Rays pitchers have challenges galore with the Toronto Blue Jays’ deep and talented lineup. It’s difficult to stand out in that hit factory.
But Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — the potential American League Most Valuable Player and an aspiring Triple Crown winner — is worthy of special notice.
“(Guerrero) and (Shohei) Ohtani, what they’re doing is pretty remarkable,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “I was around him at the All-Star Game in Denver. Good guy.”
Great player, too.
Guerrero slammed his 45th homer off Rays left-hander Adam Conley in the sixth inning, putting him one behind Joe DiMaggio for the most homers by an AL player 22 years or younger (DiMaggio had 46 homers in 1937). He also surpassed the best single-season total of his Hall of Fame father (Vlad Sr. had 44 homers in 2000). Guerrero is batting .318 with 103 RBIs.
“He’s very impressive,” Rays designated hitter Nelson Cruz said. “His dad was one of the greatest hitters baseball has ever seen.”
Cruz was the Vlad Sr.’s teammate with the Texas Rangers. He remembers young Vlad roaming around the field and in the clubhouse.
“That’s another example of how long I’ve played,” said the 41-year-old Cruz. “His father was my idol. He was a better person than a baseball player. It looks like his son is more aware of the strike zone. He’s going to be a great one. He is a great one.”
The Rays got a brief bright spot with the return of reliever Nick Anderson, who pitched a scoreless seventh inning. Anderson, who has been on the injured list since spring training, was aided by a leaping at-the-wall catch by Kevin Kiermaier, who might have robbed Lourdes Gurriel Jr. of a home run.
“It was the least exciting home-run robbery I’ll ever make,” said Kiermaier, who made the play with an 8-0 deficit. “It was great to see (Anderson) back on the mound. We need him. He has been so great for us.”
In the 2020 regular season, Anderson was 2-1 with an 0.55 ERA in 19 games.
“He looked the part,” Cash said. “He has worked hard to get to this point. Let’s see how the stuff continues to progress.”
Rasmussen is next
Tuesday night, the Rays will start right-hander Drew Rasmussen, who has been great of late (1.63 ERA in his previous five starts). He’s also coming off his first victory as a starter with five innings of work last Tuesday at the Red Sox.
“My first big-boy win,” Rasmussen said. “To actually go five innings and pick up the win is awesome.”
Rasmussen said he’s aware of the challenge presented by the Blue Jays’ lineup.
“It’s a lineup that makes you work,” Rasmussen said. “You’re trying to get early outs, get two strikes on the batter. I’ve been fortunate to get guys to put the ball in play and hit it right at guys, while keeping my pitch count down. That’s 100 percent what we preach here. Throw strike one, then throw strike two. Trying to nibble along the edges isn’t what we do.”
Austin Meadows spoiled Toronto’s shutout on his 25th homer with two outs in the ninth inning. It was his 99th RBI. … Cash said there were good reports on shortstop Wander Franco, who is on the 10-day injured list with right hamstring tightness. “He had a very good day and we are encouraged by that,” Cash said. Cash said he hopes to see Franco “back doing some kind of activity on the field” when the Rays return home later this week. … Brandon Lowe wasn’t in the starting lineup for the second straight game because Cash said “his legs are a little beat up right now.” Lowe was available off the bench and should return Tuesday night. … Despite extra-tight COVID-19 protocols, Cash said the trip to Toronto was uneventful. He praised the efficiency of Canadian customs officials at the Toronto airport.
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