DUNEDIN — There was a time when the Rays were the experts on no-hitters.
They were blanked twice seven weeks apart in 2010 (by Oakland’s Dallas Braden May 9 in a perfect game; by Arizona’s Edwin Jackson June 25), and three times within 140 games, including the July 23, 2009 perfect game by Chicago’s Mark Buehrle. Plus, Matt Garza threw Tampa Bay’s only no-no on July 26, 2010.
With six no-hitters in the first six weeks of this season and a league-wide decline in offense (present company for now excluded), the current group of Rays — like much of the rest of the majors — is trying to figure out what to make of it.
“From my standpoint, I think it’s kind of awesome,” Rays starter Tyler Glasnow said. “Obviously, that’s such a special thing for a pitcher to achieve. If I was a hitter, I’d be like, ‘What’s going on here?’ I think it’s a little — whether it’s the balls, whether it’s whatever, I’m not taking anything away from the pitchers obviously … But, yeah, it’s weird.”
Pitching has been improving industry-wide for the last several years, with teams having more pitchers throwing with high velocity and making better use of them. Coupled with hitters taking more of an all-or-strikeout approach by focusing on launch angle, the decrease in offense has been developing.
But six no-hitters already, one shy of the modern record for a full season? (Or tied if you count Madison Bumgarner’s seven-inning no-no?)
“I don’t have an answer for you other than baseball is fun; but baseball is hard, too,” outfielder Brett Phillips said.
The introduction of a new, supposedly deadened baseball this year seems to have added to the overall offensive decline, as many hitters cite examples of balls they expected to go out or drop in now being caught.
“Absolutely,” said Rays infielder Brandon Lowe. “Just some of the fly-ball stuff you see around the league. There’s a few balls that have been hit against us that I’ve kind of put my head down and then all of a sudden I look up and (Kevin Kiermaier) or (Phillips) or somebody is catching it on the wall.”
Another factor is the way hitters are now trying to quickly respond by flattening their swings.
“The ball at 35 degrees isn’t going quite like it was last year,” Lowe said. “Now, (catcher Mike) Zunino hit a ball like 480 feet at 22 (degrees). I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that, whether that’s a testament to him or what it is. I think a lot of it’s just understanding the game changed a little bit this year, and guys are trying to adjust to it.”
Pitcher Rich Hill said the new ball has “absolutely” had an impact, with an obvious “difference in the carry.”
He, too, sees hitters scrambling to adjust on the fly.
“Now you’re starting to see — obviously with the balls that aren’t as dense or as hard — the increase of what I think needs to be more of the art of hitting,” Hill said. “Guys being able to put bat to ball with more of a line drive consistency, on the ground through the holes. That’s just where we’re at right now until we figure it out.”
Also a help, Hill said, would be a way to standardize production of the ball: “A football is a football, a basketball is a basketball, a hockey puck’s a hockey puck. Why can’t a baseball be a baseball?”
Rays manager Kevin Cash said the arms show is due to more than the composition of the ball.
“I think we’ve got to give credit where credit’s due, and it’s just elite pitching, elite stuff,” he said. “And the way pitchers are attacking, I think they recognize what their strengths are, and they balance that with pitches that are really tough to hit. You’ve got guys that are throwing mid-90s fastballs at the top of the zone; those are really tough to handle. And then you’ve got wipeout breaking balls below (the zone).”
• After spending the first two months of the season at an open-air stadium in the Tampa Bay area, the Jays will pack up and move north to enjoy the summer and early fall playing near the Canadian border in Buffalo, N.Y. Hmm, interesting idea.
• Most pleasant surprise of the Rays’ season thus far? How about the production by Zunino, who went into the weekend with 10 homers, most of all big-league catchers, and 20 RBIs, third among catchers and fourth on the Rays?
• For those accusing the Rays of not promoting top prospect Wander Franco solely before mid-June because he could gain Super 2 eligibility for a fourth year of arbitration (if that’s still a thing in the new labor agreement), it’s fair to note it didn’t stop them from calling up pitcher Shane McClanahan.
As if playing four “road” games in Dunedin this weekend wasn’t weird enough, the Rays also have Friday off this week before hosting the Phillies Saturday and Sunday, part of an MLB-plan to maximize attendance for two-game interleague series. … Dominican Republic reps understandably wanted Franco on their team for the May 31-June 5 Olympic qualifying tournament in West Palm Beach. Franco and the Rays made a mutual decision for him to pass on the honor and keep playing at Triple-A. … Pitchers Joe Ryan (United States) and Trevor Brigden (Canada) are expected to participate. Only players not on 40-man rosters are eligible. … MLB.com’s latest mock draft has the Rays using the No. 28 pick on Florida right-hander Tommy Mace, the Tampa native and Sunlake High product. …Ex-Ray Blake Snell completed six innings for the Padres Tuesday, his first time getting that far in a game since before his July 2019 elbow surgery, with 34 games (regular- / postseason) in between. “People and fans will look at it as it’s a relief, but I pitched a lot of great games where I was getting pulled early,” he said. … Bally Sports Sun surely must be close to getting the bugs out of productions from its new Tampa studio, right? … The Ray on Jim Bowden’s list for The Athletic of six prospects who “are major-league-ready and should be promoted” immediately was Vidal Brujan, not Franco. … Congrats to ex-Ray Toby Hall, whose son, Tayden, a catcher (just like dad) at Steinbrenner High and a USF commit, was invited to the state FACA all-star game. … Bowden also raised an interesting question: How would the Rays respond if the centerfielder-seeking Yankees asked about Kiermaier? …. For those keeping track, Franco has started eight games for Durham at short, three each at third and second base.
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