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The Undercards: Ryne Stanek Finds the K’s for Stone Crabs

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Ryne Stanek began 2015 as a pitcher with electric stuff pitching at High-A who was striking out just 5.68 batters per 9 innings. How did that make any sense? Was he hurt? Were the Rays teaching him a new pitch? Perhaps something is truly different about Stanek, and whatever shift it is may help him in the long-term. For right now, though, it is nice to see Stanek reminding us that his ability to pile up the strikeouts is still present in his game.

Triple-A International League: Scranton-Wilkes Barre RailRiders (NYY) 10, Durham Bulls 2

This game was quite different than the New York Yankees-Tampa Bay Rays game on Thursday–but more reminiscent of Monday’s game, after which the Rays won the next three. The Bulls will hope to make that trend hold true, but first let’s discuss what happened here.

Scott Diamond had a rough start for Durham, allowing 6 runs in 4.2 innings, 5 of which came in his final frame. The bullpen then provided little relief behind him, with Jordan Norberto and Bryce Stowell allowing 8 walks and 4 runs in their 3 innings of work behind him. At least Jhan Marinez finished the game well, tossing 1.1 hitless innings and striking out 3 while walking 1. It looked like Marinez might be ticketed back to Montgomery, but he has stayed in Durham with Kirby Yates on the DL. He has seized his opportunity with a 0.73 ERA in 12 innings.

In terms of the limited Bulls offense, Taylor Motter went 1 for 3 with his 9th steal and an RBI while Nick Franklin went 1 for 3 with a walk in his rehab game. Franklin his looked fine for Durham, hitting to a .286/.400/.333 line with a double, 2 stolen bases, and a 6-4 strikeout to walk ratio. He is not coming up with Jake McGee today, but we can’t imagine that he is far behind. Of course, the Rays don’t have to promote him–he has options remaining–but he is worth a big league roster spot until Desmond Jennings returns, and his detractors wouldn’t argue that too fervently.

Double-A Southern League: Tennessee Smokies (CHC) 8, Montgomery Biscuits 1

Jared Mortensen entered this game with a 1.89 ERA and a 31-11 strikeout to walk ratio in 38 innings pitched, but he had one bad frame in his last outing and more consistent struggles this time out. Overall, he went 6 innings allowing 4 runs on 7 hits, striking out 4 while walking 1. Mortensen did continue his streak of 7 straight starts of 6 innings or more to start 2015. Ryan Garton and Parker Markel then looked extremely iffy in relief behind him.

Daniel Robertson was a highlight on offense as he went 3 for 4 with the only Montgomery RBI. He is now up to a .313/.400/.500 line on the season including .411/.485/.714 in his last 66 plate appearances. The Tampa Bay Rays dreamt of Robertson playing this well in his first year in their organization, and he has certainly lived up to the hype so far. The Rays will need to decide how quickly they want to push him if this keeps up–will he receive more than a cup of coffee at Triple-A by the end of the year?

Joey Rickard also had a nice game, going 1 for 3 with a double and the lone run scored, while Tyler Goeddel went 1 for 3 with a pair of stolen bases. Goeddel has been streaky again this season as his incredible start was followed by a slump, but he has hit in 6 of his last 7 games as he hopes to get back on track. It’s OK to have for him to have his ups and downs as long as the overall product is an above-average big league corner outfielder. The Rays see that potential from him, but he has work to do in the upper minors before they can be confident about him reaching it.

High-A Florida State League: Charlotte Stone Crabs 5, Clearwater Threshers (PHI) 1

The Threshers weren’t no-hit or one-hit like they were on Wednesday night, but facing Ryne Stanek wasn’t any easier. Stanek went 7 innings allowing no runs on 3 hits, striking out 9 while walking 2. The 9 strikeouts were as many as he had delivered in his previous 3 starts combined, but the hope is that we will see games like this more often. Stanek completed 7 innings for the first time in his professional career and now has a 1.63 ERA in 7 starts with Charlotte to begin the year.

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There has been some speculation about why Stanek was recording so few strikeouts in his first several starts. One idea was that the Rays were having him throw his slider less so he could work on his fastball and changeup. Another is that they have taught him a sinker that was leading him to more groundballs (his GB% was markedly higher) but also preventing him from working deep enough counts to rack up the K’s. It’s unclear what the actual answer is–or whether there really was any shift at all–but it is great to see Stanek looking electric and hopefully he also learned something from when he wasn’t being as overpowering.

The other star in this game was Jake Bauers, who went 4 for 5 with 3 doubles, an RBI, and 2 runs scored as he, like Robertson, has been playing out of his mind since joining the system. He is hitting .276 after managing a .296 average at Low-A in the Padres organization, but his OBP has gone up from .376 to .384 and his SLG all the way from .414 to .486. Bauers is hitting for much more power while maintaining a 16-18 strikeout to walk ratio. We’ll see where things stand in a few months, but Bauers is easily playing the best among the Rays’ first base prospects right now.

Marty Gantt also had a big game, going 3 for 5 with 2 runs scored, while Mike Marjama went 1 for 2 with a homer, a walk, 2 RBI, and a run scored. The homer and the walk were both his first of the season. Marjama’s .350 average in a small sample isn’t sustainable, but he has been a surprise at the plate as Armando Araiza‘s backup catcher and that makes him a touch more interesting than we thought.

Low-A Midwest League: West Michigan Whitecaps (DET) 11, Bowling Green Hot Rods 0

Yes, this was a terrible night in the Tampa Bay Rays system aside from the Charlotte game. Henry Centeno got lit up, allowing 8 runs in 2.2 innings, although, Mike Franco did look good behind him. Franco went 3 innings allowing just an unearned run on 2 hits, striking out 5 while walking 1. He has a 1.84 ERA and a 20-4 strikeout to walk ratio in 14.2 IP, and given that he’s a 23 year old with a good arm, it will be interesting to see when the Rays push him to High-A. Kyle Bird, who has excelled as Bowling Green’s closer, did struggle in 2 innings to finish this game.

The Hot Rods managed just 6 hits on offense, although they did actually record a hit with a runner in scoring position. As you can see from the score, the runner didn’t actually make it home. Cristian Toribio went 1 for 2 with a walk while Mac James went 1 for 3. James is hitting .293 to begin his Hot Rods tenure. He was an interesting sleeper entering the system as a late bloomer at Oklahoma, and we will have to see how his development goes.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays Game 36: Rene Rivera Steps Up in Win

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