ST. PETERSBURG — Drew Rasmussen was special on the mound Wednesday night at Tropicana Field, and he turned in the most impressive outing of his young career.
The 26-year-old pitched six scoreless innings and set career highs in innings, pitches, whiffs and strikeouts in the Rays’ 3-2 victory over the Mariners, helping both the club and himself rebound from frustrating games.
Asked if Wednesday’s start was the best he has felt on a Major League mound, Rasmussen said, “I mean, yeah. It’s just one of those things as you get rolling and you’re starting to create swings and misses, the confidence goes up, and then from there we were able to expand. Tonight was an awesome night. It’s something that felt really good.”
With a fastball touching the high 90s consistently and a devastating slider that induced six swinging strikeouts, Rasmussen was locked in and focused on getting his team back in the win column against a foe it has struggled against. After Tuesday’s 8-4 loss, the Rays had dropped seven of their past eight games to the Mariners.
Rasmussen may have been just what manager Kevin Cash ordered as the righty shut down a scorching lineup. With a bullpen game scheduled for Thursday afternoon, Rasmussen’s six innings — after he lasted only three a week earlier against the Cubs — certainly saved an arm or two.
“Really impressive outing for [Rasmussen],” Cash said. “I think he was frustrated a little bit with the Chicago outing … but he was itching to find a way to get deeper in ballgames, and he certainly did tonight.”
Rasmussen, who is in his first full season with the Rays after being acquired from the Brewers last May, struck out nine — five consecutively between the fourth and fifth innings — got 19 whiffs and tossed 84 pitches.
“I felt really good. Stuff was really good,” Rasmussen said. “[Catcher René] Pinto did a great job behind home plate. I thought we had a good game plan going in. And then [I was] really pleased with the execution today.
“I thought we had really good command of the cutter, and so it allowed us to get ahead and create weak contact early. And I think the slider was really good today.”
Rasmussen and Pinto seemed to be in harmony despite Wednesday marking the catcher’s first Major League start. Rasmussen credited his success to what he described as a “cuttery-slider” — a slider with a little more velocity. He worked that pitch in with his fastball and a more traditional side-to-side slider.
“I would probably classify it as a cutter, but at times it can still get some depth to it,” Rasmussen said. “It’s been a really good pitch for me early on.”
To make things just a bit sweeter, Rasmussen earned the win against the team he grew up rooting for. He was born roughly 35 miles south of Seattle, and he made his Rays debut last June 19 in relief against the club he cheered for in his childhood. He was impressive last year against the Mariners, and was even more so Wednesday.
“It’s always really cool to get to pitch against [Seattle],” Rasmussen said. “It’s a team I grew up rooting for and a place I always dreamt of playing growing up. To get to play against them is always an honor. I don’t know if I felt any extra juice against them in particular, but to have the success I did tonight was great.”
The Rays went ahead in the first in somewhat scary fashion, as Harold Ramirez laced a 109 mph line drive back at Seattle starter Marco Gonzales, who was struck on the left wrist. Randy Arozarena scored from third on the play, and the southpaw left the game.
In the fourth, outfielder Kevin Kiermaier put a jolt into a fastball from Yohan Ramirez, launching a two-run homer to right-center to extend the lead to 3-0. With the blast, projected at 431 feet, Kiermaier has homered in back-to-back series, and he is riding a four-game hitting streak (5-for-13).
“Ever since we got home, I’ve made a few adjustments, and [I’m] starting to feel more athletic up there and swinging with a little bit more authority,” Kiermaier said. “I’d still like to make a couple more adjustments, but we’re heading in the right direction, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Kiermaier then did what he does best in the seventh, and that’s make a great play with his glove. Mariners second baseman Abraham Toro jolted a ball to deep right-center, and the three-time American League Gold Glove Award winner leaped and secured the catch as his back banged against the outfield wall.