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Rays post another big win over O’s, may have found a starter

Drew Rasmussen has a strong outing, while Nelson Cruz and Mike Zunino hit big homers as a record-low crowd watches.
Rays reliever Drew Rasmussen may be pitching himself into a regular spot in the rotation.
Rays reliever Drew Rasmussen may be pitching himself into a regular spot in the rotation. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | AP ]
Published Aug. 18, 2021|Updated Aug. 18, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG — Maybe the Rays added another starting pitcher after all.

Reliever Drew Rasmussen made a second straight impressive start, and a good pitch to stay in the rotation, in Tuesday’s 10-0 win over the Orioles.

Home runs by Mike Zunino and Nelson Cruz were the headline news. Zunino went deep for the fifth straight game and a personal-best 26th time this season. Cruz had two, Nos. 442 and 443 of his career to move past Dave Kingman for 42nd place all-time. Plus red-hot Randy Arozarena had four hits.

An announced crowd of just 4,795 set a new low from Monday’s gathering of 5,460 as the smallest ever for a Rays game at Tropicana Field without COVID-related restrictions on capacity.

But the bigger development for the Rays was the work of Rasmussen, who could turn out to be the boost to the rotation that they didn’t make — among limited options and high prices — at the trade deadline.

Manager Kevin Cash saw a lot to like.

“How can you not?” Cash said. “He’s just filling up the zone with strikes. He’s got a lot of power. The power is sustaining throughout the outings. It looks very similar to the same pitcher from Pitch One to Pitch 50-whatever-it-is.

“So we’ll continue to explore this and just see where it takes us. As long as his bounce-back is good and he’s feeling good, kind of why wouldn’t we? He’s just got a lot of power, and he’s got a pretty good three-pitch, four-pitch mix.”

Rasmussen, who was a starter in college and in 2019 during his first pro season with the Brewers, was pleased with his outing. He retired 12 of 14, admittedly nit-picking that he could have had more than three strikeouts and regretting his one walk, which he attributed to fatigue coming with two outs in the fourth.

“I’m really happy with how everything went,” he said.

His sample size so far has been limited, as the Rays held him to four innings in his first two “official” starts, having served twice previously as an opener. And he threw 56 pitches Tuesday after 50 in Boston on Thursday. How he handles the recovery between starts also will be a factor, and Cash said they plan to give him extra rest before his next outing.

Rasmussen said starting is “a natural fit” but he is fine with working out of the bullpen. “I’m happy in either role,” he said. “Wherever the team and the staff and the front office sees me being the most valuable and the most helpful.”

Between his two strong starts, and what Cash said was “a very good” rehab outing by Chris Archer on Tuesday at Triple-A Durham, the Rays may have some reinforcements, and options for the struggling Michael Wacha and inconsistent Josh Fleming. Plus, they are getting Ryan Yarbrough back from the COVID-19 injured list.

“We’ve got a lot of stuff we’re going to learn probably in the next two weeks, with Arch coming back, with Yarbs coming back,” Cash said. “We could learn a lot of things and then go from there.”

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One thing they already know is how to beat the Orioles, doing so for the 13th time in 14 games this season. They improved their American League-best record to 73-47 and expanded their East division lead to a season high-matching five games, with the Yankees now a percentage point ahead of the Red Sox for second place.

In doing so the Rays posted their ninth shutout and their league-leading 63rd game allowing three runs or fewer. Better still, they may have found another starter.

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