The Tampa Bay Devil Rays are eager to find positive things following nine straight losing seasons. The first three games of this season have brought several.
Tampa Bay looks to make it three straight wins Saturday night as it continues a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Since a 9-5 season-opening loss to the New York Yankees, the Devil Rays (2-1) are off to the franchise’s best three-game start since the 2004. The 2002 club won its first three contests.
Both of Tampa Bay’s wins have been by one run—a good early sign for a team that was 17-22 in one-run games last season.
The five-time Japanese All-Star went 4-for-4 with his first major league home run and sprinted home from third base with the winning run on B.J. Upton’s infield single with two outs in the ninth inning.
“You take them any way you can,” Upton said. “It got the job done. We got a win and that’s all that matters. It doesn’t have to look pretty.”
Iwamura has reached base in nine of 13 plate appearances in Tampa Bay’s first three games.
“I feel great pressure, but I’m enjoying it,” Iwamura said through a translator.
Jae Kuk Ryu pitched 1 1-3 scoreless innings to get the victory before a crowd of 38,437, just the fifth home sellout in Tampa Bay’s 10-season history.
Ryan, who was limited to four spring games due to a sore back, had saves in 14 consecutive appearances dating to last season.
“There are no excuses when I’m out there pitching,” Ryan said. “I’ve just got to get out there and make some pitches and let the guys behind me make some plays.”
Upton and Ty Wigginton also homered for the Rays, who had lost four straight to the Blue Jays.
Designated hitter Rocco Baldelli and catcher Dioner Navarro both returned to the lineup Friday after sitting out Thursday’s Game at Yankee Stadium with sore hamstrings. Baldelli went 0-for-4 and is 1-for-12 this season. Navarro was 1-for-3.
Tamps Bay’s Casey Fossum hopes for better results than last season against the Blue Jays. The left-hander was 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA in three starts versus Toronto in 2006, and is 2-3 with a 5.46 ERA in 15 career appearances against the Jays.
Fossum struggled at the end of last season, allowing five runs or more in three of his final four starts.
While Tampa Bay has consecutive one-run wins, Toronto has its last two games by one run each.
The Blue Jays’ offense has been productive, scoring 19 runs and batting .286 (32-for-112). The bullpen, however, has allowed seven runs and 14 hits over 8 2-3 innings in the past two contests.
Tomo Ohka makes his Blue Jays debut after spending last season with Milwaukee. Ohka, signed to a $1.5 million, one-year contract on Jan. 26, went 4-5 with a 4.82 ERA in 18 starts for the Brewers in 2006.
Ohka is 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA in five career starts against the Devil Rays. He pitched a nine-hitter for his only shutout in a 4-0 victory at Tampa Bay on June 14, 2005 with Milwaukee.