The Tampa Bay Rays played two split-squad games this afternoon -- one against the Pirates and one against the Red Sox -- and of course, the game that was televised on MLB.tv featured very few regular players.* By the time the fifth inning started in the game against the Red Sox, the Rays were starting almost all Double-A or lower players, so there's very few direct observations that I have to pass along.
*I'm not sure if it's intentional or not, but it always seems like the Rays avoid starting as many of their regular players and pitchers (especially pitchers) against division rivals in Spring Training. I wouldn't be surprised if this was intentional, so the Sox and Yanks don't get extra at bats against their best pitchers.
That said, I still wanted to put together some of my general observations from watching the game. The DRaysBay staff will try to do this for as many games as we get to watch, so while we may not cover every Spring Training game, we'll cover a decent bit of them.
- First of all, the Rays lost their game against the Pirates, 3-2 (box score). They won their game against the Red Sox, 4-3 (box score).
- At the plate, I was most impressed by Desmond Jennings. Jennings swung at the first pitch in both his at bats (umm, what?), but the results were great; he laced a single through the left-hand side of the infield in his first at bat, and he crushed a double in his second at-bat. The double bounced high off the left-centerfield wall, so Jennings showed some real pop. They were the first two hits for the Rays in the game.
- Matt Joyce and Ben Zobrist also looked decent at the plate. While Zobrist was hitless in three at bats, he did have a walk and he seemed to work the count well. Meanwhile, Joyce was hit by a pitch, walked, and hit hard a groundball double down the right-field line.
- You know who didn't look good at the plate? Jack Cust. When John Lackey was struggling through the first inning and could barely find the strikezone, Cust still managed to strike out on three pitches. I'm still not entirely sure how that happened, and Cust went on to strike out again, ground into a double play, and hit a single against on the Red Sox's scrub pitchers late in the game.
- I wasn't terribly impressed with Hak-Ju Lee's bat speed, at least in his one at bat that I saw. He was 0-2 with a strikeout and a fly out to center, and there was at least one swing where he got caught way behind. He did manage to turn a nifty double play early in the game, so there's that.
- Leslie Anderson did hit the first homerun of the spring for the Rays...but in the field, I was less than impressed. He seemed awkward at first base and slow to react on grounders. Maybe it was just a bad game for him, but there's definitely a reason Anderson has remained Triple-A fodder for so long.
- Pitching-wise, Alex Colome was about as you'd expect: he was blazing heat (95 MPH on the NESN gun), but a little bit all over the strikezone. He did manage to get ahead of a fair number of hitters, though, and his strikeout of Dustin Pedroia was a thing of beauty (perfect strike-three fastball located on the low, outside corner that froze Pedroia).
- I really liked what I saw from Brandon Gomes; he's probably the player that most encouraged me with his performance today. Not only were his results solid -- one inning, no hits, no walks, one strikeout -- but his velocity was up. He was sitting at 90 MPH and brushing 92 MPH on occasion, which is fantastic considering his fastball sat around 88-90 MPH last year. It took him a while to get up to speed last season, after his off-season back surgery, and he didn't seem to return to form until late in the year. It's likely that the NESN gun was juiced a bit, but still, if Gomes is healthy to start the year, he could be an important piece in this year's bullpen.
- I missed seeing Rivero and I only saw a bit of Josh Lueke, but what I did see seemed promising as well. Lueke pitched two scoreless innings, his velocity was also up in a good range, and he induce three groundouts.
- As for the Pirates game...well, you can read the box score as well as I can. The Rays' offense only managed four hits, though, so at least they're in mid-season form already. It looks like the big highlights are that Niemann struck out two in one scoreless inning, and that Rodney struck out all three hitters in his one inning of work. Enny Romero also pitched two scoreless innings late in the game.