The Tampa Bay Rays will try to even the score with the Boston Red Sox on Sunday, in the final game of this, the four-game Opening Series. Jacob Faria will get the start for the Rays, pitching opposite of Hector Velazquez.
Tampa Bay is coming off a pair of one-run losses, with the most recent being a 3-2 defeat on Saturday. There were a few positives that came from the contest, leaving one to conclude that, if you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down. As Neil Solondz (Rays Radio) so eloquently put it, the fact that all three games in the series have been decided by one or two runs should not be surprising, as 20 of the last 31 games between the Rays and Red Sox have been decided by that margin.
Back to the positives…
— Andrew Kittredge and Ryan Yarbrough combined for 7-1/3 innings in the first of many bullpen days this season. The tandem allowed three runs (two earned), walked four, and struck out four against a very tough Boston team.
Overall, Kittredge threw the ball well and aside for a couple of mistakes that were taken advantage of, the right-hander was able to induce contact which was fielded cleanly by the defenders behind him.
Yarbrough wasn’t as sharp as he usually is, throwing 73 pitches overall, but just 41 for strikes (56% strike ratio). He, however, was able to limit the damage and ended up throwing four innings while allowing just one run on four hits and three walks. That’s not bad for a 26 year-old who was making his big league debut.
Like Kittredge before him, Yarbrough’s mistakes were taken advantage of, and he was most effective when he was able to move the ball around the zone and pitch to margins. His problem, as BA noted on the telecast, was that he tried to be a little too fine — he didn’t attack Boston’s lineup. When they forced him back over the plate, those pitches got hit (See: at-bat results plot below; courtesy of Brooks Baseball).
— How about the backstop duo of Wilson Ramos and Jesús Sucre, which has paired up to gun down three Red Sox base runners over the span of the series (so far)?! The most recent came last night, thanks to Sucre, in the waning innings of the game. The initial “safe” call was overturned upon review.
— Another positive, the Rays finally scored a run against a Red Sox starter. Carlos Gomez doubled to center before Matt Duffy singled to left, putting runners at the corners and chasing Rick Porcello. Heath Hembree replaced Porcello, and Joey Wendle drove home Gomez with a sacrifice-fly to left.
— Rays skipper Kevin Cash tried to reinforce the idea, prior to the start of the season, that the Rays will hit lots of home runs in 2018. Yet so far the team has flashed a lot of warning track power over the first three games, but not much else. Managerial proclamations aside, Cash did set an unfair expectation for the team, as the Rays aren’t really built for power, rather they are built for contact.
Nevertheless, the absence of homers changed Saturday night when Gomez went yard for the first time this season, swatting a 74 mph cement mixer and sending it to deep left-field.
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) April 1, 2018
Now, if only those long-balls can come with men on the bases.
The New What Next
Faria hit the ground running in his rookie campaign, boasting a stellar 2.00 ERA and 0.98 WHIP across his first seven starts. Yet despite improving his strikeout marks in the following five outings, Faria battled an abdominal injury that eventually sidelined him for a month in mid-August. While his velocity isn’t impressive, his fastball can boast some occasional cutting action that confounds hitters. Moreover, the “rising” action on the pitch plays well with his split-change and slider, which create vertical drop differentials of seven and nine inches (respectively). Per Nick Pollack (FanGraphs) Faria’s slider is his jack-of-all-trades offering that excels in any count, let it be stealing a strike early (48.3% zone rate), inducing grounders (52.2%) and pop-ups (21.1%), or earning a whiff with its sharp break (14.2%). Meanwhile, Faria’s changeup shuts the door effectively, using its 23.8% whiff rate to generate a 45.5% K rate across 244 thrown. If he can consistently command his fastball, including that cutting action, he will take the next step with the Rays.
One of his challenges will be slowing down Xander Bogaerts, who has accumulated six extra base hits over the first three games of the season (two in each). Only Bogaerts and Adrian Gonzalez (2015 Los Angeles Dodgers) have started a season that way since 1908.
Hector Velázquez (3-1, 2.92 ERA in 2017) will get the start for Boston in his big league debut; his first appearance against the Rays. The scouting report on Velázquez, per Over the Monster:
Velázquez offers three pitches that he trusts. His fastball isn’t overpowering, coming in at the low-90’s. He also offers a solid changeup and a splitter that’s been attributed with the reason for his 2016 breakout in Mexico. Velazquez isn’t going to overpower anyone, but at his best he throws strikes and limits free passes. That’ll play as a replacement-level pitcher, and given the lack of knowledge on him around the league he could even be better.
Rays 4/1/18 Starting Lineup