ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays needed to come from behind in each of their previous five games, but no comeback was necessary on Tuesday, as Tampa Bay jumped out to an early lead en route to a 5-2 series-clinching win over the Royals at Tropicana Field.
Joey Wendle got the Rays on the board with an RBI single in the first inning and Tampa Bay followed with three more runs in the second to take a 4-0 lead. Brandon Lowe continued his early season success with an RBI single, while Mike Zunino extended his hitting streak to eight games and hit his second home run in as many nights with a 425-foot jack in the sixth inning. Zunino is hitting .429 (12-for-28) during his streak.
“Just trying to get good pitches to hit,” Zunino said. “Just trusting what I’m doing, trying to hunt good pitches and put good swings on them. I’m not trying to do too much. Just sort of letting the swing take over. Hopefully I can ride this out for a while.”
The five runs were enough for Jalen Beeks, who relieved opener Ryne Stanek and didn’t allow a run in 4 2/3 innings while recording a season-high seven strikeouts. Beeks’ performance helped the Rays avoid calling on some of their key bullpen arms like Diego Castillo and Jose Alvarado, who have been used a lot in close-game situations over the last few weeks.
“We needed some length today and we got it from [Beeks],” manager Kevin Cash said. “Really strong performance.”
Beeks came into the game in the second inning after Stanek gave up a one-out triple to Ryan O’Hearn. Beeks proceeded to walk Lucas Duda, but he settled in by striking out Chris Owings and Martin Maldonado to end the threat.
“I knew coming in that they needed quite a few more outs than I have been throwing this year,” Beeks said. “I was just trying to do my best lengthening out and see how far I can go, and help the bullpen because we’ve been taxed a little bit. Just trying to do my job for the team.”
The left-hander threw 75 pitches, including 49 strikes. He had 11 swinging strikes, six of them coming on his changeup, which is a season high with the pitch.
“The changeup was good,” Cash said. “He got some early curveballs going, but the changeup is a pitch that has really come on strong even from Spring Training. I think he has the confidence to kind of throw that pitch whenever in any count. He showed it and keeps getting good results with it.”
With Tuesday’s outing, Beeks is now 1-0 with a 3.32 ERA and 20 strikeouts over 19 innings.
“He was on today,” Zunino said. “It’s one of those things that when he’s on, he’s a tough at-bat. Just another guy that, you know, doesn’t get the attention that most people get, but has great stuff.”
The Rays have now won seven of eight series and will go for their second sweep on Wednesday. But most importantly, it appears as if the bullpen is getting closer to being at full strength.
“Really, really appreciate the effort that the guys have given the last two nights,” Cash said. “For us to be able to stay away from Jose and Diego is huge. I think it shows our depth and we kind of pride ourselves of being as deep as possible, and to win ballgames without those two is really nice.”