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Rays’ Shane Baz has ‘a lot of fun’ in first big-league exhibition

Rays notes | The prospect acquired from the Pirates makes an impressive adjustment; Collin McHugh pleased with a day of firsts.
Rays righthander Shane Baz worked a scoreless inning Sunday against the Twins in his first big-league spring training game.
Rays righthander Shane Baz worked a scoreless inning Sunday against the Twins in his first big-league spring training game. [ MARC TOPKIN | Times ]
Published Mar. 7
Updated Mar. 7

FORT MYERS — Shane Baz was a little amped up for his first appearance in a major-league spring training game, and it showed Sunday. He walked the first two Twins hitters, throwing 13 pitches in doing so.

Then the promising prospect settled in and showed what has the Rays so excited, throwing his 97-99 mph fastball for strikes and getting the next three Twins out in the fifth inning of an 8-4 loss.

“I actually don’t remember the first two guys; we won’t talk about them,” Baz, 21, joked. “I liked the next three.”

Manager Kevin Cash liked the way Baz, the third piece of the return from Pittsburgh in the Chris Archer trade, recovered from the rough start.

“I thought Shane after (13) pitches for two batters, full counts and foul balls, settled in and just kept attacking in the zone,” Cash said. “That’s really encouraging for a young pitcher. … He’s got some electric stuff.”

After getting his bearings, Baz said he felt good about his velocity and mechanics (”Feeling good and kind of letting it rip,” he said). He added that he was reassured by pitching coach Kyle Snyder’s mound visit following the two walks.

Overall, for a guy who hasn’t pitched above the low Class A level? “Definitely a lot of fun,” Baz said.

Lots of firsts for veteran McHugh

Collin McHugh would have preferred better results, particularly given the 417-foot, 110.2 mph three-run homer he allowed to Josh Donaldson. But for his first game action since an elbow injury ended his 2019 season in late August, McHugh was more than pleased with his inning of work. “First time seeing some game action, some live hitters, some live swings,” McHugh said. “So I got a lot of firsts out of the way today. First in a while. It felt good to be out there, man. Adrenaline pumping a little bit. … Obviously, I don’t like to give up runs ever. … So it’s a rough day from that perspective. But I think there’s a lot of good takeaways that come back from it.”

Game details: Twins 8, Rays 4

Michael Wacha had an impressive two-inning start, saying he was pleased with his strike-throwing and low pitch count (21 total, 15 strikes) and use of all four pitches, including the cutter that caught slugger Nelson Cruz looking. “Kind of the way I like to work,” Wacha said. … Lefty Cody Reed, sidelined by a finger issue shortly after being acquired from the Reds in August, impressed Cash with a sharp 1-2-3 inning. … Cash said “the most exciting part of the day” was Austin Meadows turning a 97 mph Jorge Alcala fastball into a 414-foot homer to right, his third of the spring. … Yoshi Tsutsugo showed his athleticism making a barehanded play on a slow roller to third. … Non-roster right-hander David Hess had another tough day, allowing two doubles, a single and a three-run homer to Keon Broxton. He yielded four homers over 1-1/3 innings in his first outing. … The Rays (3-4) are off Monday.

Miscellany

• High-leverage reliever Pete Fairbanks didn’t pitch as scheduled Sunday, sidelined by what Cash called " a little bit of a food-poisoning issue” after “not feeling too good in the middle of the night.” Cash said there have been no COVID-19 related issues, with all tests coming back negative Saturday.

• Archer said a combination of being injury-free and making some mechanical adjustments (his own and some suggested by Rays) has led to encouraging initial results, specifically with his slider. After throwing two innings Saturday in the controlled environment of a simulated game, he is scheduled “for now” to make his exhibition debut Friday.

• Heading into Monday’s first off day, Cash said he has been pleased so far with the energy, depth of talent, defense (for the most part) and improved focus on strike-throwing by the pitchers after the first couple of games.