'This is your year': Glasnow deals in opener

Opening Day starter looks every bit an ace; Meadows provides only offense Rays need

April 2nd, 2021

After the Rays arrived in Miami on Wednesday, veteran center fielder Kevin Kiermaier approached on the eve of his first Opening Day start with a simple message.

“This is your year,” Kiermaier told Glasnow. “This is your year to dominate from start to finish.”

In Thursday’s series opener against the Marlins, Glasnow certainly looked like a pitcher poised to meet those expectations. The big right-hander worked six dominant innings, efficiently cruising through Miami’s lineup with the legitimate third pitch he has lacked the past few years. Relievers Ryan Thompson, Pete Fairbanks and Diego Castillo carried them the rest of the way. And provided the only run they’d need in the eighth, launching a solo homer to right-center field as the defending American League champions claimed a 1-0 victory on Opening Day.

“I thought Tyler did a great job of kind of staying within himself, controlling how amped we know he can get,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Just looked the part. Looked like an Opening Day starter. Looked like an ace. Fortunate that we're going to get to see him pitch a lot more.”

Glasnow could not have pitched much better than he did at loanDepot park.

He was every bit the pitcher who can look “like a cheat code at times,” as Kiermaier put it Thursday afternoon. Or someone about to “reach the height of his potential,” as Meadows said after the game, especially with a third offering to keep hitters off balance.

Glasnow allowed just one hit, a first-inning single by Jesús Aguilar that third baseman Yandy Díaz couldn’t fire across the infield quickly enough. Glasnow struck out six without a walk. He filled up the strike zone, throwing 57 of his 76 pitches for strikes in an efficient outing.

And Glasnow leaned heavily on his slider, the new pitch he refined during Spring Training with the help of pitching coach Kyle Snyder. Glasnow threw the pitch 26 times, according to Statcast, and located it well. It was an effective complement, as the Rays have hoped, to the fastball that touched 101 mph and the out-pitch curveball he used only nine times in his season debut.

Think Glasnow was a two-pitch pitcher? Think again.

“There's just not a ton of pitchers in this game that feature his weapons,” Cash said. “There's some guys that are very, very talented, no denying that. But I think it's fair that Tyler is right in that mix. Now the search is for him and a lot of our other guys just to find that consistency.”

Glasnow was pleased with the fact that he didn’t put any more pressure on himself to perform just because it was Opening Day. Knowing he had the slider in his arsenal helped, he said. He fell behind leadoff man Corey Dickerson, for instance, then followed up a fastball for a strike with a slider that Dickerson swung on and missed. Two pitches later, Glasnow forced Dickerson to ground out on another slider.

“Going out there knowing I had a third pitch, it takes so much pressure off of me to execute,” he said. “It just made pitching a whole lot easier, so I'm glad I took what I worked on in spring into the season and it felt good.”

About the only thing Glasnow couldn’t do, much to his chagrin, was hit. The ultra-athletic pitcher spent Spring Training pestering Cash about getting at-bats in games, looking forward to hitting under National League rules on Opening Day. One night, he texted Cash asking if he could take some swings the next day, prompting his manager to respond: “Wrong number.”

But Glasnow’s back tightened up before the game, becoming an issue in the early innings when he tried to run or rotate his body, so he risked aggravating his back even further if he attempted to hit against Marlins starter Sandy Alcantara. He hoped that standing still as a statue in the batter’s box might get in Alcantara’s head, but each of his at-bats resulted in a five-pitch strikeout.

He obviously had no issues pitching, as his performance would indicate. Glasnow retired the final 16 hitters he faced, finishing with a lights-out sixth. He threw nine pitches, all strikes, in his final inning. His fastball topped out at 99.6 mph. He threw his slider on the corner of the zone. And he froze Magneuris Sierra with a curveball in the zone for his sixth and final strikeout.

"We know his stuff is like top-of-the-league type stuff,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “These guys got good pitching. Anybody they bring in for the most part’s got good weapons and gives you a little bit of a different look.”

But Alcantara was nearly as effective for six innings, holding the Rays’ lineup to two hits and two walks with seven strikeouts despite loading the bases in the first. But late in the game, hitting coach Chad Mottola told Meadows that he was going to win the game for the Rays.

Tampa Bay finally saw an opportunity after Alcantara exited, and sure enough, it was Meadows who took advantage of it in the eighth. Meadows turned on a 2-0 fastball from reliever Yimi García and sent it 419 feet out to right-center field. After having his season derailed last year by COVID-19 and an oblique injury, Meadows was due for a moment like that.

As healthy as the 2019 All-Star looked all spring, he might be due for plenty more, too.

“The main thing is just trying to get back to 2019 and trying to get back to where I was at in the box and feeling athletic again,” Meadows said. “We’ve been working through that here as of late and through Spring Training. So being able to get back on the same page and continue to work, to try to find ways to get better, it's been huge.”