Hampered by injury and illness, as well as a short start by a shaky Blake Snell, the Tampa Bay Rays came from behind on Saturday to beat the Houston Astros 6–3. Tampa Bay has now won four of five on the homestand after splitting the first two games with the Astros.
Before I get started, I want to take you back to a time just two years in the past. The Rays traded for a chronically smiling pitcher named Erasmo Ramirez, who previously pitched for the Seattle Mariners. In Erasmo’s first two starts, he allowed 15 earned runs in 5-1/3 innings of work — approximately 22% of the total number of earned runs he would allow over 163-1/3 back in that fateful season.
“Light the effigies, take up the pitchforks, and run Erasmo out of town!” more than a few people cried after the first two woeful appearances by the right-hander, who has become a mainstay in the Rays’ bullpen. Ramirez ended his 2015 campaign by slashing a pretty good .272 BABIP/3.75 ERA/3.76 FIP/2.3 fWAR. Dare I say he also became beloved by Rays’ fans? I like to call that the Erasmo effect.
Houston built a 2–0 lead against Blake Snell on solo homers by Evan Gattis in the second, and Jose Altuve in the fourth. For both, it was their first homers of the season.
Despite allowing three runs on three hits — to put things bluntly — Snell was not good. It never felt like the left-hander was in control, as he walked five, and of his 87 pitches, only 39 went for strikes. Somehow and in some way Snell kept the Rays in the ball-game.
Down by a pair, the Rays tied the game in the fifth inning after Evan Longoria lashed a two-run double to center, scoring Tim Beckham and Corey Dickerson.
Snell was ultimately lifted after a leadoff walk of Altuve the following inning, and it became clear that Tampa Bay would have to overcome another short start for the 11th consecutive time.
After nearly being doubled up on a line drive to Steven Souza Jr. by Carlos Correa, Altuve stole second during Gattis’ sixth inning at-bat.
Then with the ‘Stros catcher still at the plate, Altuve broke for third. Gattis chopped a ball toward Logan Morrison, who was well off the bag at first. Reliever Tommy Hunter broke to cover first base, yet pulled up short with a leg issue that led to his early departure from the game (with right calf tightness). Instead of making an easy toss over, Morrison had to make the long put out himself, and Altuve beat out Morrison’s throw home easily. Astros up 3-2…although that lead was short lived.
Down by one, Souza began a rally which would put the Rays on the winning side of the ledger. Souza hit a double to left-center against starter Charlie Morton, bringing LoMo to the plate. Morrison quickly fell behind 0-2, thanks to a called strike two was high and a couple inches inside.
LoMo unloaded on home plate umpire CB Bucknor, but miraculously didn’t get tossed. One thing is certain, Bucknor stopped calling the pitch inside off the plate, and Morrison took his walk because of it.
Derek Norris showed bunt on the first two pitches of his at-bat, then lined a singled to center, loading the bases with none out. A.J. Hinch had seen enough, and called upon Will Harris to place a tourniquet upon the gushing wound…although subsequently for not.
Shane Peterson plated a run on an infield hit, tying the game at three. Beckham then blooped a ball to right-field for a hit, putting the Rays ahead for the first time of the game. They weren’t done.
After Corey Dickerson grounded into a fielder’s choice, Peter Bourjos — pinch hitting for Kevin Kiermaier, who left the game due to illness — singled past Carlos Correa, who was drawn in, for a two-run single, and a three-run lead.
Austin Pruitt entered the game in relief to get the last out of the sixth, then came back out 33 minutes to start and finish the seventh. He also came out to start and finish the eighth. Pruitt gave up no hits and no walks while fanning two, and looked really good along the way.
I’d argue Pruitt is the 2017 version of the previously maligned Erasmo Ramirez, i.e. the Ramirez effect. After allowing 12 runs (10 earned) over 5-2/3+ innings, he has tossed 5-2/3 scoreless innings of one hit, no walk ball; racking up seven strikeouts along the way. He has also lowered his BABIP from .576 to .465, and his +10 ERA to 7.94 (and a much more reasonable 3.32 FIP).
I get it, it’s easy to over react and speak in hyperbolic terms after the Rays cobbled together a pretty crappy bullpen last season. However, when speaking in terms of incredibly small sample sizes and crap luck, it’s nice to see Pruitt bounce back and offer Tampa Bay high quality relief outings, which will be incredibly important moving forward with Brad Boxberger, Shawn Tolleson and Xavier Cedeno on the disabled list, and now Hunter also heading there.
Before Alex Colome worked a scoreless ninth, allowing just a single, this happened in the bottom of eighth:
Their faces say it all. pic.twitter.com/DTQ9f7hu7V
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) April 23, 2017
The only explanation, Souza is a weird dude.
The New What Next
— The Rays have placed RHP Tommy Hunter on the 10-day DL with a right calf strain. In doing so, they have opted for bullpen length and recalled Chih-Wei Hu from the Durham Bulls. Tampa Bay got Hu — who will be making his MLB debut — from the Twins in the 2015 Kevin Jepsen trade.
— The Rays will conclude their homestand on Sunday, when Matt Andriese (1-0, 3.38 ERA, 4.20 FIP) takes the mound opposite of Joe Musgrove (1-1, 5.87 ERA, 5.46 FIP).
Andriese picked up his first win of the season Tuesday night when he held the Tigers to one run on four hits and a walk, while striking out five over six innings. Andriese has stifled both left and right-handed hitting, with lefties hitting .217, and righties hitting .275.
Musgrove, the second-year right-hander, is still looking to work deeper into games. Over his first three starts, he has hurled five innings twice and 5-1/3 innings once. Musgrove told reporters that trying to navigate through the lineup the third time through the order is key. The right-hander, who has never faced the Rays, relies primarily upon a 93 mph four-seam fastball, and an 83 mph slider with short glove-side cut. He also mixes in a 91 mph worm burner of a sinker, an 83 mph changeup, and an 81 mph curveball.
You can read about the series, and so much more, in our series preview, and I’ll post the starting lineup upon availability.
Rays 4/23/17 Starting Lineup
Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) wrote about the Rays’ bullpen malaise the team now finds itself in:
After losing Cedeno for what will be at least a couple of months due to forearm tightness, the Rays decided, for now, that their bullpen will be all right with just right-handers, though by the end of the night it looked like Hunter won’t be among them.
What that means is, expect to see a lot of righty Danny Farquhar and hope he has the good changeup to get out some tough lefties, such as Chris Davis, who will be waiting when the Rays get to Baltimore tonight.
“It’s not ideal obviously,” pitching coach Jim Hickey said.
How does a major-league team get in that position?
It takes some work. Primarily because in taking aim to improve the overall depth of their roster this winter, they neglected the lefty side of the bullpen.
Once they gave up on the Dana Eveland experience during spring training, they were left with only Cedeno in the majors, Justin Marks at Triple A (then adding Adam Kolarek) and raw prospect Jose Alvarado (who is on the 40-man roster) at Double A.
The Rays were last without a lefty reliever in April 2015 before they acquired a guy named Xavier Cedeno, who had been dumped by the Nationals and Dodgers.
They’ll need to be as resourceful, or as fortunate, again. Otherwise, a lot of hard work could go to waste.