A few Tampa Bay Rays affiliates followed the cue of the big club and had pitching struggles of their own on Tuesday. The Montgomery Biscuits were decidedly not among them.
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 6, Norfolk Tides (BAL) 5 (11 innings)
This game was even crazier than it looks–the score entering extra innings was 3-3. Blake Snell started and looked good despite striking out his fewest batters since June 10th. He allowed 1 run on 5 hits in 5 innings, striking out 3 while walking none. Once again, he probably could have pitched deeper into the game (he threw just 73 pitches), but the Rays are limiting him to 5 innings per start in case he is needed in the big leagues in September. Snell’s numbers are simply incredible as he is 13-4 with a 1.31 ERA, an 11.0 K/9, a 3.5 BB/9, and a 0.5 HR/9 in 124 innings.
Andrew Bellatti was next up, but his struggles continued as he gave up 2 runs on 3 hits in 2 innings to let the Tides tie the game. He hasn’t looked right since his shoulder injury, pitching to just a 7.36 ERA in his 14.2 innings since then for the Bulls. On the positive side, his strikeout to walk ratio in that span is still 17-5, including 3-1 in this game, and this is just a matter of getting him back to throwing quality strikes. Jim Miller then worked around 2 hits with a strikeout in 1.1 innings before C.J. Riefenhauser struck out 2 in a hitless inning, walking 1.
The Bulls went ahead with 3 runs in the 11th against ex-teammate Andy Oliver, scoring on a 2-run double by Joey Butler and then a Hak-Ju Lee sac fly. Lee’s contribution proved to be the difference after Kirby Yates gave up 2 runs in the bottom of the frame. Butler finished 2 for 4 with 2 doubles, a walk, 3 RBI, and 2 runs scored while Richie Shaffer went 2 for 5 with 2 doubles and 2 runs scored.
Double-A Southern League: Montgomery Biscuits 3, Jacksonville Suns (MIA) 0
There is a point where you say that despite all of the disclaimers, a prospect has really broken through. Austin Pruitt has reached that point. In this game, Pruitt tossed 8 shutout innings, working around 2 hits and no walks while striking out 8. He only threw 94 pitches–it is a little bit disappointing that he wasn’t sent out for the ninth–but that is often the nature of the game in the minor leagues. There is something to be said, though, about the Rays being careful with Pruitt at this point in his career.
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Pruitt was the Tampa Bay Rays’ ninth round pick in 2013, but that may actually exaggerate his talent. The slot bonus for his selection was $142,200, but the Rays signed him for just $5,000–he was a money-saving pick as a senior sign out of the University of Houston. He is far from the prototypical starting pitcher’s frame at just 5’11”, 165, and he doesn’t throw hard either, often staying in the high-80’s with his fastball. But with the help of excellent command and control, a good curveball, and a solid changeup, Pruitt has put up remarkable numbers this season, going 10-5 with a 2.72 ERA and a 111-33 strikeout to walk ratio in 149 innings.
Pruitt isn’t young–he will turn 26 on August 31st–but he’ll start next season at Triple-A with a chance to work his way into MLB consideration. We saw this season how easily Double-A success can come apart at the minor leagues’ highest level as Dylan Floro has struggled mightily this season, but Pruitt has out-pitched Floro in Montgomery and has also missed more bats. He has been a nice story, and hopefully he can continue that next season in Durham.
Brad Schreiber finished the game by striking out the side in the ninth, getting past a walk. Schreiber entered this game with just a 10.80 ERA in his last 8 appearances, but hopefully this is the start of his recovery. The Biscuits scored their runs on 2 Jake Bauers sac flies and a wild pitch. Dayron Varona went 1 for 3 with a double, a walk, and a run in the victory while Daniel Robertson went 1 for 3 with a walk and Leonardo Reginatto turned in a plain 1-for-3.
High-A Florida State League: St. Lucie Mets 6, Charlotte Stone Crabs 4
The Stone Crabs’ pitching staff had a rough time in this one. Chih-Wei Hu started and gave up 4 runs on 3 hits in 4.2 innings, striking out 5 while walking 3. Steve Ascher then somehow managed to get past 5 hits and 2 walks without a strikeout in 3 shutout innings, but Colton Reavis gave up the deciding 2 runs in just a third of an inning, with Mike Franco allowing both runners he inherited from him to score.
On the offensive side, Mike Marjama continued his hot hitting by going 2 for 3 with a homer, a walk, and a stolen base. He has a .300/.325/.476 line on the season that goes up to .313/.343/.539 in 230 plate appearances since June 3rd, but there are too many concerns (age, defense, repeating a level, plate discipline) to buy into him yet. Kean Wong also delivered a 2-run triple while Braxton Lee came through with an RBI and an outfield assist.
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Low-A Midwest League: Bowling Green Hot Rods 8, Great Lakes Loons (LAD) 4 (11 innings)
Thankfully the Hot Rods’ 4-run 11th inning wasn’t as necessary as the Bulls’ 3-run 11th above. Coty Blanchard delivered the go-ahead hit to cap a huge day, going 3 for 5 with a triple, 2 RBI, and 3 runs scored. Thomas Milone added a 3-for-5 performance of his own with a triple, also walking, stealing a base, and scoring a run, while Nick Ciuffo looked awesome as well. He went 2 for 5 with a double and 2 runs scored and threw out both attempted basestealers against him. Ciuffo has been hot for a while, hitting .298 in his last 143 plate appearances, but his .677 OPS even in that span reminds us that he needs plate discipline and some power for his great defense and solid pure hitting to matter.
Bradley Wallace‘s start for Bowling Green was iffy as he allowed 4 runs, 2 earned, in 5 innings, striking out 4 while walking 1. Then the bullpen saved the day. Edwin Fierro was great for his first 2 innings before Brian Miller stranded 3 of his runners in the eighth. Miller then tossed the ninth before Kyle Bird earned the win, striking out 3 in 2 perfect frames.
Short Season-A New York-Penn League: Brooklyn Cyclones (NYM) 3, Hudson Valley Renegades 0
The Renegades were held to 1 hit in this one, with Joe McCarthy doing the honors in the fourth inning. Let’s move onto the pitching. Tyler Brashears had his first questionable outing in Hudson Valley as he took the loss, but Justin McCalvin tossed a perfect relief inning with a strikeout and Benton Moss was dominant again. Moss tossed 6 shutout innings getting past 5 hits and no walks with 9 strikeouts and 5 groundouts. Moss has been nothing short of incredible thus far with the Renegades, pitching to a 1.99 ERA and a 57-10 strikeout to walk ratio in 49.2 innigns pitched.