Tuesday saw pitching all across the spectrum in the Rays system from dominance to frustration and even a position player making an appearance (and doing well). Pitching has always been the staple of the Rays organization- but offense is always the key to victory. The perfect example: the Hot Rods had a 1-hitter going through 7 innings- but were not yet in line for the win as their offense couldn’t push across a run. Luckily they were able to change that in the 8th, but offensive ineptitude like that reminds us that while pitching is critical, it doesn’t matter if you don’t score.
Triple-A International League: Charlotte Knights (CHW) 2, Durham Bulls 1
We’ve seen this story before in the major leagues: Alex Colome fought through control struggles to have a nice outing, but it was meaningless as the Bulls couldn’t get him any run support. Colome went 5 innings allowing a lot of baserunners, 5 hits and 4 walks, but he managed to hold the Knights to 2 runs, 1 earned, striking out 7 and forcing a 6-3 groundout to flyout ratio. Colome’s ERA after three starts to begin the year is an amazing 0.56, and he pitched well enough to win on most nights. But it was not to be this time around as White Sox top prospect Andre Rienzo held the Bulls offense to 1 run over 6 innings before the Charlotte Bullpen did the rest, holding Durham to just 6 hits in the game and a 1 for 10 mark with runners in scoring position. Making that even more annoying is that Durham’s bullpen was incredible, with Steve Geltz, whose control is known to come and go, completely locked in and unhittable, striking out 4 in 2 perfect innings, and lefty Frank De Los Santos striking out 2 more in a perfect bottom of the 8th to give Bulls pitching 13 strikeouts on the day. On the offensive side, there wasn’t much, but most of it came from the Rays’ two top prospects in the lineup, Hak-Ju Lee and Wil Myers. Lee went 1 for 3 with 2 walks and a stolen base while Myers went 2 for 4 with a triple and a run scored. Nice to see them playing well, but we obviously want to see a better team hitting effort than this.
Double-A Southern League: Montgomery Biscuits 9, Mobile BayBears (ARI) 3
Speaking of better team hitting efforts, that’s exactly what you could find in the Biscuits game as they tore through BayBears pitching with 3 home runs, including a first inning grand slam by Mark Thomas. Matt Buschmann got the start for Montgomery and gave them a decent effort, going 5.2 innings allowing 3 runs on 5 hits, striking out 6 while walking 2, and the bullpen took care of the rest, with C.J. Riefenhauser tossing 2.1 perfect innings to lower his ERA to 1.23 on the year and Juan Sandoval working around a hit and a walk in the 9th to lower his ERA to 1.08. In a game like this, though, you almost want your pitchers to save their good performances for another day. Beyond Thomas’ slam, Riccio Torrez went 2 for 4 with a homer, a double, 2 RBI, and a run scored, Greg Sexton slammed a solo home run, and Mikie Mahtook had an encouraging day, going 1 for 3 with a double, a walk, a stolen base, and a run scored as he battles back from a rough start to the year. Always great to see the offense clicking on all cylinders, and doing it via the home run ball only makes things more fun.
High-A Florida State League: St. Lucie Mets 13, Charlotte Stone Crabs 3
This game was far from fun for the Stone Crabs as lefty Felipe Rivero struggled mightily for the third time out in a row, allowing 7 runs, 5 earned, in just 3.1 innings, striking out 3 and walking 3 as well. Then Eliazer Suero, who has pitched well to begin the year, completely came apart as well, allowing 5 runs, 4 earned, in just 1.2 innings, before Shay Crawford restored a little stability, allowing 1 run on 3 hits in 2 innings, striking out 4 while walking 1. After all of that, there was still another inning left to pitch, and down 10 runs, the Stone Crabs went to first baseman and outfielder Steven Tinoco for his first game on the mound in 2013 after 3 in 2012. And actually, Tinoco might have been the most effective pitcher Charlotte used, working around a hit in a scoreless 8th. That’s baseball for you. On the offensive side, Alejandro Segovia slammed a 2-run home run to account for 2 of the Stone Crabs’ 3 runs and Richie Shaffer going 1 for 3 with an RBI and a run scored to account for the other. Segovia, the former catcher, has not yet caught this season, playing first base three times and DH seven times, and while that certainly makes his path to the major leagues tougher, he’s been hitting so well that it might not matter. If we consider him a first base prospect now, he could be right up there for the best in the system.
Low-A Midwest League: Bowling Green Hot Rods 2, Great Lakes Loons (LAD) 0
No one doubted that the Hot Rods’ pitching was dominant on Tuesday. The only question was going to be whether their offense could push across a run, and they managed to do that in vintage Rays fashion in the 8th to seal the deal on a satisfying win. Loons hitters couldn’t do anything with Jeff Ames, who went 5 innings allowing just 1 hit, striking out 8 while walking 1. He has a 1.20 ERA and a 15-1 strikeout to walk ratio in 15 innings to begin the season, and the Rays couldn’t ask for anything more than that. The Rays are taking it slow with Ames, their 2011 supplemental round pick out of Lower Columbia College, and he still has a long way to do, particularly in terms of command, but he’s another high-upside pitcher who could emerge as a weapon for the Rays, especially out of the bullpen. But for all of his efforts, Ames didn’t get the win in this one as it was still a 0-0 game. That remained the case until the 8th. With 1 out, Ryan Dunn singled to set the table before two errors on one play gave the Hot Rods 1st and 3rd with 1 out. Not taking any chances with a double play, Bowling Green manager Jared Sandberg ordered Justin O’Conner to lay down a safety squeeze, and it worked to perfection as Dunn scored to give the Hot Rods the lead. Then Andrew Toles gave the Hot Rods a more conventional run, drilling an RBI triple, already his 4th of the season, to make it a 2-0 game. Jose Molina worked 3 hitless innings for the win, forcing a 5-1 groundout to flyout ratio, and Ryan Garton finished off the 1-hitter with a perfect 9th as the Hot Rods won 2-0. Ames obviously gets the headlines, but Toles went 3 for 4 with his big triple, O’Conner gets credit for his clutch bunt, and Dunn went 1 for 1 with 2 walks and the go-ahead run scored. It was Rays baseball like we’re used to, with outstanding pitching and fans desperately hoping or some runs, but this time it worked out absolutely fine for everyone.