NORTH PORT — In what could become a spring training rivalry, the Atlanta Braves opened up their new facility — hosting the Tampa Bay Rays at the Braves new facility in the West Villages area of North Port.
After falling to Tampa, 8-1, at the Rays spring training home in Port Charlotte on Thursday, the Braves lit up the Rays at their new home field, scoring two runs in the first inning and another two in the third, en route to a 4-2 win.
The Braves opened the game with starter Kevin Gausman, who worked three innings, issuing three walks while fanning five.
“The walks were kind of frustrating,” Gausman said after his outing.
“It felt like this is another step of being close to ready ... It’s go-time.”
Gausman felt comfortable with his performance on Sunday.
“I felt really good,” he said.
The Braves set the tempo at CoolToday Park scoring four times in the first three innings.
The Braves had eight hits Sunday, with only one going for extra-bases.
Right Fielder Nick Markakis, an all-star in 2018, delivered the game’s first run batted in with a line drive to center, plating Ender Inciarte, with Freedie Freeman advancing to third.
Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies’ first of two hits, a single to center, scored Freeman.
The Braves built a four-run cushion, with two additional runs scored in the third inning as Brian McCann doubled to left to score Albies and the 2018 National League Rookie of the Year, Ronald Acuna Jr.
The Rays cut the deficit in half with a Daniel Robertson two-run homer in the top of the seventh, plating Austin Meadows.
The Rays also had eight hits Sunday. In addition to Robertson’s home run, Nate Lowe and Kean Wong doubled in the loss.
The pregame activities and MVPs provided a different environment for the inaugural spring training game at CoolToday Park, creating an atmosphere that’s brimming with enthusiasm.
“There’s a lot of excitement being here. It’s a first-class facility,” Gausman said.
It was a game of firsts for the new North Port location. The Rays’ Robertson will be logged as having hit the first home run in the history of CoolToday Park with Gausman being credited as the game’s winning pitcher. Reliever Ben Rowen earned the save in the stadium’s inaugural contest.
For Gausman, it was about the start of the regular season.
“I’ve been tweaking my preparation; little things like stretching every day — things I took for granted when I was younger,” Gausman said.
He said he was impressed with the stadium.
“It seems great,” he said. “The biggest thing from a players’ standpoint is to have some flow between the clubhouse and the training room and the strength-and-conditioning... The biggest thing is ... we don’t have any signs anywhere so we can get lost pretty easily around here,” he added with a laugh. “But it’s a great facility.”
For breaking in CoolToday Park, the first pitch was on Gausman’s mind.
“It’s kind of cool. I thought about it before the game,” he said.
“I’d better throw a strike,” he said. “And I think it was a ball, but the home plate ump gave it to me and I’ll take it.”