They say in baseball, you’re only as good as the next starting pitcher…and for the Rays, that pitcher was Steve Geltz.
— Brian Anderson
Playing in a National League park, and knowing the pitching spot in the lineup would come up no later than the third inning, Kevin Cash gave relief pitcher Steve Geltz the start. In turn, Geltz threw two perfect innings, retiring all six batters he faced while fanning one — the best hitter in baseball, Bryce Harper. The pitching sequence was beautiful.
Geltz started Harper with an inside slider for a ball. Yet the righty came back with another slider, this time at the bottom of the zone for a strike. Assuming Bryce was expecting another slider, Geltz threw a filthy splitter and Harper couldn’t hold up — he swung wildly over the top for strike two. The coup de gras, a front-door fastball over the inner third of the plate that caught the best hitter in baseball looking.
Geltz has now retired the last 19 hitters he has faced.
Matt Andriese, who was slated to start the game, followed Geltz in the third inning and was gifted a 2-0 lead two frames later. Souza, playing in his first game in Nationals Park as a visitor, destroyed a hanging slider Zimmerman left over the heart of the plate. The errant pitch found its rightful home in deep left-center field.
Two batters later, catcher Curt Casali hit his first homer in the majors for a 2-0 advantage. The irony, Zimmerman entered the game having relinquished just three homers all season.
Andriese got into a bit of a spot in the fifth after he allowed a base hit up the middle to Ian Desmond. Former Ray Jose Lobaton moved Desmond to second on a weakly hit grounder to Jake Elmore at first. But after intentionally walking Michael Taylor, bringing Zimmerman to the plate, the Rays righty forced a weak grounder to third to end the inning.
Tampa Bay tacked on a run in the sixth. Evan Longoria and David DeJesus came up with back-to-back one-out singles, putting runners at the corners and bringing Logan Forsythe to the plate. Ian Desmond almost got the Nationals out of the inning unscathed, yet he bobbled a potential double-play ball off Forsythe’s bat, plating Longoria for a three run lead. The run scored gave the Rays second baseman a team-best 31 RBI.
Andriese was pinch-hit for in the seventh, after throwing four scoreless innings and allowing just two hits (one on the infield) and an intentional walk, while fanning two. Andriese needed just 53 pitches (64% K%) in his outing. Kevin Jepsen took the hill in the bottom of the inning and threw a 1-2-3 seventh
The Rays were able to extend the lead in the eighth. Souza laid down a two-out bunt single against Blake Treinen with DeJesus at first. Treinen sailed his throw over the head of first baseman Danny Espinosa in the rain, scoring DeJesus in the process. Then Bryce Harper’s throw home went awry, allowing Souza to score for a 5-0 lead on the “little league” homer (also seen above in the Souza highlight video).
After a 27-minute rain delay, the recently activated Ronald Belisario pitched two hitless innings in his Tampa Bay debut to finish the game. Per Rays Radio’s Neil Solondz, Belisario became the 26th pitcher to work an inning for the Rays this year, setting a team record. In addition, he was the 44th player to appear in a game, surpassing last year’s total.
The Rays collected 12 hits, three from Souza and Casali, and two apiece from Elmore and DeJesus.
The New What Next
Chris Archer (7-4, 2.00 ERA) will make his Major League-leading 15th start opposite of RHP Doug Fister, who takes the mound for the first time since mid-May. Fister rejoined the team on Monday after suffering a right flexor strain against the Padres. You can read about the pitching matchup in our series preview.
Rays 6/18/15 Starting Lineup
— James Loney’s three week checkup reportedly went well, and he should start swinging the bat at some point next week:
Checkup went well, got okay to start range of motion work, maybe another week to start swinging a bat https://t.co/PVuCh6cJ08
— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) June 18, 2015
— Matt Moore is likely to make his next rehab start Sunday for the Durham Bulls.
— Catcher Bobby Wilson, who the Rays designated for assignment last week, will join the Triple-A Durham Bulls tonight.