FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Some parts of Luis Patiño’s Rays debut felt familiar. He pitched to catcher Francisco Mejía, his friend and another part of the Blake Snell trade. He sported a gold chain around his neck, a birthday gift from former Padres teammate Adrian Morejon. And he threw hard, with his fastball consistently clocking in around 95-96 mph.
The only thing new, really, was the blue No. 61 uniform he wore as he worked a scoreless second inning during the Rays’ 5-2 win over the Twins on Thursday afternoon at the CenturyLink Sports Complex.
The 21-year-old right-hander gave up some loud contact, but he threw seven of his 10 pitches for strikes and showed a glimpse of the stuff you’d expect from MLB Pipeline’s No. 19 overall prospect. Mejía said he thought Patiño pitched with control and confidence, not at all different from the guy he saw when they were teammates in San Diego.
“I don’t think he's really changed too much,” Mejía said. “I just think coming here helped him with his confidence and allows him to just be the guy he wants to be.”
More than anything else, Rays manager Kevin Cash seemed pleased that Patiño wants to throw strikes. That has been a focal point for all the Rays’ young arms this spring, and the coaching staff believes that Patiño in particular can get outs in the zone with his electric arsenal. He induced three swinging strikes on Thursday with fastballs right at the top of the zone.
“Yeah, 95- to 100-[mph fastballs], whatever it is on that given day, that's going to be just fine,” Cash said, adding that pitching coach Kyle Snyder is also “bullish” on Patiño’s changeup and slider.
“He was doing that when he was in San Diego, so we're fortunate [he has] the mindset he's taken over. We hope that we can add to whatever he had, but we knew that the mindset was really committed to the zone. And he did, he got right in there. Whether he was amped or not, it seemed like he had full intent of throwing a strike on every pitch.”
The Twins’ Ryan Jeffers greeted Patiño with a 100.3-mph flyout to center field as he jumped on a 95.9-mph first-pitch fastball. Alex Kirilloff then doubled to right field on a changeup, but Patiño bounced back by striking out Brent Rooker and getting JT Riddle to fly out to right field.
“It’s a good feeling,” Patiño said. “I got to pitch for the first time with a Rays jersey. I feel excited. I feel happy to do my job and come in here to do my job and help the team. I’m feeling very happy to be here.”
• Left-hander Ryan Yarbrough also made his spring debut on Thursday, throwing 16 pitches in a scoreless first inning. After retiring the Twins’ first two hitters, he walked Jorge Polanco on four pitches but bounced back by striking out Miguel Sanó on a diving changeup below the zone.
“Nice to see one of our guys start the buildup,” Cash said. “He was kidding that he walked a guy -- normally doesn't walk too many guys -- so I'm sure he's got plenty of reps to fine-tune that. But he looks really crisp.”
• Mejía caught four innings and pulled a 99.9-mph single to right field off Hansel Robles as the Rays put up three runs in the third inning. Tampa Bay is confident that Mejía will rediscover the form at the plate that made him such a highly regarded prospect, and he has received strong reviews from the established pitchers who have worked with him so far in Spring Training.
“We've already started to get on point, get some chemistry going,” said Yarbrough, who also pitched to Mejía in live batting practice. “I feel like he's a great target behind the plate, especially for me with how I throw, so I'm looking forward to throwing to him a lot this year.”
• Ji-Man Choi started at first base for the first time this spring and went 1-for-2 with a walk. Choi sat out a day during the workout phase of camp due to a sore knee and made his Grapefruit League debut as the Rays’ designated hitter on Wednesday, but he’s moving forward without any restrictions.
“Just took a few days off, but he'll be right back into the routine, the schedule of getting in the flow with the rest of the first basemen,” Cash said.
Veterans nearing game action
The Rays have been easing some of their veterans, especially their established pitchers, into game action this spring, and a handful of them are nearly ready to take the field.
Left-hander Rich Hill will make his first appearance in a Rays uniform when he starts Friday’s game against the Red Sox. Right-hander Chris Archer threw a light bullpen session on Wednesday, lining him up to pitch either Saturday or Sunday. And right-hander Collin McHugh is slated to face hitters in live batting practice one more time before getting into a game.
Center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (hip tightness) has been working out with “no limitations,” Cash said, and should be good to go in games early next week. Some of the Rays’ high-leverage relievers haven’t appeared in Grapefruit League games yet -- including Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo, Pete Fairbanks and Chaz Roe -- but that’s by design.
Additionally, right-hander Brent Honeywell Jr. -- working his way back from four elbow surgeries since his last game action in 2017 -- is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Friday and another early next week. Non-roster right-hander Adrian De Horta reported to camp “a little tight,” Cash said, but he’s expected to throw a live BP session soon before pitching in games.
Hill will make his Rays debut on Friday at JetBlue Park. Left-hander Ryan Sherriff, righty Ryan Thompson and pitching prospects Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman are also scheduled to take the mound for Tampa Bay. Lefty Eduardo Rodriguez is set to start for Boston. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET, and fans can follow along via Gameday on MLB.com.