Longoria homers, Balfour perfect, Rays top Twins
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (AP) — Evan Longoria hit a two-run homer and Grant Balfour was perfect in his first appearance in a Tampa Bay uniform since 2010, helping the Rays beat the Minnesota Twins 6-3 on Sunday.
Jerry Sands also homered for the Rays, who got a quick third inning from Balfour, as well as 1 2-3 scoreless innings from starter Alex Cobb.
"I’ll take a one-two-three, 12 pitches every day. It definitely went well," said Balfour, who’s back with the Rays in a closer’s role after converting 62 of 67 saves opportunities for the Oakland Athletics over the past two seasons.
The right-hander pitched three seasons for Tampa Bay during a previous stint, contributing to the team’s improbable run to the World Series in 2008. He signed a $12 million, two-year contract in January after a deal he had in place with the Baltimore Orioles fell through this winter.
Balfour said he doesn’t feel he has anything to prove.
"I believe in myself. I’m very confident in myself. I think you’ve got to be to play this game," the reliever said. "It’s a fine line between being confident and cocky. You’ve got to have a little cockiness to you, I think, to be good. All the good ones do. It’s just kind of how you handle it."
Offseason acquisition Ricky Nolasco allowed two hits in two scoreless innings for the Twins, who signed him to a $49 million, four-year deal this winter and are counting on the right-hander to help bolster a struggling pitching staff that posted a major league-worst 5.26 ERA last season.
"It’s good to get a little adrenalin going and kind of get into a game atmosphere. I thought it went OK," Nolasco said. "I’m not going to judge anything. I know it’s spring training. You go and just keep doing your repetitions."
Oswaldo Arcia and Brandon Waring hit solo homers for the Twins. Waring’s shot was a mammoth drive that struck the roof of an island-themed bar and gathering spot beyond the left-centerfield wall.
"He killed that ball. He hit it a long way," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He hit it right to the Tiki Hut, right where I wanted to be all day."
Starting time: Nolasco was 13-11 with a 3.70 ERA in 33 starts for the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Dodgers last season. The Twins pursued him and Phil Hughes, signed to a $24 million, three-year contract, to upgrade their rotation. Nolasco won eight straight decisions for the Dodgers between Aug. 1 and Sept. 9 last summer, and Gardenhire liked what he saw Sunday.
"Free and easy," the Minnesota manager said. "You could see he moves the ball around up and down in the zone, changes speed. He’s going to be fun to watch."
Heating up: Arcia homered off Adam Liberatore in the fifth inning after twice being backed off the plate by inside pitches. Waring took Santiago Garrido deep in the seventh.