Nathan Eovaldi’s first start in a regular-season game since 2016 on Wednesday could not have gone any better. The right-hander threw six hitless innings in Oakland, as the Tampa Bay Rays (28-26) won their fifth game in a row, 6-0 over the Athletics in a combined one-hitter. He became the 12th pitcher in MLB history to start in the majors after having two Tommy John surgeries.
Eovaldi spent last season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, then missed the first two months after having arthroscopic surgery for loose bodies in his pitching elbow. Yet at long last, the flame throwing righty made his highly anticipated return to the mound and did not disappoint. After he walked the second batter of the game, Matt Olson, with one out in the first, Eovaldi went to work and retired the next 17 batters in order.
Eovaldi relied primarily on his upper 90’s fastball (topping out at 98 mph), and worked quickly and efficiently on the mound, needing just 70 pitches (46 strikes, 66% strike ratio, 32 fastball) to burn through the Athletics’ lineup. He lived at the top of the zone, and just off the plate, but brought his fastball back over the black occasionally. He also leaned on his splitter (14 thrown, eight strikes, three whiffs) and slider (nine thrown, five strikes, one whiff) when he needed a punch out, and his cutter to coax weak contact (seven ground ball and fly ball outs).
Sure, he got some help from the fielders behind him — Johnny Field made a sliding catch in the third and then a leaping grab on Matt Joyce to end the frame, Carlos Gomez made a diving catch on Pinder’s liner in the sixth — but the fact that he was able to limit hard contact speaks volumes.
Dealing with a firm pitch-count in mind, Kevin Cash made the contentious decision to pull Eovaldi after the sixth.
It was tough, there was no doubt, but we have to do what’s right by him, Cash said. He wanted to stay but realistically he’s not getting to the ninth inning. I’ll just blame (pitching coach Kyle Snyder). I wanted to keep pitching him but Kyle told me to pull him.
Eovaldi wasn’t pleased with the decision, but understood why it was made.
I didn’t want to shake his hand, Eovaldi said. I haven’t gone seven innings in a really long time. So we played it safe and it was good. I would have liked to stay out there until I gave up a hit but I understand the situation as well.
On the offensive end of things, Tampa Bay took the lead against Sean Manaea in the second inning, after Carlos Gomez hit a wind-blown triple into the right-field corner with one out, and Johnny Field laced an RBI double to left-field, past the outstretched glove of a diving Joyce.
Then in the third inning, C.J. Cron was hit by a pitch to start the frame, before Wilson Ramos singled with one out, and Rob Refsnyder crushed a three-run homer to right-center (his second of the year) for a four-run advantage.
Like it’s been said… pitching and three-run homers. pic.twitter.com/EHrYS3qqkd
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) May 31, 2018
Meanwhile, Wilmer Font made his Rays debut in the seventh inning, taking over for Eovaldi. He got Matt Chapman to line to short before Jed Lowrie broke up the no-hitter on a single up the middle. Font also gave Rays fans a scare when Dustin Fowler hit a towering fly-ball to centerfield that Mallex Smith caught up against the wall. No harm done, Font struck out Mark Canha to end the frame.
Font pitched well overall, hitting 97 mph with his fastball and coaxing four whiffs. As Dough Waechter noted during the broadcast, his splitter was absolutely filthy when he spotted it up. He allowed just on batter to reach in two innings of work.
Then in the eighth, Field extended the lead to five on a solo-shot, over the left-field wall, off southpaw Danny Coulombe.
Johnny Field hammers a solo home run over the left-field wall, giving the Rays a 5-0 lead in the top of the 8th inning
It was his fifth homer of the year.
Daniel Robertson singled to right two batters later, moved up to second and third on a pair of wild pitches, and then came home on a Cron double to left-center.
C.J. Cron smacks a double to center field, driving in Daniel Robertson to extend the Rays’ lead to 6-0 in the top of the 8th inning
All told, Tampa Bay collected 10 hits. Eight of nine starters had at least one hit, while Ramos and Field had two hits each.
Vidal Nuno ended the game with a scoreless ninth, wrapping up Tampa Bay’s second shutout in three games. Prior to this series, the Rays had not blanked an opponent all season.
With then win, the Rays leapt past Oakland in the AL Wildcard standings. They start the day one game behind the Angels, and five games behind the Mariners, who they will face in a three-game weekend series, starting tomorrow.
The New What Next
Both teams will wrap up a four-game series on Thursday afternoon, with Tampa Bay positioning itself for a sweep. Ryne Stanek (1-0, 3.24 ERA) will start with Ryan Yarbrough (4-2, 3.21 ERA) expected to pitch the bulk of the innings. They’ll be opposed by Daniel Mengden (5-4, 2.85 ERA).
Daniel Mengdon tossed a two-hit gem Saturday against the Diamondbacks, en route to his fifth win of the season. He fanned five and issued zero walks. Mengdon continued to dominate, as he has now given up just four earned runs over his last 33-2/3 innings (1.07 ERA), including a current 17-inning scoreless streak. The 25 year-old right-hander coaxed 13 ground balls in that outing, which has been a big part of his success over this stretch. However, with only 43 strikeouts in 66-1/3 innings this season, and an insanely lucky — and unsustainable — .164 BABIP over the last 14-days, a regression is anticipated. This season he has relied primarily on his 93 mph four-seam fastball with some added backspin, while also mixing in an 85 mph slider with two-plane movement, a 93 mph sinker with little armside run and almost no sinking action, an 83 mph changeup that has some slight arm-side fade, and a 73 mph curveball. Key Matchup: CJ Cron (1-2)
You can read about the series in our preview.
Rays 5/31/18 Starting Lineup
— A win would cap an already plus .500 month of May.