Numbers simply ridiculous for Rasmussen, Rays

Righty's 6 scoreless IP give Tampa Bay starters a 0.39 ERA through club's first 4-0 start

April 4th, 2023

WASHINGTON -- Even without injured ace Tyler Glasnow, the Rays’ rotation has lived up to the Spring Training hype and led Tampa Bay to the best four-game start in franchise history.

After outstanding starts by Shane McClanahan, Zach Eflin and Jeffrey Springs, right-hander  was remarkably efficient over six scoreless innings in the Rays’ 6-2 win over the Nationals on Monday night. The victory at Nationals Park improved Tampa Bay to 4-0 for the first time in the club’s 26 years.

The Rays had been 3-0 in 2002, ‘12 and last year, but they lost the fourth game of each season.

“If you can do something positive for the first time in franchise history, that's always a good thing,” Rasmussen said. “We're swinging it well, we're defending it well and we're pitching it well. I think when we can control those things, we're going to be a tough team to beat.”

Granted, it has been only four games against rebuilding Detroit and Washington. But the Rays have done just about everything well.

They’ve outscored their opponents by 22 runs (27-5), and the five runs they’ve allowed marks the fewest through four games by any team since the 2019 Padres. They’re getting contributions from everywhere, with the latest highlight being Monday’s two-homer performance by , who had to compete in Spring Training for a spot on the Opening Day roster. But it all starts with their pitching.

The Rays’ starters have allowed just one run in 23 innings, good for a 0.39 ERA, to go along with 30 strikeouts and only three walks. They’ve permitted nine hits, and only two of them (both doubles) have gone for extra bases. Tampa Bay is the third team (along with the 1991 White Sox and the ‘78 Angels) since earned runs became an official stat in 1913 to have a rotation with a sub-1.00 ERA and 30 strikeouts through the first four games of a season.

“They're kind of pushing each other right now. Every starter seems to want to do better than the previous one,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “At some point, they're not going to be able to do that, if they keep pitching like this.”

“I'm glad I'm a Ray,” Raley added, “and I don't have to face them.”

Nobody looked particularly comfortable facing Rasmussen. If it had been later in the year, he almost certainly would have returned for the seventh inning and beyond. But Tampa Bay is being careful with pitchers’ workloads, especially at the beginning of the season.

Rasmussen permitted only two singles while striking out seven in his season debut. He breezed through his outing on 66 pitches, throwing only 16 balls to the 20 batters he faced. Rasmussen never reached a three-ball count and ran up only five two-ball counts.

“I know the message to all the pitchers is just fill up the strike zone,” Cash said. “Ras probably does that as good as anybody.”

That all sounds plenty good for someone who relies on command and control, but Rasmussen blends his relentless strike-throwing with an expanded arsenal of power stuff. He threw five types of pitches Monday night, the slowest curveball clocking in at 78.3 mph and his hottest fastball buzzing in at 97.7 mph. Cash noted Rasmussen’s heater was “his best fastball that we've seen him throw,” with improved velocity and movement.

Rasmussen has further refined his arsenal over the past year by reintroducing a sinking two-seam fastball and splitting his slider into two pitches: a tight-spinning pitch classified as a cutter and a big-breaking sweeper. It was all on display in his season debut.

“I thought I did a pretty good job of throwing everything over the plate and then, with two strikes, expanding with it,” said Rasmussen, who credited the Rays’ staff for helping him develop his pitch mix. “They've never asked me to do anything they didn't think I was capable of accomplishing. I thought today was a pretty good indicator of what could happen for the remainder of this year.”

The Rays were also comfortable handing the ball to their bullpen with a four-run lead, with Raley responsible for two of those runs. After Randy Arozarena hustled for a two-out infield single in the first inning, Raley crushed a Statcast-projected 429-foot shot to center field off Nationals starter Trevor Williams. He tacked on a solo shot to left in the eighth inning to record his first multihomer game in the Majors -- if nothing else, a nice birthday present for his mother, Beth, who was in the stands to witness it.

“It's special. Usually when my parents are here, I'm terrible,” Raley said, smiling. “So I'm glad I was able to do something different.”