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Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Recap: Signs of Life From Smyly, Jennings

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After Tuesday, Drew Smyly is set to have just one or two more rehab starts. Desmond Jennings, meanwhile, will have just one more rehab game on Wednesday before traveling with the Tampa Bay Rays to Texas to be activated for Friday’s game. At this point, they better be close to ready, and Tuesday was a step in the right direction for both of them. Smyly had his first rehab start that was less than a disaster outing while Jennings is starting to make things happen at the plate.

Triple-A International League: Norfolk Tides (BAL) 3, Durham Bulls 1

Drew Smyly really labored in his start, needing 94 pitches to get through 4 innings. On the other hand, he looked stronger in each subsequent inning and finished the outing with an ERA far below the 8.31 mark that had represented the best of his previous 3 rehab starts. Also worth noting is that his ERA has gone down with each outing and this represented the first game where Smyly avoided giving up a home run.

Smyly finished with 4 innings allowing 3 runs, 2 earned, on 4 hits, striking out 5 while walking 2. He got off to a rough beginning, allowing a groundball single, a line drive single, and a walk before he recorded an out, and 2 runs scored on a sac fly and a force play at second base before he escaped the inning. He let up the third run in the second inning on an error, a line drive single, a wild pitch, and a sac fly. But then he got past a walk and a groundball single with 2 K’s in the third before finishing his outing with a perfect fourth frame.

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Are all of these incremental improvements by Smyly enough that he is big league-ready? The answer might be no, but he has at least one more start to put the finishing touches on his progress, and glancing at the Rays’ schedule, it really makes sense for him to get at least two more. The Rays first need a fifth starter again on August 18th, so if Smyly starts again on August 16th as scheduled, he obviously can’t start on that date. Instead, expect Smyly to return either on the 23rd after getting some extra rest in his next rehab outing or to stay on his current schedule and start on the 16th and 21st in the minor leagues before coming back to the majors on the 26th.

It is great to see Smyly start to make strides in this start–what was scary about his first 3 outings and Matt Moore‘s MLB time was how little progress they were making. Now we can be optimistic that he will be back to normal in either two starts or three, and his current path back from his torn labrum will also give the Rays an interesting opportunity that we will discuss later on this site.

Scott Diamond was excellent behind Smyly as he finished the game, tossing 4 shutout innings allowing no runs on 3 hits, striking out 3 while walking 1. It was the player who came over along with Smyly in the David Price trade who drove in the only run as Nick Franklin went 2 for 4 with a solo home run to break the Tides’ shutout in the ninth inning. Ryan Brett and Hak-Ju Lee each went 1 for 3 with a sixth-inning single before Luke Maile unfortunately grounded into an around-the-horn triple play.

Double-A Southern League: Montgomery Biscuits 5, Jacksonville Suns (MIA) 4 (15 innings)

This was the type of game that the Tampa Bay Rays always seem to lose. But the Biscuits’ pitching proved to be better deep into extra innings before Dayron Varona drew a walk-off walk after Cameron Seitzer had been walked intentionally. Jacob Faria started and pitched relatively poorly, allowing 4 runs, 3 earned, on 6 hits in 5 innings, striking out 4 while walking 1. Behind him, however, several pitchers were able to step up. Jeff Ames and Mark Sappington each tossed a shutout inning before Matt Lollis worked around a hit with 2 strikeouts to make it a 4-4 game entering extras.

Brad Schreiber then rebounded from his Monday collapse with a scoreless inning, giving up a hit but striking out 1, before Ryan Garton and Jared Mortensen each tossed 2 shutout innings allowing just a hit while striking out 3. Mortensen was pitching on 3 days’ rest after a rough start on August 7th, but it was him who came away with the win in this one. Offensively, Justin O’Conner and Johnny Field each homered, Jake Bauers went 2 for 5 with a double and a steal, and the trio of Daniel Robertson, Tyler Goeddel, and Seitzer all went 2 for 6. It was Robertson’s first multi-hit game since coming off the DL.

After a prolonged hot streak, O’Conner has slipped back down of late, hitting to just a .182/.182/.341 line in his last 44 plate appearances. Hopefully a game like this can get him going again. Field, meanwhile, has seen his batting average slip each month of the season, down to just .195 in August. However, he has actually remained productive, putting up a .770 OPS, by drawing 5 walks and hitting 2 home runs after managing just 6 walks and 1 homer in the entirety of July. Hopefully the hits can start falling, and if they do, Field’s rediscovered plate discipline will help him salvage his season.

High-A Florida State League: Palm Beach Cardinals 2, Charlotte Stone Crabs 0

This game was notable for the Stone Crabs for a few reasons. Desmond Jennings was rehabbing and had a solid game while playing left field for the whole contest, going 1 for 3 with a line-drive single and a walk. Another one of his outs came on a liner–his timing is right at the plate, and he is just about ready to return. This was also Justin Williams‘ High-A debut, although he went 0 for 4. Braxton Lee also went 1 for 2 with a walk and a stolen base while Kean Wong and Jace Conrad each went 1 for 3, with Wong also drawing a walk.

Hunter Wood had an annoying start, allowing 2 runs on 4 hits in 4 innings, striking out 4 while walking none. The second run he allowed scored in especially frustrating fashion–he struck out Mason Katz only to watch him reach on a wild pitch, then Katz stole second and made it to third on another wild pitch before scoring on a sac fly. Mike Marjama made just his 7th start of the season at catcher, and it was easy to see why he has played so much first base. He allowed 4 stolen bases in 4 attempts, committed 2 errors, and should have been able to save at least 1 of Wood’s 3 wild pitches.

Jordan Harrison did pitch extremely well in relief, tossing 3 shutout innings allowing just a hit, striking out 3 while walking none and forcing a 5-1 groundout to flyout ratio. This was Harrison’s first game at High-A since May 30th as he has really had a disastrous season. After pitching well between Bowling Green and Charlotte in 2014, Harrison began this year at Montgomery only to be demoted to Charlotte and then Bowling Green because of poor results. At least he is finally on the way back up. Josh Kimborowicz tossed 2 no-hit innings to finish the game, striking out 2 while walking 1.

Low-A Midwest League: Bowling Green Hot Rods 1, Burlington Bees (LAA) 0

This was quite the pitchers’ duel as neither team scored until the eighth inning. Even when a run did cross the plate, it took 2 wild pitches, 1 of which took Alec Sole from first base to third. Sole, Carter Burgess, and Cristian Toribio each went 1 for 3 to account for the 3 Hot Rods hits.

Yonny Chirinos continues to be unhittable since joining the Hot Rods. In this game, he tossed 6 shutout innings allowing 6 hits and a hit batsman while striking out 6. He now has a 0.99 ERA and a 26-4 strikeout to walk ratio in 6 starts and 36.1 innings. There is a lot to like about Chirinos’ ability to throw strikes and his fastball touching 93 MPH, and hopefully he can keep refining his slurvy breaking ball and his changeup. Damion Carroll then delivered his best appearance of the season, striking out 4 in 2 perfect innings, before Edwin Fierro gave up just a hit while striking out 1 as he recorded the save in the ninth.

Short Season-A New York-Penn League: Hudson Valley Renegades 4, Aberdeen Ironbirds (BAL) 3

Nice to see the Renegades actually winning a game. Travis Ott started and tossed 5 innings allowing 2 runs on 5 hits, striking out 4 while walking none. He also forced a 5-2 groundout to flyout ratio The reports from Hudson Valley on his velocity aren’t so great–a lot of his fastballs dip into the High-A 80’s–but his 38-13 strikeout to walk ratio in 42.1 innings is quite nice. Cristopher Crisostomo followed by allowing just a hit in 2 shutout innings, striking out 1 and forcing 4 groundouts, before Reece Karalus gave up a run in the final 2 innings.

On the offensive die, Angel Moreno went 2 for 4 with a triple, 2 RBI, and a run, Alex Schmidt had a 2-for-3 game with a double, a walk, and an RBI, Michael Russell went 2 for 3 with a double, a walk, and a run, and Manny Sanchez went 2 for 4 with a stolen base and a run scored. Moreno and Sanchez may be the most talented position players on this team, but Moreno is extremely inconsistent because he doesn’t have any plate discipline yet while Sanchez has been in a huge slump. Hopefully each of them can keep progressing in the final weeks of the season.

Advanced Rookie Appalachian League Game 1: Danville Braves 5, Princeton Rays 4 (7 innings)

Ethan Clark had a rough start to put the P-Rays behind 5-0, and 3 runs was all they could muster in response. Clark allowed 5 runs, 4 earned, on 5 hits in 4 innings, striking out 2 while walking 1. His groundout to flyout ratio was a strong 8-1, but a couple of mistakes pitches left the yard for home runs. Porter Clayton finished the game with 3 shutout innings getting past 2 hits and a walk while striking out 3. He has a nice 18-7 strikeout to walk ratio in 20.1 innings to start his pro career.

Jonathan Popadics led the run support effort by going 1 for 2 with a double, a walk, and 2 runs scored while David Olmedo-Barrera went 1 for 3 with a double and an RBI. Kewby Meyer, Blair Beck, and Jose Rojas each also went 1 for 3 in the loss.

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Game 2: Princeton 4, Danville 1

There were more reasons to smile in this game. Spencer Moran started and finally found his dominant form from relief in a starting capacity. He tossed 5 shutout innings getting past 3 hits and no walks while striking out 4. On the year, Moran is 3-0 with a 3.44 ERA, an 8.2 K/9, a 2.9 BB/9, and a 0.3 HR/9 in 34 innings, put his ERA is just 5.06 as a starter compared to 2.00 out of the bullpen even though he is averaging more innings per appearance in relief. Moran hasn’t started filling out and we’ll have to see what his velocity is like, but it is great to see him performing so well. Alberto Casanas allowed a run on a hit in the final 2 innings.

At the plate, Zac Law went 1 for 3 with a double and 2 RBI, Brett Sullivan went 1 for 2 with a double, a walk, a stolen base, and 2 runs scored, and catcher Jamie Mitchell had a 1-for-2 game with a sac fly. This is Mitchell’s second season in the Rays organization, and I am ashamed to say that I had absolutely no idea that the former non-drafted free agent is a catcher. Sullivan has started to heat up, hitting to a .238/.281/.500 line with 5 doubles, 5 homers, and 12 RBI in his last 89 plate appearances. He also has a 7-4 strikeout to walk ratio in that stretch compared to just 20-2 in his 103 PA’s beforehand.

Rookie Gulf Coast League: GCL Twins 8, GCL Rays 5

There isn’t much offense in the Gulf Coast League, so we have to appreciate the GCL Rays’ offensive output. Garrett Whitley had a big game, going 2 for 5 with a triple, a double, and an RBI, and Devin Davis continued his strong pro debut by going 2 for 5 with an RBI and a run scored. Joseph Astacio also went 2 for 4 with a walk, a stolen base, an RBI, and 2 runs scored in the loss. Oscar Rojas, who went 1 for 4 with a triple, a walk, and 2 runs in this game, is the Grays’ leading hitter with a .761 OPS, and Whitley is second at .725 while Davis is third at .713.

This start was nothing short of a disaster for Junior Feliz, who allowed 8 runs, 6 earned, on 9 hits in 4 innings, striking out 2 while walking 1. He did force a 6-2 groundout to flyout ratio, and you can probably blame something like half of the runs he has allowed on the year on poor infield defense behind him. It is tough to be a groundball, pitch-to-contact pitcher at Rookie ball. Matt LeVert was great behind him, getting past 3 hits and a walk with a lofty 7 strikeouts in 3 innings, before Sam Triece finished the game with 3 shutout frames, striking out 2 to strand a hit and a walk.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays Game 113: The One With No Ninth Inning

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