The Tampa Bay Rays got back into the swing of things today against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin after they were rained out yesterday. Overall, it was a solid performance by the team, who used a potent offensive as well as solid pitching to get the job done. The Rays spring training record now moves to 5-1-1.
Alex Cobb started the game for the Rays, and was stellar in his 3+ innings pitched. He allowed no runs, 2 hits (one of them an infield dribbler), and walked none while also inducing 7 ground ball outs. As expected, Cobb spent the game working to improve his curveball. He did a great job locating the pitch in his outing by keeping it down in the zone consistently, but he still needs to work on tightening the spin to make it harder for hitters to pick up out of his hand.
The next three pitchers for the Rays all came in competing for one of the final two bullpen spots. Brandon Gomes looked sharp in the 4th inning, getting out all three batters he faced. Brad Boxberger was not quite as good, allowing one run on 2 hits and 2 walks in the 5th, but he did do a good job of limiting the damage after loading the bases with one out. C.J. Riefenhauser then came on to get the first out of the 6th inning. Of the three, Riefenhauser faces the longest odds to make the roster as he needs a bit more minor league seasoning, but all three have the potential to pitch their way onto a roster spot with a solid spring.
Newly acquired Nate Karns, who is an outside candidate for the 5th starter role, came on with one out in the 6th and started off poorly by walking Brett Lawrie and giving up a single to former-Ray Dioner Navarro. But, he escaped the jam by inducing a double play off the bat of Steven Tolleson. He stayed on for the 7th inning and pitched well, inducing ground ball outs from all three hitters he faced. Karns also got the first out of the 8th inning before being pulled in favor of fellow offseason acquisition Matt Andriese. Andriese got both of the hitters that he faced in the 8th to ground out, but stayed on for the 9th and was not so good. He failed to get through the whole inning, giving up 2 ER and 2 hits to make the score 6-3, thus wasting an opportunity to leave an impression on the big league coaching staff. Steve Geltz, who received little attention for an outstanding season at Triple-A last year, recorded the save by coming on to get the final out of the 9th.
Offensively, the Rays got the job done. Kevin Kiermaier led the way, accounting for the Rays’ first three runs. He singled off of Mark Buehrle to begin the 3rd inning, and was later driven in by a Desmond Jennings’ single. The very next inning, Kiermaier took advantage of a Marcus Stroman mistake to hit a two-run home run over the left-center wall, also driving in Jayson Nix who had previously walked. Kiermaier is looking to prove that his bat belongs in the major leagues to go along with his plus defense, and he has begun to prove just that with a good start to the spring. Overall, I was very impressed with Kiemaier’s approach and mechanics today. Matt Joyce also continued a strong start of his own, going 2-3 including a double in the 5th that led to him scoring after a Wil Myers single.
Young prospects of note who played in this game include Curt Casali, Mikie Mahtook, Cameron Seitzer, and Richie Shaffer, the latter two being brought up from minor league camp for the game. It was a feel-good moment for Seitzer who got to play in front of his dad, Blue Jays’ hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. To add to an already great day for the Seitzer family, Cameron slammed a two run home run in the 9th that followed a Jeremy Moore single to make the score 6-1, which led to a big smile from dad. Both Casali and Shaffer went hitless in their only at-bats, but Mahtook did manage a single in his at-bat. This was a pretty good overall performance for an offense that featured just a couple of regulars, as they finished with 12 hits, 3 walks, and 6 runs scored.
Also of note is that baseball’s new replay system came into effect in this game. With one out in the ninth inning, Munenori Kawasaki hit a ground ball to Seitzer, who flipped the ball to Andriese in what was a bang-bang play at first base. Kawasaki was ruled out, and Blue Jays’ manager John Gibbon came out to get the play reviewed. After short period of time, the play was upheld by the umpires and Kawasaki was ruled to indeed be out. It will be interesting to see how this new system will continue to come into play this spring.
Today the Rays continued a strong showing thus far into the spring. They look to continue to ride this momentum as they move back to Port Charlotte take on the Pittsburgh Pirates tomorrow at 1:05 ET.