Early control issues doom Ryan Pepiot in first Tampa Bay start

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Against the defending world champions, you likely need to bring more than your “A” game. For Ryan Pepoit, making his initial start for Tampa Bay after a celebrated trade with the Los Angele Dodgers, the beginning was a forgetful as a wretched blind date.

The transition from one of the most celebrated franchises in the game to a very competitive Rays club appeared seamless. Pepiot put together a strong spring training, declared himself ready for the rigors of the championship season, and lauded the Tampa organization for its introduction to “Rays baseball.”

All appeared well until the curtain rose and Pepiot did not answer the bell.

In the first inning against the Rangers, coming off their first-ever world title, the native of Indianapolis walked the first two hitters and delivered 21 pitches to just the first three hitters.

Then, third baseman Josh Jung, hitting with two outs, drilled a 1-0 pitch, into the field bleachers, and a three-run blast. That created an early 3-0 lead and from there, the Rangers cruised to a 9-3 win over the Rays before 14,144 in Tropicana Field

For his part, Pepiot’s first tinning adventure was an aberration. With command of his pitches and economy of effort, the righthander put together an effective spring.

Then, the wheels fell off. Pepiot walked those first two hitters, and then Jung connected. By the time Pepoit retired Wyatt Langford on a fly to center to end the frame, he threw an uncharacteristic 31 pitches.

“Thought I doing a pretty job of hitting the strike zone in the last few games in spring training,” he said. “That’s not the way you want to start a ball game. Just have to get back to the drawing board and pound the zone. After that first inning, I settled in and tried to keep us in the ball game as best as possible.”

Though all Rays’ runs in the past two games have come from the home run, there appears little concern for the lack of a sustained offense. After single blasts from Randy Arozarena and Isaac Paredes in the Rays’ 9-2 loss to Toronto on Sunday, a solo blast from Richie Palacios and a two-run homer from Jose Siri was the extend of the Tampa Bay scoring in the series opener against the Rangers.

To that end, Kevin Cash, the Rays manager, attributed the lack of offense to a strong outing from Dane Dunning, the Texas starter.

“(Dunning) pitched well and had a good slider going,” Cash offered. “Kept us off balance but I like to think we could have better at-bats. We were quiet and he was super efficient.”

For a team destined to put up crooked numbers, the first few games of the season seem to be an anomaly.  Then again, a major league season is filled with ebb and flow and the Rays appeared to be stuck in a period of stagnation.

In the trainer’s room … The Rangers received difficult news late in the game That’s when third baseman Josh Jung, who went 3-for-4 and 4 RBIs, was hit on the left wrist by reliever Phil Maton and suffered a fractured wrist. He is expected to be sidelined between six and eight weeks.

On the road again … the Rangers’ victory on Monday night was the initial road game of the season. Coming into the contest, the Rangers had dropped 17 of their last 20 road openers. The only wins in this period came in 2010 at Cleveland, 2012 in Minnesota, and 2019 against the Angels in Anaheim. Now make that four wins in their last 21 road openers.

Welcome to The Show  … on Monday, Austin Shenton started his first major game Monday at first base. One the last cuts in spring training, the Rays designated Shenton for Triple AAA Durham to start the season, Over the weekend, the Rays called Shenton to the majors. In the starting line-up against Rangers’ right-hander Dane Dunning and hitting eight, he went 0-for-3 with a walk. That included striking out three times.

“Really excited for the opportunity and this is a dream come true,” he said in the Rays clubhouse prior to his start. “I love to compete and realize it’s really the same game. I told myself, just relax and have fun.”

Shenton explained he is adopted and said his parents have been quite supportive.

After Sunday’s game, in which he entered as a defensive replacement but managed to fly to left field in his lone plate appearance. After attending the game, his parents were about to board a plane to Spokane, Wash, his hometown, but received a call he was in the starting lineup on Monday. They quickly changed plane reservations and were in attendance for the game.

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