ST. PETERSBURG – Right from the open, just about everything worked for the Rays in a 5-2 win over the Royals on Tuesday.
The Rays used their opener strategy just about as best as it could be mapped out, Ryne Stanek dazzling in getting the first four outs, and Jalen Beeks sharp in rolling up the next 14.
Making the night even better, the Royals apparently were using an opener, too. Not really, but starter Homer Bailey lasted only four batters into the second as the Rays quickly grabbed a 4-0 lead.
The win improved the Rays’ majors-best record to 16-8, gave them their seventh series win in eight with a chance for their second sweep in Wednesday’s matinee, and got them back on better footing, and in better spirits, after being swept over the weekend by the Red Sox.
Most telling were the contributions from the B-side of the bullpen and the bottom of the order.
Beeks is third in line among their bulk inning relievers who work after openers, behind Yonny Chirinos (who may earn another start) and Ryan Yarbrough, but he gave the Rays exactly what they needed in getting through the sixth, showcasing maybe his best changeup.
“We needed some length (Tuesday) and we got it from him,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. “It was a really strong performance.”
Similarly, with the Rays trying to give their top two high-leverage relievers, Diego Castillo and Jose Alvarado, a second day off, Adam Kolarek got them out of Austin Pruitt’s mess in the eighth and Emilio Pagan, for the second straight day, finished it off for the save.
“Really appreciate the effort the guys have given the last two nights,’’ Cash said. “For us to be able to stay away from Jose and Diego is huge. … I think it shows our depth. We kind of pride ourselves on being as deep as possible and to win ballgames without those two, close games, is really nice.’’
Similarly, most of the offense came from the bottom of the order, No. 7-8 hitters Daniel Robertson and Mike Zunino, still showing off that new dad strength, rapping five of the seven hits and factoring in the scoring.
“It’s one of those things you never want there to be a break in the lineup,’’ said Zunino, who has an eight-game hitting streak. “Guys take pride in that and we want to flip it up to the top. Anyway we can help this team win these guys take a lot of pride in every at-bat.’’
Ji-Man Choi on restricted list
First baseman/DH Ji-Man Choi was placed on the restricted list to attend to what the team said only was a “personal matter.’’ The issue with Choi is not a disciplinary matter, the Times has learned, and is only expected to keep him away for one day, which pretty much rules out a trip to his native South Korea. And since Choi was not placed on the family medical leave list, it’s probably not anything along those lines. Though Choi is due back Wednesday, Cash said that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be in the lineup as he hasn’t played since leaving Saturday’s game with a left calf strain. “We’re still monitoring the calf,’’ he said. Choi said Monday he was feeling much better and expected to be able to play soon, but didn’t given any indication he would be leaving the team. Right-hander Austin Pruitt was called up to add another fresh arm to the bullpen.
Wood’s return may be delayed
Reliever Hunter Wood’s three-day stint on the paternity list ended Tuesday, but Cash said he probably won’t rejoin the team on Wednesday. “Things are going well, the baby’s fine, but not quite yet,’’ he said. Wood and wife Hannah were expecting a daughter in May according to the Rays media guide, so the baby apparently came early. The Rays could move Wood to the family medical leave list.
Reliever Chaz Roe is throwing his slider more in hopes of throwing it better. Roe hasn’t yet shown much of the Frisbee-like break on the slider that makes it his out pitch, and said the issue is related to syncing up his delivery. “It’s more mechanical than anything,’’ he said. “Physically I feel really good. It’s just getting the timing. I kind of had a slow spring training and then just trying to play catch-up all the way through to now. It’s slowly getting there every time I pitch. Hopefully just go out there and keep throwing it and things will fall into place.’’ Roe, per fangraphs.com, is throwing the slider 63.5 percent of the time; previously he was at 46.6 percent.
* The Rays have the majors best record and drew a season-low 8,298.
* Monday, Pagan earned his first big-league save, which he said was a cool thing. Tuesday, he got his second. “Glad I could come through and get the job done to reset the back end of our bullpen going into the next series,’’ Pagan said. “It feels pretty good.” Pagan, acquired from Oakland and sent to Durham to start the season, has worked six innings over five games without giving up a hit.
* The Rays are 4-3 when using an opener this season, and 36-26 since debuting it last May.
* Tuesday was the 13th time in 24 games the Rays have allowed two or fewer runs, most in the majors.
* In the seventh inning Monday, the Rays hit for the cycle with an Avisail Garcia double, Kevin Kiermaier single, Zunino homer and Willy Adames triple. That was the 24th time in franchise history they did so in an inning, fourth in the last nine seasons.
Quote of the day
“It couldn’t have worked out at a better time.’’
- Pitcher Austin Pruitt, noting that by being called up Tuesday he avoided the 4 a.m. bus the Triple-A Durham had for a road trip to Lousiville. Instead he had a 10 a.m. flight to Tampa.