Since missing the first month of the season while he recovered from offseason hip surgery, Ryne Stanek has been playing catchup. But the results he's put up and the mid-90s fastball he's thrown suggest it's his Midwest League opponents who are struggling to catch up with him.
The Rays' No. 11 prospect allowed only one hit and struck out four in six innings in Class A Bowling Green's 15-0 win over West Michigan on Monday. It was the first professional win for the right-hander, who improved to 1-2 with a 2.95 ERA in his first four Midwest League starts since being drafted 29th overall by Tampa Bay last June.
"It feels good to get that first win here," he said. "Everything went well for us today between pitching, hitting and defense, but to do my part and get rewarded like that is always nice."
Stanek's arsenal includes a plus fastball along with a developing curveball, slider and changeup. The lone hit he allowed was a two-out double by Raph Rhymes in the first inning. After that, the 6-foot-4 hurler didn't allow another Whitecap to reach base, retiring 16 in a row before exiting the game.
Including the double, only four of West Michigan's 19 batters to face Stanek reached the outfield -- eight were retired on groundouts, three on popouts and four via the strikeout. He needed only 56 pitches and would have faced more if he hadn't already reached a career-best six frames.
"I really wanted to," he said. "I understand they have limits for everybody and especially for me, I'm still building up to 100 percent, so you can't have too many complaints. But when I was only at 56 pitches through six, I wanted the seventh if I could get it. Still, I understand."
While Stanek's ERA stands at an impressive 2.95 through his first 21 1/3 professional innings, even that stat is a little misleading. In his last outing, Stanek gave up six earned runs on nine hits in 5 1/3 innings in a 7-4 loss to Lansing last Tuesday, but all six of them came in the fifth and sixth frames. He has allowed only one earned run over 16 innings outside of that outing, and that has made his first struggle easier to shrug off.
"I thought I made a lot of good pitches in that start, but in the last couple innings, they just did a better job of hitting them," Stanek said. "So all I could do was say, 'OK, I wasn't necessarily as sharp as I could have been.' But I knew if I could just come out, keep my fastball down in the zone and throw my off-speed stuff for strikes, I'd be fine."
While the former University of Arkansas hurler is happy to be putting up results -- and quality ones at that -- he admits there might have been a silver lining or two to his hip surgery and the delayed start that followed, both now and in the future.
"You never want to get hurt, but at the same time, it's part of the game," he said. "I'd rather have to go through all that for the first time now, then a couple of years down the road. It was a chance to learn my body, know how I can get in better playing shape and help myself going forward."
After Stanek exited with a 5-0 lead in the sixth, the Bowling Green offense really poured it on. The Hot Rods collected five runs in the seventh and eighth frames. Right fielder Yoel Araujo, No. 8 in the batting order, delivered two homers and four RBIs. Every member of the Bowling Green lineup either drove in a run or scored one.