PORT CHARLOTTE — Infielder Tristan Gray didn’t do much last year in his first appearance in the Rays’ major-league camp.
He rapped three hits in 11 at-bats over 10 games before breaking a bone in his right hand a week before spring training was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
He got off to a pretty good start Sunday making this year better.
Gray tripled in two runs in the fifth inning, then hit a two-run walkoff homer with two outs in the seventh, and scheduled final, inning, giving the Rays a 9-7 win over the Braves in their spring opener.
“This was pretty crazy,’' said Gray, 24. “I’m still feeling the butterflies and all from all this, but it’s been great. … I am just excited to be here. And obviously having a day like today is a plus.’'
The injury was painful, but it didn’t hurt much as the 2020 minor-league season being canceled. Gray recovered enough to play 12 games in a summer independent league (with team permission), then took part in the Rays’ instructional league program and got invited back to big-league camp.
“At first (the injury) was pretty gut-wrenching,’' Gray said. “But the people in my life have been great, and God was really working on me. And it happened to be the perfect time if I was ever going to go down. I didn’t miss any games, and got to come back and be able to do this. So it’s been a blessing.’'
Gray was acquired from Pittsburgh for Corey Dickerson in February 2018, having played just one partial season in the minors. He has added 30-plus pounds of mostly muscle (up to 220-225), hit 17 homers at Double A in 2019 and expanded his positions from middle infield to the corners.
“Another guy that’s got pop, you just saw it,’' manager Kevin Cash said. “And being able to be versatile is right up our alley. We want to continue to hone on the defense wherever he’s playing, be as good as possible, and just have good at-bats.’'
Austin Meadows homered off Connor Johnstone to cap a four-run second after doubles by Manuel Margot and Willy Adames, and an RBI single by Kevan Smith. … Mike Brosseau homered in the third off Sean Newcomb. … Rays pitchers weren’t particularly sharp overall, allowing seven hits and six walks, though reliever Joey Krehbiel, a Seminole High product, struck out the side in the sixth. … Stetson Allie, an intriguing nonroster invitee, hit 99 mph, 98, 98 on his first three pitches (diving out of the way of a broken bat), then threw strikes with his slider. “He’s got special stuff. We’ve got to find a way to harness it in the zone,’' Cash said. … Yacksel Rios gave up a two-run tying homer to Sean Kazmar in the seventh, then clocked 100 mph on his next pitch. … Cash was pleased with the at-bats overall and also noted shortstop Adames’ defense. … Postseason star Randy Arozarena picked up where he left off with a hard single in the first. … Top prospect Wander Franco, who turns 20 Monday, came off the bench, striking out and grounding out.
Quote of the day
“I told him, ‘Take it easy now. You can’t be jumping around like that. You’re getting closer to 30. Be careful.’ ’ ’
Adames, on Arozarena turning 26 Sunday. Cash joked that they considered bringing in a mariachi band to play for him.
• Arozarena played mostly leftfield after joining the Rays in late August. Cash said they plan this year for him to play left and right (where he started Sunday), and he will get work in center just in case. The Rays will be strategic at times this spring, such as playing him in leftfield Tuesday at Boston’s Jet Blue Park, which has a high wall similar to the one at Fenway Park.
• First baseman Ji-Man Choi was back on the field for pregame drills after sitting out Saturday’s workout due to right knee soreness.
• Yoshi Tsutsugo, who started in left and also plays third, will be worked the next few days with infield coach Rodney Linares at first base and is tentatively slated to play there Wednesday.
• Tyler Glasnow, the Rays’ top returning starter, is to be on the mound Monday and is expected to make heavy use of the slider he is planning to add to his repertoire.