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Tampa Bay Rays shoot for sweep of Marlins behind Rich Hill

Mar 13, 2021; Port Charlotte, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Rich Hill (14) pitches the first inning  during spring training at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 13, 2021; Port Charlotte, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Rich Hill (14) pitches the first inning during spring training at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

It may be hard to believe, but this is the 17th major league season for Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Rich Hill.

Hill, 41, is set to make his Rays debut on Saturday, when Tampa Bay visits the Miami Marlins to close a season-opening three-game series. The Rays will be going for a sweep after winning 1-0 on Thursday and 6-4 on Friday.

In spring training, Hill strived to find the consistency of his arm path. He worked to execute his pitches in precise locations, and his fastball showed increased velocity this spring.

However …

“Once you get into (regular-season games), it’s a different feel,” Hill said. “It’s a different adrenaline.”

Hill hasn’t faced the Marlins since 2017, when he went 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in one start. For his career, he is 2-1 with a 4.67 ERA in four appearances (three starts) against Miami.

The Rays reportedly are ready to use Chris Archer behind Hill on Saturday. Archer, a 32-year-old right-hander, did not pitch last year but went 3-9 with a 5.19 ERA in 2019 with the Pirates. This will be Archer’s second stint with the Rays, the organization that gave him his major league debut in 2012.

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Archer, who made the All-Star Game twice (2015, 2017) while pitching for Tampa Bay, is 1-1 with a 3.19 ERA in five career appearances against the Marlins. However, in his three most recent starts against Miami, Archer allowed 10 earned runs in 17 innings.

Tampa Bay’s offense has scored a total of seven runs in getting off to a 2-0 start. Six of those runs came on homers: two solo shots by Austin Meadows, one solo dinger by Manuel Margot and the three-run bomb by Joey Wendle that essentially won Friday’s game.

Meanwhile, the Marlins are off to a winless start after a brilliant exhibition season. The Marlins had the best spring training record in the majors this year at 14-5-5.

The good news for the Marlins is that their starting pitchers threw a total of 11 scoreless innings the past two days. In spring training, Marlins starting pitchers combined for a 9-0 record.

In addition, Marlins center fielder Starling Marte hit .341 in spring training, and, after an 0-for-4 performance on Thursday that included four strikeouts, he went 3-for-5 on Friday.

On Saturday, the Marlins are set to start right-hander Elieser Hernandez, who turns 26 next month. After producing a 5-plus ERA in his first two years in the majors, Hernandez seemed to have a breakthrough last season, when he went 1-0 with a 3.16 ERA in six starts.

That’s a small sample size for Hernandez, whose 2020 season was cut short by an arm injury.

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As for the Marlins’ hitters, they finally broke through in the seventh inning Friday, snapping a scoreless drought that had lasted for 15 straight frames to start the season.

Rookie second baseman Jazz Chisholm Jr. got the rally started with a two-out triple.

Chisholm is the first Bahamian-born player to start on Opening Day since Tony Curry with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1961.

“Jazz plays with a lot of energy,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He’s exciting to watch. Hold on (because) Jazz has just started his thing.”

While Miami’s offense finally got rolling late on Friday, the Marlins’ bullpen sprung a leak, allowing six runs in four innings.

Mattingly, though, is not concerned.

“All of that is going to get cleaned up,” Mattingly said. “We know what these guys can do, and we’re going to be fine.”

–Field Level Media