Yesterday was an amusing day in the Tampa Bay Rays system. We had a bunch of new developments for the Durham Bulls, an incredible pitching performance for the Montgomery Biscuits, an All-Star Game filled with Charlotte Stone Crabs contributors, and two of the Bowling Green Hot Rods’ biggest stars continuing to shine. And, aside from the All-Star Game, the Rays affiliates lost every game. Thankfully that isn’t as heart-crushing on the minor league side.
Triple-A International League: Columbus Clippers (CLE) 5, Durham Bulls 4 (10 innings)
The Rays have been playing the Indians while the Clippers have been playing the Bulls and the results have been almost the opposite. While the Rays look to sweep Cleveland this afternoon, Columbus will aim for a four-game sweep of Durham. Of course, at least one of their wins had to be 4-1, the Rays’ margin of victory over the Indians the last two days. In any event, this was an interesting game.
The Bulls have been scrambling for starting pitchers with the Rays doing the same and so many pitchers hurt, and they may just have found another one. Robert Zarate signed with the organization this offseason after a stint at Independent ball in Japan, and he came out of nowhere to look very good in spring training with his fastball-slider combination. Then he proceeded to get hurt and didn’t pitch at any level until June. However, after a rehab stint with Charlotte and 2 relief appearances at Durham, he was deemed ready for a spot-start, and it went quite well.
Zarate tossed 4 innings allowing 1 run on 4 hits, striking out 6 while walking none. His groundout to flyout ratio was even a shiny 3-0. We obviously need to see more than that, but that is some kind of starting debut for a pitcher who couldn’t even get past Rookie ball in America before heading to Japan to pitch primarily in the minor leagues over there. Between his performance and his stuff, Zarate has labeled himself as a sleeper in the system.
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Following Zarate was Bradin Hagens in his Bulls debut. He also pitched well, tossing 3 innings allowing 1 run on 3 hits, striking out 4 while walking 1. His groundout to flyout ratio was also 3-0. Hagens made a pair of big league appearances with the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, and it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that he does the same with the Tampa Bay Rays this year. Kirby Yates followed with 1.2 shutout innings working around a hit and a walk while striking out 3. We have to think that we will see him in the majors (at least briefly) pretty soon. Jhan Marinez then came apart in the 10th to take the loss.
On the offensive side, Taylor Motter and Corey Brown each went 2 for 4 with a double, a walk, and a run scored, with Motter also stealing 2 bases. Eugenio Velez also went 2 for 5, but the most noteworthy game of all came from J.P. Arencibia. Vince Belnome started for the Bulls at third base and went 1 for 3 before getting ejected in the sixth inning. To replace him at the hot corner, the Bulls went with Arencibia, who had never played third base as a professional–he hadn’t even played first base until 2014.
It wasn’t as though the Bulls had no other option–regular third baseman Richie Shaffer was getting a day off–but they chose to go with Arencibia and it went fine. He drilled a 2-run homer in the 10th and didn’t have a single ball hit to him at third. The latter tells us nothing, but are the Rays at least willing to have him take grounders at third and see if he can be a backup option at the position? Arencibia is a flawed player, but if he can play the corner infield spots with his power, that would certainly help his case to return to the majors.
Double-A Southern League: Biloxi Shuckers (MIL) 1, Montgomery Biscuits 0 (15 innings)
Usually when a game goes this long, at least one pitcher has an incredible game for each team. The Biscuits ended up with 2 outings to remember. Austin Pruitt lowered his ERA to 2.99 on the year as he tossed 8 shutout innings allowing no runs on 8 hits, striking out 5 while walking 1. He was even allowed to start the ninth inning before departing after allowing a pair of singles. Pruitt’s season got off to a tremendous start, and he still has a 66-21 strikeout to walk ratio to go along with that ERA in 78.1 innings. He’s emerging as at least another depth option for the Rays.
Ryan Garton replaced Pruitt and delivered a huge outing that began when he escaped that jam in the ninth. He tossed 4 innings allowing no runs on 2 hits, striking out 3 while walking none. His groundout to flyout ratio was 4-1. Garton hadn’t pitched more than 2 innings all season and had only topped 1 innings just once, but he came up huge to ensure that this game would continue. Bryce Stowell then tossed 2 shutout frames working around a walk before position player Leonardo Reginatto allowed the winning run in the 15th. Hector Guevara led the offense by going 1 for 3 being lifted for a pinch-runner.
Florida State League: FSL South All-Stars 6, FSL North All-Stars 0
Several Stone Crabs had great games to lead the FSL South All-Stars to a commanding victory. Jacob Faria started and needed just 12 pitches to toss a perfect inning with 2 strikeouts. Then, in the third inning, Chris Kirsch tossed a perfect frame working around a walk and became the pitcher of record when Jake Bauers delivered a 2-run double to give the South a 2-0 lead. Bauers would be the MVP of the game thanks to that hit and a nice scoop at first base.
Also appearing in the game were Willy Adames, who went 1 for 1 with a walk and a run scored, Marty Gantt, who went 0 for 2, and two more pitchers. Buddy Borden allowed a hit in 0.2 innings, striking out 1, while Brad Schreiber finished the game by retiring both batters he faced.
Low-A Midwest League: Fort Wayne TinCaps (SDP) 5, Bowling Green Hot Rods 1
Hyrum Formo allowed 5 runs in 3 innings for Bowling Green, and shutout work by three relievers was not enough to overcome that. Damion Carroll and Kyle Bird each tossed 2 shutout frames before Hunter Wood lowered his ERA to 1.44 as he finished the game with a scoreless inning. At least Casey Gillaspie and Jace Conrad each went 2 for 4, with Gillaspie drilling a double. Gillaspie’s line on the season stands a .270/.362/.540, and the only thing keeping him in Low-A may be Bauers’ youth (he’s only 19). As soon as Bauers is deemed ready for Double-A, we have to think that Gillaspie will join the Stone Crabs.