Tampa Bay is looking to sweep the Yankees for the second time in a row going back to last seasons sweep that found them in the playoffs. Coming off of another big win, thanks to contributions by the bigger bats on the team, the Rays have already taken their first series win of the season, and look primed to charge into Detroit on a big wave of momentum.
There was a lot to be excited about last night: David Price had a great night, going 6-1/3 innings with a slash line of 5H/2R (both earned)/4 BB/5K. More impressive was his ability to command both sides of the plate, establishing his 94-97 MPH fastball early, while throwing the Yankees off with impressive spiked curveballs and change-ups. I’m more than content with he only striking out five. He was ultimately able to induce grounders and pop-ups which were gobbled by the Rays stellar defense. Though Reid Brignac did didly squat at the plate, he played the field extremely well and was able to show how versatile of a middle infielder he is.
On his end, Keppinger did a knock-up job at second, all the while showing why he’s better on the right side of the infield as opposed to the left. Kep ranged to the right on a few different occasions, and he was also able to save a less than stellar feed from Brignac on a force out, which could have been disastrous otherwise.
It was also extremely encouraging to see the Rays bats come alive for the second night in a row. It took the Rays 63 innings for the to score a total of 16 runs last season, a feat that they’ve been able to meet just 18 innings into 2012. Matt Joyce, Luke Scott, Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria, Jose Lobaton and Carlos Pena all came up big at the plate last night. They were able to effectively score runs throughout the game. They were also able to drive in runners in scoring position, only leaving six men on the base paths. I was very apprehensive with the off-season signing of Luke Scott. Yet, going 3-4 with three RBI’s has really started to quell my fears. A friend of mine said it best, “if he keeps his mouth shut, I will too.” Scott’s doing a good job of letting his bat speak for him.
Josh Lueke was the biggest concern last night. Coming on in relief of Burt Badenhop, Lueke went 1-1/3 innings, and gave up three runs (all earned) on three hits and two walks. Lueke entered the game with a six run lead, yet allowed that lead to be whittled down to only two by the time Peralta cleaned up his mess. In an ideal world, Lueke is still trying to find his rhythm and get acclimated. And to be fair, he did chose a good time to blow things, in a manner of speaking. I’d rather see him give up x-number of runs with a big lead, then when it is a much closer game. Only time will tell if Lueke settles down before the return of Kyle Farnsworth. Oh and Fernando Rodney? Rad! A win the night before, and a save last night.
The Rays look to start the season 3-0 for only the second time in franchise history. A few words of caution though: The last time the Rays went 3-0 to start the season was in 2002 when they went on to lose 103 games. Also, the last time the Yankees started the season 0-3 was in 1998; a year when they went on to win 114 games and go on to win the World Series.
2011 AL rookie of the year Jeremy Hellickson will take the mound against Phil Hughes. Luke Scott is 8-15 lifetime against Hughes, with a .533 BA. Conversely, Ben Zobrist 0-10 lifetime against Hughes, not to mention that Pena has been retired by him eight out of the last nine times he’s faced Hughes. The Yankees blog over at ESPN.com noted something interesting. According to them, the thing that will be interesting to watch will be if Hughes takes advantage of the big dimensions at Tropicana Field. He’s only allowed 16 home runs in 215 2/3 road innings for his career, but has given up four in 23 innings in Tampa.
So Rays fans, here we go! Lord knows that the first two games have been exciting, and I’ve got to believe that today’s 1:40 game will be as well. The starting lineup is below. As always, Go Rays!!!
Rays 4/8/12 Starting lineup: