Rays 8, Athletics 1: Roberto Hernandez gets a win

J. Meric

The Rays broke out the brooms at the Trop today, beating the Oakland Athletics by a score of eight to one.

Offensive struggles? What offensive struggles? In their three game sweep of the Oakland Athletics, the Tampa Bay Rays have done a lot to erase many bad memories from the recent road trip. They had a total of 17 runs over these three games, and many formerly struggling players have started to come up big.

The Rays jumped out to an early lead in this afternoon's game, putting up four runs over the first two innings. Ryan Roberts and Ben Zobrist got things started with a single and double, and then the Rays got fortunate when Evan Longoria's flyball to right field bounced out of Josh Reddick's glove. Given an extra chance to put some runs on the board, the Rays tacked across three in the first inning, and then added an extra run with Yunel Escobar's first home run of the season.

In fact, Yunel Escobar had a great day at the plate; he finished the game three for four with a home run and a double. The Rays announcers mentioned a couple times today how Escobar has switched to using a heavier and slightly longer bat over this weekend (at the prompting of Joe Maddon), and it appears to be getting him good results so far. The Rays were expecting to get a good offensive shortstop in Escobar when they traded for him, so especially with Hak-Ju Lee down for (potentially) the season, here's hoping we see more of these days going forward.

And it's been a long time coming, but Roberto Hernandez finally got a "W" today. After being shut down for most of the 2012 season, Hernandez had not had a win in the major leagues since September of 2011. Today, Hernandez may not have looked masterful on the mound, but he got the job done and his final line is encouraging: six innings, three hits, three walks, seven strikeouts, and one run.

I know it's quite early, but Hernandez's early results are quite exciting. After being so ineffective for so long, it looks like Hernandez has begun to put things together with the Rays. His strikeout rate (21%) is the highest it has ever been; he's getting a ton of swinging strikes; and he keeps getting a high percentage of groundballs (52%). His ERA has been high as he's had trouble with runners on base (53% left on base rate) and he's allowed a number of home runs, but if he keeps pitching the way he's been pitching, those results should improve and we may see more games like this one.

Have there been any attempts to explain Hernandez's early season success yet? I'd be interested to see a historical comparison of his pitch usage, as he's pitching quite simply at the moment: sinkers and changeups, with the occasional cut fastball and slider. He's keeping the ball low, and Jose Molina definitely seems to be helping get him extra calls on the corners (more at TPR). But is this a change from the past? Enough of a change to suggest this early-season success could be something besides a small sample blip? That, I'm not sure.

  • It may be nothing more than a throw-away-statement, but after the game, Escobar was interviewed by Todd Kalas and stated that the Rays have the most fun clubhouse he's ever been in, and he comes to the park happy. Sure, he could say that about anywhere, but considering his past history of not fitting in well on other teams, I can't help but hope that's a good sign.
  • Kelly Johnson played most of the game in left field, and while he looked respectable out there, he did drop one catch that he otherwise should have had. Late in the game, Maddon put in Sam Fuld as a defensive replacement, and he proceeded to make a number of running catches that...well, I don't know if Johnson would have made them or not, but I tend to doubt it.
  • Ryan Roberts also had a good offensive day, going two for five with a double. The offensive turnaround this weekend was really a full-team effort.
  • Jake McGee...oh, Jake McGee. You are both maddeningly inconsistent, and incredibly awesome. He relieved Hernandez and started the seventh inning, and proceeded to walk the first two batters on eight straight pitches. After a talk with Hickey, he buckled down, threw 10 out of 14 pitches for strikes, struck out two hitters, and got out of the inning without allowing a run. Oh, and every single pitch he threw that inning was a fastball.
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