Looking to get their groove back after splitting a four-game series with the COVID-stricken Red Sox, the Tampa Bay Rays put on a show against the Minnesota Twins.
Michael Wacha’s reclamation of his 2021 season had already seen him eliminate the use of the cutter — throwing exactly 1 in his previous start and 0 tonight, despite a 30% usage on the season — and the change has allowed his breaking ball and change up to flourish.
Wacha allowed a first inning homerun to Jorge Polanco on a four seam fastball above the zone, where the Rays usually like it thrown, but that was exactly what the hitter was looking for as Polanco was sitting fastball.
The other runs allowed by the Rays were of little concern as well. One came via a second Wacha solo homer on an 0-2 count with two outs in the fifth, this time on his third off-speed pitch to the same hitter. The other was a flyball that dropped in on the left field line with Meadows just missing the catch, allowing a batter walked by David Robertson to come around and score on two outs.
The Rays were in the driver’s seat the whole way from a pitching standpoint, and the Rays offense was its usual dominant self. All in all it was a solid Friday night’s entertainment.
The Second Inning exposes Twins defense
JT described the Twins defense as “polarizing” in his series preview, and that came into play early, with no outs in the second when Randy Arozarena saw his bat sawed in half.
With the broken pieces flying, Miguel Sano charged a slow roller and threw home attempting to catch Austin Meadows, who had advanced the third on a wild pitch moments earlier. Meadows himself had reached second when the left fielder struggled with the hop on a ball that landed in front of him.
On the next pitch, Kevin Kiermaier hit a triple to the right center. Arozarena, who should have been out at first base on the earlier play, lost his helmet before rounding second and easily scored as KK notched a stand up triple. Yandy Diaz batted KK home on a fielder’s choice, but then Andrelton Simmons — who was once god’s gift to short stop defense — came up lame trying to snag a Francisco Mejia groundball.
The Twins on defense were quite noisy, with players leaping, diving, or even somersaulting seemingly unnecessarily.
It’s a game, it’s good to have fun.
- The heir apparent to the defensive prowess of current Twins SS Andrelton Simmons is Rays switch hitting defender Taylor Walls, who was promoted once again to the Rays on Sept. 1 when rosters expanded. He got the start at his natural position tonight as Wander Franco had been benched for precautionary reasons due to a headache following a collision at home earlier this week, but is expected to play second and third down the stretch as well.
- Nelson Cruz facing the team that traded him batted the fourth RBI of the night, scoring Joey Wendle from first base on a liner that dribbled past Buxton in center that was eerily similar to the same extra base hit Buxton allowed in the second inning. He also scored the fifth run of the night hustling home from second base when Meadows laced a 3-0 fastball to right-center. Cruz also had the hardest hit batted ball of the game with a 111.2 mph lineout in the fifth.
- The second out of the fourth inning was a beautiful strikeout by Michael Wacha of the hot hitting Josh Donaldson. His form was excellent tonight, and puts him in the conversation for the Rays playoff roster.
- Pete Fairbanks and David Robertson both had a mix of punchouts and battles. Fairbanks was comfortably pumping 97 while Robertson was throwing in the 91-92 range, but both are on track for the Rays bullpen plans this fall. The latter showed toughness in a 10-pitch battle with Josh Donaldson that ended on a groundout up the middle.
- All-Star closer Andrew Kittredge locked down the game masterfully, including a fly-out, K, groundout that was ruled an error on Walls (???) when Yandy messed up the scoop, and another K. He’s good!