Masahiro Tanaka and Logan Morrison started their 2017 seasons deviating from their spring projections.
Tanaka entered Sunday’s start coming off a pristine Spring Training, going 3-1 and allowing just one earned run (0.38 ERA) in six starts; Morrison batted just .188/.257/.219 with one run batted in 12 games.
Just 15 pitches into his start, Tanaka had allowed three hits (single, double, single), a sacrifice fly, and a walk, but still held the Rays tight to a 1-0 lead. Tanaka had never lost a game to the Rays, and has traditionally dominated first innings in his career.
With bases still loaded in the first, Morrison stepped to the dish for his first plate appearance of the year and promptly lined a sharp groundball up the middle for a single, plating two runs as Tampa Bay jumped out to an early 3-0 lead.
A strong start to 2017 was imperative for Morrison, who hit an anemic .100 (6-for-60) without a homer or RBI for the Rays in April last season. The Rays are hoping that 2017 LoMo will look like the first baseman who slashed .275/.350/.498 with 14 HRs after May 16 of last season.
Currently, Morrison is a month-and-a-half ahead of schedule as he did not record his first RBIs until May 17 or his first homer until May 18 of last year.
Tanaka, meanwhile, allowed just four earned runs in the first inning all of last season — it took him 25 pitches to allow three this season, due large in part to Morrison’s bat.
Then, in the third inning, Morrison hit a towering 409-foot blast to right-center, the Rays’ second home run of the game (you can watch the first here). The solo shot left Tropicana Field in 5.9 seconds with an exit velocity of 107.2 mph, according to Statcast.
Tanaka lasted just 2.2 innings, allowing seven earned in the shortest Opening Day start for a Yankees pitcher since Ron Guidry in 1983, according to MLB Stat of the Day.
Morrison added a line drive single to right field in the seventh inning, finishing the afternoon 3-for-4 as the Rays enjoyed a 7-3 victory.