New Rays right-hander Zach Eflin sharp in latest spring outing

ST. PETERSBURG — The perfectionist in Zach Eflin wanted to throw a few more punches and locate his cutter a little better on his second formal spring outing Tuesday.

But the Rays will surely settle for the flawless – if not perfect – performance he delivered in a 7-4 win over the Twins.

Slated for 45 pitches or four innings (whichever comes first), the 6-foot-6 right-hander worked efficiently within that window, allowing for two runs to hit as many (including a two-barrel home run) in one Four-inning, 47-pitch outing.

“He looked really good,” said manager Kevin Cash. “You notice, just a lot of late life, a lot of gentle contact. That’s because he just has the stuff that’s right around the plate, not always right in the zone, but he just gets extra movement with that criss-cross combo of cutting and countersinking.”

The only hiccup: Designated hitter Chance Sisco’s double home run in second (hitting the foul pole in right field) from a cutter that Eflin had left a bit too far over the plate. He then retired the last seven batters he faced and knocked out three.

“I threw a few balls too many in my head, but it felt good,” said Eflin, who threw 29 of his 47 shots for strikes.

“I had some swing and miss errors and tried to mix in some offspeed when I was down on the count so it all felt pretty good. There are some things I can still improve on, but I thought it was a good day at work and it’s good to get those four innings and get that arm working again.

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A day after sending seven well-regarded candidates back to minor-league camp in the first round of cuts, Cash praised essentially all of Core for their performance — and professionalism — during the first few weeks of spring training.

Cash’s message to the group: “You are good players, we like you very much,” he said. “Certainly there are things they can work on. Every one of them showed something good here.”

Cash was particularly commendable for 21-year-old right-hander Taj Bradley, the No. 3 in the franchise (according to Baseball America), who threw 3.1 shutout innings in as many spring appearances.

“He just seemed very level-headed, very balanced,” Cash said. “It was impressive how he reacted. He fell behind in one game (Friday vs. the Braves), the pitch count went up, but he was very composed throughout the game. He had the seven-pitch game, his first, against Boston (February 26) and took it all. There’s reason to be happy for him and all these guys.”

Other departures Monday included infielders Osleivis Basabe (9-for-19, homer, two walks) and Curtis Mead (.227, two homers in 22 at-bats) and Greg Jones (3-for-18), who was in the first Round 2019, 11 strikeouts), a natural shortstop who worked midfield during his spring stint.

“Jonesy, I applaud him for taking on the challenge of going into midfield – super athletic,” Cash said.

“Basabe, I mean, impressive how he swung the bat. Curtis Mead came in as advertised, maybe a little better on offense. It will be exciting to see how they compete in the minor leagues this year.”

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Rays shortstop Tristan Gray (70) celebrates after hitting a triple home run from Twins pitcher Cody Laweryson (93) during the seventh inning of Tampa Bay’s 7-4 triumph Tuesday at Tropicana Field.

[ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Though utility infielder Tristan Gray is perceived as an underdog when the Rays’ roster is ultimately reduced to 26, he continues to give the club reasons to keep him close.

Gray, who turns 27 next week, continued his sparkling Spring Tuesday, going 2-for-4 with a triple home run and an RBI double in the Tampa Bay triumph. In 10 games, he hits .464 (13 to 28) with two homers and four team-high doubles.

“You know what, he’s a good player,” Cash said. “I think we all really enjoy having him around. The way he supports himself, the way he works, the contributions he has made year after year surely want him to get opportunities.”

Right-hander Calvin Faucher, who had previously been sidelined by an angled strain, beat all three batsmen he faced in his 13-pitch spring debut on Tuesday. ‘He’s dirty,’ Cash said. “We need to bottle that and see if we can keep it right there.” … Right-hander Jaime Schultz retired after just three pitches on Tuesday. “He grabbed his captor five or six days ago, felt like he was treated and taken care of, and then he felt it in that last seat,” Cash said. … Twins fans with a keen eye may have noticed first baseman Tyler White wearing Triple-A manager Toby Gardenhire’s jersey. According to the club, White’s jersey was mistakenly left behind in Fort Myers and Gardenhire – son of former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire – loaned White his jersey. … Announced attendance for Tuesday’s game at Tropicana Field was 3,405.

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