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Rays 8, Cleveland 2: The Pen is Mightier

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Choi, Meadows, and Wendle combine for eight hits.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Trading Rich Hill to the Mets a day before his next scheduled start meant that Saturday’s contest became a bullpen day for the Rays. To bolster the pitching staff, Louis Head was added to the roster Friday, and Sean Poppen earlier Saturday. Drew Rasmussen (4.55 ERA, 3.03 xFIP) was picked to open the game and make his second career start.

In the early innings, Cleveland starter J.C. Mejia was hit hard by the Rays lineup, which included five former All-Stars, three of which were selected to this year’s team. Ji-Man Choi gave the Rays an early lead with a solo homer in the top of the first. After Cleveland tied the game on a Bobby Bradley solo shot, Brett Phillips regained the lead with another home run.

Austin Meadows would cap off the big second inning with a home run of his own, marking the fourth straight ball put into play with an exit velocity over 100 mph (104.4 EV, 390 feet). The two-run shot gave the Rays a 4-1 lead.

Drew Rasmussen pitched three solid innings, with the only blemish being a solo home run, before making way for Louis Head. Head had pitched well in his few outings at the big league level but has done most of his work this season for AAA Durham, where he’s thrown 23 innings with a 1.96 ERA and 30 strikeouts.

The Rays were practically cruising until the sixth inning when Bobby Bradley reached on an infield single after initially being called out on a 3-1 putout. Unlike the play in the previous inning where Bradley used the wall to assist him in catching a Wander Franco fly ball, replay review overturned this call to award Bradley first base. The next batter, Cesar Hernandez, would reach on an errant throw from Louis Head, who was starting his third inning of work.

Cleveland now had runners on second and third with no outs, Kevin Cash went to Andrew Kittredge. Kittredge would allow just one of those runners to score, finishing the inning on seven pitches, and keeping the Rays in front 4-2.

In the top of the seventh, Ji-Man Choi would tally his third extra-base hit of the night, with a double to left field, scoring Brett Phillips and extending the lead back to three runs.

Jeffrey Springs was the next pitcher in line for the bullpen day and was tasked with being the bridge to the ninth inning. He retired six of the seven batters he faced, cruising through two innings, striking out a pair.

Diego Castillo was warming and ready to protect a three-run lead, but the Rays offense had other plans. Ji-Man Choi recorded his fourth (!!!) hit of the day to bring in Brandon Lowe and make it 6-2. Austin Meadows brought both himself and Choi home with his second (!!!) two-run homer of the game. And THEN, Joey Wendle picked up his fourth (!!!) hit of the game. The three-run inning against Cleveland reliever Taylor Stephan made it an 8-2 lead for the Rays.

Despite the big lead, Diego Castillo still came in to close this one out. He got into some trouble after giving up a single to Franmil Reyes and plunking Bobby Bradley in the foot but finished off the game without allowing a run.

The win marks the Rays’ eleventh straight against Cleveland and moves them into first place in the AL East, tied with Boston. Louis Head was credited with the win, the first of his career. Choi, Meadows, and Wendle combined for 8 of the team’s 13 hits. On Sunday they’ll play for a four-game sweep, and a season series sweep of Cleveland, with Ryan Yarbrough taking the hill against Triston McKenzie. First pitch is scheduled for 1:10 EST.