As cuts continue to be made and the calendar creeps closer and closer to April, the Tampa Bay Rays find themselves rounding into regular-season form.
That was just the case in Friday’s 7-3 win over the Detroit Tigers at Charlotte Sports Park as the Rays played one of their cleaner games of the spring — striking out 10 on the mound, getting 12 hits at the plate, and committing no errors.
It was essentially a typical “opener” day for the Rays as Ryne Stanek took the mound for the first two innings — working quickly and allowing just one hit while striking out three and walking none.
“I would say the pitch selection is still a little bit in the I don’t want to say ‘experimental’ phase, but you’re still kind of out there trying to do some things in counts that you will have to do later on in the season,” Stanek said. “Like there were a couple pitches today where I feel like if it was in season, reading swings and at-bats and stuff, there were some pitches I’d do differently in season. But knowing that I have something to work on and try for when the season comes, it’s a pitch I need to be able to accomplish, like now.”
Relievers Chaz Roe, Jalen Beeks, Austin Pruitt, Mike Franco and Matt Krook followed, with all throwing clean innings with the exception of Beeks (2 runs allowed) and Pruitt (1 run allowed).
Despite the fact that Beeks allowed two runs to score on four hits over his 1 2/3 innings of work, Tampa Bay manger Kevin Cash was impressed at the poise his pitcher showed.
“Jalen Breeks continues to impress,” Cash said. “That long at-bat, I don’t know if he was capable of doing that last year. He just kept throwing strike after strike. Really encouraging.”
Aside from a two-run double from Jeimer Candelario off Beeks and a home run from Ronny Rodriguez off Pruitt, the Rays pitchers allowed just six other hits the rest of the day.
Tampa Bay first baseman Yandy Diaz got the scoring started in the home half of the fourth inning as he laced an RBI single to right field.
Just one inning later, Diaz was back up to bat and he didn’t waste the opportunity — crushing a three-run home run well beyond the left field boardwalk to give the Rays a 6-2 lead.
The home run was the third of the spring for the muscle-bound Diaz, who has hit just one home run across 88 games at the MLB level.
“I’m just working on hitting more line drives,” Diaz said through a translator. “I know I hit a lot of ground balls in the past, but I’m working on just driving the ball more.”
Diaz also shined in the field, snagging a hard-hit line drive in the first inning and committing no errors corralling balls at first base.
For most of the Rays, it looked like the team took one more step toward being ready for the regular season, which begins with a home game at Tropicana Field against the Houston Astros on March 28.
“It’s definitely something where I think the focus is coming more on getting outs than it is on getting work in,” Stanek said of where he’s at in spring training.
“It’s definitely more a game-feel type feel. Even though it’s not quite there, you definitely know that it’s right around the corner and you want to be firing on all cylinders for when Opening Day comes in two weeks.”