Pirate batters rocked some of the Rays’ best pitchers in Port Charlotte today. Matt Moore couldn’t make it out of the first inning, yielding six runs in two-thirds of an inning. Presumed closer Grant Balfour gave up a three run homer as the Rays suffered their worst defeat of the spring so far, 10-5, to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Rays not only suffered from poor pitching, but also from some uncharacteristic mistakes on the field and the basepaths. The Rays were only charged with one official error, but hesitation from outfielders allowed some catchable balls to drop. One runner was picked off, and at one point shortstop Yunel Escobar and second baseman Logan Forsythe had a miscommunication that allowed a grounder to roll between them into the outfield. It was ruled a hit, but easily could have been a force out.
Moore started the game by hitting Starling Marte and walking Jordy Mercer to put runners on first and second with no one out. Following a run scoring single by Russell Martin, Brandon Guyer misplayed a fly ball to right into a single. Throughout the game, outfielders in right and center struggled to track down balls in the bright Florida sun. By the time the Pirates were done hitting, they scored six runs and knocked Moore out of the game. Sam Runion got the last out in the inning.
Logan Forsythe led off the bottom of the first with a triple, and scored on a sacrifice by James Loney. That would remain all of the Rays’ scoring until the last two innings, when Balfour came in and gave up a hit, a walk, and a three run homer to Russell Martin. Balfour only got one out before Juan Sandoval came in and shut down the Pirates.
Both teams started substituting freely in the fifth inning. Joel Peralta became the next Rays pitcher who had a rocky outing, giving up some hits and another run in the 6th inning as the Pirates extended their lead to 10-1. Kirby Yates, fighting for a bullpen spot, relieved Peralta and held the Pirates scoreless in the 6th and 7th innings. Jake McGee’s fastball was clocked as high as 96 miles per hour during the 8th. He even got a curve across for a strike. He still loaded the bases before escaping without a run.
The Rays’ subs showed some offense during the last two innings. In the 8th, Vince Belnome doubled and Jerry Sands hit a high, deep shot over the left field fence for his second homer of the spring to make the score 10-3. Santiago Garrido gave up just one hit and held the Pirates scoreless in the top of the ninth. The Rays hit Cody Eppley hard in the bottom of the ninth. Singles by Ray Olmedo, Hak-Ju Lee, and Curt Casali started the Rays off with a run and no one out. After Cole Figueroa struck out, Vince Belnome hit a hard smash that Pirates second sacker Josh Harrison barely stopped, but Harrison was able to knock the ball down a get a force at second. Jerry Sands singled to drive in his third run of the afternoon and bring the score to 10-5. That was where it stayed as Kevin Kiermaier grounded out to end the game.
The loss ended the Rays’ five-game spring win streak and made their record 5-2-1 for the spring. It may be too early in the spring for the Rays to remain concerned about today’s poor outings from so many pitchers expected to play key roles this year. Still, we should expect Joe Maddon and Jim Hickey to keep a close eye on things over the next few days. Jerry Sands strengthened his case to make the team with another great hitting performance, and Curt Casali went 3-4.