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Rays edge Royals in Anthony Banda’s Tampa Bay debut

KANSAS CITY — The Rays were eager to see what Anthony Banda looked like on the mound Tuesday in his first start for them.

He put on a pretty good show, working the first five innings of what turned into a dramatic 6-5 Rays win.

Banda allowed three runs on six hits, spotting his mid-90s fastball to both sides of the plate and showing off a sharp changeup and a still-developing slider. And he was effective and efficient, throwing only 52 pitches, with frames of seven, five and eight.

“Pretty exciting,″ manager Kevin Cash said. “For him to come out and have the type of efficiency that he had early on, he looked the part for sure. The fastball played really, really well. He threw some pretty good changeups in there. I know the slider is still a work in progress. ... Big step for him.″

The Rays were leading 5-3 when he was replaced by Jose Alvarado in the sixth. But the bullpen, specifically, Sergio Romo, couldn’t hold it. The Rays rallied in the ninth, however, on singles by Johnny Field (who replaced an injured Carlos Gomez) and Jesus Sucre, then the biggest hit of all, a two-out RBI single by Joey Wendle. Alex Colome worked the ninth for the save as the Rays reached the quarter pole of their season 18-22, winning a second straight series in Kauffman Stadium for the first time in franchise history.

“A lot of fun to watch,″ Cash said.

Banda (BAHN-da) was the most advanced of the four prospects the Rays acquired in the surprising spring 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 has the off-speed weapons, but he’s most known for his high-octane fastball, which looks awful easy coming out but usually clocks in the 93-97 mph range.

Multiple tattoos, broad shoulders and edgy 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, Wednesday’s starter for the Rays.

“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.’’

Banda made it look easy at times Tuesday, working around 95 mph with the fastball. Like the first, when he allowed only an infield single, following with a double-play grounder. The third, when he went three up and three down on five pitches. And, nearly as impressive, the fourth, with three outs on eight pitches.

In the second, he gave up a double and a single to start but limited the damage to one run on a groundout. The fifth was his only real trouble, allowing two singles, then after a sac bunt and a strikeout, a drive by Whit Merrifield scored two, though he was thrown out trying to get to second.

“I felt good,″ Banda said. “Getting strike one and getting myself ahead in the count is definitely what I was pleased about, and staying aggressive from there. (A low) pitch count would go with that. Continue pitching to contact and get early outs and your pitch count is going to be low.″

Cash said his reason for pulling Banda after the 52 pitches was that “I just felt he had done his job.″

Catcher Jesus Sucre was also impressed. Especially after a pre-game meeting in which he said pitching coach Kyle Snyder told him to handle Banda with caution.

“He was pretty good actually,″ Sucre said. ”(Snyder) was telling me to stay in the middle and get as many strikes as we can but I was moving the ball a little bit, working a little bit on the corners and he was doing great. ... I’m not going to lie, the way the pitching coach was talking to me before the game, I didn’t really expect that. I was like, you scared me. I let him work and he did a good job.″

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.

Banda wasn’t all the Rays got. Infielder Nick Solak, ranked the Yankees’ No. 12 prospect, is hitting .318 with a .409 on-base percentage at Double-A Montgomery. Reliever Colin Poche, one of the players to be named, moved up to the Triple-A Durham bullpen with a season line including 37 strikeouts in 19 innings and no runs. The other, Sam 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, posting a 4-2, 3.50 mark with 44 strikeouts, though 37 hits and 16 walks, in 36 innings.

Cash said Banda will stick around and pitch in Anaheim during the four-game series, but wouldn’t commit to him starting again Sunday, which would be his day. Nor do they want to say 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.

“There’s a lot of upside,’’ Cash said. “We’re really happy with his progression to this point.’’