ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Rays are already getting a return on their investment in Zach Eflin.
The 28-year-old right-hander is off to a nice start after signing the largest free-agent contract in Rays history, pitching five strong innings and getting lots of offensive support in a 12-2 rout of the Detroit Tigers on Saturday.
Yandy Díaz and Wander Franco each had three hits and three RBIs for the Rays, who scored seven times in the third inning to ruin right-hander Spencer Turnbull’s first major league outing for the Tigers since June 4, 2021.
The Rays have made the playoffs each of the past four years and advanced to the World Series during the 2020 pandemic-shortened season. Offensive shortcomings contributed to coming up short in the postseason each of those appearances.
Manager Kevin Cash and his players think this year’s lineup has the potential to be better, even though most of the faces are the same.
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I think we have the best lineup,” Díaz said through a translator.
“It was a good day at the yard … beautiful to watch,” Eflin said, noting the pitching, defense and bats were all superb.
About the only thing that hasn’t gone Tampa Bay’s way in consecutive wins over Detroit to begin the season is Eflin drew a pitch-clock violation before his first delivery to Zach McKinstry in the second inning.
The right-hander wound up striking out McKinstry wth two runners on to end the inning.
Jose Siri and Josh Lowe each contributed two-run doubles in the third off Turnbull (0-1), who allowed seven runs and eight hits in 2 1/3 innings after missing the second half of 2021 and all of 2022 while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
“I’m definitely pretty disappointed. Not exactly the way I was hoping the day would go,” Turnbull said. “Mostly it was disappointing because I didn’t give us a chance to win.”
Eflin (1-0) began last season in Philadelphia’s rotation, but helped the Phillies reach the World Series as part of the bullpen after being sidelined more than two months with a right knee bruise. His $40 million, three-year deal with the Rays surpassed the $35 million, five-year contract the club gave Wilson Álvarez before its inaugural 1998 season.
The right-hander, who turns 29 next week, allowed one run and three hits in a 74-pitch debut. He yielded a RBI single in the fourth to Miguel Cabrera, who moved ahead of Ichiro Suzuki for sole possession of 23rd place on the all-time hits list with 3,090.
Kerry Carpenter, who doubled leading off the fourth, and Spencer Torkelson had Detroit’s other hits off Eflin.
Randy Arozarena got Tampa Bay’s offense rolling with a RBI double in the first. Díaz had a run-scoring double in the third and two-run homer off Tyler Alexander in the fourth, when Tampa Bay built the lead to 10-1.
Franco had a RBI single and two-run double, which made it 12-2 in the seventh.
“Pretty explosive,” Cash said. “When you score 12, a lot of people have to be part of it.”
Rays 2B Brandon Lowe left the game after fouling a pitch off his right big toe in the third inning. He said the injury is not serious.
“No concern,” Lowe said. “Everything looks fine. A little sore … but this early in the season it make sense to take precautions.”
The 38-year-old Cabrera has announced that this will be his final season. The Rays recognized him during a brief video scoreboard tribute between the first and second innings, concluding: “Thanks for the memories, Miggy.”
With two outs and a runner on in the second, Cabrera hit a sharp bouncer that deflected off third baseman Taylor Walls’ glove. The play intially was ruled an infield single, but later changed to an error on Walls.
Lefty Jeffrey Springs, who signed a $31 million, four-year contract after moving from the bullpen to a starting role in 2022, takes the mound for the Rays in Sunday’s series finale. The Tigers counter with left-hander Joey Wentz.