NORTH PORT — While some of the other Rays starters are building slowly, Michael Wacha looks more than ready to go, working impressively into the sixth inning Thursday against Atlanta’s A-list lineup.
Wacha allowed four hits and a walk, striking out five. He threw 47 of 69 pitches for strikes, getting out of most of the slight jams he got into.
“Everything was coming out really nice,” said Wacha, the eight-year big-league veteran who signed as a free agent. “I felt like me and (catcher Mike Zunino), we got on a good little rhythm there where we were just attacking the zone, getting ahead of guys and then we were able to put them away.
“And whenever things got a little hairy, in a little trouble out there on the bases, we were able to lock it down and get a big strikeout whenever we needed to, get a double play, and we were able to get out of it for the most part.”
Manager Kevin Cash said he liked what he saw again.
“He’s had a good spring for us, really competed well, made big pitches,” Cash said. “The strike-throwing is there, the stuff is there, the velocity is there, so very, very encouraged with where he’s at.”
Wacha will make a final exhibition appearance in Tuesday’s spring finale, likely coming out of the bullpen to prepare for potentially pitching behind an opener during the season. He is expected to make his first start in the second series of the season, at Boston.
The Rays reduced their active camp roster to 33 by reassigning five more players to the minors: pitcher David Hess; infielders Miles Mastrobuoni and Dalton Kelly; and catchers Joseph Odom and Brett Sullivan. But they’re closer to the 26-man opening-day limit than that, because at least two players — first baseman Ji-Man Choi and outfielder Brett Phillips — are headed to the injured list. Unless the Rays opt to recall an optioned position player, the remaining competition is for the final spots on the 12-man pitching staff.
Game details: Braves 5, Rays 2
Shortstop prospect Greg Jones made his first hit in a major-league exhibition a big one, blasting a 96 mph fastball from Tyler Matzek into the elevated seats well beyond the centerfield wall at CoolToday Park. “Just trying to put together good at-bat,” Jones, a 2019 first-round pick, said like a veteran. … Lefty relief candidate Ryan Sherriff continued his impressive spring with another solid inning. … Though Chaz Roe gave up a homer to Marcell Ozuna (on a pitch that may have been a ball), his stuff looked fine and he felt good in his second outing after missing time with a cranky shoulder. … The sun seemed vexing, as there were several misplays on balls hit in the air. … The Rays (8-15) were held to four hits and struck out 14 times.
• Outfielder Randy Arozarena, who has not played since Monday due to a sore left wrist from swinging too much, is set to resume hitting on Friday and get back in a game Saturday.
• Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who left the team Tuesday to be with his wife, Marisa, for the birth of their second son, is going through coronavirus intake testing and is expected to be back Saturday. He will play in at least a couple of the remaining exhibitions.
• Ji-Man Choi said his right knee is feeling better after a cortisone shot and rest, but he has not yet been cleared to get back to working out on the field. He is expected to return sometime in April but said he doesn’t yet have a target date.
• After concluding the exhibition season Tuesday in Lakeland, the Rays will fly to Miami on Wednesday and work out that afternoon in advance of Thursday’s season opener.
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