ST. PETERSBURG -- Yonny Chirinos didn’t know he was going to start Sunday’s game until around 9 p.m. on Saturday, but that didn’t stop him from delivering one of the highlight pitching performances of the early season in the Rays’ 3-1 series-clinching win over the Astros.
“[There was] a lot of pitching hype, and for good reason, surrounding this season, and he certainly held up his end of the bargain,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Maybe outperformed the bulk of them.”
The Rays' original plan was to start an opener in Sunday’s series finale, but due to the high usage of the bullpen, Cash opted to start Chirinos instead. Chirinos answered the call, allowing just one run on two hits over seven innings.
“I thought his stuff was great today,” Rays catcher Mike Zunino said. “He was landing his sinker, his split came around at the end of the game. He threw some really good sliders. I just thought it was overall a really good outing.”
Behind that dominant combination of sinkers, splitters and sliders, Chirinos struck out six and had control of the strike zone as 60 of his 88 pitches landed for strikes.
“I just want to thank God for this victory,” Chirinos said through Rays Spanish translator Manny Navarro. “He gave me the opportunity to go out there, and it was a very good win.”
Chirinos could prove to be a big weapon for the Rays with his versatility as a spot starter and a bulk guy. He’ll look to build off this start when he takes on San Francisco later this week, but the 2019 season is off to a strong start for the 25-year-old.
“We didn’t see him well at all,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “We didn’t have a lot of good swings. We had a couple of at-bats where things could have swung a little bit differently, but for the most part it was pretty high-end velocity. He had sink, the split was good, his breaking ball was good. We didn’t know whether or not he was going to stay in the game as long as he did. He was very effective.”
As Chirinos cruised through the Astros' lineup, Austin Meadows did the heavy lifting for the Rays offensively. Meadows opened the scoring with a two-out RBI single in the first inning and followed with a two-run home run in the third to give the Rays a 3-1 lead. The 23-year-old outfielder went 2-for-4 and has the team lead with two home runs.
“He just has that knack for getting a lot of carry,” Cash said of Meadows’ home run. “That ball just kept going and going, but that was huge for us.”
The Rays took three of four from the Astros. They wanted to get off to a better start than they did in 2018, when they began 1-8, and they certainly accomplished that against one of the best teams in the American League.
“I think it can validate that we can play with anybody,” Zunino said. “We believe that in this clubhouse, and now it’s just to go out there and prove that. I think we’re going to do that.”
Castillo earns first career save
Diego Castillo recorded 36 saves in the Minor Leagues, but on Sunday he got an opportunity to lock down his first career big league save.
“I’ve felt what the situation is like in the ninth inning in the Minors,” Castillo said. “I felt super good today.”