It’s always something special when two great pitchers face off against one another. Often, the results of such a matchup fall far short of expectations, as was the case with the Alex Cobb-CC Sabathia face-off between the Rays and Yankees. But when it happens, the result is a game that leaves you mystified watching pitchers dominate on both sides and rivets you until the very end. Enny Romero and Taijuan Walker can’t exactly be described as ace-caliber pitchers at this point. But on Sunday, they both delivered on every bit of their potential at least for one outing as the Montgomery Biscuits and Jackson Generals played as much of a pitchers’ duel as you will ever see.
It wasn’t just in Montgomery that top prospects took the mound, though. Rays fans covering the minor leagues got quite a treat as four legitimate pitching prospects started for the Rays on the day: Chris Archer, Romero, Jesse Hahn, and Taylor Guerrieri. As talented as they are, though, they did experience mixed results.
Triple-A International League: Scranton-Wilkes Barre RailRiders (NYY) 7, Durham Bulls 3
While the Rays salvaged a game against the Yankees on Sunday, the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate did the same against the Rays’ Triple-A team. The Rays would have rather seen their big league team be the one to take 2 out of 3. In any event, Chris Archer started for Durham and did not have a good outing, going 5 innings allowing 4 runs, 2 earned, on 5 hits, striking out 6 while walking 3. He didn’t do himself any favors, making two errors, but overall he had a very up-and-down outing, not exactly pushing the Rays to get him in their rotation with Roberto Hernandez struggling. The Bulls’ lineup, though, inspired more confidence. Jason Bourgeois and Vince Belnome both went 2 for 3, but the big story was that Wil Myers continued his nice play of late by going 3 for 4. In his last four games, Myers is 7 for 18 (.389) with 2 homers, 2 doubles, and 6 RBI. Myers still has a long way to go as he’s hitting just .259 with 6 home runs on the year and has struck out in 26.5% of his plate appearances, but maybe he is finally getting hot and the excitement that surrounded him at the beginning of the season will soon reappear.
Double-A Southern League: Montgomery Biscuits 1, Jackson Generals (SEA) 0
Taijuan Walker and Enny Romero both have outstanding stuff. But for both of them, especially Romero, their consistency has been lacking and it could be years before their potential translates to results at the major league level. For one afternoon, though, they pitched like the major league aces their respective teams dream they can be. Mikie Mahtook slammed a solo homer off Walker in the first inning to give Montgomery a 1-0 lead, but that was all. Walker went 7 innings allowing just that 1 run on 3 hits, striking out 6 while walking 2. Romero went 6 innings allowing no runs on 3 hits, striking out 5 while walking 1. The bullpens didn’t let either team’s offense have any better of a game, with the Jackson bullpen working a perfect inning and C.J. Riefenhauser and Juan Sandoval allowing just 1 hit over the final 3 innings to seal the Biscuits’ win. For Walker, the game lowered his ERA to 2.59 on the season as he has made major strides repeating Double-A and could soon find himself ticketed to Triple-A. Romero lowered his ERA to 3.47 as he tossed shutout ball for the third straight outing spanning 18.2 IP yet he has a long way to go as his strikeout to walk ratio has been just 40-27 in 49.1 IP. Fans who prefer slugfests did not have a great game, but everyone else got something to behold.
High-A Florida State League: Charlotte Stone Crabs 4, Fort Myers Miracle (MIN) 2
Romero may be the most enigmatic Rays pitching prospect, but the one that drives you insane the most might be Jesse Hahn. Hahn has been unbelievable, managing a 0.84 ERA in his 10 starts, but the Rays are being so careful with him that we basically have no idea how good he really is as a starting pitcher moving forward. Hahn went just 4 innings allowing 3 hits and a walk while striking out 3, the 10th time in 10 starts that he didn’t a single out in the 5th. The Rays are finally letting him go 4 innings after not being allowed to surpass 3 in his first seven starts, but when will they take off the training wheels and just let this guy pitch? In their defense, though, Hahn does have a 98 MPH fastball and had Tommy JohnSurgery a couple years ago, so they every reason to be careful. If he’s anywhere near as good in real starts as he’s been while averaging just over 3 innings a start, the Rays may have a new topflight pitching prospect on their hands. Jake Floethe followed Hahn with 4 innings allowing 2 runs, 1 earned, on 4 hits, striking out 3 while walking 1. Floethe has been a tough spot caddying for Hahn all year but has pitched fairly well, managing a 3.56 ERA. In terms of the run support, Taylor Motter, went 2 for 3 with a solo home run and 2 runs scored, Ryan Brett went 2 for 4 with a double and 2 runs scored, and Drew Vettleson had a 2-run single in three trips.
Low-A Midwest League: Fort Wayne Tincaps (SDP) 6, Bowling Green Hot Rods 5
Another marquee pitching matchup as this one as the 24th overall pick by the Rays in 2011, Taylor Guerrieri, took on pick number 25 by the Padres, Joe Ross. Unfortunately, neither of them was at their best in this one and the bullpen ruined the final result. Guerrieri allowed a Gabriel Quintana 3-run home run in the first inning but was able to rebound to have a good outing, going 6 innings allowing 4 runs, 3 earned, on 3 hits, striking out 5 while walking none and managing a 10-2 groundout to flyout ratio. Ross put up similar numbers, allowing 4 runs, all earned, on 9 hits, striking out 4 while walking none with a 9-2 groundout to flyout ratio. The difference was that the Hot Rods bullpen allowed 2 runs in the final three innings while Fort Wayne’s allowed only 1. For Guerrieri, he wasn’t that great, but it was nice to see him rebound from the tough 1st to complete 6 innings for the second straight start. And when even in his mediocre starts he’s striking out a bunch of guys, walking nobody, and forcing groundballs, you know that he’s a very good pitcher. The Hot Rods did have a solid offensive showing in this one, with Justin O’Conner finally slamming his first homer of the season, Tommy Coyle going 2 for 4 with a walk, 2 stolen bases, an RBI, and a run scored, and Andrew Toles and Patrick Leonard both having multiple-hit games here as well. It’s terrible to have a bullpen collapse, but in Low-A you can laugh it off thanks to Guerrieri’s solid outing and good job by the lineup, although we can certainly hope the Hot Rods can be just a bit better their next time around.