Is there anything better than dominant pitching? You’ll get different answers depending on who you ask, but most Rays fans will tell you that nothing beats a scintillating performance from your pitching staff (as long as you get some run support). That was certainly the case on Monday for all four of the Rays’ American affiliates who were in action, with everyone from top prospects to old friends getting into the act as the most runs that any team that faced a Rays affiliate scored was just 2.
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 8, Lehigh Valley Ironpigs (PHI) 2
Control and command remain ongoing concerns for Alex Colome. His four-pitch arsenal of a fastball, a curveball, a slider, and a changeup has the ability to overpower hitters, but it’s his ability to locate his pitches that will determine how far he will go. On Monday, Colome walked 4 batters, and limiting the bases on balls will be critical for him moving forward. But the 4 walks didn’t by any means indicate that he had a bad outing. Colome delivered his best outing of the season, going 7 innings allowing just 2 runs, 1 earned, on 3 hits, striking out 11 while walking 4. It shows how with just average control, Colome has the ability to be one heck of a pitcher, and if he keeps improving, the Rays might have another topflight young starting pitcher on their hands. Behind Colome, Steve Geltz worked a scoreless inning followed by the return of former Durham Bull Cory Wade, who worked around a walk to toss a hitless 9th. As we discussed yesterday, Wade has had himself a roller coaster of a journey the past few years, going from Bulls reliever to pitching great for the Yankees and now back to Durham after the Yankees (and Blue Jays and Cubs) let him go. We’ll have to see if he can catch lightning in a bottle again. On the offensive side, Jason Bourgeois had a big game, going 3 for 5 with a triple, a double, an RBI, and a run scored and Vince Belnome went 2 for 4 with an RBI and a run scored for the only multi-hit games in the Durham lineup. But even if only Bourgeois and Belnome really impressed, the Bulls got contributions across the board, with all nine players in the lineup recording a hit, 7 of 9 driving in a run, and a different 7 of 9 scoring a run. Wil Myers went 1 for 4 with an RBI and a run scored but most encouragingly drew a walk and Brandon Guyer went 1 for 2 with a pair of hit-by-pitches, an RBI, and a run scored. Outstanding individual effort by Colome and great to see the Bulls lineup churning on all cylinders.
Double-A Southern League: Montgomery Biscuits 2, Birmingham Barons (CHW) 1
Thanks to Matt Buschmann, the Rays could have an interesting quandary on their hands. Buschmann, at 29 years old, isn’t really a prospect and the Rays don’t need starting depth because they have way too much of that. With that being the case, do they convert him to relief to see if he can provide major league value in that role? If the Rays believe that Buschmann is a major league quality arm, the answer to that question will probably be yes. However, do you really want to take Buschmann away from his starting role considering just how well he’s pitching? Buschmann was incredible again versus Birmingham as he nailed down his fourth straight quality start, going 6 innings allowing no runs on 2 hits, striking out 7 while walking 3 and posting a 9-1 groundout to flyout ratio. In his last four starts, Buschmann has a 1.33 ERA and a 29-7 strikeout to walk ratio in 27 innings pitched, and he has a 2.70 ERA and a 48-16 strike to walk ratio in 46.2 IP on the season. Triple-A Durham’s rotation is so good that it will be hard for Buschmann to crack it and we will have to see what the Rays decide to do if Buschmann comes pitching well. Riccio Torrez went 2 for 4 with an RBI while Kyeong Kang drove in a run and Robby Price went 2 for 4 with a run scored to give Buschmann and the Biscuits the run support they needed.
High-A Florida State League: Charlotte Stone Crabs 3, Daytona Cubs 0
Mike Montgomery has fallen a long way. A top prospect for years in the Royals organization, you have to go back to 2010 for the lefty Montgomery’s last good year. This season, Montgomery had one iffy start at Triple-A Durham before going on the DL with a forearm strain and now he finds himself down at High-A on a rehab assignment. Montgomery was facing hitters he was far more advanced then on Monday, but after all his struggles, it was a good step in the right direction. Montgomery went 4 innings allowing just 2 hits, striking out 6 while walking 1, dominating as he should and hopefully building some confidence. Parker Markel, Charlotte’s regularly scheduled starter, went the rest of the way and was encouraging for the second straight time out, allowing just 3 hits in 5 innings, striking out 5 while walking 1 to complete the shutout. Markel got off to a terrible start to the year (his ERA is still 7.71), but he is finding his way back and the Rays know that he has the stuff to be another quality prospect. On the offensive side, Hector Guevara went 2 for 3 with a double, a walk, and 2 RBI, Drew Vettleson went 2 for 4 with a double, an RBI, and a run scored, and Taylor Motter and Jeff Malm also had multi-hit games. Great to see the tag-team of Montgomery and Markel breezing, and the offense was able to have itself a solid day as well.
Low-A Midwest League: Bowling Green Hot Rods 6, Lake County Captains (CLE) 1
And to cap off the great pitching performances, there was Jeff Ames, who twirled another gem as he has done all season for Bowling Green. Ames went 6 innings allowing just 2 hits, striking out 5 while walking 1. Ames’ ERA now stands at 1.22 to go along with a 31-4 strikeout to walk ratio in 37 innings. Ames has command issues (even as he throws a lot of strikes) that might be exposed at upper levels and he will probably be in Bowling Green for at least a couple more months, but he has just been unbelievable for the Hot Rods start after start, not allowing more than 3 runs in any of his starts this season and allowing 1 or less in 6 of 7. In the 9th inning with the Hot Rods ahead 6-0, Nick Sawyer allowed a solo home run but was able to finish the game. The only reason that Sawyer’s outing is worth nothing was that he struck out 1 while walking none, marking the first time all year that he hasn’t walked a batter in 11 appearances. Sawyer has struck out an unbelievable 28 batters in 17.1 innings (14.5 per 9), but he has walked a scary 16 (8.3 BB/9) and he will have to improve that significantly. In terms of the offense, Andrew Toles had another huge game, going 3 for 4 with a triple, a double, and 3 runs scored, Joey Rickard paired with him at the top of the lineup with a 3-hit game of his own, going 3 for 4 with a double, 4 RBI, and a run scored, and Luke Maile went 2 for 3 with a walk. Absolutely incredible what Ames has done, and a nice showing by the Hot Rods lineup got him to 5-0 on the season.
In sharp contrast to all the games we have been discussing was the Opening Day game played by the VSL Rays, the Rays’ Venezuelan Summer League affiliate. Brace yourself for this score.
Foreign Rookie Venezuelan Summer League: VSL Rays 22, VSL Mariners 11
What? 22-11? The VSL Rays scored more runs than the other four Rays affiliates combined and allowed double as many as well! In case you’re wondering, there was actually one pitcher in the game who tossed shutout ball. Lefty Jose Alvarado, soon to turn 18, started for the VSL Rays and allowed just 1 hit in the first 2.2 innings, striking out 2 and walking 2 as well but forcing a 4-0 groundout to flyout ratio for what it’s worth. Every other pitcher in the game allowed at least 2 runs. In any event, let’s get to the offense. First baseman Iago Januario hit for the cycle (!) going 5 for 5 with a homer, a triple, a double, two singles, 4 RBI, and 3 runs scored. Of course Januario is old for the league at 20 years old, but that’s awfully impressive. Januario appeared for Brazil in the World Baseball Classic. A prospect who also really impressed, though, was 17 year old catcher David Rodriguez, a relatively high-profile signing by the Rays last international signing period. Rodriguez went 4 for 6 with a homer, 2 doubles, 6 RBI, and 2 runs scored. Enneider Torres, 16, also went 2 for 6 with 2 RBI, and 3 runs scored. The quality of play in the VSL is not very good (and there are only four teams as most teams have vacated their academies there and just take their Venezuelan prospects to the Dominican Republic to begin play), but it’s always nice to see some ridiculously young Rays prospects doing well, even as far away from the major leagues as you can get within affiliated ball.