THE BASEBALL LABORATORY IN ST. PETERSBURG — Up is down. Down is up. Hello is goodbye. Goodbye is hello. A reliever is a starter. A starter is a reliever.
These are your 2018 Tampa Bay Rays.
You never know what's going to happen. And just when you think you know, they surprise you. This was a team, after all, that some thought would lose 100 games. Now, after Saturday's 5-1 win over the Orioles at Tropicana Field, the Rays are 24-26. This thing isn't over yet.
The latest surprise: reliever-turned-starter Ryne Stanek and starter-turned-reliever Anthony Banda. Or was it Ryne Banda and Anthony Stanek? Either way, both were sharp Saturday, combining for eight innings of one-run ball and 10 strikeouts.
Stanek opened the game — his first career start — and dominated the Orioles with a fastball that consistently hit the high 90s and once even touched 100 mph. Five batters up, five down.
Who knows? Maybe he would have thrown a no-hitter had manager Kevin Cash not lifted him with two outs in the second inning.
But this is Tampa Bay, and here, mixing and matching pitchers is all part of the plan. The rest of baseball can complain all it wants. The Rays don't care.
"I've been called an idiot before," Cash said. "I can handle it."
But who wants to come out of a game when he has a chance at making history?
"I felt good, so I would not have argued with continuing on," Stanek said. "But I did my job, passed the ball off. Banda did his job, then gave the ball to Chaz (Roe), and everybody threw well. The game went how we hoped."
So maybe you can't say the Rays' bullpenning experiment will revolutionize baseball, but you can't say it's not working so far.
"It's something that's definitely going to shake things up for a little bit because it's different," Stanek said. "Different isn't bad. Different in this case seems to work, and it's worked a couple of times for us so far."
The key to Stanek's success Saturday: The 26-year-old got ahead of hitters. He threw first-pitch strikes to four of the five Orioles he faced, striking out three. Of his 21 pitches, 14 were strikes. There never has been a doubt about Stanek's stuff. His command, however, has been questioned.
"I think that's his biggest issue — controlling the count," Cash said. "It probably plays stronger for him than other pitchers because of the stuff that he features. If he can get ahead, that's the type of performance he's capable of showing."
After walking the first batter he faced, Banda settled in, retiring 13 of the next 14. He worked quickly, and the Orioles never seemed to catch up to his mid-90s fastball.
"It's a little awkward," Banda said of coming in as a reliever. "But then again, it's baseball. You got to come in. You got to attack. You got to get outs."
For Banda, whom the Rays acquired in a February trade with the Diamondbacks, it was the longest outing of his young career. The 24-year-old pitched 6⅓ innings, giving up three hits and one run while striking out seven on just 84 pitches. He was credited with the win.
"For being young pitchers, (Stanek and Banda) showed a ton of poise," Cash said. "Stanek was tremendous, but for Banda, to get that deep into the ball game … was really, really impressive."
In keeping with the up-is-down, hello-is-goodbye theme of 2018, Tampa Bay optioned Banda to Triple-A Durham after the game.
As for the Rays' bats, they jumped on Orioles starter Andrew Cashner early. Joey Wendle lit the spark in the first inning with an RBI triple down the rightfield line. Wilson Ramos doubled to right, scoring Wendle.
In the second, the Rays tacked on three more runs thanks to hits from Mallex Smith, Daniel Robertson, Rob Refsnyder and C.J. Cron. Cron finished the day 2-for-4 with a double, walk and two RBIs. Robertson was 3-for-4 with a double and a run scored.
The offensive burst was long overdue. In the Rays' previous five games, they had managed only 11 runs.
They didn't hit the ball especially hard, but it seemed to find the right places.
"That's just baseball," Cron said. "Some days the ball will fall in. Some days you'll hit missiles right at people. It's just how the game is. Today, fortunately enough, we found enough holes with the bat. The main reason we won this game, though, was because our staff was so good today."
Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.