ST. PETERSBURG — Rays left-hander Jeffrey Springs was a 30th-round Draft pick of the Rangers in 2015 who signed for the minimum $1,000 bonus. He worked at a YMCA, mostly so he could work out for free. He bounced around with multiple bullpen roles, got to the big leagues in 2018 and was traded twice within a 13-month span.
Now he has found a winning niche.
In his second start since being elevated to the rotation, Springs set the tone for a dominant overall pitching performance as the Rays defeated the Blue Jays 3-0 on Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field to take two of three in the weekend series.
Springs, who played for the Rangers and Red Sox before the Rays acquired him from Boston in February 2021, allowed four hits over 4 2/3 innings while striking out two, walking none and giving Tampa Bay the length it was seeking in a career-high 76-pitch performance.
“Every little kid dreams of being a big league starter,’’ Springs said. “If they’re going to give me the opportunity and believe in me, I’m going to do it as long as I can. I want to do well enough to make a case for myself down the line. Obviously, they’re running me out there, so they believe I can do it. I’ll do everything I can to continue and run with it.’’
Rays manager Kevin Cash said he’s pleased with Springs’ effectiveness.
“He gets outs,’’ Cash said. “He’s pretty quick at it. It’s the same guy who was coming out of our bullpen. He hasn’t changed anything. The reason he’s capable [of starting] is he bounces back so well. We would tack on [additional] innings to his bullpen [sessions], and he responded well.’’
Springs allowed just four baserunners and nearly completed the fifth inning, but he was lifted after surrendering a two-out double to Alejandro Kirk. From there, four Rays relievers helped to close the door. There were just two more baserunners, and neither reached scoring position.
The Rays snapped a scoreless tie with a three-run sixth inning off Blue Jays starter Alek Manoah. The door was opened by an uncharacteristic throwing error from third baseman Matt Chapman, a three-time American League Gold Glove Award winner and two time Platinum Glove winner.
Brandon Lowe and Wander Franco hit one-out singles to put runners on first and second. Chapman cleanly fielded Harold Ramirez’s bouncer and tried to get the force at second, but he threw the ball into right field, allowing Lowe to score the game’s first run.
Franco later scored on a wild pitch, and Ji-Man Choi followed with an RBI single.
Franco and Choi each snapped an 0-for-18 skid with their sixth-inning singles. Their output was timely, too, because before the game the Rays placed their hottest hitter, outfielder Manuel Margot, on the 10-day injured list with a right hamstring strain.
“I wasn’t concerned about either one of those guys,’’ Cash said. “We know they’re good hitters, and they know they’re good hitters. If they go through a little funk, they’ll snap out of it.’’
“It feels good because nobody wants to go that long without a hit,’’ Franco said through team interpreter Manny Navarro.
After the Rays went up 3-0, they turned to J.P. Feyereisen for a dominating seventh inning. Feyereisen, who has allowed just three hits and no runs in 17 1/3 innings across 14 appearances this season, struck out the side — getting five whiffs — around walking Chapman on a borderline 3-2 pitch.
The difference for Feyereisen this season has been strike-throwing.
“When your offense puts up three in an inning, it’s kind of a relaxing feeling,’’ Feyereisen said. “I just had to go out and throw strikes. Get three outs and turn it over to the next guy.’’
“When you shut down a team like the Blue Jays, everyone has to play a role,’’ Cash said. “Fire’s stuff is very similar to last year, but he is controlling the count much better.’’
Sunday’s win was another example of the Rays’ bullpen depth and strength (4 1/3 innings, one hit, one walk, four strikeouts).
“Everyone we have is a high-leverage guy,’’ Feyereisen said. “We have confidence in all of our guys, no matter what inning they are throwing in.’’
Springs was once among those high-leverage bullpen guys. Now he appears to have found a home in the Rays’ rotation.
“We joke about it because we miss him down in the bullpen,’’ Feyereisen said. “He’s a good human. But it is really awesome to see his two starts. He’s doing a great job, and we’re not surprised by that at all.’’