ST. PETERSBURG -- In his first three months with the Rays, Luis Patiño was up and down. He started three games and pitched after Shane McClanahan twice before being sent to Triple-A Durham to get into a starter’s routine. He joined the team for a spot start in Buffalo, N.Y., on July 2, then went back down to the Minors the next day.
But the Rays’ decision to call up Patiño to start in Cleveland on July 22 came with a commitment. They wanted to give him a lane to be a part of their rotation, and they proved it the next day by trading veteran Rich Hill to the Mets, clearing a spot for the 21-year-old right-hander. The more Patiño pitched at this level, they figured, the more comfortable he’d get -- and the more his undeniable talent would shine through.
Patiño continued to justify Tampa Bay’s belief in him on Monday night, holding Boston to only one run while striking out five over 5 2/3 innings in the Rays’ 6-1 win at Tropicana Field.
Nine days after holding the first-place White Sox to two runs in six innings, Patiño shut down the contending Red Sox to earn a win in consecutive starts for the first time in his young career.
“I think the main key is just the confidence -- the confidence I have in myself, the confidence that the organization has given me, the confidence that the team has in me,” Patiño said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “I think that's what has helped me grow and continue with the process of being part of this rotation. And that confidence, I think, has been the key part of the success we've had.”
The Rays have won eight straight games and 12 of their last 13, and Monday’s series-opening victory improved the club to a franchise-record 35 games over .500 on the year at 83-48. That surpassed their previous high-water mark of 34 games over .500, set when they were 96-62 on Sept. 24, 2008.
When the Rays lost ace Tyler Glasnow to Tommy John surgery and didn’t add a proven starting pitcher at the Trade Deadline, they inspired some questions about how their rotation would hold up down the stretch and, more importantly, in October. But they were betting on the talent and continued development of young arms like McClanahan and Patiño.
McClanahan went 5-0 with a 2.76 ERA in August, showing the kind of four-pitch mix and dependability you’d want out of a front-line starter. And Patiño has taken noticeable steps forward in his last two outings by trusting his stuff and throwing it for strikes, showing skill and poise beyond his age and experience.
“He's freaking 21,” said second baseman Brandon Lowe, who hit a leadoff homer (his 31st) in the first inning, scored on Austin Meadows’ RBI single in the third and drove in another run in the fourth to support Patiño’s performance. “It's insane to think about -- just like the composure, everything that he has working up there on the mound.
“It's electric stuff, but stuff doesn't ensure success. It's all the work and stuff that he puts in, and everything that he does when he's not starting gets him into that position. We love seeing it, and hopefully it continues.”
Patiño allowed five hits and one walk, his second straight start with only one free pass after a five-start stretch in which he walked 15. Boston’s only run against him came when Bobby Dalbec homered on a low fastball in the second inning, but that didn’t deter Patiño from pounding the zone or using his fastball.
“There's a commitment, I think, to challenge guys a little bit more and trust that he's got really good stuff,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He's got a special fastball. Go ahead and use it.”
He did. A lot.
Last time out, Patiño threw his fastball a career-high 74.7 percent of the time. He was nearly as reliant on his four-seamer against Boston, and he was just as effective. Of his 102 pitches, 73 were fastballs. But as was the case in his last start, he hardly needed more than one pitch to get the job done.
“When we acquired him, we knew that we liked his fastball. He likes his fastball,” Cash said. “It just really jumps. And when he's commanding it like he has the last couple outings, it plays that much more. He is throwing it right where he wants more times than not.”
Perhaps it was a product of the four extra days’ rest between starts, which Patiño said had him feeling “like my arm was throwing 200 mph out there,” but Cash said it may have been the best the righty’s fastball has been all season. The numbers backed that up.
Patiño forced the Red Sox to swing and miss 19 times, tying the career-high mark he set on July 29 against the Yankees, and 17 of those swinging strikes came against his fastball -- tied for the fourth-most whiffs against any pitcher’s four-seamer this season, and tied for the second-most by a Rays pitcher since pitch-tracking data became available in 2008.
“I think that's, right now, my best pitch,” Patiño said. “I'm using it with a lot of confidence, and I think with each start, I'm maturing a little bit more, learning a little bit more each time with it.”