ST. PETERSBURG — As debuts go, it was hard to determine which Rays pitcher had more to celebrate despite a 1-0 loss to the Blue Jays on Sunday.
It began with Luis Patino, the 21-year-old right-hander acquired from San Diego as part of the deal for Blake Snell.
The eighth inning featured the major-league debut of Louis Head. The 31-year-old spent eight years in the minors and was pitching solar panels as a salesman in Arizona when the Rays asked him to join their bullpen this week.
Both are examples of how the Rays manage to replenish their pitching staff with shrewd deals and a willingness to give discarded players a chance of a lifetime.
With his parents arriving from Colombia on Saturday to see him pitch in the majors for the first time, Patino’s initial appearance for the Rays offered promise to a staff riddled with injuries. He bullied Jays hitters with a fastball that topped out at 96.7 mph, and a biting slider while mixing in a changeup. Patino walked Cavan Biggio before retiring the next eight batters he faced, three by strikeout.
“I feel good and I feel very happy with how I performed out there today,” Patino said via Rays translator Manny Navarro. “It felt great also to know my parents were in the stands. I felt very comfortable and I’m glad the results came out the way they did.
“It feels really good knowing they’re out there supporting me and I’m happy for them as well, for all the sacrifices they’ve made to be able to give me a chance not only to achieve a dream and an opportunity to be out here and live the dream I’ve been wanting to live.”
Head, who spent eight years in the minors and had all but thought his career was over, hadn’t pitched in a game since 2019. But he worked a perfect eighth inning.
“I was facing the heart of their lineup, so what I was thinking was making good pitches and just executing and not trying to worry about the situation or it being my debut,” said Head, whose wife was in the stands. “Just going out there and trying to do what I needed to do.
“I didn’t think about that when I got out on the mound and into the game. But when I got back to the dugout, yeah, I reflected a little bit on that sitting there in silence. ... Everybody came up to me and said ‘good job.’ It felt good.”
In between, Josh Fleming allowed only one run on four hits in 4 1/3 innings, but it was enough to doom the Rays.
Jays starter Hyun Jin Ryu left the game in the fourth inning with a glute strain. But he and five relievers combined for a five-hit shutout. In fact, the Rays never had a runner advance past second base all day. Six Blue Jays pitchers combined for a five-hit shutout.
“They were outstanding,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Fleming has been outstanding since he’s been here and it was very encouraging to see Luis, the type of fastball that he has, the shape of the breaking ball. A lot to like about the pitching.
“Louis had some, too, that was a pretty big moment for him. That was awesome. And then Hunter (Strickland). Our pitching did everything possible to keep us right there with one run, we just came up a little short on the offense.”
It was the second straight home series loss for the Rays, who are now 4-6 at the Trop this season. It also marked the first time the Rays have been shut out this season. Next up are the A’s, who had won 13 straight games before Sunday’s loss to the Orioles.
“Today, they were really tough,” Cash said of the Blue Jays pitchers. “I’d like to think that our hitters are confident, and our hitters had an off day as well as it just being tough. We just couldn’t get anything going. We didn’t hit enough balls hard. We’ll bounce back.”
The Jays took a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning. Marcus Semien singled and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. reached on a bunt single.
The Rays got their first two batters on to start the fifth after singles by Francisco Mejia and Kevin Kiermaier, but they stranded them.
• • •
Sign up for the Rays Report weekly newsletter to get fresh perspectives on the Tampa Bay Rays and the rest of the majors from sports columnist John Romano.