Rays' Odorizzi sharp in Durham debut

Club's No. 3 prospect hurls 6 2/3 shutout frames in late win

Jake Odorizzi went 15-5 with a 3.03 ERA in 26 starts last season. (Cliff Welch/MiLB.com)

By Danny Wild / MLB.com | April 8, 2013 7:09 PM ET

Jake Odorizzi's night was over, but he couldn't resist peeking his head back into the dugout.

"I had to watch," he said. "I came back out, it was close."

After dominating into the seventh inning, Odorizzi returned to watch his new Bulls teammates mount an improbable 2-1 walk-off win over the Gwinnett Braves on an error in the ninth in their home opener. It made for a memorable debut in his first start since being traded by Kansas City over the winter.

"I just wanted to go out, throw strikes and keep my team in the game," Tampa Bay's No. 3 prospect said. "Their guy (Omar Poveda) pitched a great game as well, but everyone threw great for us."

Odorizzi, who made his Major League debut last September, looked like the ace Tampa Bay traded for, holding the Braves to four hits over 6 2/3 innings. He struck out eight and walked two.

Traded by the Royals in December along with Wil Myers in a deal that brought James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City, the right-hander threw 52 of his 83 pitches for strikes. Then he handed the ball off to Adam Liberatore, a lefty promoted earlier in the day from Double-A Montgomery. Josh Lueke picked up his first win despite allowing a run in the ninth.

Quick to deflect praise, Odorizzi credited his new catcher Chris Gimenez for making all the right calls.

"Me and Gimmy were on the same page since pitch one, we executed the game plan," Odorizzi said. "So the credit goes to him."

Odorizzi struck out one in the first before giving up a two-out single in the second to Todd Cunningham. He stole second but Odorizzi whiffed Joe Leonard to end the frame. Then he worked around a leadoff single in the third and a two-out walk in the fifth before stranding a pair of runners in the sixth. Cunningham again singled in the seventh and was sacrificed to second by Leonard, but Odorizzi froze Matt Pagnozzi with a called third strike on his 83rd and final pitch.

The Rays had Odorizzi on an 80-85 pitch limit for his first start, and the former Brewers and Royals prospect said he felt strong.

"I was happy today, everything was working," said Odorizzi, who appeared in five innings over three Spring Training games for Tampa Bay. "I had good control, good command of every pitch. My off-speed stuff was good. I was mixing speeds, and that helped me out later on in the game, getting out of some jams, especially in the sixth."

Gwinnett broke the scoreless tie in the ninth when Corey Wimberly scored on shortstop Hak-Ju Lee's fielding error. Durham responded in the bottom of the frame when Myers, the Rays' No. 1 prospect, and Leslie Anderson hit consecutive singles and Gimenez walked before Brandon Guyer reached on a fielding error by shortstop Sean Kazmar that allowed Myers and pinch-runner Jason Bourgeois to score.

For Odorizzi, the start was a milestone of sorts since the trade. He's quickly transitioned into his new -- and third -- organization and said he's happy to be in Durham, one of the most iconic Minor League franchises.

"The stadium is great, we had a ton of fans for the first home game. They like the team around here, so it should be a great place to play all year," he said.

Of course, he wouldn't mind if he's not quite around all season -- after getting a pair of starts with the Royals last year, Odorizzi projects as a top Major League starter once he's ready.

"[Spring Training] was good. I got to meet all the guys, felt right at home very quickly at camp. It was awesome," he said. "I've tried to stay inside myself, try not to do too much."

Odorizzi, who went 15-5 with a 3.03 ERA last year at two levels, said he hasn't let the weight of the trade affect his mentality on the field. He feels no pressure to live up to the expectations attached to being dealt for a pair of accomplished veterans.

"I don't think about it that way, I just focus on what I do and not replacing anyone," he said. "You're not gonna replace the Greinkes and Shields of the world, so I just try to stay within myself and stay with what got me into this position to be trade-worthy. Go out and do the things that got me here."

Myers, who went 1-for-4 and is batting .313 early this year for Durham, is in a similar position. The organization's top prospect has followed Odorizzi through the Minors for parts of the past two seasons, and he projects to be one of Tampa Bay's future stars as well.

"It's like second nature. I was with him all year last year and the year before," Odorizzi said. "We're always playing together. We've spent a lot of days together, the good days and bad days and everything in between. It's great to get to watch him every day."

As for when fans can expect to see one or both of the duo at The Trop, Odorizzi professed he doesn't know.

"I haven't even had that talk with [the Rays]," he said. "I'm just gonna stay ready, keep throwing the ball well and be in top shape to be able to go up and make an impression."

Danny Wild is an editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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