The Rays success over the past five seasons has has been predicated on their ability to produce quality starting pitching, seemingly at the snap of a finger. Alex Colome, taking David Price's rotation spot after Jake Odorizzi's demotion earlier in the week, would likely be a starter for at least half the teams in baseball. On the Rays he's an asset stashed away in Durham with Alex Torres and Chris Archer, two additional MLB caliber arms ready at a moment's notice.
You only get one shot at a first impression, and Colome dazzled in his. Working into the sixth inning, he allowed five hits and one unearned run while striking out seven and walking two. He's always had a good fastball -- tonight it averaged 95 mph and topped out just a tick below 97 mph -- but the most impressive aspect of tonight was his changeup.
As many Rays' pitchers have shown over the years (Shields, Hellickson, Cobb, Rodney) having a good changeup is a pitcher's best friend. Colome and his were BBFs tonight. He threw the change-piece 23 times, 18 for strikes, and induced nine whiffs. The Rays must have simplified his game plan for the evening against the hapless Marlins as he didn't throw one breaking ball, usually a plus pitch. The combination of fastball, cutter, changeup worked perfectly, though, so no complaints are warranted. He ran into a bit of trouble in the first inning, loading the bases on two walks and a single, but was able to strike out Justin Ruggiano on a cutter and get Greg Dobbs to ground out to end the frame. There was more trouble in the fifth with men on first and third with one out and the Marlins leading 1-0. After a visit by pitching coach Jim Hickey, Colome was able to get Placido Polanco to ground into a double play.
It came against the worst team in baseball in a pitcher's park, but it's hard to do much better than that in a major league debut.
As per usual this season the bullpen made it more interesting than it needed to be. With two out and two on and the Rays leading 3-1 in the eighth inning, Joel Peralta, working his fifth game in six days, induced a ground ball to first by Greg Dobbs. The ball took an odd hop and James Loney wasn't able to field it cleanly, loading the bases. Josh Lueke relieved Peralta and looked to have struck out Miguel Olivo on a full-count check swing, but first base umpire Greg Gibson denied it upon appeal. Lueke was able to strike out Rob Brantly to end the threat.
Every starter reached base at least once aside from Kelly Johnson. The heavy lifting was done at the top of the order as the number one and two hitters, Ben Zobrist and Matt Joyce, reached base a total of five times and each drove in two runs. Joyce's two-run homer put the Rays ahead for good in the sixth and Zobrist's two run double in the 9th gave Fernando Rodney some extra breathing room. James Loney added a solo home run in the seventh.
The Rays are now 29-24, the highest they've been over .500 this season. They're three games behind the first place Red Sox, and just one game out of second.