The Rays’ pitching plan couldn’t have played out much better than it did Sunday afternoon. Luis Patiño worked through the Blue Jays' lineup once without allowing a hit or a run, displaying his electric stuff in his debut with his new team. Josh Fleming took over from there, avoiding hard contact and handling the bulk of the innings. And Louis Head made a perfect Major League debut.
It was an impressive and inspiring study in contrasts, whether you want to compare the right-handed Patiño’s overpowering arsenal to the lefty Fleming’s less-overwhelming but equally effective stuff, or perhaps juxtapose the 21-year-old Patiño’s rapid ascent to the 31-year-old Head’s long wait for his moment in the Majors.
But the Blue Jays’ pitching staff was every bit as stingy as the Rays were, allowing only five hits and two walks as Toronto dealt Tampa Bay a 1-0 defeat in the series finale at Tropicana Field. The Rays fell back to .500, at 11-11, as they were shut out for the first time since Aug. 5, 2020.
“Our pitching did everything possible to keep us right there with one run,” manager Kevin Cash said. “We just came up a little short on the offense.”
Fleming held Toronto to four hits and two walks over 4 1/3 innings in his bulk-inning outing. The Jays only managed to put four hard-hit balls in play against the weak contact-inducing lefty, but they scraped together the only rally they needed with three softly hit singles in the fifth inning. That one run was enough.
After Hyun Jin Ryu exited with an injury in the fourth inning, the Blue Jays called upon five different relievers to cover the final 5 1/3 innings. Tampa Bay had a few chances, leaving at least one runner on base every inning from the second through the eighth, but finished 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
“We just couldn't get anything going. We didn't hit enough balls hard,” Cash said. “We'll bounce back.”
The more important developments for the Rays took place on the mound, anyway.
Pitching in front of his parents for the first time in his young Major League career, Patiño looked every bit like the top prospect the Rays acquired as the key piece in the deal that sent Blake Snell to San Diego. He issued a leadoff walk to Cavan Biggio, then retired the next eight hitters he faced in order.
“I feel good, and I feel very happy with how I performed out there today,” he said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “It felt great also knowing that my parents were in the stands, so I felt very comfortable and I'm glad that the results came out like the way they did.”
Patiño flashed his high-octane arsenal from the start, with his fastball touching 96.7 mph in the first inning. Patiño struck out Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who went down swinging on sliders, then he got Randal Grichuk to go down looking at another perfectly located slider.
The Rays’ No. 2 prospect threw 42 pitches overall, 30 of them for strikes, and got the Jays to swing and miss seven times. At times it might have been easy to forget his age: He became the Rays’ youngest pitcher (21 years, 181 days) since Scott Kazmir (21 years, 180 days) on July 23, 2005, in fact, and the first player in Rays history born after the Devil Rays’ first game.
“He's got a chance to really help us throughout the course of the season,” Cash said.
Whatever happens down the road, it was meaningful for Patiño to make his Tampa Bay debut with his parents -- Carlos Patiño and Zulema Arzuza -- having flown in from Colombia to see him pitch. He picked them up from the airport on Saturday night, ate breakfast with them before his start and thanked them afterward for their sacrifices that helped him reach this level.
“There's nothing better than to give your parents a hug in a situation like this,” he said. “Knowing that they've been here, it just feels comfortable.”
Head, meanwhile, did everything he could to make himself feel comfortable after receiving an emotional first call to the big leagues on his 31st birthday. Summoned to the mound in the eighth inning of a one-run game with Bichette, Guerrero and Grichuk due up, the righty didn’t spend much time reflecting on his long journey until after he was done pitching.
That didn’t take long, however, as Head -- just the fifth player in Rays history to make his big league debut at 31 years or older -- retired the side in order on only 10 pitches.
“It was a rush. It was a lot of fun. Definitely worth it,” Head said. “I think it definitely helped a lot with the nerves. I think everybody's really nervous on their first debut. Just trying to focus on the game and pitch to pitch really kind of helps you settle down and not have to focus on all the other stuff going around.”