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Rays Spring Game 21: Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings Homer

By Robbie Knopf

We often talk about the Tampa Bay Rays’ starting pitchers as recap their spring training games. We knew before the team’s contest on Thursday, though, that such a discussion would never take place. The Rays resorted to seven relievers instead of a starter as they took on the New York Yankees, and luckily it was their offense that took the headlines.

Adam Warren is the favorite to win the Yankees’ fifth starter job and turned in another strong outing for New York. He allowed only one run in his 3.2 innings of work, but it came in resounding fashion off the bat of Evan Longoria. Warren got Longoria to swing and miss at a secondary pitch to begin his second-inning at-bat, but Longoria got a fastball on the second offering he saw and drilled it out to left field for a game-tying home run.

Then, in the sixth inning, Desmond Jennings continued his red-hot spring with a solo home run that gave the Rays a 4-3 lead. Power was the only thing missing for Jennings in the exhibition season, and now he has that box checked off as well. His spring triple-slash is currently at a ludicrous .483/.545/.621. We can say with confidence that he is doing pretty well.

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Brandon Guyer and Asdrubal Cabrera also had RBI hits for the Rays while Jake Elmore had a sac fly, but the player to talk about was Kevin Kiermaier. In the second inning, Kiermaier hit a fairly ordinary flyball to right-center, but he put in a good spot where neither the Yankees’ centerfielder nor their right fielder could get it. Since the ball hung up longer than a line drive would have, Kiermaier knew that he had more time and hustled into second base with a double.

After Jennings’ homer, Kiermaier had more excitement in store. We also knew that Kiermaier was fast, but stealing bases has been a problem for his professional career. He had no problems in that sixth inning, though, swiping both second and third base before scoring on a wild pitch that barely got away from the Yankees’ catcher. If Kiermaier can add improved baserunning to his defense, that would take even more pressure off his bat.

On the pitching side, the Rays’ relievers found inconsistent results. The best of the bunch, though, were Ernesto Frieri, who struck out all four batters he faced, and Grant Balfour, who tossed a 1-2-3 inning with a strikeout. Kirby Yates also allowed just a hit in his scoreless 1.1 frames of work. Kevin Jepsen allowed 2 runs while Jordan Norberto, Brad Boxberger, and Jhan Marinez allowed a run each, but the Rays delivered just enough offense to win 6-5.

Thanks to the heroics of Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings, and Kevin Kiermaier, the Rays are now 11-9-1 this spring and will take on the Baltimore Orioles tomorrow. The game will unfortunately not be available on TV or radio, but head back to Rays Colored Glasses tomorrow to find out what you missed.

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