Baz hits a speed bump in 2022 debut

Rays' top prospect suddenly loses zone in third, vows to 'make corrections next time out'

June 11th, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- ’s celebrated return to the mound for the Rays was cruising right along Saturday afternoon at Target Field, with the electric right-hander showing why he’s the team’s top prospect and a potential key piece of the rotation for the rest of the season.

Baz was perfect through two innings. Then he ran into trouble commanding his pitches, and the Twins took advantage in a 6-5 win, with the big blow coming on a grand slam by Luis Arraez.

Baz allowed five runs in 2 1/3 innings in his 2022 Major League debut. He surrendered three hits and three walks with two strikeouts. The two most damaging walks came right before Arraez's slam.

“Whenever that happens, there always seems to be a ball put in play or a homer or something like that,” Baz said. “Credit to them for capitalizing on it, but I just got to go after guys a little better and get ahead.”

The most important aspect for Baz and the Rays was that Baz said he still felt good physically.

Baz, the No. 12 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline, made his long-awaited return after arthroscopic surgery in March to remove loose bodies from his pitching elbow.

“Physically felt good, so that’s obviously promising,” Baz said. “Nothing really matters other than the final result.”

Baz allowed a single to Gilberto Celestino to start the third inning and then walked Nick Gordon and Ryan Jeffers before Arraez’s first career grand slam.

“I think he just lost command for whatever reason, can’t exactly pinpoint right now why he looked good the first two innings and then just lost the strike zone,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Arraez is really good, obviously; look at his slash line right now. He’s swinging the bat well. He got us, and then it just drove Shane’s pitch count up a little higher that inning than we wanted to keep it going.”

Baz finished with 48 pitches, just 26 for strikes.

“After that walk, I’ve got to reel it back in after that,” Baz said. “So nothing felt different. It was just, I think, a matter of making a focus on putting the ball in the zone.”

That Baz was off Saturday was a surprise after a sharp rehab assignment with Triple-A Durham. He made four rehab starts and allowed two runs in 13 innings (a 1.38 ERA). In his final rehab start on June 5, he recorded 10 strikeouts in just 4 1/3 innings, which tied his Minor League career high for strikeouts in a game.

Cash was quick to announce that Baz was ready to return to the Rays, and Baz replaced Ryan Yarbrough in the rotation.

Of course, Cash and the Rays know what Baz is capable of contributing.

In three starts late last season in his first appearances in the Majors, Baz was 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings. He earned a start in the American League Division Series, allowing three runs in 2 1/3 innings against the Red Sox.

“It was great seeing him back out there,” outfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “We’re really excited to see him take the mound every fifth day. We saw what he could do last year and how he elevated our whole team. Today wasn’t how he probably drew it up, but it’s OK. Life goes on. He’s nasty. He’s going to be dominant in this league for years. This game can humble you really quick, and I know he’ll bounce back and he’ll be great five days from now.”

Baz's performance Saturday could just be a matterof getting back into a rhythm on a Major League mound.

“I think it’s just part of getting back in games,” Baz said. “You’re going to hit speed bumps here and there. You just got to make sure you make corrections next time out.”