The Tampa Bay Rays return home from an eight-game, 2-6 road trip, and will welcome the Philadelphia Phillies into the Trop for a three-game series, starting Friday. The Rays took two of three from the Chicago White Sox to cap an otherwise abysmal cold weather trip. Phlly has played better of late, having won three in a row and are currently 6-5 after a sweep of the Reds.
Despite a very slow start to the season, Tampa Bay’s offense appears to have turned a corner. The team has improved on its wRISP batting average since the Opening Series, from .176 to .235 against the Yankees, and .240 again vs Boston to .286 vs the South Siders. The Rays look to further continue that trend this weekend.
To their credit, the Rays also have reduced their strikeout rate by 2% (give or take) and have increased their walk rate. Of consequence, the team’s on base percentage is now a few ticks over .300. They have shown what they can do by earning a lot of free passes over the last two games, to the tune of +15, while also putting balls in play. They still aren’t a slugging team, nor are they built to be one, yet they have started to figure out a way to plate runs.
Now if only the bullpen could keep it together later in games … I digress.
One caveat: the Rays have left a lot of chicken on the bone over the last few games — especially in the series finale with Chicago, when they scored just one single tally. They must play perfect baseball, and take advantage of any and all scoring opportunities, if they are to win those close affairs. As Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) put it in his “Takeaways” column on Wednesday, if the opposing starter is going to walk five of your first 10, and allow a hit to another, as James Shields did, you have to take advantage. The Rays got nothing, and it cost them because they should’ve had more than a 1-0 lead.
Over the next three days Kevin Cash will lean on Jacob Faria (0-1, 14.29 ERA), Chris Archer (1-0, 5.94 ERA), and the bullpen (1-6, 4.64 ERA). Former friend of the Rays, Gabe Kapler will respond with Vince Velasquez (1-1, 5.19 ERA), Jake Arrieta (0-0, 4.50 ERA), and Ben Lively (0-1, 5.56 ERA).
Jacob Faria will try to make amends for his previous disastrous start, in which he finished just 1-2/3 innings and gave up five hits and eight earned runs. He didn’t fan a single batter yet walked five. Since that ill-fated outing, Faria had a long talk with pitching coach Kyle Snyder, and chose to return to the between-starts drills he had gotten away from.
I have a tendency to doubt myself a lot. I’m my own toughest critic, Faria said. That’s the thing Kyle is really good at is reinforcing to everybody really is if you’re here it’s because you belong here. Just go out and do what you know how to do.
He also threw an encouraging bullpen session which has the right-hander feeling better ahead of his next start.
Vince Velasquez looks to go above .500 for the first time this season, after starting 0-1 and then winning his second start to even his record. Velasquez pitched well in the win, allowing just one earned run on four hits over six innings. He walked just one batter and struck out six. The right-hander relies upon a changeup with glove side movement, an 11-5 curveball with eight inches of drop, a “rising” fastball, and a whiffy mid-to-upper 90’s fastball that he uses coax swings and misses from within the zone. To put it another way, plenty of pitchers are able to get swings and misses out of the zone, writes Jeff Sullivan (FanGraphs). Velasquez looks like someone who could be able to get swings and misses in the zone, and that’s tougher. Key matchups: Adeiny Hechavarria (2-7, 2B, RBI, BB), Mallex Smith (1-2), Denard Span (1-2)
Chris Archer gave up four runs (three earned) on six hits and three walks while fanning eight batters over 5-2/3 innings in Monday’s 5-4 victory over the ChiSox. For the second consecutive game, Archer struck out eight batters in less than six innings of work. However, home runs remain an issue for the right-hander, as he gave up a two-run shot to Nicky Delmonico in the fifth inning. Over the first three games (16-2/3 innings) of the season, Archer has surrendered three home runs. It certainly doesn’t help that right-hander has leaned on his changeup just 5.7% of the time, relegating him to, effectively, a two-pitch hurler.
Jake Arrieta allowed three runs (two earned) on three hits and two walks while fanning five in his season debut on Sunday. Arrieta surrendered all of his earned runs in his first inning of work, then allowed just two baserunners thereafter. Thus far, he has relied primarily on a 92 mph sinker with obvious tailing action, while also mixing in a 79 mph biting curveball, and an 89 mph cutter. Key matchups: Matt Duffy (4-9, 3B), Carlos Gomez (3-10, HR, 2 RBI, 2 BB), Adeiny Hechavarria (2-5), Wilson Ramos (3-4, RBI, 2 BB), Mallex Smith (1-3)
The Rays will rely upon the bullpen on Sunday, yet the “starter” has not yet been determined.
Ben Lively allowed five runs on nine hits — including a homer — and a pair of walks while striking out seven over 5-2/3 innings on Monday. He did not factor into the decision. Thus far he has relied primarily on a whiffy 92 mph four-seam fastball and a 76 mph curveball with slight glove side movement, while also mixing in a 92 mph sinker with arm side run and an 84 mph slider.
— After Wednesday’s game, the Rays announced that Johnny Field would be called up on Friday. Reliever Ryan Weber, was optioned back to Durham.
To add Field, the Rays will have to make room on the 40-man roster, and that move is expected to be announced on Friday.
In spite of a strong spring campaign, the Rays opted to go outside the organization and acquired Rob Refsnyder. It is not yet clear how Field will be used, although with Mallex Smith struggling defensively, and Rob Refsnyder able to play infield in place of Brad Miller (groin strain), there should be opportunity.
Per a scouting report, Field has the makeup managers look for, is a consistent performer and won’t be outworked. The right-handed hitting outfielder can handle both southpaws (.281 BA/.352 OBP/.453 SLG/.805) and right-handers (.272 BA/.333 OBP/.455 SLG/.788 OPS) while providing defensive depth in the field