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HomeSportsBaseballMLB News: Rays aim for continued contributions throughout lineup vs. Jays

MLB News: Rays aim for continued contributions throughout lineup vs. Jays

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After being the only winless American League East club following the Opening Day games, the Tampa Bay Rays set out to change that Friday night.

They did that and more.

The Rays received contributions at both ends of the lineup in an 8-2 win over Toronto and will try to earn at least a split of a four-game series with the Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Second-place hitter Brandon Lowe hit his fourth career grand slam, and the bottom three in the order — Jose Siri and newcomers Ben Rortvedt and Jose Caballero — produced four hits and five runs as the Rays got payback for their 8-2 defeat on Opening Day.

“I think that’s pretty much everything I’ve got,” Lowe said after his shot off Toronto starter Chris Bassitt traveled 444 to right-center. “It couldn’t have come at a better time.”

While Lowe’s first home run of 2024 was the night’s biggest blow, the 7-8-9 hitters set up him and Yandy Diaz, who added two insurance runs with an eighth-inning single.

“Any time you can get production at any point in the lineup — you put those stats in any spot — I’ll take it. That was one incredible day from those three guys,” Lowe said.

Converted reliever Zack Littell, who was 3-6 with a 4.10 ERA in 28 games (14 starts) a year ago, will start Saturday’s game.

The right-hander holds no record and a 6.14 ERA in three appearances against the Blue Jays, including one start. In just 7 1/3 innings against them, Littell has surrendered seven runs (five earned) on 11 hits. Daulton Varsho homered off him last May 22 in St. Petersburg.

Toronto struggled in Friday’s game, totaling just six hits, including George Springer’s second long ball, and committed three errors.

Left-handed starter Yusei Kikuchi will try to get his club back on track Saturday.

Now in his third season with the Blue Jays, Kikuchi notched his best major league campaign in 2023 by going 11-6 with a 3.86 ERA over 32 starts.

He became one of the more dependable arms in Toronto’s stable, managing 167 2/3 innings and the 11 victories — both career highs for the former pitcher for the Saitama Seibu Lions club of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball.

Manager John Schneider said the growth in Kikuchi’s pitching comes from being confident.

“Last year or even the year before you were hoping for results, where this year, where he is right now, he’s expecting them,” Schneider said in spring training. “That’s the biggest difference. The confidence is obviously there.”

The southpaw has produced good numbers against Tampa Bay, going 5-1 with a 3.48 ERA over nine appearances, eight of them as a starter.

In those outings, Kikuchi has held the Rays to a .258 batting average and allowed six home runs.

Last Sept. 29, he set his career high in wins in an 11-4 triumph over the Rays in which he tossed five innings and yielded three runs on five hits. He surrendered a two-run homer to Diaz.

After starter Kevin Gausman’s bullpen session Friday, Schneider said the club might decide Saturday on when the right-hander will make his debut.

–Field Level Media

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