Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Recap: Nick Franklin, Jake McGee Impress in Rehab
By Robbie Knopf
The Tampa Bay Rays keep hearing bad injury news, but at least there are some positive reports coming from Triple-A Durham, where Nick Franklin and Jake McGee are rehabbing and making good progress. Both should be ready to help the Rays before too long, especially if their nice games with the Bulls on Friday mean anything.
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 7, Syracuse Chiefs (WSN) 6
Matt Buschmann had a rough outing for Durham, allowing 6 runs in 5 innings to put his team in a 6-1 hole. However, this was just a special game for the Bulls as they found a way to pick up their pitcher and come all the way back. It started in the sixth inning, when Nick Franklin doubled and scored on a Eugenio Velez RBI single. Jake McGee took over on the mound and struck out 2 as he worked around a walk, and then the offense went to work again in the top of the seventh.
Three straight doubles by Vince Belnome, Leonardo Reginatto, and Hak-Ju Lee scored two more runs to make it 6-4, and then Lee stole third base and scored on a Taylor Motter sac fly. Jim Miller then tossed 2 perfect innings on the mound, striking out 3, but the Bulls went down quietly in the eighth to put them down to their final three outs. That proved to be all that they needed.
Lee continued his great game by leading off with a single before Taylor Motter walked. Alexi Casilla, who replaced Franklin, laid down a sacrifice bunt before Eugenio Velez tied the game on a sac fly. Then Corey Brown put the Bulls ahead in more resounding fashion, drilling an RBI double to make it 7-6. But there was still the bottom of the ninth and Andy Oliver needed to find a way to get through it. Oliver allowed two hits and a walk to loaded the bases, but Emmanuel Burriss hit a liner right to Reginatto, who caught it and stopped on third base for a game-ending double play.
Franklin’s rehab performance for the Bulls went extremely well as he went 2 for 3 with that double and 2 runs scored. Franklin is hitting .375 with a double, a stolen base, 2 runs scored, and 2 walks against 2 strikeouts in his 10 rehab plate appearances. Rehab numbers don’t mean too much, but it is always nice to be reminded that Franklin is a talented young player with the ability to help the Rays win games.
The three biggest stars of this game for the Bulls were Corey Brown, Eugenio Velez, and Hak-Ju Lee. Brown went 3 for 5 with a double, 2 stolen bases and 2 RBI as he is absolutely on fire. He was hitting just .147 on April 26th, but he is up to .261 after hitting to a .371/.421/.743 line with 2 doubles, 3 homers, and 6 RBI in his last 38 plate appearances. Velez went 2 for 4 with a double and 2 RBI in this game to raise his average to .318 on the season.
Then there was Lee, who looked dynamic in that sequence in the seventh and finished at 2 for 4 with a double, a stolen base, an RBI, and 2 runs scored. He has reeled off consecutive multi-hit games, but he needs a whole lot more as his line on the season is still just .247/.280/.303. We have seen the flashes for Lee since knee surgery, but never any sort of sustained success. That obviously has to change if he is going to salvage his once promising career.
Double-A Southern League: Birmingham Barons (CHW) 5, Montgomery Biscuits 4 (10 innings)
One bad inning doomed the Biscuits in what could have been a nice win. Jared Mortensen retired all six batters he saw in the first two innings and tossed 4.1 no-hit innings beginning with the final out of the third. Unfortunately, in that third frame, he allowed two walks, a single, and a grand slam to Courtney Hawkins. Mortensen finished with 7 innings allowing 4 runs on just 2 hits, striking out 6 while walking 3. Unfortunately for him, that one-inning lapse proved extremely costly.
On the offensive side, the Biscuits offense came on two home runs. The first came from Richie Shaffer, who delivered a three-run shot in the game’s opening inning. Shaffer homered for the second time in as many days to raise his line to .360/.359/.510 in his second stint in Montgomery. He has 7 homers while no other player on the team has 5. Tommy Coyle is now in fourth place on the team with 3 homers after his solo shot to tie this game in the seventh inning. He is hitting just .222, but with improved power and still solid plate discipline (.333 OBP, .432 SLG).
Cameron Seitzer also had a nice game for the Biscuits, going 2 for 4 with a double, and we must acknowledge Mikey O’Brien, who allowed just a hit while striking out 3 in 2 shutout innings. Together with Coyle, he took this game to extra innings.
High-A Florida State League: Charlotte Stone Crabs 4, St. Lucie Mets 1
Interestingly enough, this game was pretty much the alternate-reality version of the Montgomery game where Mortensen never had the third inning lapse. Chris Kirsch went 7 shutout innings allowing no runs on 5 hits, striking out 3 while walking 1. His groundout to flyout ratio was an impressive 10-3. The 23-year-old lefty Kirsch has a 2.83 ERA to begin 2015 after a 2.84 mark in 2015, albeit with just 5.3 strikeouts per 9 this year and a 5.5 K/9 last season.
The run support wasn’t quite as exciting in this game. Granden Goetzman went 2 for 3 with 2 RBI in his second game of the season for Charlotte after a stint in extended spring training (presumably due to injury). It is nice to see him back, and it is encouraging that he hasn’t struck out in either of his first two contests of the year after he managed a 28.6% strikeout rate and just a 53-6 strikeout to walk ratio last season. Willy Adames went 2 for 4 with another RBI while Jake Bauers went 1 for 3 with a walk. Adames is up to a .278 average on the year.
Low-A Midwest League: Bowling Green Hot Rods 5, South Bend Cubs 2
Apparently going 7 innings is cool again as Chris Pike joined Mortensen, Kirsch, and Nate Karns in delivering exactly that many frames. Pike went 7 innings allowing 2 runs on 7 hits, striking out 2 while walking 1. He was not overpowering and he didn’t force groundballs (leaving me without much to talk about), but somehow he pitched extremely well. Kyle Bird finished the game with 2 shutout frames, working around 2 hits and a walk while striking out 2.
Hunter Lockwood had been sidelined since April 14th with a leg injury, but his signature power was on display as soon as he returned. He went 2 for 4 with his first home run in full-season ball and 2 RBI. Thomas Milone also had a huge game, going 2 for 4 with 2 stolen bases, an RBI, a run scored, and an outfield assist. We are still waiting for him to hit more extra-base hits, but it is hard to complain about his .271 average, .352 OBP, 16-10 strikeout to walk, and perfect 8 for 8 in stolen bases. Casey Gillaspie also went 1 for 3 with a hit-by-pitch and a run scored in the win.