'Pen picks up slack as Rays tie for first

Bullpen day goes as well as could have been hoped while Choi, Meadows spark offense

July 25th, 2021

The Rays had a bullpen game on Saturday night at Progressive Field, and the relievers were nearly lights out as Tampa Bay won, 8-2.

The Rays moved into a first-place tie with the Red Sox, who lost to the Yankees, 4-3, at Fenway Park earlier in the day.

• Box score

“We have a lot of baseball left. … The other club [the Red Sox] is winning at a pretty good rate. We want to do the same thing,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.

Left-hander Rich Hill was scheduled to start for Tampa Bay before he was traded to the Mets on Friday. So Cash decided to go with his bullpen, and what a job it did.

, , , and allowed a combined two runs on five hits and struck out 10. Rasmussen was lethal in his three innings, striking out three and showing a fastball that was clocked as high as 98 mph. His only blemish was a solo home run by Bobby Bradley in the second inning.

The way he was pitching, Rasmussen might have been able to go more than three innings.

“Like we do with all our pitchers, we are not going to put extended work on guys in any scenario,” Cash said. “He was so efficient, we got a full three innings. He was really good. He threw a couple of changeups in there. His fastball, slider were really impressive.”

Head picked up his first big league victory, allowing an unearned run in two-plus innings.

“He is a guy who has pitched well with limited looks and really picked us up in a big way today,” Cash said.

Head, 31, has been professional baseball since 2012, but he didn’t get the call to the big leagues until his birthday on April 23 of this year. Saturday, he got his first career win against the team that drafted him in ‘12. Head was in Cleveland’s organization for seven years but never received the call to the big club.

“Getting my first win against the team I played seven years for, that was amazing, too. It feels like a dream come true,” Head said.

The Rays took a 1-0 lead against right-hander J.C. Mejia in the first inning on a home run by . The dinger was Choi’s third in his last eight games.

Two innings later, hit a solo homer and a two-run shot to give Tampa Bay a 4-1 lead.

Choi added another RBI to the ledger in the seventh when he doubled to left field off Phil Manton, scoring Phillips.

The Rays added three runs in the ninth off Trevor Stephen. Choi was the man in the middle again with an RBI single before Meadows hit his second two-run shot of the game.

Choi had four hits and raised his batting average to .270. It may have helped that he decided to change bats before he homered in Friday’s 10-5 victory. 

“[Before the hot streak,] I felt like I had a lot of good at-bats, putting the barrel on the ball. But most of them were outs,” Choi said. “I changed the bat before the ninth inning [on Friday]. I guess switching the bat made it work.”

Cash was pleased with how pitching and offense won Saturday’s game. 

“It was good that the offense came through. It picked the pitching up early on, and the pitching picked the whole club up after the lead,” Cash said.