ST. PETERSBURG — The perfectionist in Zach Eflin wanted to toss a few more strikes and locate his cutter a bit better in his second formal spring outing Tuesday.
But the Rays certainly will settle for the pristine — if not perfect — effort he delivered in a 7-4 win against the Twins.
Slated to work 45 pitches or four innings (whichever came first), the 6-foot-6 right-hander worked efficiently within that window, allowing two runs on as many hits (including a two-run home run) in a four-inning, 47-pitch outing.
“He looked really good,” manager Kevin Cash said. “You can tell, just a lot of late life, a lot of soft contact. Credit that to just having that stuff that’s right around the plate, not always right in the zone, but he just gets extra movement with that criss-cross cutter and sinker combination.”
The only hiccup: designated hitter Chance Sisco’s two-run home run in the second (that hit the rightfield foul pole) off a cutter that Eflin left a bit too much over the plate. He followed by retiring the final seven batters he faced, striking out three.
“I threw a few too many balls in my mind, but it felt good,” said Eflin, who threw 29 of his 47 pitches for strikes.
“I had some swing-and-misses, tried to mix in some offspeed when I was behind in the count, so everything felt pretty good. There’s some stuff I can still sharpen up, but I thought it was a good day at work, and it’s good to get to those four innings and get the arm going again.”
Positive parting message
A day after sending seven highly regarded prospects back to minor-league camp in the first round of cuts, Cash praised essentially the whole nucleus for its performance — and professionalism — during the initial weeks of spring training.
Cash’s message to the group: ‘You’re good players, we like you a lot,’” he said. “Certainly there are things that they can go and work on. Each of them showed some good things here.”
Cash was especially complimentary of 21-year-old right-hander Taj Bradley, the franchise’s No. 3 prospect (according to Baseball America) who threw 3.1 shutout innings in as many spring appearances.
“He just seemed very level-headed, very poised,” Cash said. “It was impressive how he responded. One outing (Friday against the Braves) he fell behind, the pitch count got up, but he was very composed throughout the outing. He had the seven-pitch outing, his first one, against Boston (on Feb. 26) and took everything in stride. There’s a reason to be excited for him and all of those guys.”
Other departures Monday included infielders Osleivis Basabe (9-for-19, home run, two walks) and Curtis Mead (.227, two homers in 22 at-bats), and 2019 first-round pick Greg Jones (3-for-18, 11 strikeouts), a natural shortstop who worked centerfield during his spring stint.
“Jonesy, I applaud him for taking on the challenge of going to centerfield — super athletic,” Cash said.
“Basabe, I mean, impressive how he swung the bat. Curtis Mead kind of came in as advertised, maybe a little bit better offensively. It’ll be exciting to see how they get their starts off in the minor leagues this year.”
Gray’s bat still scorching
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Though perceived as an odd man out when the Rays roster ultimately is reduced to 26, utility infielder Tristan Gray continues giving the club reasons to keep him around.
Gray, who turns 27 next week, continued his sparkling spring Tuesday, going 2-for-4 with a three-run home run and RBI double in Tampa Bay’s triumph. In 10 games, he’s batting .464 (13-for-28) with a pair of home runs and team-high four doubles.
“You know what, he’s a good player,” Cash said. “I think we all really enjoy having him around. The way he carries himself, the way he works, the contributions he’s made just year after year, want to see him get opportunities for sure.”
Right-handed reliever Calvin Faucher, previously sidelined by an oblique strain, struck out all three batters he faced in his 13-pitch spring debut Tuesday. “He’s filthy,” Cash said. “We need to bottle that up and see if we can hold it right there.” ... Right-hander Jaime Schultz exited after only three pitches Tuesday. “He grabbed his abductor five or six days ago, felt like it was treated and done, and then he felt it on that last pitch,” Cash said. ... Twins fans with a keen eye might have noticed first baseman Tyler White wearing Triple-A manager Toby Gardenhire’s jersey. According to the club, White’s jersey mistakenly was left behind in Fort Myers and Gardenhire — son of former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire — loaned White his jersey. ... Announced attendance for Tuesday’s game at Tropicana Field was 3,405.
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