Jose Lobaton entered spring training with an edge over Chris Gimenez in the Rays’ backup catcher competition. The reason was pretty bizarre: Gimenez had a minor league option and Lobaton did not, so only if Lobaton began the season on the 25-man roster could the Rays keep both of them. But aside from that, all the signs pointed to Gimenez getting the nod. Gimenez entered Saturday’s game hitting .378 while Lobaton could manage just a .188 mark. Even if the Rays wanted to keep both of them, how far would they go if Gimenez was so clearly better? All spring, Lobaton has been waiting to break through, to finally prove that he belonged. On Saturday, Lobaton finally began to do just that.
Lobaton stepped up to the plate for his first at-bat in the 3rd inning against Kevin Correia and immediately made his presence felt, drilling a solo home run over the left field wall to tie the game at 1. The following inning, Lobaton delivered again, coming up with a 2-out single that scored a run on an error to give the Rays a 4-3 lead in the game. And in the 7th inning, Lobaton capped his big day with a leadoff single, ending the day with his average all the up to .257. It was exactly the type effort the Rays have been waiting to see from Lobaton all spring, and Lobaton has to hope that more good games are ahead.
Unfortunately, the news was not entirely good in this game for the Rays. Rays ace David Price took the hill, facing major league hitters for the first time in three starts after making his last two starts in minor league games. The results were not as good as anyone would have hoped as Price went 5 innings allowing 3 runs, 2 earned, on 9 hits. He exhibited uncharacteristic struggles, most notably a sequence in the 4th were there were 2 outs and nobody on but Price allowed 2 hits, 2 walks, and 2 runs with an error also involved. It isn’t time for Rays fans to panic, though. Price struck out 7 while walking 2 and managed a 6-2 groundout to flyout ratio, and while Price labored to throw 89 pitches in 5 innings, he was working excessively on his breaking pitches and not using his fastball nearly as much as he would in a regular game. Price was just a little off all outing, telling reporters that he felt fine and his stuff was good but in terms of his mentality on the mound he wasn’t quite where he needs to be. Obviously the Rays would have liked to see Price go out to the mound and dominate, but he’ll be fine moving forward and hopefully he can be sharper in his final tuneup before going on Opening Day on April 2nd.
Something that happened that could have bigger long-term ramifications for the Rays was that in the 8th inning, Kyle Farnsworth reached his right pitching hand out on a line drive back to the mound and end up leaving the game with a a bruise on his middle finger. Joe Maddon emphasized following the game that he’s fine, but it’s obviously never good to see any pitcher, especially one with Farnsworth’s injury history, to leave with any sort of injury.
Cesar Ramos did finish the 8th inning after Kyle Farnsworth departed and retired both batters he faced before prospect Merrill Kelly impressed in the 9th, striking out 2 in a perfect inning. Other notable performers in the game included Yunel Escobar, who went 2 for 3 with a double, an RBI, and a run scored, Evan Longoria, who went 1 for 2 with a walk and a run scored, and James Loney, who went 1 for 3 with a double. All three of them will be huge pieces of the Rays’ lineup this season, and it’s great to see Escobar and Loney get going- both are hitting .256 this spring- while Longoria has been incredible, hitting .395. Unfortunately those three and Lobaton accounted for all 7 of the Rays’ hits as their offense has continued to stagnate recently, but it’s nice to see at least some of the better-known players delivering strong games.
The battery of David Price and Jose Lobaton gave the Rays plenty to talk about following the game, and the feeling was mostly positive from this one even as the Rays lost 6-4 to the Twins. The Rays will head to Tampa later today to take on the Yankees, with Jeremy Hellickson scheduled to start, and the game will be available on MLB.TV at 1:05 PM.