The Tampa Bay Rays traveled to Dunedin today looking to continue a strong spring. They did just that as they managed to pull out a 5-4 win against the Toronto Blue Jays thanks to some clutch hitting late in the game. Their spring record now moves to 7-3-2.
Nate Karns started the game for the Rays and had a nice 3.1 inning outing. He threw 25 out of 46 pitches for strikes, and allowed no runs on three hits and a walk. The Rays have shown they like Karns quite a bit, even electing to keep him in camp when they cut other top prospects such as Alex Colome, Enny Romero, and Matt Andriese. He still faces long odds to win the 5th starter competition over Jake Odorizzi, Erik Bedard, and Cesar Ramos, but the Rays think highly of Karns and he could become the go-to guy in case an injury occurs to the big league rotation. Mark Lowe came in to pitch the rest of the 4th and the entire 5th, giving up no runs and striking out three as he fights for a bullpen spot.
Josh Lueke was next on for the Rays, looking to preserve the 4-0 lead. However, Lueke could not do so, as he allowed 4 runs in 6th inning, including a 2-run homer off the bat of Edwin Encarnacion. He did stay on to produce a 1-2-3 inning in the 7th. Lueke is out-of-options, and while the Rays don’t want to lose any depth, their best option might be to expose him to waivers if he cannot improve in his next few outings. C.J. Riefenhauser continued his strong spring by throwing a perfect 8th and 9th inning to earn the win. He was viewed as an outside candidate to win a bullpen job heading into the spring, but he might just be playing his way into serious consideration. Minus Lueke, Rays’ pitchers looked very good today.
Also of note is that the Rays elected to throw multiple pitchers in a minor league game today rather than expose them to a divisional opponent. Alex Cobb threw 4+ innings in the game, throwing 46 of 68 pitches for strikes. Joel Peralta looked good as well, and Grant Balfour felt good after experiencing dead arm in his last outing (Hat tip to Marc Topkin for the info).
Offensively, Jeremy Moore and Desmond Jennings led the way. The Rays quickly loaded the bases to start the 3rd inning, and it paid off, as a Jennings single scored Jayson Nix, who had previously doubled. Matt Joyce killed the rally a bit by grounding into a double play, but Roman Ali Solis did score on the play. Logan Forsythe grounded out to end the inning, but not before the Rays had taken a 2-0 lead. Minor-league signee Jeremy Moore made it 3-0 when he hit a ball so hard that it caused Karns to later exclaim “I think he hit it to Toronto”. Moore’s home run cleared the batter’s eye in centerfield, and probably traveled close to 500 feet. Moore also helped account for the 4th run after he singled and was later driven in by Hak-Ju Lee. He has a very slim chance of making the big league roster, but with a very good spring to date (.353/.353/882 line) you never know what is going to happen. Jerry Sands, another guy who has performed very will this spring, played hero when he hit a solo home run in the top of the 9th in his only at-bat to make the score 5-4 Rays. This would prove to be the winning run.
Moore finished 2-3 with a homer and a single on the day to be the Rays’ top performer. Jennings was also 2-3, both hits being singles, and Jayson Nix doubled and walked in his three pate appearances. Ben Zobrist also got back into the lineup today after missing time because of neck stiffness, going 0-2 with a walk. He is expected to play second base tomorrow as he looks to prove that his injury problems are behind him. Another encouring sign was that Wilson Betemit played his first game in the field today as he looks to get back into the swing of things after arriving late to camp because of visa issues. Overall, a decent day for the offense, as their five runs on eight hits were just enough to get the job done.
The Rays defense had a couple of hiccups today, as they made two errors. These were at the hands of Betemit and Lee. The Blue Jays made Lee pay for his error, as it was the first play of Lueke’s catastrophic 6th inning. The Rays have had a couple of games where their defense hasn’t looked good this spring, something that Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman will surely not accept going forward.
The Tampa Bay Rays will take on the Pittsburgh Pirates tomorrow at 1:05 back in Port Charlotte.