In the second game of their three-game set with the New York Yankees, the Tampa Bay Rays faced off against right-hander Chase Whitley. It was an interesting story that caused Whitley to start that game and 12 others so far for the Yankees–he had been a reliever his entire career before moving to the rotation at the end of 2013 at Triple-A, and before he knew it, he was starting at Yankee Stadium. The Rays are trying something similar with Andrew Bellatti, and the early returns have been very good.
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 9, Lehigh Valley Ironpigs (PHI) 3
Bellatti didn’t need to be perfect given the run support he was getting, but he still gave the Bulls another strong outing. He went 5 innings allowing 2 runs on 5 hits, striking out 4 while walking 2. He continues to be efficient as he builds up his pitch count, using only 76 pitches in this game, and he forced a strong 5-1 groundout to flyout ratio. On the season, Bellatti now has a 2.76 ERA and a 15-4 strikeout to walk ratio in 16.1 innings pitched.
Bellatti has always stood out for being young for his level–he won’t turn 24 years old until August, putting him at nearly 4 years below the International League’s average age. His other major assets were a fastball that could reach 93-94 MPH, a good slider, and deception against right-handed batters, but he has looked just fine against both righties and lefties as a starter even with his fastball losing a few ticks. This game marked the first time that Bellatti threw 5 innings in a starter since August of 2011, but he may have the potential to provide starting depth for the Rays.
To finish up the pitchers, Jordan Norberto had a rough outing, allowing a run and 5 baserunners in 1.2 innings, Jose Dominguez struck out the only hitter he saw to bail Norberto out, and Andy Oliver tossed 2 perfect innings with a strikeout to finish off the game. Oliver can be unhittable when he is throwing strikes, but that does not happen often enough right now.
It was Taylor Motter leading the offense once again for the Bulls, going 3 for 5 with a double, 2 RBI, and 2 runs scored. Alexi Casilla also had 2 RBI while J.P. Arencibia went 2 for 3 with a walk, an RBI, and 2 runs scored. Mikie Mahtook also went 2 for 4 with an RBI and a walk while Leonardo Reginatto went 2 for 4 with an RBI and a run scored. Reginatto’s average is still at .360 to begin his Bulls tenure. Motter is hitting just .222, but he is now 6 for his last 12 with 5 RBI as he breaks out of his early-season slump.
Double-A Southern League: Jackson Generals (SEA) 4, Montgomery Biscuits 3
A pair of homers accounted for all of the Biscuits’ runs: a solo homer by Patrick Leonard in the second inning and a two-run shot by Richie Shaffer, his 5th of the season, in the third. The Biscuits went just 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position as Johnny Field and Tyler Goeddel each went 2 for 4 with a double (plus a walk for Field) yet scored only once combined in the game. Thanks to Bradin Hagens, though, it looked like that would be enough.
Hagens didn’t look as electric in his first start as he had in his three relief appearances for Montgomery, but this outing was very good as he went 6 innings allowing 1 run on 6 hits, striking out 3 while walking 1. He lowered his ERA to 1.61 with the performance. However, Mikey O’Brien allowed 3 runs, 2 earned, in the final 3 innings to change the balance of this game. O’Brien, who the Rays selected in the Minor League Rule 5 Draft, finds his ERA at 5.54 to start the year.
Back to positives, Goeddel, Shaffer, and Field have been the Biscuits’ three best hitters so far, with Field’s .896 OPS being the lowest of the three. Goeddel saw his 10-game hitting streak get snapped, but he is hitting .362 now after reeling off consecutive multi-hit games. Strikeouts continue to be a problem for Shaffer, but he is hitting for a lot of power and drawing his fair share of walks. Field’s power is more surprising as he now has 4 already, second on the team to Shaffer, after hitting 12 home runs in the entire 2014 regular season.
Low-A Midwest League: Great Lakes Loons (LAD) 8, Bowling Green Hot Rods 7
This was an especially difficult loss for Bowling Green as they let a 7-3 lead after 6 innings slip away. Greg Harris had a poor outing, allowing 3 runs, 2 earned, on 5 hits in 3 innings, but Kyle Bird then tossed 3 shutout innings allowing just 2 hits to get the game seemingly under control. Unfortunately, Damion Carroll then had a nightmare outing, allowing 5 runs in just 1+ innings of work to cost the Hot Rods the game.
At least the offense gives us plenty to talk about. Casey Gillaspie had a great game, going 1 for 3 with a solo homer, 2 walks, and 2 runs scored. We haven’t been talking about Gillaspie much lately, but he isn’t playing that badly–he has a .234/.296/.438 line thus far, hitting for a lot of extra-base power and not striking out at all (15.4% of his plate appearances). He hasn’t been walking a lot or hitting enough singles, but we’d much rather be seeing him looking like this than striking out a ton.
The Hot Rods’ corner outfielders certainly made their presences felt as Coty Blanchard and Justin Williams each went 3 for 5 with an RBI. One of Blanchard’s hits with a double, and he also had a run scored. Cristian Toribio also contributed his second homer of the season while Nick Ciuffo drove in his 4th run of the year. Blanchard needs to hit the ball with more authority, but it’s hard not to like a guy who hits .292 while playing five different positions.