CINCINNATI — The Rays needed a pick-me-up Tuesday, having lost three of their previous four and dealing with the news that one of their top starters, Jeffrey Springs, was likely headed for Tommy John surgery.
Prospect Taj Bradley stepped up in his second big-league start and delivered, as the Rays rolled to a 10-0 win over the Reds and ran their majors-best record to 15-3.
And he made a case that he could stick around to help them better navigate the latest hit to their rotation.
Bradley had plenty of help from his friends, as the Rays grabbed an early lead and hit four homers on the night, including two from Taylor Walls, one from each side of the plate.
But the 22-year-old’s sterling performance — working 5 1/3 innings, allowing three singles and a walk while striking out nine, throwing 55 of 84 pitches for strikes — was the most encouraging development.
“Just another outing where he’s pitching with a lot of confidence,” manager Kevin Cash said. “I thought (Tuesday) he might have had a little bit better stuff. The slider looked really good. Pretty evident by the amount of strikeouts that he racked up. And when he needed to rear back and get a fastball, he got it up to 98 mph. …
“Just overall strike-throwing, execution, good stuff. A great outing.”
Reds manager David Bell also took notice.
“Very impressive,” Bell said. “He was using his fastball up, mixed his pitches really effectively, threw strikes. He got ahead. Sometimes our hitters and their ability to go deeper into counts plays into it; he never gave us that opportunity. It was attack, attack, attack, ahead all night.”
Bradley said he felt a bit more comfortable than in his April 12 debut, and he clearly was confident. (Plus he had his dad, who came in from California, in the stands along with his mom, who also made the trip from her Georgia home for his debut at Tropicana Field, again keeping score.)
“I was more relaxed,” Bradley said. “I knew what I can do. And I just did it.”
His Rays mates were impressed by how he did it.
“Simply, there’s not really much you can say about him but that he’s probably one of the best prospects out there in all the league,” said Yandy Diaz, via team interpreter Manny Navarro.
“You can see that it looks like he doesn’t get nervous with the pressure or anything, and it feels like he’s been in the big leagues for about 20 years already.”
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For now, Bradley, who was sent down after his debut and recalled to replace Springs, is hoping just to stick around to keep pitching every six days or so. Though Cash was non-committal before the game, Bradley would seem to have earned a chance to stay.
The Rays are currently without three of their planned five starters. Zach Eflin (back tightness) is on track to return Sunday, Tyler Glasnow (oblique strain) is expected to make his season debut in mid- to late-May, and Springs, if he has the surgery as expected, likely will be sidelined until May or June 2024.
As in his debut, Bradley benefitted from the Rays handing him an early lead. In the April 12 game against Boston, they scored three in the first and had a 6-1 lead by the fourth.
Tuesday, they got four in the second and led 7-0 by the third. By the end of the night, they extended their majors-leading total of runs to 125 and homers to 41. And they won at Great American Ball Park for the first time since April 12, 2014. They didn’t come back until last July, getting swept in three brutal games, then lost Monday’s series opener.
Walls led the way, with a homer right-handed in the second inning off Reds lefty starter Nick Lodolo, then one left-handed in the sixth off righty Casey Legumina, for his first two-homer game in the majors. Walls also had a triple and a single.
“We were getting on him pretty good in the dugout — or the rest of the guys were — for him hitting two,” Cash said. “But good for Wallsy. He’s putting together a really good start to the season at the plate.”
Diaz launched a career-long, 440-foot homer to the second deck in leftfield, and Randy Arozarena also went deep.
“I think it’s been a little while since the offense had really been awake,” Diaz said. “It was good that we were able to connect on some of those hits, and we were able to get the win because of it.”
Bradley was pleased, too.
“I’m happy to get the call up again,” he said. “And happy to put the team with another win.”
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