The past six years, teams across baseball have been envious of the Rays’ seemingly endless supply of quality young pitching coming up from the minor leagues. Unfortunately for them, that won’t be changing anytime soon as Rays still have plenty more talent on the way. That was on full display on Saturday as all four Rays affiliates who played Saturday got an outstanding outing from their starting pitcher- and between the four, the most hits any of them allowed was only 2.
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 2, Norfolk Tides (BAL) 0 (11 innings)
The Bulls faced a tough assignment in this one, facing rehabbing Orioles starter Jair Jurrjens. But while Jurrjens was dominant, allowing just 1 hitwhile striking out 7 in 6 innings, the Bulls matched him frame for frame on the pitching side before finally getting some offense in the 11th inning to come away with a 2-0 win. Alex Colome had a good season debut for the Bulls, going 5 innings allowing just a hit and 2 walks while striking out 4, and Josh Lueke (2 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 2 K) also pitched well behind him. The following 3 innings were sketchy for lefty Frank De Los Santos and Steve Geitz as they allowed 4 walks and 2 hits, but they found a way to keep Norfolk off the board. And in the 11th, Jason Bourgeois came through with a clutch 2-out, 2-run single to put Durham ahead before Geitz around a walk with 2 strikeouts in the bottom of the inning to give the Bulls the victory. The Bulls actually held the Tides to just 4 hits in 11 innings, although their 9-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio was something they would much rather forget. Wil Myers also had a great game, going 2 for 4 with a walk, although he did strike out twice, and he’s hitting .375 on the young season. Pairing Myers with great pitching sure sounds like a winning formula, and the Rays hope to use it themselves over the next few months.
Double-A Southern League: Montgomery Biscuits 2, Birmingham Barons (CHW) 1
More great pitching to be found in this one, and in this case, the two teams combined for just 7 hits. The Biscuits got their 2 runs in about the least exciting way possible- two sacrifice flies, one each in the 5th and 6th innings- but they gave the Biscuits’ strong pitching the offense they needed to come away with the win. Enny Romero threw just 45 of 80 pitches for strikes as he only went 4 innings in his season debut for Montgomery, but he did hold the Barons to one unearned run, allowing a hit and 2 walks while striking out 4. Romero looked great in spring training for the Rays, and they hope he can get past the control struggles that have plagued him the past few years and finally begin to reach his potential. Following Romero were lefty Neil Schenk and Juan Sandoval, who each went 2 innings allowing just a hit while striking out 1, with Sandoval impressively recording 4 outs on the ground and another lefty, C.J. Riefenhauser, tossed a perfect 9th with a strikeout for the save. At the plate, there wasn’t much to be found for the Biscuits, although Mikie Mahtook did triple and score a run in 4 trips and Todd Glaesmann went 1 for 2 with the sac fly that drove him in. This game was ugly in all phases for the Biscuits as their offense was sac flies, their defense made 2 errors, and Romero struggled, but pretty pitching by the bullpen made everything right as they nailed down the win.
High-A Florida State League: Charlotte Stone Crabs 4, Palm Beach Cardinals 1
Back on April 2nd, the Texas Rangers‘ Yu Darvish came within one out of a perfect game before it was spoiled by the Astros’ Marwin Gonzalez. Make it two recent no-hit bids ruined with 2 outs in the 9th as the Stone Crabs were carried by masterful pitching from Jesse Hahn and Jake Floethe only to see closer Lenny Linsky falter with just 1 out to go. The lack of a no-hitter, though, didn’t take all the luster off a great Stone Crabs win. The perfect game went away quickly on a first inning error, but Hahn, coming off a dominant season way down at Short Season ball, was untouchable in his High-A debut, going 3 spotless innings aside from the error, striking out 2 and recording 6 of his other 7 outs on the ground. Armed with a 98 MPH fastball, Hahn is quickly ascending up the prospect rankings and this could be the year where he emerges as the Rays’ next top pitching prospect. Jake Floethe followed and got just as good results, going 5 perfect innings of his own, striking out 2 as well. Floethe isn’t nearly as high-profile of a prospect, but the 2011 6th rounder impresses with a solid low-90′s sinker and a good curveball. However, Linsky, the 2011 second round pick who hasn’t been the case since a shoulder injury in spring training of 2012, saw his struggles resurface at the worst possible time as he retired the first two batters he faced in the 9th before allowing a walk and then a booming triple by Collin Walsh, and Charlotte had to settle for a 1-hitter in their 4-1 victory over Palm Beach.
The Stone Crabs offense actually had quite a few heroes as Jake Hager went 2 for 4, Hector Guevara went 1 for 4 with an RBI triple and a run scored, Lucas Bailey went 1 for 3 with a 2-run double, and Richie Shaffer, Hahn’s Short Season-A teammate last season, went 1 for 4 with an RBI and a run scored. They came through for 2-run innings in the 1st and 4th innings and gave Hahn and Floethe a good amount of breathing room to help them pitch just as well as they did. Shaffer, the Rays’ 2012 first round pick, has not gotten off to the same rousing start that Hahn did this season as he has gone just 1 for 10, but the jump from Short Season ball to High-A is huge and it’s nice to see him finally get his first hit in this game. Always fun to see a team flirt with a no-no (except for when that team is facing the Rays, as we have seen happen far too often), and it doesn’t get much better than what Hahn and Floethe gave the Stone Crabs for the first 8 innings on Saturday.
Low-A Midwest League: South Bend Silver Hawks (ARI) 6, Bowling Green Hot Rods 5
Getting great starting pitching certainly helps you win. But you need to have a bullpen too and that didn’t happen for the Hot Rods on Saturday. Dylan Floro breezed by South Bend, going 5 innings allowing just 2 hits and a walk, striking out 5 and forcing an 8-0 groundout to flyout ratio. The Silver Hawks could only hit the ball out of the infield just once against Floro as his sinker was working to perfection. However, Marcus Jensen and Ryan Garton imploded in the 8th inning, blowing a 5-1 9th inning lead as South Bend won 6-5. Sticking to the positives, Marty Gantt went 1 for 1 with a solo home run, 2 walks, and 2 runs scored, and Tommy Coyle went 2 for 4 with a triple, 2 RBI, and a run scored, but it was sad to see it all go to waste as the bullpen fell apart. Even as the game finished the way it did, though, Floro was truly dominant, and if he pitches like that a few more times, the Rays may be bumping the Cal State Fullerton product to High-A before we know it.