ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays have won four straight to move a season-high three games over .500, and as they seek a series sweep against the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday afternoon, they’ll do it with a new addition to their experimental relievers-as-starters rotation.
Tampa Bay’s Hunter Wood, a 24-year-old right-hander pitching in just his sixth major league game, will make his first career start Wednesday, and there’s no expectation of him going more than an inning or two, as the “opener” role is designed. Wood pitched very well in Monday’s series opener. He inherited two runners with one out in a two-run game and got out of the inning on four pitches. Wood then added two more scoreless innings on a night where few pitchers escaped without allowing a run.
“He’s had a couple of really impressive outings,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said after Monday’s game. “He just throws the ball over the plate and lets his stuff play. He was 93 to 95-96 today, complements it with the cutter that he throws, that big breaking ball. He’s not concerned about who is at the plate. He just goes and tries to accomplish his game plan. More times than not, he’s gotten big outs for us.”
Wood (0-0) has a 2.00 ERA in nine innings, having spent most of this season at Triple-A Durham, where he has a 3.00 ERA over 42 innings in 24 appearances. Fully half of his outs at Durham have come by strikeouts — 63 — while he’s walked only 10 batters. He was just a 29th-round pick in 2013, so he could be a real success story if he can carve out a role in the Tampa Bay bullpen.
Detroit, trying to break out of a 4-17 slump, will turn to Jordan Zimmermann (4-0, 3.51), who has been superb of late. He has allowed just two earned runs in 15 innings in his last two starts, against Toronto and Texas, the last an eight-inning gem in which he gave up one run with 11 strikeouts. He was just as good against the Rays on April 30, going seven innings and allowing two hits and no runs, taking a no-decision in a 3-2 loss to Tampa Bay.
He’s taken a major step forward after posting a 6.08 ERA last season, though he missed six weeks with a shoulder injury and now is dealing with back problems that have bothered him but not taken him off the mound yet. Zimmermann is 1-1 for his career against the Rays with a 3.68 ERA.
The Rays’ bullpen-day approach continues to lead to victories. They used nine pitchers in Monday’s win, and the novelty can be difficult for opponents, as might be the case in Wednesday’s series finale.
“It honestly feels like a spring training game, where you’re going to face someone different with every at-bat,” the Tigers’ John Hicks said Tuesday. “I’m sure it can be taxing on a bullpen, but it’s effective. A hitter never gets comfortable against one guy. … You’re facing someone new every time, and it’s definitely different.”