The third time's the charm, they say. And it certainly appeared that way Wednesday night as the Rays took on the O's, looking for win numero uno in 2015. After starting the season 0-2 against reigning AL East champion Baltimore, Tampa Bay really wanted to keep the brooms firmly in the janitor's closet. Behind second-year right-hander Jake Odorizzi, a top-notch effort from the bullpen, and a return to clean fundamental baseball, the Rays earned the combined 2-0 shutout to break into the win column.
From the minute he toed the rubber for the first pitch, Odorizzi was in the driver's seat. He pitched quickly and efficiently, changing locations and speed with ease and most importantly, confidence; sitting down the first seven Orioles' he faced in order. His fastball consistently hit 94-95, topping out at 96 when needed. His most effective pitch, however, continued to be his change-up, which averaged 83 on the radar gun, and kept Baltimore hitters off balance, most notably slugging first baseman Chris Davis, whom Odorizzi struck out in twice on strong change-ups. It was refreshingly familiar to see, as he struck out seven batters through five innings, building on a 2014 season in which he struck out 174, which led all major league rookies.
Jake would finish his game after retiring the first two batters in the seventh, and was replaced by left-hander Jeff Beliveau to face fellow lefty Chris Davis. Odorizzi gave the Rays exactly what they needed: a gutsy performance and a shot of confidence from the mound. Through six and two thirds two-hit innings, he struck out seven, walked no one, and didn't allow any Orioles to advance past second base. As is typical with strikeout heavy pitchers, he did throw 94 pitches through 6+ innings in his first outing of the season, thus earning him a somewhat early hook. As the season progresses, his leash will naturally get longer if he continues to pitch like he did on Wednesday.
Offensively, the Rays also started the game in familiar fashion, though not quite so refreshingly. After David DeJesus popped out to right field, Steven Souza singled and promptly advanced to third on Asdrubal Cabrera's single the very next at bat. Cabrera worked a full count and Souza took off running on the pitch in a fantastic hit and run. Cue the Tantric violin! Longoria continued his 2015 trend of working great at-bats and drew a walk to load the bases.
Desmond Jennings followed with a ground ball to shortstop, forcing the out at second, allowing Souza to score from third and on a great hustle, Jennings pulled into first base to give the Rays their first lead of the year—or so it appeared. After some deliberation, Buck Showalter meandered out to challenge the play. Upon review, Jennings was just a split second behind the throw, thus ending the inning on the GIDP.
Their next good chance would come in the third when DeJesus singled and Souza walked to put two men on with only one away. Cabrera would pop out and Longo would strikeout swinging to leave another two men on the bases.
The Rays would take their first lead of the 2015 season in the sixth inning. After Souza struck out and Cabrera rolled one over to shortstop to start the inning, Longoria and Jennings coaxed back to back two-out walks to chase Baltimore starter Miguel Gonzalez and bring in the lefty Brian Matusz. Manager Kevin Cash would bring in Brandon Guyer to pinch hit in place of the left-handed Kevin Keirmaier. Guyer drew a third consecutive walk to load the bases. Next, Logan Forsythe worked his way back from behind in the count to draw the bases loaded walk to finally give the Rays the 1-0 lead. Tim Beckham would PH for Allan Dykstra and promptly strikeout to leave the bases loaded.
They would increase the lead in the home half of the eighth when Longoria knocked a one out double down the left field line off of Orioles' reliever Brad Brach. Jennings followed with a base hit up the middle, scoring Longoria, but costing the Rays an out as the throw to the plate was cut off and rerouted to second to tag Jennings trying to stretch the play into a double.
Beliveau and Jepsen each did their jobs out of the bullpen, earning their first holds of the season, as Beliveau worked in the lefty specialist role getting Chris Davis to fly out and Jepsen earned three strike outs in the eighth to set the table for Brad Boxberger in the ninth.
Boxberger faced the top of the Baltimore lineup in the ninth. De Aza earned an infield single to lead off, as he hit against the shift, cueing a weak groundball to third base, but with Longoria shifted well into the hole at shortstop, he made it to first without a throw. That's as far as he would get however, as Boxberger would strike out the heart of the Oriole's order, Steven Pierce, Travis Snider, and Adam Jones, to earn his first save of the year.
My Two Cents:
- Logan Forsythe needs to wear bigger cleats.
- Three tough calls got challenged and, though unfortunate for the Rays in all three cases, three correct calls prevailed, and that's what we really want: correct calls. Good work, crew.
- Not the most exciting way to earn your first lead of a game (much less a season), but a run is a run, a lead is a lead and, most importantly, Rays batters showed great discipline and worked good-quality at-bats.
- Jake Odorizzi threw 94 pitches in his first start, so an understandable decision by Cash to lift him in the sixth with a tough lefty coming up, but he did strike Davis out twice, so I personally would have liked to see him get a third shot. But hey, that's why I write the articles and they play the games.
- The bullpen continued to be solid. Jeff Beliveau did his job getting Chris Davis in the seventh and Kevin Jepsen, who is my personal favorite addition to the ‘pen, struck out the side while allowing only one questionable walk to Ryan Lavarnway.
- Speaking of Jepsen, his nickname is "The Mule."
- Allan Dykstra had a quiet first game, going 0 for 1 with a walk.
- Great to get the first win under the team's belt, but the seven runners left on base is disconcerting.
- Finally, congrats to Kevin Cash on earning his first win as a major league manager! Well done, Skip!