Spring Game 26: Evan Longoria Homers as Rays Edge Orioles

By Robbie Knopf

With their win against the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday night, the Tampa Bay Rays clinched the Grapefruit League title at 16-6-4. Spring training does not mean much–but the previous times the Rays won the Grapefruit League title were 2008 and 2010, the two times they have won on the AL East. This game was a fitting way to finish it off.

Alex Cobb‘s final numbers in the game were very good: he went 4 innings allowing 1 run on 3 hits, striking out 2 while walking 1. His groundout to flyout ratio was a perfect 9-0. But Cobb had his issues with command, and that was never more noticeable than when a curveball slipped out of his hand and hit Nelson Cruz is the head. Cruz is luckily OK–good thing he wasn’t hit with a fastball–and it was nice to see Cobb battle through to pitch nevertheless.

Behind Cobb, Cesar Ramos struggled for the second straight outing, allowing a run on 3 hits in an inning of work. It’s a different story entering the game out of the bullpen compared to being a starter–one noticeable difference is how Ramos’ velocity ticks up 2-3 MPH. Hopefully Ramos can use these last couple days of spring training to get reacquainted to the role and be ready when the Rays call upon him in the regular season.

Also appearing for the Rays on the mound were Brandon Gomes, who struck out 2 in another untouchable inning, and a pair of Triple-A pitchers, Merrill Kelly and Adam Liberatore. Kelly allowed a run on 3 hits in 2 innings, striking out 2, while Liberatore struck out 2 in a perfect 9th for the save. Joe Maddon specifically mentioned Liberatore as a player that impressed him, and as a lefty with a low-90’s fastball and very good slider, we could see him in the major leagues at some point.

On the offensive side, the star was Evan Longoria who went 2 for 4 with a solo homer, a double, and 2 runs scored. It’s always nice to see Longoria hitting the way he is capable, and everyone wants to enter the regular season with confidence. Matt Joyce led off once again and went 2 for 3 with a walk–although he was picked off of second base. Desmond Jennings also had 2 hits while James Loney, Wilson Betemit, and Yunel Escobar had the RBIs. Betemit’s sac fly gave the Rays the lead in the 9th.

Overall, it was another very good game, and the excitement is boiling over with the season so close. A championship season in the Grapefruit League is in the books, and the Rays hope a championship run when it really matters is in store as well. The Rays take on the Tigers tomorrow at 1:05 PM in Lakeland.