No nerves this time around as Bradley deals vs. Cincy

April 19th, 2023

CINCINNATI -- Rays manager Kevin Cash wanted two things for on Tuesday night at Great American Ball Park: a performance like his Major League debut and plenty of early run support.

He got both.

Bradley’s second start was even better than his first, and the Rays backed him up with a big night at the plate. Tampa Bay’s top prospect struck out nine of the 20 batters he faced over 5 1/3 terrific innings, homered from both sides of the plate, and launched the longest home run of his career as the Rays rolled to a 10-0 win over the Reds.

It’s unclear if Bradley will get a chance to stick around with starter Jeffrey Springs expected to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery, but he’s making a strong case for it. The 22-year-old right-hander allowed only three singles and one walk on the night, using his entire four-pitch mix while displaying composure and confidence beyond his years.

“When you're building off your debut and how good he was, to do it again, it is impressive,” Cash said. “Certainly a guy that is going to continue to get better, continue to refine his pitch mix and everything, but it's a pretty good starting point -- a really good starting point.”

Acknowledging he felt “more relaxed” than in his debut, Bradley leaned on his fastball and ran it up to 98 mph while whiffing Nick Senzel to end the second inning. He mixed in his cutter, which finished a Kevin Newman strikeout for the first out in the second, along with his changeup and curveball. Overall, the rookie threw 55 of his 84 pitches for strikes and induced 13 swinging strikes.

“You can see that it looks like he doesn't get nervous with the pressure or anything,” Díaz said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “And it feels like he's been in the big leagues for about 20 years already.”

The Rays are the 22nd club since 1900 -- and just the fifth team in the past 35 years -- to start a season with 15 wins in their first 18 games. One surprising staple of their impressive start? A lot of home runs.

They have gone deep at least once in each of their first 18 games, the second-longest streak to open a season in AL/NL history (since 1901) behind only the 2019 Mariners’ 20-game run. They’ve combined to hit a Major League-leading 41 homers, and 12 hitters already have more than one long ball this season.

On Tuesday night, Walls, Díaz and (fourth-inning solo homer) supplied the power.

Walls ripped a Statcast-projected 379-foot solo shot off Reds lefty Nick Lodolo in the second inning, his second homer from the right side this season and only the third of his career. He also blistered a two-run triple to center in the third, then hit a solo homer off righty reliever Casey Legumina in the sixth and capped his four-hit night with a ninth-inning single to center off Luke Maile.

“I don't think I could feel bad after that,” Walls said. “I saw it well, executed the approach that I wanted to do, was aggressive and got good pitches to hit.”

Walls’ first career multihomer game made him only the fourth player in franchise history to go deep from both sides of the plate in the same game, joining Geoff Blum, Willy Aybar and Ben Zobrist. Walls is slashing .351/.429/.730 in his first 12 games, although he played down his power surge while joking that he’s “barely getting these balls over” for home runs.

“We were all very confident coming into the season that the best version of Taylor Walls at the plate, we probably hadn't seen yet,” Cash said. “And I think that's what we're seeing now.”

Díaz continued his own early homer binge with a three-run shot to the second deck in left field, his fifth of the year. With two outs and nobody on in the second, Francisco Mejía kept the inning alive by legging out an infield single, then Lodolo hit Vidal Bruján with a pitch.

Up came Díaz, who tweaked his typically disciplined approach by taking big swings on pitches that he can drive when ahead in the count. He did just that on a 2-1 curveball from Lodolo and crushed it (111.6 mph exit velocity) a Statcast-projected 440 feet, the longest shot of his career.

“When I hit it, I honestly didn't even look at where it went,” Díaz said through Navarro. “But once I came back and went into the dugout and they told me where it landed, I realized how far it went.”