Heading into last night’s game, Austin Pruitt had been the whipping boy of the Rays bullpen. Nothing had gone right for the rookie since his major league debut on Opening Day as teams around the league had treated him like a passenger on an overbooked United Airlines flight.
To sum it up, this is how the majority of his outings had looked.
So with the Rays trailing, 7-5 in the sixth inning of a game that had been getting away from them, Kevin Cash called upon Pruitt to try and limit the damage, and hopefully save the bullpen for another day, by calling on longman Pruitt.
The situation felt helpless for those watching, the Rays had held a 5-1 lead at one point but the Tigers battled back with a three run fifth and in the sixth inning, a rare misplay from Kevin Kiermaier led to three more runs to give the Tigers the 7-5 advantage.
Pruitt came in with two outs, runners on the corners, facing one of the most talented hitters in the game, Victor Martinez. Pruitt’s very first pitch was a curveball that he dropped in for a strike to get quickly ahead. He followed that up with a fastball on the outer corner to go up, 0-2 on Martinez.
After trying to entice Martinez with two sliders below the zone, Pruitt was able to get Martinez to swing through a change-up with a nasty fade to the outside corner to end the inning.
Runners stranded, and Pruitt looked every bit a major leaguer for one batter. Somehow, there was now some hope.
Pruitt was back out there for the seventh, and after falling behind the leadoff batter, he again went to his changeup to induce a fly out. Pruitt immediately fell behind the next batter (catcher James McCann) after just barely missing the zone with two sliders. Pruitt was able locate a fastball in the bottom of the zone for a strike, and then got McCann to chase a slider that bounced to even the count. McCann would foul off a fastball before swinging through a slider that started on the plate but ended up in the opposite batter’s box.
Next up was Andrew Romine. After a first pitch curveball that dropped into the top of the zone only to be called a ball, Pruitt had one thing on his mind and that was keeping the ball low and away.
Much like his strikeout change-up to Martinez, Pruitt got Romine to swing through one in the same spot for strike one. He followed that up with a fastball just off the outside corner that Romine also swung through for the second strike. Pruitt then tried to backdoor a slider that Romine was able to foul off, so the next pitch was a change-up, but Pruitt missed way outside to even the count.
So how does Pruitt end the battle? With the same pitch he got Martinez with, the nasty change-up that starts on the outside corner that fades out of the zone. Romine swung through it for strike three.
Here’s that hard slider to McCann, and the following change to Romine.
This was an inning and a third from Pruitt in what has been his best major league performance, and he still wasn’t even halfway done.
The Eighth Inning
The Rays had gotten a run back in the seventh, but still trailed by a run as Pruitt took the mound for the eighth inning. First up was JaCoby Jones who took a pitch slider perfectly located low and away for a strike. Pruitt would pound that part of the zone with a fastball slider combo, before going inside and off the plate to even the count at 2-2. So Pruitt decided to break out a beautiful curveball to end the at-bat, dropping masterfully out of the zone, and Jones swung through it for Pruitt’s fourth strikeout.
Pruitt quickly got ahead of the next hitter, Jose Iglesias, with two called strikes located perfectly, again low and away from the hitter. After missing the inside corner with a fastball, Pruitt located a fastball down and in, generated a weak grounder for the second of the inning.
To cap off the eighth, he dropped in a first pitch curveball to Ian Kinsler for a called strike, then missed the outside corner with a slider that Kinsler managed to lay off. Pruitt then switched speeds and was able to get a fastball in under Kinsler’s hands that the veteran popped up harmlessly to end the inning.
This was now Pruitt’s game.
The Ninth Inning
Kevin Cash sent his rookie out there for the ninth to keep the game within reach.
The first batter up was Nicholas Castellanos, who Pruitt quickly got ahead of with a slider up in the zone for a called strike, followed by a fastball up and in that Castellanos swung through. Pruitt would make quick work of Castellanos finishing him off with a slider that caught enough of the plate for a called third strike.
Hitting god, Miguel Cabrera was next up and Pruitt pitched him perfectly, but rookies aren’t meant to get hitting gods out. A first pitch curveball off the plate resulted in a foul ball. To try and go up 0-2, Pruitt went to his slider, low and away, as he had been throwing tremendously since coming into the game. Pruitt executed the pitch perfectly, only to have Cabrera reach out and hit the pitch off the end of the bat (breaking it in the process) and looping the ball into left field for a single. Pruitt had retired eight straight prior to that at-bat.
Pitching from the stretch didn’t phase Pruitt though, even though he did fall behind the next batter (Victor Martinez, again) 2-0. After missing the zone twice with his fastball and changeup, Pruitt went back to his fastball, which had plenty of movement, and he used it effectively low in the zone, inducing a sharp groundball for an easy 4-5-3 double play to end the top half of the ninth.
The Rays would then load the bases against K-Rod, and win in wild fashion.
If you told me the Rays would win Archer's start because Austin Pruitt would go ten outs with 5 strikeouts I would not have believed you.— Danny Russell (@d_russ) April 20, 2017
Ya gotta believe, Danny.
The Rays walk off gave Austin Pruitt his very much deserved first major league win.