By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — When a player comes through the Tampa Bay Rays organization, and makes it to the big leagues, one of the last things he wants to do again is play for the Charlotte Stone Crabs.
It’s not because they don’t like Port Charlotte, but because typically, it means they’ve suffered some sort of lengthy injury that caused them to miss an extended amount of playing time.
Not one, not two, but three members of the Rays rehabbed with the Stone Crabs on Thursday, and while they likely would’ve preferred to be in St. Petersburg playing against the Kansas City Royals, it provided a unique opportunity for the young Stone Crabs.
Outfielder Mike Mahtook, right-handed pitcher Alex Cobb and newly-acquired shortstop Matt Duffy all made an appearance in Charlotte, contributing to the Stone Crabs’ 2-1 win over the Palm Beach Cardinals.
“It’s awesome,” Stone Crabs manager Michael Johns said. “Cobb came up with us, Mahtook came up with us, and then you get Duffy in a trade. It’s neat for these guys to be around them. It’s what they aspire to be. What we try to (teach), they come in and re-enforce it. It makes our jobs easier, because what they say holds a lot of weight.”
All three big-leaguers have a passion for the game, but walk a fine line between wanting to help their up-and-coming temporary teammates and not wanting to seem like the know-it-all.
“I don’t try to say too much,” Mahtook said. “If they have any questions, I’m more than happy to answer. I don’t want to overstep and be too much for them, but I’ve played in this league. I wasn’t here too long ago. I know what they’re going through. If they have questions, I help them as much as I can.”
Johns says he encourages his players to pick the brains of Rays players who roll through town, and those like Cobb, who has made multiple appearances for Charlotte this season, will gladly give any solicited advice.
“I don’t come here as a goal of mine to help anyone in particular, but I enjoy when the guys come up to me and want to pick my brain a little bit,” Cobb said. “I definitely just enjoy talking about baseball, and my experiences. If something I say can help them, then that makes me feel good, but I’m not coming here, sitting them down and holding classes by any means.”
Cobb allowed one run over three innings of work. It was the only run surrendered by the Stone Crabs, as Hunter Wood, Steve Ascher and Diego Castillo threw six scoreless innings.
Wood and Ascher combined for 5 1⁄3 innings pitched, while surrendering a total of one hit and two walks. Their efforts kept the game close as they waited for their teammates to give them some run support.
“Our pitchers were outstanding today,” Johns said. “We threw a bunch of (pitchers) at them tonight, and they were all really good.”
As it turned out, all the Stone Crabs needed was for Palm Beach starting pitcher Matt Pearce to leave the game for them to get a win.
Pearce threw a three-hit complete game last time he was in Port Charlotte, and seemed like he was going to replicate that start again until the seventh inning.
The Stone Crabs were able to chase him with one out in the seventh on the way to tying the game at 1-1. They added another run in the eighth for the victory.
“When you look back at the game, you have to look at the overall body of work,” Johns said. “We had opportunities early, but that guy is really good. He’s been giving us fits.”
Andrew Velazquez had a leadoff single on a bunt attempt in the seventh, and moved to third when Cristian Toribio reached on an infield single. Pinch-hitter Jake Cronenworth drove in Velazquez on a fielder’s choice grounder for the game-tying run.
They used some small ball again in the eighth to take the lead.
Grant Kay began things with a walk, and then stole second base before reaching third on an out. Jonah Heim hit a grounder to the shortstop, who attempted to throw out Kay at home, but was unable to catch the speedy runner.
Ascher (1-0) was credited with the win, and Castillo entered the game with two outs in the ninth inning to record his second save of the season.