Rays' bats, pitching roar in series opener
ST. PETERSBURG -- Despite his team’s quiet offensive showing over the weekend against the Blue Jays, manager Kevin Cash said he was confident the Rays’ offense had the chance to be a dangerous group.
Tampa Bay proved him right with an eight-run inning and two homers from Hunter Renfroe on Monday against the Braves during a 14-5 win at Tropicana Field. The eight-run fourth marked the most the Rays have scored in a frame since scoring nine first-inning runs on Oct. 4, 2015, against the Blue Jays.
“It was a good night, probably much needed,” Cash said. “We were confident we were going to be fine, and it was a quiet weekend. We’re fortunate to come away winning those ballgames with the bats kind of firing up late, but today it was nice to put up a big, crooked number.”
Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz had the early control on Monday, inducing soft contact and two inning-ending double plays. But despite the early success, Foltynewicz’s fastball velocity hovered around 89 mph, almost 6 mph less than his average. Tampa Bay made him pay, and the Braves designated him for assignment following the game.
Mike Zunino got the Rays' scoring started in the third inning, smacking his first homer of the season off of Foltynewicz. After the home run, Joey Wendle turned to his teammates and reminded them to get locked in the same way they had during Summer Camp against their own pitching staff.
The rest of the lineup responded.
Renfroe, one of the Rays’ key offseason acquisitions, followed Zunino’s lead in the fourth and made his first impact as a member of the club by clobbering a three-run homer off Foltynewicz to give Tampa Bay a 4-1 lead. Wendle followed Renfroe with a homer of his own, sending one over the right-field wall.
And the Rays’ offense was far from done. Kevin Kiermaier singled home Willy Adames to make it 6-1 and Brandon Lowe applied the finishing touches with a two-run triple off Touki Toussaint to push the lead to 8-1. Lowe then scored on a wild pitch, capping the big inning.
Renfroe -- who added a solo shot in the fifth -- said he's had to adjust to hitting at The Trop, but it seemed like he'd worked out the kinks on Monday, as his home runs traveled a combined 823 feet.
“Getting the barrel on the ball and finding a gap and having it actually go out, especially the second one, was pretty good,” Renfroe said. “I was seeing the ball well, but I got into a bad situation on that second home run, but I was able to shorten up and make good contact. I was pretty proud about that at-bat.”
During the offseason, the Rays’ focus was to add offense to a lineup that averaged 4.71 runs per game last season, the lowest of the five American League playoff teams. In order to improve the offense, general manager Erik Neander signed Yoshi Tsutsugo to a two-year deal, then tacked on deals with Renfroe and José Martínez, who also homered Monday.
Those added players gave the Rays confidence heading into 2020, and the reason why was on full display Monday. Tampa Bay collected eight extra-base hits -- five of them homers -- drew six walks and hit eight balls with an exit velocity harder than 100 mph. All nine starters reached base and scored, with eight of them recording at least one hit.
The explosive offense is exactly why the Rays believe they can make a run at a World Series.
“I think we’re dangerous,” Lowe said. “I mean, we didn’t even have Yandy [Díaz], and that’s a pretty dangerous bat off the bench to get in there. You know, it’s going to be a fun year with the lineup that we have. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to be part of.”
While the offense stole the show at the plate, the Rays' pitching staff made its own mark, combining for a club-record 19 strikeouts in the win. Starter Tyler Glasnow made his first start of the season and showed why he was a trendy preseason pick to win the AL Cy Young Award in 2020, striking out nine over four innings.
He was followed by Diego Castillo (two strikeouts), Jalen Beeks (seven) and José Alvarado (one), with the record-breaking punchout coming on a foul tip off the bat of Ender Inciarte with one out in the ninth inning.