In need of a boost after a two-week slump, the Tampa Bay Rays got assistance off the bench from the reliable bat of Harold Ramirez in the series opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday.
The Rays will look to ride the momentum from Ramirez's walk-off hit when they oppose the Pirates on Saturday in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Tampa Bay reliever Jason Adam got out of a first-and-third, no-out mess in the top of the 10th inning on Friday. Ramirez then came off the bench for the decisive hit in a 4-3 triumph after Pittsburgh brought the infield in with the winning run on third base.
Rays manager Kevin Cash said he admires the approach of Ramirez, who is 7-for-15 (.467) in a pinch-hitting role and is batting .305 overall this season.
"We're fortunate to have guys that are ready and prepared in any situation," Cash said. "I'm glad that it worked out for him to get in there and have a big at-bat. That's not an easy thing to do to come off the bench with the game on the line."
Five Rays pitchers logged a season-high 17 strikeouts, with starter Jeffrey Springs notching a career-high nine in his six innings. The staff also issued no walks over 10 innings.
Tampa Bay managed only seven hits -- all singles -- but Josh Lowe and Vidal Brujan both stole bases and scored as a result.
The Rays' starting pitcher on Saturday, Corey Kluber (3-4, 3.46 ERA), has settled in and produced solid numbers, with the opposition hitting .244 against him. The right-hander is 2-2 with a 2.35 ERA in four June starts.
In his lone career start against Pittsburgh, on July 23, 2018, while with Cleveland, Kluber allowed seven runs (three earned) on nine hits in four innings.
He likely will have to duel with Pirates rookie shortstop Oneil Cruz.
Showing off his stellar play and making an immediate impact, Cruz has the attention of the baseball world as perhaps the next breakout star.
At 6-foot-7 -- the same height as New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge -- Cruz possesses a wide array of skills.
On Monday, the tallest shortstop in major league history electrified the home crowd in a four-RBI night in his season debut. He went 2-for-5 with a double in Pittsburgh's 12-1 win over the Chicago Cubs.
Cruz established some other milestones in that contest. He set the high mark in the majors this year for a throw by an infielder (96.7 mph), the hardest-hit ball by a Pirate in 2022 (112.9 mph), and the three fastest sprint times by a Pittsburgh player this season.
Not bad for a 23-year-old competing in just his third game in the majors.
"I think the one thing with Oneil is he can impact the game a lot of ways," Pirates skipper Derek Shelton said of Cruz, who went 2-for-4 on Friday and is batting .273.
Along the way through his first six games -- two last season -- the Dominican elite prospect set the record for the longest RBI streak to start a Pirates career. The streak ended on Friday.
Pirates right-hander JT Brubaker (1-7, 4.11 ERA) will make his first-ever start against Tampa Bay on Saturday.
In four June outings, Brubaker is 1-3 with a 4.03 ERA, with batters hitting .280 against him. However, he is coming off his best start of the season, when he fired six shutout innings in the 12-1 win over the Cubs.
--Field Level Media