ST. PETERSBURG — Turns out, there was a moment 22-year-old rookie right-hander Shane Baz was rattled during his Monday debut.
He had just gotten Toronto leadoff man George Springer to swing and miss at a slider for the game’s first out and was getting ready to face Marcus Semien when he heard his Rays mates hollering at him.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Baz said Tuesday. “I had the ball and I was like, ‘Everyone’s yelling at me for something.’ And then they were like, ‘Ball, ball.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, okay,’ so I threw it out. And I bounced it right on the chalk. So perfect.”
The Rays were looking out for Baz, making sure he had the ball from his first strikeout to go along with his first pitch moments earlier. He more than repaid them with a dazzling first outing, allowing just two solo home runs over five innings as the Rays won 6-4.
Manager Kevin Cash was still raving before Tuesday night’s game about how impressive Baz had been.
“Composure, just the overall composure on the mound,” Cash said. “You hear that he’s done all those things in Double-A and Triple-A. To see it at a higher level, the way he handled the little bit of adversity, it was pretty seamless. Like, move on, get to the next batter. The strike-throwing was just elite. What didn’t impress? All of it impressed, but just his composure handling a very good lineup.”
Even better, Cash said Baz will get another start.
With off days Thursday and Monday, the Rays are still discussing how to set up their rotation, but it’s possible Baz could face the Marlins Sunday or pitch Tuesday in his Houston hometown against the Astros.
Baz had his parents, sister and a dozen others cheering him on at Tropicana Field. He said he heard from a few hundred others via texts and other messages, including several current and former big-leaguers and most of his U.S. Olympic teammates. That included Scott Kazmir, the former Ray (and fellow Houston-area product, which was a fitting touch as Baz was the youngest starter to debut for the Rays since Kazmir was 20 in August 2004.
Also Tuesday, Cash said plans were set for rookie shortstop Wander Franco to play parts of games for Triple-A Durham on Wednesday and Thursday to test his previously strained right hamstring and rejoin the Rays on Friday.
Baz also explained his decision to wear No. 11, saying the choices he had from Rays clubhouse manager Tyler Wall were 0, 1, 11 and 14.
He said he immediately discounted the single digits and decided he liked 11 better than 14. Yes, he said, he did know that No. 14 had been by worn David Price, who made a similarly rapid rise through the minors to debut for the Rays late in their 2008 breakthrough season.
“He had a great run, took them to the World Series,” Baz said. “It could have been good luck. Maybe I’ll start a new one.”
• • •
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.