You always have to start somewhere. Whether a highly-touted draft pick or international signee making his professional debut or a struggling prospect hoping to get back, the nervousness sets in but they just have to find a way to put one foot in the water and get the ball rolling. From enigmatic right-handers Mike Montgomery and Jake Thompson showing strong starts to Brandon Gomes beginning his rehab to 3rd round pick Riley Unroe and top Venezuelan prospects Jose Castillo and Jose Mujica starting their pro careers, it was a night of beginning in the Rays system and the result was a whole lot of fun.
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 7, Buffalo Bisons (TOR) 1
In general for pitchers, you need to maintain a 2-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio to find consistent success. On a start-to-start basis, though, that isn’t always true. To rack up strikeouts while limiting the walks, pitchers need to pair their fastball with effective secondary pitches to put away hitters, and that isn’t always the case. Good pitchers, though, find a way to live off their fastball command even when their breaking ball and changeup are ineffective, and even if the result of that may be a mediocre strikeout-to-walk ratio, the only thing that matters in the end is keeping your team in the game. Jeremy Hellickson followed that gameplan for the Rays on Monday, and the same was true with lefty Mike Montgomery. Montgomery went 7 innings allowing 1 run on 6 hits, striking out 4 and walking 4 as well but forcing an 11-1 groundout to flyout ratio. Montgomery certainly needs work on his 30-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 43 Triple-A innings this season, but it’s encouraging to see him surviving to the tune of a 3.98 ERA, and hopefully more dominance is ahead. Jeff Beliveau finished the game for Durham with 2 hitless innings, striking out 3 while walking 1. There was quite a bit to be happy about on the offensive side as well. Brandon Guyer went 3 for 5 with a double, an RBI, and 2 runs scored. Guyer has certainly been overshadowed by one Wil Myers, but only comparing the two can make you find fault with his .283/.360/.437 line with 6 homers and 15 stolen bases. Jason Bourgeois and Mike Fontenot also had multi-hit games while Tim Beckham had an RBI triple. Great all-around win for the Bulls with Montgomery impressing and the offense providing plenty of fireworks as well.
Double-A Southern League: Montgomery Biscuits 5, Chattanooga Lookouts (LAD) 4 (10 innings)
One day after their crushing 14-inning defeat, back to extra innings the Montgomery Biscuits went. THis time, though, the result was not a demoralizing loss but an exhilarating win, and Kevin Kiermaier is to thank for much of that. Jake Thompson got the start for the Biscuits and battled to deliver a quality start, going 6 innings allowing 3 runs on 9 hits, striking out 3 while walking 3. Thompson was out-pitched by Dodgers top prospect Zach Lee, who allowed 2 runs in his 6 innings, and the Biscuits were down 3-2 after 6 innings. In the 7th, though, they rallied to tie the game, with Kevin Kiermaier grounding into a fielder’s choice but then stealing second base to set up Robby Price‘s game-tying single. The Lookouts went ahead 4-3 against Erik Hamren in the 8th on an Angelo Songco RBI single. In the 9th, however, Kiermaier was at it again. With Montgomery down to its final out, Kiermaier drilled a game-tying RBI double to send the game into extra innings. Hector Guevara drew a bases-loaded walk to finally put the Biscuits ahead, and C.J. Riefenhauser closed out his own win in the 10th to send the Biscuits to a 5-4 victory. Kiermaier was as clutch as you’ll ever see, going 2 for 5 with 2 triples, a stolen base, an RBI, and 2 runs scored, and by the way, he also had an outfield assist. Kiermaier has been incredible all season, managing a .315/.377/.437 line with 9 triples, 13 stolen bases, and great defense, and while he’ll never be a top prospect with limited power, he could very well have a future in the Rays outfielder. Mikie Mahtook and Cameron Seitzer also went 2 for 5 in the win. What a game, for Kiermaier and the entire Biscuits team.
High-A Florida State League: Charlotte Stone Crabs 7, Jupiter Hammerheads (MIA) 3
You couldn’t tell from the score, but the Stone Crabs also reeled off a great comeback, tying the game in the 7th before scoring 4 more to seal the game in the 8th. The game began with Brandon Gomes’ first rehab appearance and everything went well as he struck out 1 working around a hit in his scoreless inning. (Question worth asking: does Gomez have a bullpen spot waiting for him when his rehab is complete?) You could not say the same about Parker Markel, who struck out 5 in 3.2 innings but allowed 6 hits and 3 walks on his way to allowing 3 runs as his ERA only gets higher. It’s up to 6.34 now. Markel’s latest struggle of a start only made this tougher considering he was going up against the Marlins’ 1st rounder from last year (and former Rays draft pick) Andrew Heaney, who allowed 2 runs, 1 earned, in 5 innings of work. But the Charlotte bullpen went on lockdown from there, with Nate Garcia and Shay Crawford throwing shutout ball for the final 4.1 innings including 8 outs on the ground, and that was enough for the Stone Crabs to come back. Richie Shaffer‘s sac fly in the 7th made it a 3-3 game but the best was yet to come. The 8th inning saw a 2-out go-ahead RBI single by Willie Argo ahead of a huge 3-run home run by Drew Vettleson as the Stone Crabs went from trailing to coasting at the end of this one.
Vettleson went 2 for 4 with his 3-run blast, a walk, and a stolen base, Argo went 2 for 4 with a double, a walk, his 16th steal, an RBI, and 3 runs scored, and Shaffer had an RBI double in addition to his sac fly, but we can’t forget about Emmanuel Paulino. Unless you are the most pedantic prospect watcher on the planet, you have never heard his name before. Why? Because he’s a 19 year old who spent the last two years and the beginning of this season in the Dominican Summer League before finally moving up to the Gulf Coast League a couple weeks ago, and with the Stone Crabs short an infielder thanks to Ryan Brett‘s injury, Paulino made the short walk from the GCL Rays’ clubhouse to the Stone Crabs’ (the GCL Rays play on the Stone Crabs’ practice field) and proceeded to have a great game, going 2 for 4 with an RBI and turning two double plays without making an error at shortstop. Paulino isn’t known as much of a prospect, but his confidence should be up to the ceiling after this. Pretty unbelievable stuff and just another cool piece of the Stone Crabs’ satisfying win.
Low-A Midwest League: Lake County Captains (CLE) 1, Bowling Green Hot Rods 0
Someone had to suffer a tough loss even on a day like this. The Hot Rods 2-hit the Captains–and lost. Jeff Ames got the start for Bowling Green and had terrible control, walking 5 while striking out just 2 in 6 innings, but he was missing in the right spots as he held Lake County to just 1 hit, forcing a 9-1 groundout to flyout ratio. Nick Sawyer went the final 3 innings, and he was perfect in the first two frames with a pair of strikeouts to keep the 1-hitter up before the tragic events of the 9th. With 1 out, Sawyer struck out Dorssys Paulino, but a wild pitch allowed Paulino to reach and another wild pitch moved him to 2nd. Sawyer rebounded to strike out Logan Vick, but Joseph Sever followed with a go-ahead RBI double to send the Captains to victory. Sawyer was great, allowing just 1 hit and no walks while striking out 4 in 3 innings, getting 8 of his 9 outs either through a strikeout or groundout, but unfortunately the double he allowed made all the difference. Tommy Coyle went 2 for 4 with his 25th stolen base in the loss.
Short Season-A New York-Penn League: Brooklyn Cyclones (NYM) 3, Hudson Valley Renegades 2
After starting the season 6-0, the Renegades have now dropped their last two games after a rain delay forced them to overtax their bullpen, leading to its eventual collapse. John Farrell (the Rays’ 21st round pick in this year’s draft, not the Red Sox’ manager) went just 1 inning allowing an unearned run before the rain delay took him out of the game. Eli Echarry followed with excellent relief work, going 5 innings allowing 1 run on 3 hits, striking out 3 and walking as well, and Cory Jordan proceeded to allow just a hit and a walk in two shutout innings, striking out 4, but 20th round pick Harmen Sidhu struggled in his pro debut, allowing the go-ahead run in the 9th despite not allowing a hit on a walk, a sac bunt, a wild pitch, and a sac fly. On the offensive side, Julian Ridings went 2 for 5 with a run scored, Ismel Antunez went 2 for 3 with a walk and 2 stolen bases, Pat Blair went 1 for 3 with a walk, 2 more steals, and a run scored, and Ariel Soriano had a 2-run single in 5 trips. Don’t forget about Ryan McChesney either as his 1 for 2 day with a pair of walks has him hitting .583 with a .706 OBP through 17 plate appearances with Hudson Valley. The Renegades went just 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position, and that proved to be the difference.
Advanced Rookie Appalachian League: Burlington Royals 4, Princeton Rays 1
Yeah, this was the one lackluster game on an otherwise exciting day. German Marquez struggled in his start, allowing 4 runs on 5 hits in 4.2 innings, striking out 2 while walking 1. His groundout to flyout ratio was actually 10-1, but the bigger deal was the mistakes he made in the air. Richard Teasley, Darren Fischer, and Isaac Gil were great out of the bullpen, allowing just 1 hit in the final 4.1 innings. Coty Blanchard and David Garcia did both go 2 for 4, with Blanchard lacing a double, and Travis Flores went 1 for 3 with a walk and the only run scored.
Rookie Gulf Coast League: GCL Rays 5, GCL Twins 2
This game may be the last that we’ll cover today, but it was way down at the bottom that Rays fans may just derive the most excitement. Frank De Los Santos made a rehab start for the GCL Rays and dominated as a Triple-A pitcher should, going 2 perfect innings with a strikeout and groundout. The bigger story, though, was the pitchers who followed. The game marked the professional debuts of the Rays’ two big-name signings from the last international signing period, lefty Jose Castillo and righty Jose Mujica, and the duo didn’t disappoint. Castillo was electrifying, allowing an unearned run on 2 hits in his 2.2 innings, but he struck out 5 and got 2 more outs on the ground, flashing the type of dominance the Rays know he’s capable of. Mujica went 2.1 innings allowing 1 run on 3 hits, striking out 2 while walking 1. And then in the 9th, Yael Regalado an American undrafted free agent signee from last year but a promising one, entered the game with a couple runners on before blowing away the competition, allowing a hit to load the bases but striking out the side. GCL Rays pitching actually struck out 13 on the game. On the offensive side, Ryan Brett went 0 for 4 in a rehab start (which of course, led to Paulino’s heroics that we talked about above), and Erick Vasquez went 3 for 4 with a double, a stolen base, and 2 RBI, but the player that deserves the most attention is the Rays’ third round pick from this year’s draft. Unroe certainly lived up to the billing in his first game, going 2 for 5 with a stolen base, a run scored, and strong defense at shortstop, showing off his bat speed and athleticism. The players in the Gulf Coast League are lightyears from the big leagues, but boy is there talent on this team.