RAYS: Young players shake off first-game nerves

By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports

PORT CHARLOTTE — Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Hunter Wood was excited for his first major league Spring Training game Friday night.

So excited, in fact, he couldn’t contain the anticipation.

“I had a little bit of nerves before the game,” Wood said. “During the game, I think I went to the bathroom seven times before I went in. Everybody was giving me a hard time about that.”

Wood entered the game in the seventh inning, and struck out the first batter he faced before allowing a pair of runners in scoring position. He got out of the jam with the help of some flashy defense by shortstop Andrew Velazquez, and recorded a hold for his efforts.

Although it’s a moment he’ll never forget, at the same time, he actually barely remembers it.

“I don’t even feel like I threw last night,” Wood said Saturday morning. “I feel like it was over in the blink of an eye. I didn’t really have time to process what was going on. I know I threw under 15 pitches last night, but I couldn’t even tell you how many pitches I threw to each batter. I felt so rushed the whole time.”

Austin Pruitt got the start for the Rays Friday night, and he, too, was making his major league Spring Training debut.

Pruitt tossed two scoreless innings, retiring the first five batters he faced, and finished with three strikeouts, no walks and picked up the win.

The 27-year-old also had some nerves, but not quite like Wood’s.

“I was pretty pumped up. It was really cool,” Pruitt said. “I was just wanting the day to hurry up so I could get moving around and get the game going. Once I started warming up, and moving around, I ran to centerfield, looked around and took notice of where I was.

“I wasn’t too nervous, but once you get up, the nerves go away a little bit, but obviously you’re still pumped up.”

Pruitt’s father, Gary, made a 16-hour drive from Houston to make it for his son’s debut,

“That’s what made it a little more special to me because I knew he was there and he could share that experience with me,” Pruitt said. “For him to do that, and drive 16 hours and have the outing I had just made it a little more special.”

Manager Kevin Cash can remember being one of those first-year players.

“Sometimes you probably lose the appreciation for it,” Cash said. “Last night, Dalton Kelly asked me if I was nervous before the game started. I definitely was nervous when I was in his shoes. You appreciate the guys. It’s genuine. They’re excited.”

But he was likely able to contain his nerves a little more than Wood.

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