500 on May 26 and that deficit has a chance to grow even more insurmountable.
But there are some glimmers of hope. On Sunday, those rays through the darkness were represented by Josh Phegley's first career home run against David Price, the 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner, and John Danks' third straight quality start.
Watching young players develop and an accomplished veteran hurler fight his way back from season-ending surgery last Aug. 6 wasn't exactly the thrust of the plan in mind for the White Sox when they left Spring Training at the end of March. It's now the competitive hand that they've been dealt.
"This is a lot of fun in an inadvertent way," said White Sox hitting coach Jeff Manto, whose offense managed just three runs overall in its last 22 innings during the Rays' sweep. "It is tough, but yet you know what? The one thing you have to do as not just a hitting coach but as a coach is you have to be patient.
"We have some young players playing and definitely will be practicing our patience more than anything. It's an exciting time. Now we get back to our roots of teaching more often."
Phegley joined the big league club on Friday night, and picked up his first hit, first run, first home run and first RBI in the course of two games. He barely missed a home run in the fourth off Price (3-4), flying out to the left-field wall, but he connected on the first pitch from the southpaw with two outs in the sixth to cut the lead to 2-1.
Not only did Phegley pick up two hits and three RBIs against the Rays (49-40), but he also got into a groove behind the plate with Danks (2-6) on Sunday.
"Yeah, not bad," said Phegley of his big league start. "Kind of getting a couple of hits and the first homer out of the way, it kind of takes a little weight off the shoulders."
"He comes up here and doesn't seem frazzled or anything like that," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of Phegley. "Doesn't have the jitters. He's putting it in play and having tough at-bats."
Danks yielded three runs over seven innings, striking out five and walking two. Over his last three starts, Danks has given up six earned runs on 18 hits in 21 1/3 innings and has struck out 16 with three walks.
Tampa Bay got to Danks for one run in the first on Desmond Jennings' double, Sean Rodriguez's sacrifice bunt and Ben Zobrist's sacrifice fly. The Rays added another run in the fifth on Rodriguez's broken-bat, run-scoring single and pushed across a third in the seventh on Luke Scott's triple to right and Jose Molina's sacrifice fly, but it was that first-inning bit of execution that seemed to put Price at ease.
"Getting that one run in the first makes my job a lot easier to just go out there and make pitches," said Price, who struck out five and didn't issue a walk in his 98-pitch complete game. "Even though it's just one run, you have the lead."
"I'm very confident with my stuff and obviously the couple [starts] going into today were good. I was riding a pretty good high," said Danks, who featured an effective changeup as part of his 100 pitches. "I feel good about getting us deep in the game and keeping us in the ballgame. But I simply got outpitched by David."
Ventura tried mixing up the lineup for this series finale, throwing out eight right-handed hitters and Blake Tekotte. He used Alexei Ramirez in the leadoff spot, Jeff Keppinger at cleanup and Phegley fifth.
These changes still left Danks with little margin for error. It's tough for White Sox starting pitchers to feel as if they have to be nearly perfect every time they take the mound, working amidst the season-long offensive struggles. It's even tougher for members of the offense to continuously talk about those struggles.
"I believe this question has been asked so many times that you get tired of answering the same questions," said Alex Rios, who is mired in a 7-for-43 slump with no homers and five RBIs in his last 21 games. "It's still tough. It's the same thing day in and day out. It just gets old. You have to grind it out. That's it."
Regardless of where the struggles are coming from on a given night, the White Sox continue to win and lose as a team. And they continue to look for uplifting moments in the gloom.
"There isn't going to be any finger pointing. This is a pretty tight group," Danks said. "It has been a tough road to this point. We are going to keep grinding it out and play the season out.
"We're all professionals. We all have a lot of pride and this isn't fun for us. Just keep on working hard and try to at least make something out of this time and see what happens."