KANSAS CITY — The Rays were eager to see what Anthony Banda looked like on the mound Tuesday in his first start for them.
And he put on a pretty good show over his five innings, allowing three runs on six hits, spotting his mid-90s fastball to both sides of the plate, working in his offspeed pitches. The Rays led 5-3 when he was replaced by Jose Alvarado to start the sixth, though there was concern that third baseman Matt Duffy (right hamstring tightness) and rightfielder Carlos Gomez (right groin tightness) both left the game.
Banda (BAHN-da) was the most advanced of the four prospects the Rays acquired in the surprising trade of 2017 team MVP Steven Souza Jr. to Arizona in a three-team deal that also involved the Yankees.
"A lot of people were upset that we traded Souza because he showed a lot of promise,'' top starter Chris Archer said. "But I'm ready for Banda to show this is why we traded Souza because we have such a special arm.''
Banda throws an enticing changeup and is developing a pretty good slider, but he is most known for his high-octane fastball, which looks awful easy coming out of his hand but usually clocks in the 93-97 mph range.
Multiple tattoos, broad shoulders and goggle-style glasses combine to create somewhat of a menacing look that adds an intimidation factor. Archer actually jokes that the typically laid back Banda has a game-day alter ego he calls Tony Bandz.
"I watched him throw in 2016 in Double A and he was dirty, and watching him last year in the big leagues on TV he was really good,'' said Jake Faria, the Rays' starter today.
"We had a joke in spring training like if (ex-Rays All-Star lefty) Matt Moore left and got all tatted up and came back and got shredded or jacked, that would be him. Because he's a really smooth lefty and he throws hard. He's fun to watch. The ball comes out so easy.
"When the delivery looks easy and the ball just explodes, they are not sitting on 95 from a guy who doesn't look like he's trying to throw 95.''
Banda, 24, made it to the majors last year, making four starts, and eight appearances total, for the Diamondbacks, posting a 2-3, 5.96 mark. Though it wasn't much statistically, it did provide him the experience to know what he wanted to do and how he wanted to go about it when got back to the majors.
"You've got to have a routine, you've got to have a game plan, you've got to execute the game plans and all the other things will follow,'' Banda said. "If I don't execute the game plan, it's different.''
Banda wasn't all the Rays got in the three-team deal, adding three other prospects. Infielder Nick Solak was ranked the Yankees' No. 12 prospect and is hitting .318 with a .409 on-base percentage at Double-A Montgomery. And last week pitchers Colin Poche and Sam McWilliams were identified as the players to be named. Poche moved up to the Triple-A Durham bullpen, with a season line including 37 strikeouts in 19 innings and no runs. McWilliams is a starter for the Stone Crabs with a 1.89 ERA at advanced Class A.
Souza got injured during spring training and didn't join the D'backs until May 3, hitting just .152 in 10 games with one extra-base hit for a .425 OPS.
The Rays had been pleased with what Banda had showed at Triple-A Durham, a 4-2, 3.50 mark with 44 strikeouts, though 37 hits and 16 walks, in 36 innings.
The Bulls coaches told Cash and pitching coach Kyle Snyder that Banda showed "pretty consistent form" with what he impressed them with in spring training.
"There's a lot of upside,'' Cash said. "We're really happy with his progression. … It's like I told him when we optioned him out in spring training. You get to know a guy — you hear about acquiring a guy, don't know what you're getting. But we were more excited about him when he left spring training than when we acquired him, and that's a pretty strong testament to what he showed.''
The Rays don't know, or wouldn't say, how long Banda will stick around this time and when they expect him to arrive to stay. But when he does, they will be amply excited about pairing him with Blake Snell, another power lefty, in their rotation.
"Are we where we want to be?" Kevin Cash said. "Obviously not. Have we performed like we think we're capable? Obviously not. But the mindset of the club has remained consistent." #Rays #RaysUp @TB_Times @TBTimes_Rays https://t.co/Teu5a5RfVE— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) May 16, 2018
Banda actually joined the Rays Saturday as the 26th man for the doubleheader but didn't pitch. He flew back to Durham midday Sunday, only to get a call later that afternoon that with the bullpen taxed he was being brought back to start Tuesday, and flew to Kansas City on Monday.
Banda is the eighth starter used by the Rays this season, matching their total from all of last year. That is the second most to this point in the majors behind the Angels, who has used nine. The Tigers, White Sox and four NL teams have also used eight.