ST. PETERSBURG — “Frustrated” was the properly polite word Drew Rasmussen used Wednesday to describe how he felt after his previous start for the Rays. He was uncharacteristically inefficient, lasting only three innings April 20 in chilly Chicago, because he threw 79 pitches.
“There’s many more colorful words you could use,” Rasmussen said. “But after (Wednesday night), we don’t need to say them.”
That’s because Rasmussen went out and did something about it, delivering a masterful performance to lead the Rays to a 3-2 win over the troublesome Mariners.
Harold Ramirez got the Rays (10-8) a first-inning lead, Kevin Kiermaier again flexed his muscles with a two-run homer, and the defense returned to its usual tidy form with a quartet of memorable plays.
But Rasmussen’s outing was the key.
He worked six strong shutout innings, allowing just two hits and striking out nine while getting 19 swings-and-misses. He retired his last 10 batters — and threw only 84 pitches.
“Nasty,” Kiermaier said. “He had every pitch working for him. They had a few balls they made good contact on, but all the strikeouts and early outs, that’s when he’s at his best. He’s got stuff where guys can get their selves out early, and he’s got stuff to put you away with the strikeouts. ...
“That’s the Drew Rasmussen we know and love. Hopefully, he can build off this start and emulate that every fifth day.”
The innings pitched, strikeouts and swings-and-misses were all career highs for Rasmussen, a 26-year-old Washington state native. He was most pleased with his improved efficiency.
“The ability to get ahead and then put guys away relatively quickly was something I’ll never complain about,” he said.
Rasmussen’s mix of pitches allowed him to do that. He used the tightened-up version of his old slider — now, in his words, “the cuttery slider” — to get ahead early and create weak contact, then the more sweeping slider he added this spring to get hitters to expand the zone.
Combine that with a fastball that hit 98 mph and an occasional curve, and Seattle hitters faced quite a challenge, as the mix of pitches — which Rasmussen has been working on with pitching coach Kyle Snyder — creates an assortment of looks.
“He was really good with the (hard) cutter and the sliders,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We chased some pitches out of the zone, which has been uncharacteristic of us early in the season, but (you’ve) really got to give credit to Rasmussen. He threw the ball really well.”
Manager Kevin Cash said the Rays’ staff wasn’t concerned about Rasmussen’s last start due to the inclement weather, but they knew that Rasmussen was.
“I think he was frustrated a little bit with the Chicago outing,” Cash said. “We weren’t that frustrated, just given the circumstances and everything, but he ... was itching to find a way to get deeper in ballgames. And he certainly did (Wednesday).”
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Kiermaier’s two-run homer in the fourth helped make sure of it, especially as the Mariners — who had beaten the Rays in nine of their previous 11 games — added two late runs.
After a rough start, Kiermaier has hit in four straight games with two homers — half his total from last season — and reached base in seven of his last eight games. He also made a leaping catch at the right-centerfield wall, adding to standout plays earlier by Yandy Diaz at first, Wander Franco at short and Taylor Walls at third.
“Ever since we got home (from Chicago), made a few adjustments and starting to feel more athletic up there and swinging with a little bit more authority,” Kiermaier said. “Searching there for a while. Still am. Still would like to make a couple more adjustments. But we’re heading in the right direction. And that’s all you can ask for.”
On this night, they got a lot of what they asked for.
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