Baseball players are, by their nature, hyper-competitive. So Josh Sale was understandably anxious to play in a meaningful game again with Class A Bowling Green on Saturday after spending a month at extended spring training.
Sale -- the 17th overall pick in the 2010 Draft -- acquitted himself well, going 1-for-2 with a walk and a run scored as the Hot Rods blanked the visiting Lake County Captains, 2-0.
"Getting back into it, playing games that mean something, it's always good," said Sale. "My heart was beating a little bit harder tonight, but I think it all worked out. I just want to continue from this point on, get hits and help the team win."
The 20-year-old outfielder made his professional debut last summer with Rookie-level Princeton, where he batted .210 with four homers and 15 RBIs in 60 games. He said he used his time in Florida this spring to fully prepare himself for his first exposure to full-season action.
"I have a lot of high standards for myself. I'm always trying to better myself, so not making the break out of regular Spring Training, I told myself, 'It is what it is, keep working hard, do your drills,'" Sale said. "They kept me back and we just continued to work and get better from there. I hit a point where they thought I was ready to come up and they brought me here.
"I was just getting my work in down there, paying attention to the finer details so come game time, it's second nature."
In addition to working on his defensive skills and trying to hit to the opposite field, he wanted to strengthen the mental side of his game as he worked out at the Rays' complex in Port Charlotte.
"I wanted to be not so tense and jittery, worked on keeping my emotions in check, so I wouldn't get angry at one at-bat or an error or something," he said. "Just wanted to be able to pick myself up and move on."
The Rays' No. 12 prospect said he learned Friday that he would be heading to the Midwest League and flew with the team Saturday morning.
"They did a good job of getting me prepared, giving me an idea of what to expect," Sale said. "They sit you there and teach you stuff that's necessary and relevant to the game. Even though sometimes it may not seem like it, it definitely is. They helped me to prepare to get up here."
Sale made an almost instant impact by drawing a leadoff walk in the third inning, moving up on a ground ball to second base and scoring the game's first run on a base hit by Ryan Brett.
After taking a called third strike in the fifth, the Seattle native led off the eighth with a single but was stranded at third base.
Hot Rods starter Ryan Carpenter (4-1) grabbed a share of the league lead with his fourth win after allowing three hits over six shutout innings. Jason McEachern and Charlie Cononie yielded one hit over the final three innings, with Cononie earning his second save.