The American League East-leading Tampa Bay Rays continue to get winning efforts from players they didn’t pencil into their plans coming out of spring training 2.0.
Add outfielder Randy Arozarena to the list of unsung contributors helping the Rays (28-13), who open a two-game series against the Washington Nationals (14-25) in the nation’s capital Monday night, to the AL’s best record.
Recently added to the roster from the alternate training site, the speedy Arozarena came off the bench Saturday against the Miami Marlins and produced a two-hit night.
On Sunday afternoon when little went right for the Rays, he boosted the team with a three-hit game — belting a pair of solo homers — as the Rays won a 5-4 thriller with two runs in the bottom of the 10th inning.
Brandon Lowe secured the club’s 15th comeback victory with a walk-off sacrifice fly to score pinch runner Brett Phillips after Ji-Man Choi’s pinch-hit double tied it 4-4.
Arozarena, 25, was traded by St. Louis to the Rays on Jan. 9. With the first incarnation of spring training shutting down in mid-March, Tampa Bay’s staff hadn’t fully gotten to know the Cuban player.
“Randy’s certainly a talented player that we’re getting to know on the fly,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “The first impression is there’s a lot to like. He has a knack for finding the (bat’s) barrel and can do a lot of special things.”
In addition to Arozarena, what’s also special is how the Rays have taken care of business in their 2020 series.
Since losing all three games in Baltimore from July 31 to Aug. 2, Cash’s bunch hasn’t dropped any of its last 10 series — winning eight and splitting two.
The club stretched its lead in the AL East to 5 1/2 games over second-place Toronto, which lost and split two series against Tampa Bay last month.
The win over the Marlins gave the Rays a 66-57 edge in the Citrus Series. They also are 10-3 in one-run games, 4-2 in extra innings and 5-1 against Miami this season.
Right-hander Charlie Morton (1-1, 4.82 ERA) will make his second start since coming off the injured list Wednesday and will likely pitch no more than four innings. In nine career starts against Washington, he had struggled to a 2-5 record and 6.23 ERA.
Firmly entrenched in the National League East’s cellar, Washington has lost eight of its last 10 games and appears to be just what Tampa Bay’s offense — which produced six hits in each of its three games against Miami — needs to get back on track.
Washington made the decision Saturday to recall its top prospect — third baseman Carter Kieboom — to play the hot corner the remainder of the season. The team designated Wilmer Difo for assignment in a corresponding move.
“We’re going to see what we’ve got and want him to play,” said Nationals manager Dave Martinez, a Tampa Bay assistant coach from 2008 to 2014. “I told him, ‘You’ll bat somewhere in the middle of the lineup, so just go out there, have fun and do your thing.’
“This is a perfect opportunity for him to go out there and play every day and see what he’s got.”
Kieboom, 23, is batting .207 with no extra-base hits and six RBIs in 19 games, but the 2016 first-round pick (28th overall) has shown a good eye with 12 walks.
Washington ace Max Scherzer (3-2, 3.95 ERA) won three times last month but lost 3-0 his last time out against the Philadelphia Phillies. The righty is 5-3 with a 2.66 ERA in 10 career starts against the Rays.
–Field Level Media