Jeff Ames admitted he was a little surprised to be a first-round pick last month in the 2011 Draft. On Wednesday, the Vancouver native made the Rays' scouts look prophetic.
Ames mowed down the Cardinals with five hitless innings in the best start of his brief professional career, leading the Rookie-level Princeton Rays past Johnson City, 5-3.
Ames (2-1), the 42nd overall pick of the Draft, struck out six and allowed just one baserunner all afternoon, a leadoff walk to Anthony Garcia in the fifth. He retired the first 12 batters he faced and easily worked through the fifth, retiring the side after Rays catcher Jake DePew gunned down Garcia on a steal attempt.
The Rays, though, weren't the only team anticipating big performances like this from the Lower Columbia (Wash.) College alum -- Ames, 20, was previously selected in the 46th round of the 2009 Draft by the Phillies and in the 30th round of the 2010 Draft by the Rockies but did not sign either time. Instead, he finished his career at Lower Columbia as perhaps the program's best pitcher and spent a summer in the West Coast League, a collegiate wood-bat circuit.
The extra work helped raise his Draft value considerably. The righty received a $650,000 signing bonus from Tampa Bay, drafted with one of the picks the Rays received as compensation for losing Rafael Soriano, the American League's save leader in 2010, to the Yankees as a free agent last winter.
Ames made his Minor League debut with Princeton in a rough, one-inning outing against Bluefield on July 3. He made a pair of relief appearances after that, earning his first win July 14 with 4 1/3 frames against Burlington. Wednesday marked his second Minor League start.
The Rays gave their pitcher a lead in the third when Deshun Dixon ripped his second homer of the year to right, a one-out solo shot. Dixon singled home Josh Sale, the Rays' first-rounder from 2010, in the fifth for a 2-0 edge.
Jose Molina came on to replace Ames in the sixth before the Rays rallied for three more runs in the bottom of the frame. Ryan Brett hit a leadoff single and stole home, Drew Vettleson hit a sacrifice fly and Jake DePew capped the frame with an RBI single.
Cardinals right-hander Jose Pasen (2-2) had his worst outing of the year, surrendering five runs on seven hits and a walk over 5 1/3 innings to suffer his first loss since July 7.