The games still mean nothing, but how great is it to have some Rays scores to talk about? On Saturday, the Rays began their spring season with two split-squad games, losing at home versus the Pittsburgh Pirates in Port Charlotte and then beating the Boston Red Sox on the road in Ft. Myers, and let’s break down exactly what happened.
Pirates 3, Rays 2
Several Rays pitchers delivered outstanding pitching in this one, but a bullpen collapse put them in a deficit and a late rally wasn’t enough as the Rays fell 3-2 to the Pirates. Roberto Hernandez started in his unofficial Rays debut, working a perfect inning, before Jeff Niemann, Hernandez’s principal competition for the Rays’ 5th starter job, was even better, striking out 2 as he worked a 1-2-3 inning of his own. Then Fernando Rodney, who is getting ready for the World Baseball Classic, entered the game and made hitters look silly, striking out all three batters he faced to make it nine up, nine down for Rays pitching. But in the 4th, non-roster invitee J.D. Martin ran into some trouble, allowing a single, a walk, a force play at second base, and then an RBI groundout to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead. Martin responded by forcing three groundouts in the 5th, but the damage was compounded in the 6th. Mike Montgomery‘s debut in a Rays uniform was a total disaster as he allowed four straight hits and 2 runs to begin his outing, although he was helped out by an outfield assist by Rich Thompson at second base. Montgomery was able to hold the damage there, allowing 5 hits and a walk in his inning of work, but holding the Pirates to only the two runs. Hopefully the end of his outing and not the start will be what he builds on moving forward. The Rays finished the game extremely strong, with lefties Enny Romero and Adam Liberatore working around a trio of hits to toss scoreless ball the last three inning and outfield prospect Kevin Kiermaier coming up with a clutch 2-out, 2-run double, but the 3-run deficit proved to be too much to overcome. The Rays were held to just 4 hits in this game, including one each from Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson in their first game in a Rays uniform, but the three MLB pitchers they threw out there were dominant, and they did show the type of late-inning resiliency we’ve come to expect from the Rays.
Rays 4, Red Sox 3
The Rays clearly sent their b-squad to this game, not sending to the mound a single regular pitcher from the 2012 team, but the few veterans played well, several rookies stepped up, and Leslie Anderson came through when it mattered most as the Rays upset a more recognizable Red Sox team 4-3. Right-handed pitching prospect Alex Colome started and worked around a walk to toss a scoreless inning, before Brandon Gomes, trying to reestablish himself in the Rays’ bullpen with his back feeling good, struck out 1 in his perfect frame. Lefty pitching prospect Felipe Rivero struck out 1 and walked 1 as he kept to scoreless run going, pretty impressive considering he was down at Low-A last year, but the most impressive pitcher of the game may have been Josh Lueke, coming off a horrific 2012 season that including an 18.90 in the major leagues, who tossed 2 scoreless innings allowing just a hit and a walk and allowing just one ball out of the infield. On the offensive side, the Rays jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the 1st, sandwiching a walk and a hit-by-pitch around a Desmond Jennings single before Ryan Roberts came through with a sac fly. Then in the 3rd, Jennings manufactured a run all by himself, doubling and then stealing third base and scoring when Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s throw went into the outfield. Things got sketchy in the bottom of the 7th, when righty Marquis Fleming allowed a 2-run homer to Red Sox shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias, but the Rays got a big 2-run shot of their own in the following half-inning, when Leslie Anderson drilled a go-ahead 2-run homer, and Matt Buschmann was able to hold the Red Sox to only an RBI single in 9th by another Red Sox top shortstop prospect, Xander Bogaerts, in two innings of work to finish the game as the Rays held on to win 4-3. Jennings was dynamic, going 2 for 2 with a stolen base and a run scored, Anderson came up huge in the clutch, and the young pitching really stepped up as the Rays were able to come away with a satisfying win.