ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays called up pitcher Shane Baz so they could take a look at him over the final two weeks of the season and see if he might be able to help them during the playoffs.
How about starting a game in the American League Division Series?
The rookie right-hander made a second straight impressive start in the Rays’ 3-2 win over the Marlins on Sunday, furthering his bid for a spot on the postseason roster and in the rotation. He worked 5-2/3 shutout innings while striking out nine.
“We’re just thrilled with the way he has looked in his two starts for us,” manager Kevin Cash said. “I don’t know how much more he can do. … So just very, very impressed again.
“He backed it up. We were curious to see if was going to do that. We know he’s capable of it. But (even) if you’re able to do it, this is tough to do. And he did.”
Whether Baz did enough to be trusted with a start in the best-of-five division series that will open Oct. 7 at Tropicana Field is among many decisions Rays officials have to make.
After celebrating clinching the American League East title on Saturday night, they have more to play for. After Monday’s off day, the team heads to Houston and New York for the final six games of the regular season.
With Sunday’s win, the Rays improved to 97-59, tying the team single-season mark for victories set in 2008, and have a chance to reach triple digits. They also can secure the AL’s best record and homefield advantage through at least the first two rounds of the playoffs. They are 5½ games ahead of the Astros, who played later Sunday.
Cash said the Rays will take a “pretty creative” approach over the final week, balancing wanting “to win as much as possible” with making sure they are rested and ready for the postseason.
That includes getting some players off their feet, making sure those dealing with physical issues are healthy and looking at others in new or different roles. Rookie right-hander Luis Patino, who has been a starter, is likely to be used the final week as a multi-inning reliever, for example.
The Rays also will be cautious in not allowing the Yankees and Astros, who they could face in the first two rounds of the playoffs, get long looks at pitchers, especially ones they haven’t seen much.
“There will be a lot of discussion game to game,” Cash said.
The Rays also hope to continue the momentum they built in winning four straight, capped by Sunday’s solid showing. They took an early lead, thanks mostly to Wander Franco and Nelson Cruz, then hung on. Baz and three relievers did the rest, with Nick Anderson becoming the record-extending 14th Ray with a save.
Franco, in his second game since a two-week injured-list stint for a right hamstring strain, looked back to 100 percent as he doubled in the first, extending his on-base streak to 41 games. He also went all out racing to third on a triple in the fifth.
“You’re kind of cringing there as he’s coming up on second base, but he feels good,” Cash said. “It’s nice to be young.”
Baz, who moved from Double-A to Triple-A and, after a stint with the U.S. Olympic team, to the majors this season, did a lot right. He retired the first nine, allowed only three hits and didn’t issue his first walk until his final batter in the sixth. He threw 52 of his 82 pitches for strikes, was clocked as high as 98.9 mph and got 14 swings-and-misses.
Cash said he was most impressed that when Baz did fall behind in counts, which he didn’t do much in his Sept. 20 debut against Toronto, he battled his way back.
Baz can only hope it’s enough to get a chance in the playoffs. “I’m just trying to pitch as well as I can and leave it up to everybody else,” he said. “Trying to just not think about that at all.”
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