With James Shields gone, the Rays are going to have to make up his innings, and that is likely going to lead the Rays to use their bullpen noticeably more than they did in 2012. Luckily, though, they’re not going to use their bullpen like they did in this game- only in spring training does a pitcher throw the ball extremely well, get good results, and put the pressure on the bullpen for 6 innings in a nine-inning game.
Jeremy Hellickson got the start for the Rays and pitched very well, going 3 innings allowing just 1 run on 2 hits, striking out 4 while walking none. The only run came in his final inning of work on a groundball past third that made its way to the left field corner for a double and a bloop single, so Hellickson really was in control the entire time. Hellickson was specifically working on his curveball, a pitch we’ve talked about as a key for him for quite a while as his third offering behind his bread-and-butter fastball and changeup, and when Hellickson has his curveball going, he can really blow hitters away. Great to see Hellickson pitching well and if he can continue to make progress on his curveball, him stepping up to be the Rays’ number two starter is not far-fetched at all.
Jeff Niemann followed Hellickson and was halfway-decent, going 2.2 innings allowing 1 run on 3 hits, striking out 1 while walking none. His fastball velocity sat primarily in the 86-87 MPH range as he hasn’t built up his velocity yet, but his secondary pitches were good enough to help him survive nevertheless. Asked whether Niemann coming out of the bullpen had any meaning for his regular season role, Joe Maddon profusely denied that was the case and said that Niemann relieving Hellickson was just the way things worked out.
Behind Hellickson and Niemann, three of the Rays four relievers, Dane De La Rosa (0.1 IP), Kirby Yates (0.1 IP), and Enny Romero (1.0 IP) all tossed hitless ball, but Alex Colome really struggled, allowing 3 runs in just two-thirds of an inning to make what was a close game pretty much the whole way through into a pretty easy win for Boston. Tough outing for Colome, and despite his potential, he still has a ways to go before being big league ready.
On the offensive side… well, there wasn’t very much. The Rays managed just 5 hits in the game, scoring their only run in the 4th on a Cole Figueroa bloop double. Chris Gimenez and Jack Cust did have nice games, with Gimenez going 2 for 3 with a double while Cust went 1 for 2 with a double, a walk, and a run scored. Gimenez is hitting an incredible .462 (6 for 13) in the early goings of spring training, and although there’s plenty of time left for Jose Lobaton to close the gap, Gimenez certainly looks like the early favorite in the Rays’ catcher competition.
The Rays lost this one 5-1, but they had to come away thrilled about what they received from most of their pitchers and even a few of their bats and you know that they will be absolutely fine moving forward. The Rays drop to 7-4 in the Grapefruit League and hope to get back on the winning track tomorrow against the Minnesota Twins.