BALTIMORE -- Rays manager Kevin Cash said before Friday’s series opener against the Orioles that, despite losing 15 of 26 heading into the All-Star break, he was pleased with how the first half of the season turned out.
“You would think 11 other teams would trade records with us right now,” Cash said of his club, which was 52-39 at the break and owner of the top American League Wild Card spot.
But if there’s anything he’s learned in his 13-plus years as a player and manager, it’s that “good teams find ways to get better.” And for his 2019 Rays, “We have to get better. … Let’s get the bats going, and get off to a hot start here in the second half.”
It took just one inning in Baltimore to begin working on that goal.
The Rays sent 11 batters to the plate and collected a season-high seven runs in the first inning of Friday’s 16-4 win on Friday at Oriole Park. Any worry that Tampa Bay would let its pre-break lag carry over was unfounded before three outs were recorded. By the final out, the Rays had set season highs in runs and hits (20).
“We talked about it before the game,” Cash said. “They came out and did it.”
“We could have scored more and everybody could have gotten more hits,” Nate Lowe, who was 4-for-5 with a homer, double and three RBIs, quipped of the team’s start out of the break. “But we’ll take this for sure.”
The scoring party was started by Tommy Pham’s 14th long ball of the year, this one traveling a Statcast-projected 360 feet the opposite way two batters into the game. Five more Rays earned an RBI that first inning before Pham lined out in his second at-bat to end the frame.
By the time Avisaíl García singled to follow a two-run Lowe blast in the ensuing inning, each Ray had a hit before six outs were recorded. It was the first time in club history Tampa Bay had accomplished that feat, and the Rays became the first team since the 2018 Nationals did so since on July 31, according to Elias.
Tampa Bay, obviously, can’t rely on record-setting, 16-run nights for the 70 remaining games as it looks to hunt down the first-place Yankees. But Friday’s output still helps mark some of the improvements that have been coming from batters up and down the lineup, with Lowe chief among those.
Dating back to before the break, Lowe has homered in three of his last four games. Each of his five at-bats on Friday resulted in batted balls with an exit velocity over 95 mph, and two over 110 mph. And each of his singles could have been doubles -- or possibly homers -- had it not been for the tall right-field scoreboard at Oriole Park.
“He’s got that natural left-handed swing,” Cash said. “He’s a strong guy, so when he gets the barrel to it, it goes.”
The Lowe-led offense -- without Austin Meadows, who was removed in the third inning to recover from the lingering effects of food poisoning -- did not let up in backing Yonny Chirinos’ solid start. While the righty was limiting the Orioles to two runs and four hits across seven innings, the Rays added a tack-on run in the fourth, sixth and, most emphatically, five in the seventh.
In every respect, it was a positive night for kicking off the playoff push.
“Just a really good way to start the second half,” Cash said.
Gibaut makes Majors debut
It took a wait of six days after being called up, but Rays' No. 24 prospect Ian Gibaut made his Major League debut Friday, earning the nod for the eighth and ninth innings of the blowout win.
Results were mixed for the 24-year-old, who followed up a clean 1-2-3 eighth by running into trouble in the ninth. All told, Gibaut collected two strikeouts while giving up two runs and walking two.
“Really good first inning, and in the second inning he probably had enough time to sit there and think about it,” Cash joked of Gibaut, whose season began with months-long lat injury. “But there’s something to be said. He fought through his command a little bit and made some big pitches where we didn’t have to get another guy up. Velo was good, encouraged by that. He’s worked really hard to get to this point after the Spring Training injury that he had. Happy for him.”