The Tampa Bay Rays got their first Grapefruit League win of the year on Friday, beating the Minnesota Twins 2-1. On a picture-perfect day at Charlotte Sports Park, the Rays pitching staff delivered a strong performance while the offense did just enough to secure the victory.
Back-to-back doubles from Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler got the Twins on the board first in the second inning, but Matt Andriese was able to limit the damage to just one run. The Twins wouldn’t score the remainder of the game.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Steven Souza Jr. got the Rays on the board with a single to left field to score Desmond Jennings. The second and winning run would come in the sixth inning on a Taylor Motter infield single plus an error, scoring Bobby Wilson. This win was also Kevin Cash’s first as manager of the Rays.
Jake Odorizzi got the start and pitched pretty well for his first appearance of the spring. His stuff looked solid generally, with his fastball staying around 91-92 MPH with a bit of life, and threw a few nice split-changes as well. His command was a bit off as he walked two hitters and had some trouble hitting his spots. Even so, he would go on to throw a scoreless inning without allowing a hit.
Matt Andriese followed Odorizzi and struggled in his first inning, allowing three sharply hit balls in a row. Two of them were the doubles by Rosario and Kepler. However, Andriese settled down after that and wound up going a 1-2-3 inning with three groundouts in his second inning of work.
Andriese used almost exclusively fastballs in this game, as many pitchers do in their first spring outings, and the offering sat in the low-90’s with good sink. He did an excellent job keeping the ball at the bottom of the zone in his second frame.
Ernesto Frieri then came on and threw a scoreless inning. His fastball was around 92-93 MPH and his slider showed some nice bite. He generally stayed near the top of zone and generated a few fly balls. His control was also a bit shaky, but he was able to manage. Between his shift to be more towards the left side of the rubber and more work with pitching coach Jim Hickey, you can definitely see the makings of another reclamation success.
Kirby Yates and Brandon Gomes both pitched scoreless innings as well. Gomes struggled a bit with his command but got bailed out by a nice defensive play from Kevin Kiermaier where he gunned down the hitter trying to extend a single into a double.
Jordan Norberto then pitched in his first game since elbow surgery in 2013 and looked a bit rusty. His fastball was 89-90 MPH and he struggled throwing his offspeed stuff for strikes. Hopefully once he gets more innings in, he’ll build up more arm strength and look more like the pitcher he used to be with Oakland. One thing I did like about him was that his arm slot looks like it can be very deceptive to lefties.
The pitcher who intrigued me the most in the game was newly acquired Burch Smith, who also had the shortest outing. Smith’s outing only lasted four pitches as he got three quick outs on balls in play. None were hit particular hard. His low-90’s fastball seemed to have some life to it and the one changeup he threw featured good movement and deception.
Mike Montgomery, now officially a reliever, pitched the ninth inning and looked pretty good as well. He struggled with command a bit but his fastball sat in low-to-mid 90’s and had some life to it as he tossed a perfect frame.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Rays only mustered 5 hits but there were some notables. Nick Franklin and David DeJesus each got a single up the middle off a left-handed pitcher, which was nice to see. Steven Souza’s key single came on a great at-bat where he worked a deep count and fouled off several pitches.
Jake Elmore had two nice at bats, working a walk and lining out to second, but he did get picked off. Kevin Kiermaier also had a nice opposite field hit. Finally, top prospect Daniel Robertson received a plate appearance late in the game and walked.
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On the defensive side, I was interested to see how Nick Franklin looked at shortstop. He didn’t get a ball hit to him, but did help turn a 4-6-3 double play in the first inning. He didn’t do a particularly good job–his throw was weak and offline–but Logan Forsythe made a nice swipe tag to get the out. Obviously Franklin deserves a sample size bigger than one play to assess his play at shortstop, and it was nice to see Forsythe looking fine at first base.
As mentioned earlier, Kiermaier got an outfield assist for the second straight by throwing out a runner stretching for a double. Rene Rivera caught and looked every bit the receiver the Rays were looking for behind plate, framing a few pitches quite nicely. Boog Powell made a nice diving catch in the ninth to help preserve the lead as well.
On the whole, it was nice to see Jake Odorizzi and the pitchers hold the Twins down and the new guy in Souza deliver a key game-tying hit. The Rays play again tomorrow in Bradenton against the Pittsburgh Pirates at 1:05 PM EST. The game will be broadcast on 620 WDAE.