Drew Rasmussen Josh Fleming leads Rays to victory

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ST. PETERSBURG — After abbreviated spring training, the Rays understand they have to be careful with their starting pitchers at the start of the season. They haven’t fully built up their stamina to dive deeper into games yet, so some workload management is needed. That’s especially true for Drew Rasmussen, given his medical history that includes two Tommy John surgeries, after bringing him into the rotation last year.

Luckily, the Rays know what they’re getting every time Rasmussen steps on the mound. And they had a perfect partner in the bullpen behind Rasmussen: Josh Fleming. Rasmussen and Fleming combined to allow two runs while striking out eight of 7 1/3 innings in the Rays’ 5-3 win over the Orioles on Saturday afternoon at Tropicana Field, pushing Tampa Bay to a 2-0 start only for the fifth time. in 25 seasons.

“They know what they’re doing,” said catcher Francisco Mejía, who continued his start to the season with an RBI single in the second inning and a two-run homer in the third, through interpreter Manny Navarro. . “One is throwing a little harder than the other, but they are doing what they have to do.”

What made Rasmussen and Fleming so effective appearing back to back? Consider the contrasting styles mentioned by Mejía.

Rasmussen is a pure power right-hander, with a fastball that peaked at 97.2 mph. Fleming is more of a finesse southpaw, with a lead that drops to the bottom of the strike zone while maxing out at 93.1 mph. When the two execute their game plans like they did on Saturday, it’s even harder to hit them.

“We have a lot of different arm angles with a lot of different things, so you’re not going to see the same look,” Rasmussen said.

Saturday was Rasmussen’s 11th straight start allowing two or fewer runs, the longest active streak in the Majors, and the two runs he allowed came on Ryan Mountcastle’s home run in the third inning. He struck out three and worked four innings on 64 pitches, but it was enough for his first start of the season.

Aware of Rasmussen’s past injuries and recent experience as a reliever, the Rays limited him to five innings even at his most effective last season. Rasmussen hopes to have the reins taken away at some point this year, but like Shane McClanahan on opening day, he understood the long-term logic behind his early exit.

“It’s hard to complain, and I know my time to stretch is coming,” Rasmussen said. “There’s no doubt, no fear of getting out of the game. You know whoever’s coming up behind you is really good, and they’re going to do their job at an elite level.

It was an accurate description of Fleming’s long-running performance. It was the role the Rays had in mind for Fleming when they put him on the Opening Day roster, as he is an ideal partner for the two starters currently least equipped to work deep in the out: Rasmussen and right-hander Luis Patiño.

“We had a quick spring training, so [they’re] just inviting us to,” Fleming said. “And we have what I think is the best bullpen in the league behind us.”

Fleming made the most of the role on his season debut, striking out five while allowing three singles in 3 1/3 innings. The uptick in strikeouts was notable for Fleming, who entered the day averaging 5.9 puffs per nine innings in his first 33 Major League appearances. That could be the result of what he calls “The Chazzy,” a new breakout ball he throws with the same grip former Rays reliever Chaz Roe used on his wipeout slider.

Fleming was at his best in two other ways on Saturday. He made a great snag and throw on a comeback, starting a 1-6-3 double play to end the sixth inning. (“I’m proud of it,” he said. “And I joke about it, but at the same time, I want the gold glove.”) And he worked fast, as he usually does. , running his outing on just 38 pitches before JP Feyereisen and Andrew Kittredge recorded the final five outs.

“He was really good. Flem is so valuable to what we do here,” Cash said. “He does it as effectively as any pitcher, maybe, in baseball – and he’s really good for baseball too, in that he keeps the rhythm of the game going really well.”

JLowe hits, runs hard
After putting up some impressive strikes on Opening Day, outfield prospect Josh Lowe went 2-for-4 with a triple and two runs on Saturday. He set up Mejía’s first RBI by ripping a 106.7mph line drive into the right-center gap, then hustling around the bases, with a top sprint speed of 28.9ft. per second, for a triple stand-up.

“All of his shots have been really impressive so far,” Cash said. “And watching him run is going to be a lot of fun when he hits balls in the gaps because he can really go for it.”

And he can also play in defense?
The Rays made a bunch of sharp plays in the field behind Rasmussen and Fleming, perhaps none better than what Cash called a “great” dive stop in the middle by shortstop Wander Franco to start the game. second round. Franco managed to catch a grounder hard hit by Ramon Urías, then made a quick throw to Ji-Man Choi for the takedown early.

“Great play. We’ll always take that, saving a single,” Rasmussen said. “You don’t expect these plays to be made, but it’s really good when they are.”

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