CHICAGO — Jake Odorizzi spoke confidently the day before, as pitchers are wont, about putting his miserable last outing behind him.
But it wouldn't be until the Rays' 24-year-old right-hander walked up the hill at Wrigley Field on Saturday afternoon that he could really prove it. It didn't take him long.
The first pitch Odorizzi threw to Cubs leadoff man Chris Coghlan was a fastball for a called strike, the second a fastball fouled off, and the third a split changeup that Coghlan rolled to second.
That was all Odorizzi needed to know how much better he would be. Six sterling innings later it became very clear to all as he led the Rays to a 4-0 win, moving them back to within two games of .500 at 57-59.
"That first at-bat in itself, I felt like I was throwing it where I wanted to, and once it carries over to the next batter, you know you have that going today," Odorizzi said. "It was a good way to start the game, to get that feeling early."
Odorizzi struck out the next five and nine of the first 14 overall, allowing three hits. That was in total contrast to last Sunday, when he allowed the Angels five runs in a brutal 46-pitch first inning, throwing 35 before he got his first out.
Manager Joe Maddon said the difference was obvious, and it had more to do with Odorizzi's approach than anything.
"Aggressive," he said. "Assertive. Came out and went right after them. I love the attitude. It wasn't pandering around."
Odorizzi made it sound more tangible, as he relied primarily on the fastball and split-change and took advantage of the Cubs' aggressiveness.
"Being more consistently sharp out of the gate," he said. "Fastball location that was the big thing. … I was sitting corners, staying away from the middle of the plate, and my split was good from the get-go. … You see the ball is going where you want and it gives you that extra little bit of confidence."
After going down relatively quickly against ex-mate Edwin Jackson, the Rays hitters did their part. Evan Longoria knocked in the first run and said afterward how pleased he was to contribute; Yunel Escobar knocked in the other three and declined to talk to reporters.
The Rays got two runs in the fourth, and it involved some of what makes Wrigley Field so unique. Ben Zobrist laced a ball that went off rightfielder Justin Ruggiano, the ex-Ray, and into the ivy that covers the brick wall.
Though Zobrist kept running, he was sent back to second as it was called a ground rule double. Maddon charged out to suggest that the rules be different since the ball went off a fielder but to no avail.
It turned out not to matter, as Longoria ended up knocking in Zobrist, and Escobar Longoria. The Rays added two in the sixth with less drama, Escobar singling in two after they loaded the bases on two walks and an error.
That was enough for Odorizzi and relievers Kirby Yates and Jake McGee, who combined for 15 strikeouts and no walks in posting the Rays' 13th shutout of the season.
Odorizzi said there was some room for improvement, noting that he got away from being aggressive a bit in the fifth and sixth and pitched himself out of the game by running his count to 103. But after ending a streak of nine starts allowing three or fewer runs in such a rough way Sunday, he was plenty pleased with his performance.
"I was just happy to get a win again," he said, "and get back, after last time out, to get back on the right track in general."
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.