ST. PETERSBURG — As much as the Rays have struggled offensively through the first month of the season, they felt pretty good about how April ended:
With the excitement of a 4-3 walkoff win Saturday over the Blue Jays, catcher Curt Casali being swarmed in celebration after singling in Brad Miller.
And with the confidence drawn from playing just about .500 ball at 11-12 despite not pitching well initially and still not showing with any consistency the firepower they are certain they have.
"Quite a bit," manager Kevin Cash said. "Offensive struggles, and we didn't get off to the greatest start starting pitching-wise early on. The pitching has definitely come around. These guys have grinded it out. We've played a lot of tight ball games. I like the fact that we're learning how to win some of these games, and that's going to help us in the coming months for sure.
"We expect the offense to be better. We expect to have the ability to separate some games on given nights, though obviously we haven't done that too much. We've been pitched tough, and we haven't swung the bats like we're capable of. There's not a person in that clubhouse I think that is satisfied with 11-12, but there's some promise there to carry some more positives into the rest of the season."
On Saturday didn't start well, before 14,948, as Chris Archer walked four of the first 11 Blue Jays batters then allowed a home run to Jose Bautista for a 2-0 deficit. But the Rays evened it as Logan Forsythe singled in one run and Evan Longoria hit an opposite-field homer.
The Blue Jays went back ahead when Kevin Pillar homered off Enny Romero in the seventh, and Forsythe, now hitting .341 after a three-hit night, rescued the Rays again with a two-out homer in the seventh.
"The real star," Casali said. "What a game by that guy."
The ninth started with Miller pinch-hitting and grounding a ball to Toronto first baseman Justin Smoak then beating him to the base, the safe call confirmed after the Jays challenged. Kevin Kiermaier followed with a double off the rightfield wall that put runners on third and second.
That would seem promising, but the Rays to that point had been 0-for-11 with two walks in that situation for the season. And they were 3-for-33 with runners in scoring position on the homestand. Furthering that, Casali had only one hit in his previous 21 at-bats.
First base was open, but there weren't going to be any free passes.
"I definitely realized Logan Forsythe was on deck," Casali said, "so I figured if I was in their shoes I'd want to pitch to me, too."
Ahead of Brett Cecil 3-and-1, Casali got the cutter he was looking for and lined a single to left for his first walkoff hit in the majors. The four runs — matching the Lightning's output on the day for those comparing — were enough.
"I don't know if he needed that hit more or we needed that hit more," Cash said. "But it worked out for both of us because Curt's been grinding. He's been doing such a good job with our pitchers. You want that reward for him to go up there and contribute offensively, and it was good that he did. We wanted to win right there, and good for Curt."
The 11-12 mark is obviously not what the Rays expect. But given their confidence in being better, it isn't that bad.
"Definitely this month has been encouraging," Archer said. "And we feel like there's more to come."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.