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Cash impressed with Rays' hard contact

Tampa Bay capitalizing in early innings; Pham extends on-base streak to 47 games
@baseballexis
April 13, 2019

TORONTO -- The Rays have gotten off to one of the best starts in franchise history, and nothing they have done so far has fallen short of impressive. In Friday night’s victory over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre -- marking the squad’s second five-game win streak of the season

TORONTO -- The Rays have gotten off to one of the best starts in franchise history, and nothing they have done so far has fallen short of impressive.

In Friday night’s victory over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre -- marking the squad’s second five-game win streak of the season -- not only did Austin Meadows and Brandon Lowe make history by hitting home runs into the fifth deck in the same inning, but those hits were just two of 20 hard-hit batted balls -- at 95 mph or more -- by the Rays, tying the most the team has had in a game since the start of 2015.

“That’s kind of the goal,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. “You want to hit the ball as hard as possible as much as you can, and last night was probably one of those days where we had more guys locked in at the plate, and getting pitches they can handle, than most.

“You’re not going to hit that many balls hard every night. We recognize that, but it’s nice that it came in bunches because we needed every one of them.”

Avisail Garcia notched hits of 115.5, 114.5 and 114.1 mph in Friday’s win, going 3-for-4 with a double, two runs scored, and being hit by a pitch. Nelson Cruz is the only other player -- since Statcast was introduced in 2015 -- to hit three balls at 114 mph or more in the same game.

“He hits the ball probably just as hard as anybody in the game when he connects,” Cash said. “It was good to see him in Chicago, go back to his former team and have a really, really solid series, and it carried over right into yesterday, but Avi did some special things in Spring Training for us.

“We saw glimpses of how hard he hits the ball. We’ve seen it from afar, but I think what people don’t understand is he played banged up last year. And now he’s healthy, the knee is feeling better, he’s got better balance at the plate, he’s able to get his back side, bottom half, everything into his pitches and that’s where you see the ball coming off the bat so hot.”

Early success

The Rays have been virtually unstoppable in the first inning so far this season. Tampa Bay has outscored opponents 18-1 in the opening frame, including Friday night’s leadoff homer from Meadows.

“Our offense has done a tremendous job of giving our pitchers on that given night early runs,” Cash said. “We talked about it yesterday where for whatever reason, right now we seem like we’re putting together really strong first and second innings.

“Our approach right out of the gate has been really solid and when you put those runs on the board, not that it relaxes a pitcher but I think it’s kind of, it gives them some confidence to navigate through tough lineups.”

The 18 runs scored in the first inning lead the Majors, and the one run allowed is the fewest in the American League. Ryne Stanek opened the game on Friday and threw two perfect innings before the Rays went to the bullpen. The Rays have scored in the first inning in seven of eight games on this road trip and in 10 of 15 games this season.

Lefty matchups

Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell got the Saturday start in the Rays' 3-1 loss to the Blue Jays, striking out nine over six scoreless innings. With a swinging-strike rate of 20.5 percent this season -- the second-highest rate among MLB starters -- his teammate Meadows is happy to be behind him on the field and not matching up against him.

“Obviously you get your scouting reports and you look at pitchers and what their tendencies are, but if you’re facing a really good pitcher, for me maybe my approach would change,” Meadows said. “Maybe I would try to be a little more aggressive, and not miss that one good pitch that he throws you, but I think the preparation is the same. Maybe the mindset changes a little bit.”

Pham’s streak continues

With an infield single in the sixth inning on Friday night, Tommy Pham extended his on-base streak to 46 games, the longest in club history. It is also the longest in the Majors since Shin-Soo Choo reached base safely in 52 straight games last season.

Quotable

“He looks like elf of the shelf, but man he can hit a ball a long way and really hard.” -- Cash, on how Lowe generates so much power.

Alexis Brudnicki is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.