Rays News

Tampa Bay Rays Game 101: Casali, Karns Quite a Battery

By Robbie Knopf
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Is the answer to the Tampa Bay Rays’ offensive woes to play Curt Casali more at catcher? The answer is no–Casali hasn’t magically become the Rays’ best hitter–but on a team that (as you all heard) had entered Monday’s game having scored 4 runs or less in 13 straight games, even a subtle boost would be nice because they need all the help they can get. On Monday, however, Casali’s contributions were anything but subtle. Yes, he did a nice job working with Nate Karns and blocking ball in the dirt, but more importantly, he went 3 for 4 with 2 home runs and 3 RBI.

Casali’s first blast gave the Rays a 1-0 lead in the third inning before the second made it a 5-2 in the eighth after the Tigers had closed within 3-2 in the top of the frame. Suddenly his line on the season is up to a crazy .261/.314/.652. That is fluky for a bunch of reasons, particularly the fact that Casali simply wasn’t known for the this type of power in the minors. The multi-homer game was the first of his professional career! He also didn’t have a single one at Vanderbilt! He now has 5 home runs in 51 plate appearances in the majors compared to 4 in 132 PA’s at Triple-A this year and 4 in 370 PA’s between the minors and majors in 2014!

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That being said, Casali has the ability to be an offensive upgrade for the Rays at catcher even once his power falls back to earth. He became known for excellent plate discipline in the minors, and his batting average on balls in play during his big league time this year is just .259. Note that batting average on balls in play does not count home runs (because they go out of play). Expect less home runs from Casali moving forward, but we could also see more singles and walks. And if he delivers those–along with the occasional homer–he won’t be a budding superstar, but he will be a productive player who can form a good tandem with Rene Rivera and maybe even earn more than half of the starts.

The Rays’ other runs in the game came on a Kevin Kiermaier double to score Steven Souza Jr. in the fourth inning and a two-out RBI single by Logan Forsythe to bring home David DeJesus in the fifth. It was great to see Souza and Kiermaier drill back-to-back doubles to spark the Rays against Anibal Sanchez, and we know how rare clutch hits have been for this team. The Rays had gotten DeJesus and Loney on thanks to a pair of groundball singles, but Forsythe’s hit was a legitimate line drive and DeJesus did a great job avoiding Alex Avila‘s tag as he scored the run.

Kiermaier left the game with a “minor” eye abrasion that he suffered before the game. Roger Mooney has the story–he hit himself in the eye with elastic while stretching–but he still started this game and is only day-to-day. The Rays can ill afford to lose anyone else to injury, and luckily it looks like Kiermaier’s eye issue while not reach that point. In better news from this game, Evan Longoria went 2 for 3 with a double a walk to join Casali, Forsythe (2 for 4, RBI), and Souza (1 for 3, 2B, BB, 2 runs) to lead the offense. It is great to see Longoria begin to come alive in recent days, and the Rays would love a lot more where this came from.

With all of this talk about the offense, we have barely even mentioned Karns to this point. He didn’t let up the Detroit Tigers’ first hit until two outs in the fourth inning, and he was rolling into the seventh before allowing a Yoenis Cespedes homer and a Victor Martinez single prior to be taken out. Overall, he finished with 6+ innings allowing 1 run on 3 hits, striking out 3 while walking none. He wasn’t as overpowering as usual, but he threw just 71 pitches as he spotted all three of his pitches for strikes and was able to force weak contact time and again.

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Karns allowed a few liners early in the game, but it became increasingly difficult to hit the ball with authority against him as the evening progressed before the Tigers finally got to him in the seventh. We know about Karns’ pronounced first-inning issues this season (over a third of his runs allowed have come just in that frame), but after the Tigers just missed on a few mistake pitches in the opening inning, Karns made sure not to let them off the hook. He was as efficient as we have ever seen him as Casali and him were well aware of the Tigers’ aggressive tendencies and figured out the right way to exploit them.

The Rays’ bullpen was a little bit sketchier then we would have liked to finish the game, with Kevin Jepsen and Brad Boxberger each allowing a walk in an inning of work while Jake McGee gave up a run for the first time since May 26th. The run came after Ian Kinsler singled with two outs, moved up to second on a wild pitch, and scored on a Cespedes’ single. However, McGee got a big strikeout of Victor Martinez to end that frame before Boxberger struck out 2 and forced a groundout to get past his walk. The late-inning trio was good enough to finish what Karns and the offense started.

Today, the Tampa Bay Rays will see two different players make their returns. David Price will start for Detroit in his second game as a visitor at Tropicana Field while Asdrubal Cabrera will come off the DL to rejoin the roster, with Jake Elmore being optioned to Triple-A. Jake Odorizzi will start for the Rays in the game, which will begin at 7:10 PM, as the team hopes that all of the reunions will culminate in a Rays victory.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: Optioning Matt Moore the Right Move

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