Zack Littell, Amed Rosario lead Rays past Jays as tempers flare

ST. PETERSBURG — These are the kind of things the Rays do.

They claimed Zack Littell off waivers last May as a middling reliever, transitioned him into a starter who helped save their 2023 season, and based on that handed him the No. 3 spot in their rotation this year.

They signed seven-year big-league veteran Amed Rosario a week into spring camp for a bargain price of $1.5 million, asked the career infielder to get some outfield reps, and then started him in rightfield in the third game of the season.

On Saturday, Littell worked six strong shutout innings against the potent Blue Jays, scattering four hits and two walks and getting out of what little trouble he had. Rosario singled in one run, doubled to set up another and made a couple of key running catches.

“Yeah, we like it when it works that way,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “It’s good to talk about it. So it worked (Saturday).”

It did, which led to the Rays doing something else they do well: win.

The 5-1 victory over the Blue Jays was their second straight after an opening day disappointment and positions them for a series win in Sunday’s Easter matinee.

There were a few other hands in the win before an announced 18,905 at Tropicana Field, which is also the Rays way.

Randy Arozarena, after working on hitting balls to rightfield during batting practice, hit an opposite-field homer, scored two other runs, and made a key catch — all while finding time during the game to sign a few autographs for fans near the dugout.

Free-agent reliever Phil Maton, another late-camp addition, got arguably the biggest out to preserve the 3-1 lead, retiring dangerous George Springer with two on and two out to end the seventh in relief of Colin Poche. Jose Caballero dropped a bunt to score a run in the seventh, then also found himself in the middle of an unexpectedly heated situation.

As the bunt scored Arozarena to make the Rays’ lead 4-1, Caballero raced around the bases as the Jays made an errant throw, then gave himself up going into third as he was going to be easily tagged out by shortstop Bo Bichette. But Toronto pitcher Genesis Cabrera pushed him with his glove after the play, and when Caballero voiced his objection, Cabrera pushed him again hard with both hands, one hitting Caballero’s face.

“I was surprised,” Caballero said.

Both benches and bullpens emptied, but order was restored quickly, with Cabrera ejected and warnings issued to both teams.

The rest of the drama was more typical.

Littell wasn’t overly sharp, throwing 31 balls among 92 pitches and walking the two (just his second multi-walk outing as a Ray), but getting 11 swing-and-misses and avoiding damage, striking out Daniel Vogelbach with a runner on to end the sixth.

“It wasn’t the cleanest outing by any means, a lot of three-ball counts, two walks, but to have a start like that and really push through it, especially those last couple innings, and just kind of find a way to get it done was really good,” he said.

After moving into the rotation for good in mid-July, he went 3-5 with a 3.34 ERA. He had a sharp spring, not allowing a run until his 12th inning of exhibition game work. And he got a win Saturday.

“It does look easy at times, but no, it’s not that easy,” Cash said. “When you’re filling up the zone like he does, you’re going to allow yourself opportunities for success and we’ve seen that now time and time again. So really impressed with the way he went about it against a good offense.”

The Rays figured Rosario would hit, especially against lefties, as the Jays started Yusei Kikuchi. They weren’t as sure about his defense, especially in the at times tricky Trop outfield, but he made a running catch going back and another coming in the sixth.

Were those better than his RBI single and a double that set up a run?

“I’m going to give credit to both things,” he said, via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “The most important part is that we’re doing the job.”

On this day, they just about all did.

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