KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Tampa Bay Rays have successfully started a Cy Young Award winner and relievers, generated offence from everyone in their hobbled lineup, and watched as their bullpen has preserved far more leads than they’ve squandered.
No wonder they have the best record in the majors as the end of April nears.
“You’ve got to be happy the way this club has come out of the gate strong,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said after an 8-5 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Monday night. “We felt like we were balanced and if you had a one-month review, you’d be happy with what you see.”
Tommy Pham, Yandy Diaz and Ji-Man Choi each drove in a pair of runs against Kansas City, helping the Rays (19-9) win for the fifth time in six games. They also improved to 10-2 on the road.
“This is just everyone doing their best to play well. Everyone is fighting to win every single game,” Choi said through a translator. “Everyone is doing well, so it’s fun.”
Yonny Chirinos went 5 2/3 innings in relief of effective opener Ryne Stanek, allowing two earned runs on two hits and a walk. Chirinos improved to 4-0 after going 0-3 last season.
The Rays did most of their damage against Brad Keller (2-3), who struggled in his return from a five-game suspension for his role in a fracas with the Chicago White Sox. The big right-hander allowed five runs on six hits and three walks over five innings.
“From the first inning on he was really pulling the ball,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He was going on the seventh day, so a little bit rusty, but just fought command the whole time. But to his credit, he never stopped competing. He never gave in. He just kept battling, kept grinding.”
The Royals have lost 11 of 12 against Tampa Bay after going 29-10 in the previous 39 matchups.
“Definitely didn’t feel my best out there,” Keller said. “Didn’t have my best stuff. Just went out there and tried to battle as much as possible and get as deep in the game. I was yanking a lot of pitches. Just tried to settle down and go after guys.”
The Rays jumped on Keller in the first when Choi drew a two-out walk, went to second on a wild pitch and advanced to third on a balk. When he scored on Diaz’s base hit, Tampa Bay had outscored its opponents 29-4 in the first inning this season.
The Rays added three more in the second after Kevin Kiermaier was hit by a pitch, beginning a parade of batters to the plate. Perez delivered an RBI double and Pham provided the big blow with a two-run triple, staking the Rays’ pitching staff — with the best ERA in baseball — to a 4-0 lead.
They nearly gave it right back in the third.
The Royals took advantage of an error by Rays shortstop Daniel Robertson and a walk to Whit Merrifield when Adalberto Mondesi tripled to right. He scored on Alex Gordon’s sacrifice fly.
Jorge Soler homered in the seventh for Kansas City, but the Rays added a run in the eighth and Choi’s two-run double off Wily Peralta in the ninth to put the game away.
FRIENDS IN LOWE PLACES
Rays DH Nate Lowe doubled in the eighth for his first big league hit. The slugger roared through three minor league levels last season and was hitting .300 at Triple-A Durham before his call-up on Monday. “His parents were sitting close by us,” Cash said. “Special moment for him.”
Rays: INF Matt Duffy took some at-bats in extended spring training as he rehabs from a sore back and ailing hamstring. He hopes to return in a couple of weeks. “Progress is being made,” Cash said.
Royals: OF Billy Hamilton got another day off after leaving Saturday night’s game against the Angels with a sore hamstring. “That’s one of his main strengths,” Yost said of Hamilton’s speed. “I’m going to wait until he’s really good, then I’m going to give him one more day.”
AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell (2-2, 2.54 ERA) makes his second start after returning from a toe injury on Tuesday night against the Royals. He was on a 65-pitch limit and got knocked around his last time out. Jakob Junis (2-2, 5.57) will be on the mound for Kansas City.