What a difference a couple of home runs can make. Wil Myers begins heating up and suddenly the nervousness of Rays fans disappears and the excitement takes over once again.
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 11, Scranton-Wilkes Barre RailRiders (NYY) 6
How fun it is to have an offense to pair with an amazing starting rotation. If only the Bulls–and, of course, the Rays–could find themselves a bullpen. J.D. Martin is the only pitcher in the Bulls rotation who isn’t a legitimate prospect but pitched decently, going 5 innings allowing 3 runs on 7 hits, striking out 5 while walking 2. Martin, 30, isn’t anything too special, but it’s astounding that he has walked just 1.7 batters per 9 innings in 10 starts, walking more than two just once. But it was the lineup that certainly stole the show in this one. This Wil Myers guy appears to be pretty good after he had a great game, going 2 for 5 with a homer, a double, an RBI, and 2 runs scored, but three different Bulls drove in more runs than he did. Vince Belnome went 2 for 5 with a double, 2 RBI, and a run scored, raising his average to .329 on the year, Cole Figueroa went 1 for 3 with 2 walks, 2 RBI, and 2 runs scored, and Jason Bourgeois knocked in two runs as well. Myers getting his act together is obviously the story, but great to see the entire Bulls offense clicking on all cylinders and Myers isn’t be the only player with the ability to make an impact for the Rays over the next few years.
Double-A Southern League: Jackson Generals (SEA) 3, Montgomery Biscuits 1
Remember when the Rays use to lose not because their bullpen was terrible but because they didn’t score any runs? That was the Biscuits against Jackson. Merrill Kelly had a great start, going 7 innings allowing 3 runs on 6 hits, striking out 4 while walking 1. His only real mistake was Leon Landry‘s second homer in as many days as he came through with a great performance. Marquis Fleming struck out 2 working around 2 hits in the final 2 frames to hold the Generals at 3 runs. However, in this game, that would be enough. Kevin Kiermaier slammed a leadoff home run in the first inning for the only Montgomery run while Mikie Mahtook went 2 for 4 with a double. The Biscuits haven’t hit or pitched at all for most of the year (it’s a miracle that they’re only two games under .500 despite being outscored by 42 runs), but at least they got the pitching and hopefully the offense can put something more together.
High-A Florida State League: Fort Myers Miracle (MIN) 6, Charlotte Stone Crabs 4
Want a quick encapsulation of your 2013 Tampa Bay Rays? Here we go. The Stone Crabs took a 4-2 lead with a 4-run 7th, but Felipe Rivero betrayed the trust of his manager by faltering after being allowed to come back out for the 8th before Lenny Linsky completely imploded as Charlotte lost 6-4. Rivero was really good up until the 8th, going 7+ innings allowing 4 runs, 2 earned, on 7 hits, striking out 5 while walking 1 and managing an outstanding 11-2 groundout to flyout ratio. That groundout to flyout ratio was especially surprising as Rivero’s groundout to airout ratio this season has been just 0.88 and command has never really been his forte. Rivero has shown flashes in his last three starts, managing a 1.83 ERA and a 16-5 strikeout to walk ratio in 19.2 IP. On the offensive side, it is a little hard to explain how the Stone Crabs scored 4 runs on 5 hits without a home run (best answer is that they managed 3 hits, a walk, an HBP, and a wild pitch in that 7th inning), but Taylor Motter went 1 for 3 with a 2-run triple and a couple of Stone Crabs had encouraging days at the plate. Jeff Malm went 2 for 3 with a walk, an RBI, and a run scored while Richie Shaffer went 1 for 3 with a walk, a stolen base, and a run scored. Malm is slowly breaking out of his early-season slump while Shaffer continues to break out of his. Tough loss for the Stone Crabs, and hopefully their starters and bullpen will be able to compose themselves and make sure the bleeding stops.
Low-A Midwest League: Bowling Green Hot Rods 5, Fort Wayne Tincaps (SDP) 3
Ladies and gentleman, Marty Gantt is a whole lot more than a gimmick. Gantt has shortened fingers on his right hand, and after he hit just .204 in his pro debut last season, he seemed like nothing more than a publicity stunt on the Rays’ part. This season, though, has been an entirely different story, and Gantt was at his absolute best against Fort Wayne. Gantt went 4 for 4 with a homer, 3 stolen bases, 2 RBI, and 2 runs scored and you have to hear his numbers so far this season. Gantt has a .326/.391/.489 line with 6 doubles, 5 homers, 26 RBI, and 6 stolen bases in 43 games. Gantt actually wasn’t the only player to run all over the Tincaps in this one as Andrew Toles and Joey Rickard both stole two bases as well. In terms of the pitching, Eduar Quinonez had a good start, going 5 innings allowing 2 runs on 7 hits, striking out 4 while walking 1 and forcing an 8-2 groundout to flyout ratio. Reinaldo Lopez was even better finishing off the game, going the last 4 innings giving up just 1 run on 3 hits, striking out 3 without walking a batter and forcing a 6-1 groundout to flyout ratio. The common refrain is that pitching is contagious, and for the Hot Rods in this one, stealing bases may have been contagious as well.