Starting pitching is the emphasis of the Tampa Bay Rays organization, and on Friday, everyone–and yes, I mean everyone–got great performances. What a night it was, and we’ll start off with Enny Romero.
Triple-A International League Game 1: Charlotte Knights (CHW) 2, Durham Bulls 1 (7 innings)
In the second inning, Enny Romero allowed a home run to Matt Davidson on a misplaced fastball, and everyone had to be thinking “here we go again.” Instead, Romero tossed shutout ball for the next two innings to finish an encouraging outing. Romero went 4 innings allowing 1 run on 5 hits, striking out 7 while walking 1. He came out so early because he really labored, throwing 85 pitches. However, the 7 strikeouts were his second-highest total of the season and it was great to see him walk just 1 after walking 6 in his previous outing. Romero has a lot of work to do in his quest to harness his stuff, but this is the type of outing that he can build on.
After Romero, this game was pretty lackluster for Durham. Doug Mathis went the final 3 innings allowing a run on 4 hits, but that run was unfortunately the difference in the game. On the offensive side, Robby Price managed 2 of the 4 Bulls hits.
Game 2: Bulls 6, Knights 2 (7 innings)
This game was an entirely different story, especially for the offense. Hak-Ju was nothing special batting 9th in the first game, but he moved up to the leadoff spot and was explosive in this contest, going 1 for 2 with 2 walks, a stolen base, an RBI, and a run scored. Robby Price was at it again, drilling a solo homer, and Jerry Sands also went deep for his 8th homer of the year to cap a 2 for 4 day. Mikie Mahtook and Vince Belnome both had great games, with Mahtook going 1 for 3 with a double, a walk, and an RBI, and Belnome managing a 1 for 2 day with a double, 2 walks, and a run scored. Mahtook still hasn’t homered, but it’s hard to complain too much about his .289/.360/.415 line. Belnome, meanwhile, has a .281/.442/.406 line in his last 10 games as he has finally gotten hot after a rough start.
In terms of the pitching, Matt Andriese followed up Enny Romero’s effort with a nice outing of his own, allowing 2 runs on 5 hits in 5 innings, striking out 6 while walking 3. His final inning was rough as he allowed a leadoff homer to Blake Tekotte and a squeeze bunt to Micah Johnson, but he was able to depart with the Bulls still ahead 3-2. Lefties Adam Liberatore and Jeff Beliveau finished off the game in shutout fashion in the final two innings.
Double-A Southern League: Montgomery Biscuits 10, Jackson Generals (SEA) 2
Good luck finding something to complain about from this game as the hitters were unstoppable and the pitchers had a great game themselves. Seven different Biscuits had multiple hits and Luke Maile, Joey Rickard, and Willie Argo all had 2 RBI. Rickard has been on fire of late, hitting .371 in his last 10 games, while Maile has been ice-cold at .212 and needed in a big game. Richie Shaffer was in the lineup for the first time since May 6th after a quad injury, and he made his return count, going 2 for 4 with a double, a walk, and an RBI. He cooled off in a big way after his great start, and hopefully he can reset after the injury and start playing the way he is capable.
On the mound, Victor Mateo had another solid outing, allowing 2 runs on 8 hits in 5 innings of work. He struck out 5 while walking 3. As we’ve said a bunch of times, Mateo really should be in Triple-A but the Bulls simply do not have any room for him. Matt Ramsey followed with his sixth straight hitless appearance to begin the year, allowing just a walk while striking out 3. Ramsey has allowed at least one walk in his last five games, but 7 hitless innings–with 11 strikeouts, no less–is pretty special. If he can continue to improve his control, he could work his way into the Rays’ bullpen conversation sooner rather than later. Then Santiago Garrido and Matt Lollis had a perfect inning each with a strikeout to end the game. Lollis has been spectacular to begin the year, managing a 1.71 ERA and a 21-6 strikeout to walk ratio in 21 innings pitched. He was a wild card in the Alex Torres trade, but he just might amount to something.
High-A Florida State League: Clearwater Threshers (PHI) 2, Charlotte Stone Crabs 1
Tomorrow, the Stone Crabs will get Alex Cobb in a rehab start that Rays fans everywhere will be watching closely. But they also got a “rehab” start from Alex Colome on Friday, and it went quite well. Colome allowed just 4 hits in 5 shutout innings, striking out 5 while walking 1. Colome has 8 games left on his suspension at Triple-A, so High-A hitters will be in for a tough time for at least one more start.
Jeff Ames‘ future may be in the bullpen, but his first relief appearance of 2014 did not go particularly well. He allowed 2 runs on 6 hits in 3.2 innings of work, blowing a 1-0 lead and suffering the loss. It’s not as though the Stone Crabs offense provided much, but it is always frustrating to blow a lead (as Rays fans know quite well). Speaking of the offense, Kes Carter went 2 for 4 with a stolen base, Andrew Toles went 2 for 5, and Tyler Goeddel had a 1 for 3 day with a walk and the only RBI. Justin O’Conner, meanwhile, had an interesting day behind the plate, picking a runner off first base but also committing catcher’s interference.
Low-A Midwest League: Great Lakes Loons (LAD) 5, Bowling Green Hot Rods 4
Especially in these last two games, Rays affiliates closely resembled the big club with great starts followed by disastrous bullpen work. The great start came from Jaime Schultz, who was sparkling in his 2014 debut. He went 4.2 innings allowing just 2 hits, striking out 9 while walking 1. He allowed just three baserunners–and picked off two of them. He must have some pickoff move. More importantly, the 5’10″ right-hander features a mid-90′s fastball and secondary pitches that show promise, and the Rays are excited to see what he can do at full-season ball. Unfortunately, Aaron Griffin and Stone Speer allowed 5 runs in 4.1 innings behind him, but that does not put a damper on just how good Schultz was.
The Hot Rods lineup did have some highlights, with Oscar Hernandez going 2 for 4 with a triple, an RBI, and a run scored, Kean Wong going 2 for 5, and Juniel Querecuto going 1 for 3 with 2 walks and an RBI. Hernandez has a .324/.390/.676 line in his last 10 games, and suddenly he has a .749 OPS on the year despite a horrific start. Of all the Rays’ catching prospects, Hernandez may have the most upside, but we will have to see if he can find more consistency at the plate.