Notes: Rays enjoy offensive surge
Outburst at plate helps fuel five-game string of victories
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Just when it seemed like the Devil Rays had slipped into the realm of "Here we go again," they seemed to have found their groove at just the right time.
After suffering a 13-game losing streak, the Rays seemed to have found the light. On Friday night, they rolled over the Reds, 15-1, in a record-breaking game against the Reds as they won their fifth in a row.
The 15 runs, the most since they beat the Indians 15-1 in Winter Haven on March 1, 1999, set a team record in a home Spring Training game at Al Lang Field.
"We're hot," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "It was a nice performance and it's what we're looking for offensively."
The plethora of runs, on a night when Josh Hamilton, the overall No. 1 pick by the Rays in 1999, was in the other dugout, added to Tampa Bay's recent offensive surge.
Over the past five games, the Rays have outscored their opponents, 42-11. Nine players got a hit and 10 players scored in Friday's game, overshadowing the pitching performance by starter J.P. Howell.
The 23-year-old left-hander, who is battling Saturday's starter, Edwin Jackson, for the fifth starter spot, allowed one run on four hits over five innings while striking out five with one walk.
"J.P. was excellent," said Maddon. "He threw strikes and he had good location on his fastball and breaking ball."
The game, though, featured a little bit of everything.
After Howell gave up one run in the first and battled out of the inning, the Rays gave Howell all he needed for the win with four runs in the second, highlighted by long doubles by Greg Norton and Aki Iwamura off Reds starter Aaron Harang.
With Howell dominating, the Rays plated two more runs off Harang in the sixth. Delmon Young hit a one-out double to left, stole third base and then, after Iwamura walked, scored on a deep drive to left by Jonny Gomes. Iwamura would score on a sacrifice bunt by Shawn Riggans.
Ben Zobrist greeted Reds right-handed reliever Jared Burton in the seventh with a home run to right field to lead off the inning. Ty Wigginton followed with a double and would later score in the inning on a sacrifice fly by Young, who finished the game 2-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBIs.
Things got crazy after that as the Rays jumped all over the Reds relievers, scoring seven runs in the eighth inning. The inning featured a three-run homer by Gomes off Wes Wilkerson, called over from Minor League camp for this game to give other pitchers some rest.
After the homer by Gomes, Wilkerson buzzed Riggans with a high fastball for ball one and then followed with another inside pitch that dropped the Rays catcher to the ground. Benches emptied with Gomes leading the way.
"It was a non-negotiation situation," said Gomes, who went 3-for-5 with two runs and four RBIs.
The force of power may be a sign of things to come, not only for the Rays but for Gomes, who is competing for a spot on the team.
"It's like an old-school tryout," said Gomes, who entered Friday's game batting .189 in 18 spring games. "I don't think the team's set until Opening Day. I feel like the job's mine to lose. I just hope the numbers don't lie."
For the Rays, the numbers are clear: in the past five games, things seem to have clicked and a corner may have been turned.
Injury update: Rocco Baldelli, who has been experiencing tightness in his right hamstring, participated in stretching drills and batting practice before Friday's game. He appeared fine as he sprayed balls all over the field during his session in the cage.
Maddon said he hopes to have Baldelli back in the lineup by Monday.
The Rays skipper said he held Carl Crawford, who has soreness in his groin, out of Friday's game because he has played so much in the past few days.
Maddon said that Dioner Navarro was "feeling fine" and would "probably play five innings" when the Rays play the Red Sox in St. Petersburg on Saturday.
The Kaz: Scott Kazmir allowed four runs, two earned, on five hits over seven innings in a Triple-A game Friday afternoon. The 23-year-old left-hander had eight strikeouts, walked two and hit a batter. Kazmir, who was just named the Opening Day starter, threw 108 pitches (73 strikes).
Stand up: Three members of the Armed Forces All-Star Baseball Team: Bill Sandillo, Ray Judy, and Eric Lally, were guests of the Devil Rays with Judy and Lally, who play for the team, shagging fly balls during batting practice.
"This is unbelievable," said Sandillo, who manages the 30-man squad that plays 80 games a year against Minor League and college clubs. "The guys can't believe they are on the same field as these guys. They love it."
The team trained with the Brewers and the Giants in the Cactus League before visiting the Phillies and Rays in the Grapefruit League as a part of raising awareness for troops.
Short hops: LHP Jon Switzer was placed on the 15-day DL with tendinitis in his left shoulder. ... Rays first-base coach George Hendrick underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to repair a torn meniscus. Maddon said that Hendrick, 57, should be able to return to coaching duties sometime next week.
Coming up: The Devil Rays host the Red Sox on Saturday for their first meeting of the 2007 Grapefruit League schedule. Jackson (0-1, 1.80 ERA) will make his second start and his sixth appearance of Spring Training in the 1:05 p.m. ET game at Progress Energy Park in St. Petersburg. RHPs Ruddy Lugo, Gary Glover and Juan Salas are also scheduled to pitch. Seth McClung and Brian Stokes will toss an inning each for Triple-A Durham at Clearwater.
Chris Girandola is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.