ST. PETERSBURG — Yandy Diaz smiled, but the Rays first baseman isn’t fond of being called a home run hitter. Right now, however, that is exactly what he is.
After missing four games with a groin injury, the slugger was back in the lineup Saturday and announced his return with a huge, three-run home run and three hits to lead the Rays to an 8-4 win over the Brewers in front of 19,954 at Tropicana Field.
“All I try to do is just make hard contact, and it seems like they’re just going out,” Diaz said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “And that’s all I’m trying to do is just hit the ball hard.”
Diaz crushed his team-leading 11th home run off Brewers’ lefty Eric Lauer in the second inning. It went 421 feet to centerfield as the Rays improved to 21-3 at Tropicana Field. The Rays (34-13) join the 1978 Red Sox as the only teams in the modern era (since 1900) to win 21 of their first 24 games at home to begin a season.
The Rays have done it with power, leading the majors with 90 home runs after Diaz, Harold Ramirez and Christian Bethancourt all homered on Saturday. It was the MLB-leading 15th time this season they had at least three home runs in a game.
“We needed to keep adding. They pressured us,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Look, Milwaukee’s a very good team. They pressured us throughout the course of the game and certainly there at the end. (Bethancourt) had a homer and the big homer, Yandy, the three-run (homer) kind of opened it up. Nice to have him back in the lineup. He can do some pretty good things.”
Ramirez hit his seventh homer of the season in the first inning, his sixth of the year at Tropicana Field. Bethancourt hit his seventh in the fourth inning. Manuel Margot singled in a run in the fourth, and Isaac Paredes and Taylor Walls drew back-to-back, bases-loaded walks in the seventh.
Zach Eflin threw seven strong innings, holding the Brewers to three runs on four hits. He struck out eight and did not walk a batter for the fourth start this season.
“Look what a great role model for maybe our young pitchers to see that. He just refuses to give free passes. He’s going to execute a pitch and make them,” Cash said. “When he falls behind, he knows he’s got to get it back over the white and he trusts his stuff to do that. And that’s just another reason why he’s successful.”
But rookie Kevin Kelly, who had walked four batters in his first 17 appearances, came in and walked two of the three batters he faced in the ninth inning, and Cash had to bring in Jason Adam for the save.
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
The Rays offense, however, had given its pitchers the cushion to work.
“It’s incredible. They’re doing it pretty much every single night, which has been awesome,” Eflin said. “I think I said it last time out, but it’s so much fun pitching with a lead, and it frees us up so much. It’s very important.”
Diaz has been a huge part of that, and the Rays know they need to keep him in the lineup.
The 31-year-old native of Cuba was pinch run for after his second single as a precaution, Cash said. The Rays did not want to risk having him have to try to score from first on a double and let him rest after his first day back. He is expected to play Sunday.
“I think the pain might linger, but my job is to keep on playing and do what I can for the team,” Diaz said.
And what he has done for the Rays has been impressive. He showed his versatility as a hitter Saturday. When he gets a hanging curveball, like he did in the second inning, he can crush it for a home run. When he doesn’t get a pitch to do damage on, he finds a way to make contact.
“His last at-bat, to just shoot that ball the other way, it’s pretty, pretty remarkable what he has done,” Cash said. “I know he’s worked hard and he really just trusts himself. To have that confidence to be able to take some chances for the home run and also when he needs to see the ball maybe a little bit deeper and pick up the hit, he can do that as well.”
• • •
Sign up for the Sports Today newsletter to get daily updates on the Bucs, Rays, Lightning and college football across Florida.