Zack Littell Twirls Six Scoreless Frames, Rays Defeat Jays 5-1

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(AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

St. Petersburg, Fla – Zack Littell delivered six scoreless innings and Randy Arozarena hit his first homer of the season as the Tampa Bay Rays (2-1) defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 5-1 on Saturday afternoon at Tropicana Field.

Zack Littell (1-0, 0.00 ERA) was outstanding in his first start of the season working six shutout innings allowing just four hits while striking out six and walking two. He threw 92 pitches with 61 for strikes.

“We talked about before the game how Lit [Littell] was so good throughout the spring.” Kevin Cash said. “Felt like he carried it right into his first start, impressed with him.”

Littell has made the transition from starter to reliever look easy, but it’s anything but. “Agree that it does look easy at times, but it’s not that easy.” Cash remarked. “When you get a guy that’s pretty motivated to build himself out. He’s got a three, now four pitch mix with the bigger breaking ball, the cutter, both fastballs, and the split, when you’re filling up the zone like he does you’re going to allow yourself opportunities for success.”

Littell didn’t believe his outing was very clean with too many deep counts but was happy with the results. “To have a start like that and really push through it.” Littell said. “Especially the last couple innings, just find a way to get it done was really good.”

The Rays jumped out to a 1-0 lead on an Amed Rosario RBI single in the third inning. The lead was extended to 3-0 in the fifth inning on a Randy Arozarena solo homer and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Jose Caballero. He made 90 pitches with 58 for strikes.

It’s a rare occurrence for Randy Arozarena to drive a homer the opposite way, it’s even more rare for him to work on it in batting practice but that’s exactly what he did prior to Saturday’s game. “Normally Randy doesn’t do that [opposite field work] in batting practice, he takes it the other way.” Cash said. “Good hitters feel things at certain times that they need to make little adjustments on. He’s tinkering a little bit now. Trying to get his swings off a little bit to get his hands working.” The homer was Arozarena’s first opposite field homer since his walk-off homer against the Minnesota Twins on June 7, 2023.

Yusei Kikuchi (0-1, 6.23 ERA) took the loss working 4.1-innings allowing three earned runs on three hits while striking out four and walking three. He departed after allowing a single to Isaac Paredes following Randy Arozarena’s home run.

Trevor Richards replaced Kikuchi and was greeted by Amed Rosario with a double that moved Paredes to third. Jose Caballero followed with a sacrifice fly scoring Paredes and closing the line on Kikuchi.

Toronto cut the lead to 3-1 in the seventh inning on a Cavan Biggio 2-out RBI single off Colin Poche who was making his season debut and took over for Zach Littell in the seventh inning. Phil Maton replaced Poche with two-on and two-out and retired George Springer on a line drive to center field to end the threat and keep the Rays 3-1 lead intact.

Tampa Bay extended the league to 4-1 in the seventh inning. Randy Arozarena singled and stole second and third. With two outs Jose Caballero delivered a bunt single scoring Arozarena. Justin Turner‘s throw sailed past Vladimir Guerrero and Caballero attempted to race around to third base. The throw easily beat Caballero to the bag and he was tagged out by Bo Bichette. As Caballero turned to head to the dugout he was shoved by Blue Jays pitcher Genesis Cabrera. Caballero and Cabrera exchanged words and Cabrera shoved Caballero with two hands in the neck/head area resulting in benches clearing. Cabrera was ejected and both benches were warned.

Kevin Cash was pleased with the outcome of the play and even more so with the way that Caballero handled the situation.

Yandy Diaz delivered a sacrifice fly to score Jose Siri and extended the Rays lead to 5-1 in the bottom of the eighth.

Jason Adam and Pete Fairbanks worked scoreless innings in the eighth and ninth to secure the victory.

Rosario Solid In First Start With Rays:

Amed Rosario started in right field, his first start as a member of the Rays. He went 2-for-4 with an RBI. He extended his hit streak to five consecutive games dating back to last season. He also made an outstanding catch in right field to thwart a rally by the Blue Jays.

Diaz Receives His Silver Slugger Award:

Prior to the game, Rays hitting coach Chad Mottola presented first baseman Yandy Diaz with his silver slugger award. Diaz won the American League batting title in 2023 hitting .330, also a Rays franchise season record. He was the first Rays player to ever win a batting title and just the fourth Rays player to win a silver slugger (OF Carl Crawford [2010], 3b Evan Longoria [2009], and 1b Carlos Pena [2007]).

Rays and Jays Opening Weekend Series:

With their 5-1 victory Saturday afternoon, the Rays are guaranteed a split in their four game series. They will look to win the series outright on Sunday afternoon at 1:40 p.m. The Rays will utilize Shawn Armstrong as an opener and at some point turn to lefty Tyler Alexander to work bulk innings. Toronto will send right hander Kevin Gausman to the mound.