No repeat of last season; Rays drop opener

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Just one year ago, the Tampa Bay Rays rushed out to a major league-record-tying 13 consecutive wins to open the season. Because of the start, the Rays were able to hang on first place in the highly competitive American League East race until July 22.

Overall, the Rays finished with a record of 99-63 and the second-highest number of wins in franchise history. In the post-season, they were swept in two straight by the Texas Rangers.

This time, a different outcome and a humbling experience on opening day. Lack of execution at critical times doomed the Rays and Tampa Bay dropped their season opener 8-2 to the Toronto Blue Jays before a sellout crowd of 25,025 in Tropicana Field.

Not the way manager Kevin Cash and his team wanted to start the season.

Consider –

  • Starter Zach Eflin cruised through the opening five innings and then imploded in the sixth
  • Four pitchers issued even walks over the final 4.2 innings
  • Tampa Bay hitters fanned 10 times during the game and could not sustain an offense conducive to crooked numbers

From the start, Eflin appeared in complete control. He retired the first nine consecutive hitters but, for an unexplained reason, then appeared to walk the plank. In the Jays’ sixth, he allowed home runs to Cavan Biggio and a monster 450-foot blast to dead center field from Vladimir Guerrero, three additional hits, a hit batter, and a walk before he was pulled.

“To focus for five and then to give that up in the sixth really sucks,” Eflin said. “I felt good with the cutter, but the sweepers were not swapping. When it’s sweeping, it gets the end of the bat and not sweeping, it gets the middle of the bat.”

The oddity of Eflin’s game was nearly a night-and-day experience. Through those initial five innings, he exhibited strong command and allowed just one base runner. That was a lead-off homer to George Springer in the fourth.

Through the opening five innings, Eflin threw only 55 pitches. In that catastrophic sixth, he threw 26 pitches and did not complete that inning. From his position at first base, Yandy Diaz offered this observation.

“They made adjustments in the zone,” he said, who went 3-for-4, including a home to lead off the game. “They were just connecting with good hits against good pitches.”

Despite training 2-1 on a pair of Jays’ homers from Biggio in that disastrous sixth and Springer’s blast into the left field bleachers, the Rays remained competitive. When Toronto pulled away by chasing Eflin in the sixth and put up a five-run inning, that effectively ended the Rays night.

 FRANCO UPDATE – prior to the game, the Rays put shortstop Wander Franco on administrative leave and removed him from the 40-man roster. The action was reached in an agreement between Major League Baseball and the players association investigating Franco’s alleged behavior with an underage girl in his native Dominican Republic.

According to reports, Franco has received $2 million already this season and remains in the Dominican Republic while the investigation continues.

The administrative leave will last until June 1. At that time, a reevaluation will commence. If he is found guilty in a Dominican court of law, Franco could face between two and five years in prison and his status with Major League baseball would be determined.

THE SERIES CONTINUES…   on Friday night, the Rays send right-hander Aaron Civale (7-5, 3.46 ERA in 2023) to the mound and he’ll be opposed by right Chris Bassett (16-8, 3.60). On Saturday, look for Zack Littell (3-6, 4.10 ERA in 2023) against lefty Yuei Kikuchi (11-6, 3.86 ERA in 2023). The pitching matchup for Sunday’s finale is to be determined. The Rays then conclude their home stand of the season with three against the defending World Series champion Texas Rangers.

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