First things first: The Rays, as a team, get an A+ for their come-from-behind, beating-the-Sox-on-the-day-Sale-started 6-4 Opening Day victory.
That being said, we prefer a bit more nuance than a “Y’all get A pluses; I’m out” approach to breaking down just who stood out the most, and who got lucky their rough first game got pushed to the back burner with the wild win.
Let’s go around the diamond and hand out grades to the 10 position players and three pitchers who played a serious role in Thursday’s win. That means Mallex Smith and Joey Wendle, who came on a defensive replacements in the ninth won’t be getting any grades.
One game is a small enough sample, I don’t think we need to bear down to one inning. (Although we do have one of the one-inning crew actually getting a letter grade, but he played a much bigger role.)
C Wilson Ramos: C+
It wasn’t a great day beside the dish for Ramos, who was the only Rays hitter to get four at bats and not reach base at least once, and his bases-loaded, one-out strikeout looked to be a rally killer at the time, but his dope snap back-throw to throw pick off Mookie Betts in the eighth means he still gets a decent grade. That was a big out.
1B CJ Cron: D-
Woof. Cron had a couple real ugly/lost swings early in the game, and then when it appeared as though he was going to get his first moment to shine as a Ray, Kevin Cash pulled him for a pinch-hitter. As our own Danny Russell suggests, this might mean he’s going to be strictly used against lefties this season. The only thing keeping this grade from an “F” is that it’s hard to hold three at bats against one of the four best pitchers in baseball against a guy too much.
2B Daniel Robertson: B+
Robertson ended what was the Rays only actual threat against Sale (runners on second and third, two outs) with a backwards K in the second inning, but it wasn’t a terrible at bat overall. Plus, he redeemed it with the walk that started the eighth, scoring the Rays first run of the season when Matt Duffy sliced one into the right-centerfield gap.
He also had a nice diving stop to prevent leadoff hitter from getting on in sixth. I continue to believe that he’s going to be one of those guys who ends up lingering around the Rays for a half-dozen seasons and ends up a trendy player to love by like 2040 when reminiscing about the Rays.
SS Adeiny Hechavarria: A-
Hech got the Rays first hit of 2018, and for a while, it looked as if he might have the only Rays hit… like for the entire season. Then, when he came up in the glorious, glorious eighth inning, he pushed across a key insurance run when he chopped one over the mound and beat out in an infield hit to bring Span around for the sixth and final run.
3B Matt Duffy: A
This all comes down to that eighth inning double, but man did that hit ever set the mood for that massive inning. The Rays seemed to know that was the inning to make their move, and if Duffy tries to pull that outside fastball and rolls over into a grounder to third, there’s no way the Rays win that game.
LF Denard Span: A++++
I have it on very authority that Span’s miscommunication in the game with Kiermaier was totally on purpose, he was only doing so to create the best narrative possible for his bases-clearing later triple later in the game. This guy is light years ahead. Plus, who doesn’t love his salt and pepper beard?
CF Kevin Kiermaier: A
That catch in the first should not get thrown out with the bath water. Watching the replay again, it’s borderline unreal how easy he makes that play look. It was also a massively important catch. Archer can get into some early-game trouble sometimes (see: literally the next inning), and the Rays may have been down a lot more than four runs had KK not somehow reached that ball in the first. Also, I’m not blaming him for the Nunez debacle. If Span isn’t in his way, he makes that catch -- easy.
RF Carlos Gomez: A-
Man, there are a lot of good grades being handed out, I guess that what happens when you storm back for the biggest comeback win for the franchise in over a year.
Gomez had a great double off of Bogaerts on tricker catch in right field than it might have looked. He also showed a good eye [double checks to make sure this is actually Carlos Gomez -- OK] to take a walk in eighth to load the bases and get the fans going.
DH Rob Refsnyder: B
For a while, The Mighty Rob Refsnyder was looking like the best thing about the Rays offense, drawing two walks at a time when the Rays had only four runners total. Then the rays exploded in the eighth, and Refsnyder was one of the few hitters who didn’t contribute that inning, and so he ends up with a solid, albeit not “A” grade.
1B Brad Miller: A+
One inning gets an “A+” you’re shouting at your NEC Lavie G Hello Kitty laptop! Yup. First, he managed to put the fear of God into Carson Smith for the bases loaded walk. (It had nothing to do with Smith pitching treating the strike zone like I treat the bullseye after my sixth Miller Lite.) Then, in an even more shocking development, he made a massive scoop on a low throw from Wendle in the top of the ninth, right before a Nunez double that would’ve made the end of that game a lot more nerve-wracking.
Here’s a live look-in at DRB writers JT Morgan, Darby Robinson, and myself from our post on “Brad Miller is good” Mountain (which is apparently has taken the form of the Denver Nuggets court, because I found this gif hilarious):
SP Chris Archer: B
This is the toughest grade for me, and it likely needs way more than a couple paragraphs in a Rays Grades article to do it justice. On the one hand, Archer, so frustratingly, displayed ALL of the traits that drove Rays fans nuts in regards to their ace in 2017. He got them in a hole early, and while the Nunez inside-the-parker certainly wasn’t his fault, he got saved by KK in the first, and Bogaerts’ laser double wasn’t far from being a homer just a few batters before Nunez’s base-rounder. It was also so painfully obvious that Cash was going to send him out for the seventh, he was going to allow a couple hard hits, and Cash was going to go pull him, that I almost wasn’t angry because I’ve never been more confident in my abilities to predict the future.
On the other hand, despite that entire paragraph, he was a Span-Kiermaier miscommunication away from a Quality Start, and if Cash pulls him after six, he still would have had one even despite that debacle.
I want to wait a bit more than one start to really dive into his pitch selection, but the fact that he only threw three changeups all day, according to Brooks Baseball, is flipping infuriating. (I thought I noticed a few more than three with the naked eye, but certainly not enough more for it to make a difference with this point.) He simply won’t be able to be as good as we know he can be if batters have only a binary fastball-slider decision before every pitch. I’m rethinking this and making it a “B-” now because I’m getting angry.
RP Austin Pruitt: A
Here’s your shadow MVP for the opener.
Pruitt came into a tough situation in the seventh and shut the door -- hard. He pitched to contact in the eighth, and he certainly wasn’t overwhelming, but he knew he had a good defense behind him (and they picked him up a few times), and that’s all he had to do. It’s so easy to come in from the pen and try to overpower dudes, but when you do that, you can end up looking a lot like Joe Kelly and Carson Smith (who both get “A+ grades from us here at DRB, by the way) every now and then.
Pruitt very much deserved the “W” he got to go home with.
CL Alex Colome: B
Our equestrian closer picked up right where he left 2017 off. He got the job done, and made it a little extra fun in the process via a man on second. But hey, every team feels that way about their closer, and if he leads the majors in saves again I’ll be a happy man. (I know you guys don’t care about saves, but I LIKE THEM!)