Rays’ reliever Pruitt finally looking as if he belongs

by Gary Shelton on April 23, 2017 · 0 comments

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Pruitt has put together two straight impressive outings./ANDREW J. KRAMER

Sunday, 3 a.m.

A few days ago, you were wondering why he was still here. He was probably wondering the same thing.

Austin Pruitt was throwing batting practice. That's the best way to explain it. He threw a fastball, a curve, a single and a double. He had an ERA like a pinball machine, and he kept winning free games.

And then, it changed.

Suddenly, Pruitt calmed down and figured it out. Suddenly, at least for the moment, he became a big league pitcher.

Pruitt was solid again Saturday night in a 6-3 victory over the Houston Astros. He threw 2 1/3 innings of hitless baseball, and he picked up his second win of the week. Three days earlier, he had pitched 3 1/3 innings of one-hit baseball.

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Beckham has had a good week at the plate./ANDREW  J. KRAMER

Beckham has had a good week at the plate./ANDREW J. KRAMER

For a young pitcher, battling his nerves, it can be difficult to find your groove. Major League Baseball isn't easy, and keeping your fastball out of power alleys can be difficult. Consider this: On April 10, Pruitt had an ERA of 19.56. After Saturday night, it's down to 7.94. That's still too high to trash-talk over, but shaving almost 12 runs off of one's ERA isn't bad.

“I'd say that the nerves have calmed down more than anything,” Pruitt said. “It felt good to get that first good outing (against the Tigers), to settle down. It gave me a chance to breathe a little bit.”

In his last 5 2/3 innings, Pruitt has seven strikeouts.

Blake Snell gave up more walks (5) than hits on Saturday./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Blake Snell gave up more walks (5) than hits on Saturday./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

“You're fighting every day with it,” Pruitt said. “It's tough to go out there and have a few bad ones in a row. You're thinking about it quite a bit. It's tough to leave it at the ballpark.”

Pruitt swears his stuff is the same. “The only thing that's changed is my haircut,” he said. "A hitter in a slump has to keep swinging the bat; a pitcher in a slump has to keep pitching."

For the Rays, Pruitt's improvement has been crucial. The team put Xavier Cedeno on the disabled list Friday, and Tommy Hawkins came up lame Saturday night.

It didn't matter Saturday night. The Rays started slowly, but their bats woke up and led to a comeback victory.

Starter Blake Snell gave up only three hits, but he gave up five walks. Two of hits allowed were solo home runs.

Those put the Astros ahead 2-0 going into the bottom of the fifth when Evan Longoria hit a two-run double to tie the game. Houston went back up 3-2 in the top of the sixth, but the Rays muscled four runs across in the bottom of the inning. Derek Norris and Tim

Longoria bounced back with a good game with his glove./ANDREW J. KRAMER

Longoria bounced back with a good game with his glove./ANDREW J. KRAMER

Beckham had run-scoring singles, and Peter Bourjos knocked in two with a ground-ball hit up the middle on an 0-2 pitch. Bourgeois was batting because centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier is still recovering from illness.

"That was a huge hit," said Rays manager Kevin Cash. "KK is just not feeling good at all. He's just weak right now, and it was probably time for him to come out of the game. We talked throughout the game. Peter comes in and gets down 0-2 to a very good pitcher and stays on it. That was the separator right there."

Alex Colome came on in the ninth to earn his fourth save in as many opportunities.

Beckham had three hits for the Rays, and Corey Dickerson, Longoria and Steven Souza Jr. all had two.

The Rays improved to 9-3 at home.

“It was a nice bounce-back win,” said Rays' manager Kevin Cash. “We started out from behind and it was nice to see the guys piece (the offense) together. Longo's big double to tie it and the outstanding effort by everybody collectively from the offense, just passing it along that inning when we punched four across. I was really impressed with the way the guys stayed at it.”

Cash said he didn't see any change in Pruitt except for the success.

“I don't know if there's really a big difference,” Cash said. “I know just from watching, he's pitching with some confidence now. He's gotten ahead of hitters. It sounds crazy to say this, but he ran into some bad luck. I know he gave up some hard-hit balls, but every ball that was hit was finding a hole. That can scare you a little bit.

“Now, I think he's getting back to what made him so good in the minor leagues and what made him so good in spring training. He's back in the zone.”

The Rays try to win the series today at 1:10 p.m. Matt Andriese will pitch against Joe Musgrove.

Colombia saved his fourth game in as many tries./JEFFREY S. KING

Colome saved his fourth game in as many tries./JEFFREY S. KING

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