ST. PETERSBURG, FL. – When Shane Baz takes the mound Friday night for Game 2 of the American League Division Series, he will be making only his fourth appearance in a big-league uniform.
Alas, the 22-year-old right-hander has impressed to the point that manager Kevin Cash feels perfectly comfortable in going with him in such a pressurized situation.
“He showed us enough in his three outings that we felt good about it,” said Cash, prior to Thursday night’s series opener. “The funny thing about Shane, is his three outings up here were definitely as good, probably better, than anything that he had shown in Durham this year.”
Between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, Baz made 17 starts and went 5-4 with a 2.06 ERA with 113 strikeouts in 78 2/3 innings.
His performance in the minors was a sign of things to come. Baz won his MLB debut on September 20 against visiting Toronto and allowed only a pair of solo homers in five innings. He went to a three-ball count only once and 51 of his 65 pitches (75.5 percent) were strikes. According to Stats LLC, that was the highest rate for a starting pitcher in a debut since 1988 when pitches were first tracked.
Baz followed with 5 2/3 innings against the Marlins on September 26 when the Rays clinched the American League East. He allowed three hits, walked one, and fanned nine in picking up the victory.
Things did not go as smooth last Saturday at Yankee Stadium when the 22-year-old right-hander struggled in the first, though he allowed only one run on an Anthony Rizzo homer. Baz was pulled after 2 ⅔ innings (51 pitches) having allowed just the one run in what would be the Rays’ 100th win.
On Friday, he faces the Red Sox for the first time.
“I’m just taking it one day at a time,” Baz said when asked about how he feels going into his start. “So, I mean, just preparing like it’s another start.”
During Tuesday afternoon’s media session, Cash noted that he and his staff decided to go with Baz in Game 2 at home – as well as Shane McClanahan in Thursday night’s series opener – instead of in Boston or New York where the atmosphere would be even more juiced.
“Obviously, being at home is a little less pressure just in the moment because you have all the fans behind you and everything,” said Baz, who was a member of silver medal-winning Team USA this summer. “So, yes, I think it is a good thing (that I am starting Game 2 at the Trop). I think it is going to be a good atmosphere.”
As far as Boston’s potent lineup, again, Baz is well prepared.
“I am very confident that is fully equipped to go out there and pitch well against a very good Red Sox lineup,” said Cash.
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