Birthday debut: Corey Kluber made his Rays debut Sunday, his 36th birthday. The two-time Cy Young winner threw 87 pitches and walked four batters, but did not allow a run in 4 2/3 innings (3 hits, 5 strikeouts) before giving way to the bullpen.

Tampa Bay Rays Notebook: Wander’s Hot Start; Kluber’s Debut

ST. PETERSBURG, FL. – The opening weekend of the 2022 season is in the rearview mirror. In glancing back, it is hard not to like what the Rays accomplished.

An 8-0 win Sunday afternoon gave them a sweep of the Orioles, and 15 straight victories over their fellow American League East resident.

Say what you want about the Orioles and their seemingly endless struggles, but to open the season by allowing only four runs in three games following a shoehorned Grapefruit League schedule is impressive.

The pitching, defense, and offense clicked in the club’s third season-opening sweep in its 25 years.

The Rays will attempt to continue piling on early-season wins when they host Oakland in a four-game series that gets underway Monday evening. Tampa Bay has never opened 4-0, so there is an opportunity to put another dent in the team’s record book.

First pitch Monday is 6:40, which is a new time for night games at the Trop in April and May.

Picking up where he left off: Wander Franco’s first opening weekend was one to remember. The 21-year-old, who debuted last June, had a pair of three-hit games in going 6-for-11 and driving in three runs. He went hitless in Saturday’s game, but two of his outs were a liner to right that resulted in a sacrifice fly and drive to the wall in center that was caught by Cedric Mullins.

“I have had a great start so far, thank God, and hopefully it keeps going that way,” Franco through interpreter Manny Navarro.

Franco, whose 43-game on-base streak last season tied Frank Robinson (1956 Reds) for the longest among players age 20 or younger, brought the crowd to its feet in the third inning Sunday when he sprinted about 30 yards from just right of second base to shallow left field to catch a popup off the bat of former Rays catcher Anthony Bemboon.

“He better be careful because when we go to a four-man outfield we might stick him out there,” joked manager Kevin Cash.

Birthday debut: Corey Kluber made his Rays debut Sunday, his 36th birthday. The two-time Cy Young winner threw 87 pitches and walked four batters, but did not allow a run in 4 2/3 innings (3 hits, 5 strikeouts) before giving way to the bullpen.
Corey Kluber, Credit: Tampa Bay Rays

Birthday debut: Corey Kluber made his Rays debut Sunday, his 36th birthday. The two-time Cy Young winner threw 87 pitches and walked four batters, but did not allow a run in 4 2/3 innings (3 hits, 5 strikeouts) before giving way to the bullpen.

“For whatever reason, I had some pitches that I would say were not necessarily that competitive, but I was able to make the adjustments,” said Kluber, who was signed as a free agent in December after battling shoulder injuries the past three seasons with the Indians, Rangers, and Yankees.

It would have been nice to get the final out in the fifth and be the pitcher of record with the Rays leading 4-0 at the time. However, the pitch count was piling up thanks in part to a 26-pitch first inning.

“We wanted him to get that final out in the fifth, but we felt like the pitch count had gotten to where any more than (87), then we’re getting a little uncomfortable,” said Cash.

Beeks is back: When Jalen Beeks took the mound at the start of the seventh inning Sunday, it marked the southpaw’s first appearance since August 25, 2020. The 27-year-old missed the remainder of that season and all of 2021 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

“It’s been a long haul, so I am happy to be back, and grateful to be back,” he said.

After allowing a double and a base on balls to the first two batters he faced, Beeks got a visit from pitching coach Kyle Snyder before retiring the next three batters.

“There were (some) jitters coming out,” he said. “With the walk, I tried to do too much. That’s something I can fix. Other than that, I felt good.”

Beeks, who was consistently 94-95 mph on his four-seam fastball and 89-90 on his change, struck out four of the last six batters he faced in going 1 2/3 innings.

Making them work: The trade of Austin Meadows to Detroit opened a door for Josh Lowe, who was summoned from Triple-A Durham following last week’s deal. He proved to be a tough out all weekend.

His 2-for-9 at the plate did not tell the whole story. Not even close. The way he worked the count and battled every at-bat was eye-opening for a player whose MLB resume coming into the series consisted of all of two plate appearances last September with the Rays.

Lowe, whose second-inning triple off Jordan Lyles capped an eight-pitch at-bat Saturday, drew three walks and scored three runs in the series.

“It seems like he has fit right in,” said Cash. “His at-bats might be the highlight of the series offensively. A lot of lengthy at-bats, laying off tough pitches, fouling off tough pitches, a couple of walks. It was very impressive.”

On tap: Luis Patino gets the start Monday against Oakland’s Paul Blackburn. Following the four-game series with the A’s, the Rays head to the Windy City for three games against both the White Sox and Cubs.

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