ST. PETERSBURG — When the Rays left outfielder Joey Rickard off their 40-man roster and thus eligible for the December Rule 5 draft, they knew there was a chance they would see him in an opposing uniform.
Wednesday it was a painful sight, as Rickard hit a three-run homer off Matt Moore to lead his Orioles past the Rays 3-1.
Rickard's fifth-inning homer was the difference in a game that featured impressive work by both starters — Moore and Chris Tillman — and very little offense, with seven hits total.
"They really only won off of one hit," said Rays rightfielder Steven Souza Jr., who made a spectacular diving catch. "So tough loss right there.''
At this time last year, Rickard, 24, was playing in Port Charlotte with the advanced Class A Stone Crabs. But he worked his way up to Double-A Montgomery then to Triple-A Durham, and though not considered one of the Rays' top-shelf prospects, he did enough to get noticed.
The Rays (10-11) discussed Rickard, as well as outfielder Tyler Goeddel, in setting their 40-man roster. They ended up losing both as they added infielder/outfielder Taylor Motter plus pitching prospects Jacob Faria, Taylor Guerrieri and Blake Snell, along with German Marquez, who was later traded to Colorado with Jake McGee for Corey Dickerson. They also opted at the time to keep catcher Rene Rivera, who was later released.
"I think everybody spoke very highly of (Rickard), and I remember (farm director Mitch Lukevics) having a quote that somebody has got to be the 41st and 42nd player. I think that's a pretty fair quote," manager Kevin Cash said. "Good for him. Hopefully he has a lot of success. Just do it against the rest of the division, not against us."
Moore got a glimpse of Rickard's talent and potential last August during his stint at Durham and came away impressed, though not necessarily expecting to see him batting leadoff for a first-place team.
"He obviously was a very sharp player, very mature and stays within himself, which I think is hard to find, especially in a younger guy like him," Moore said. "I think he does a really good job of just being Joey and not trying to be somebody else. He is a tough out, and last year when I got to play with him for a month you could definitely see the professionalism with him, just in his preparation for the game and how he works his at-bats. He doesn't take anything off."
Moore, who worked a solid seven innings overall, saw that from the mound as the Orioles' rally started with two outs in the fifth. Moore issued a four-pitch walk to Nolan Reimold, which he considered his biggest transgression, then allowed a single to No. 9 hitter Jonathan Schoop on what he felt was "a pretty good changeup."
Rickard, who started the season hot but was 2-for-his-last-22 after he popped out and struck out, jumped on Moore's first-pitch fastball and knocked it over the left-centerfield fence.
"I pounded Joey pretty early in the game in, and he obviously went in between those at-bats and had a good game plan to twist on something inside, and he did," Moore said.
Rickard, who had never played at the Trop before Monday, said the homer was "a great feeling" given how he had been struggling.
The Rays didn't do much against Tillman, who Cash said made more use of his change-up than they were accustomed to and had a very good slider. "Probably as tough as we've seen,'' Cash said. "He kind of gave us fits.
The Rays went nine up and nine down, seeing only 39 pitches in the first three frames, and managed only two hits over his 6 2/3 innings – singles by Logan Forsythe and Logan Morrison.
Their best early opportunity came in the fourth when Forsythe singled and Brad Miller walked. Evan Longoria flied to deep center, but at least advanced the runners. Corey Dickerson struck out and Desmond Jennings, now 1-for-his-last-20, fouled out to the catcher.
They were quiet again until the ninth, when a leadoff single by Evan Longoria led to their run, Steve Pearce's two-out RBI single their only hit with a runner in scoring position not just of the night, but the three-game series as they were 1-for-17.
"We just didn't get it done,'' Cash said.
And Rickard did.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.