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Apr 1, 2024 3:35 am

Rangers return to Tampa Bay, where they began ’22 title run

dane dunning

The last time the Texas Rangers came to Florida, they swept two games against the Tampa Bay Rays in an American League wild-card series en route to winning the World Series.

The teams will open a three-game set in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Monday.

In October, the Rangers arrived at the Rays’ domed home and dominated the best-of-three series, prevailing 4-0 and 7-1 to start their run to the franchise’s first world title.

The Rangers went 11-0 on the road in the postseason — a stat engraved on their World Series rings, which also included the flight paths to the cities they won playoff games in.

After Texas captured the first two games of the 2024 season at home against the Cubs, Rangers reliever Jose Leclerc walked in the winning run in the ninth inning Sunday as Chicago scored four times with two outs to emerge with a 9-5 victory.

Despite the defeat, Texas manager Bruce Bochy said postgame, “This week has been a lot of fun. I can’t say I’m looking forward to getting on the road. These three games (to open the season at home) — the fans, everything — it’s just a real exciting time for everybody.”

Bochy will give the ball on Monday to right-hander Dane Dunning (12-7, 3.70 ERA in 2023).

In three career starts against the Rays, the Orange Park, Fla., native holds no record and a 1.13 ERA, having limited Tampa Bay to a .179 average.

The Rays lost 8-2 on Opening Day against the Toronto Blue Jays, then rebounded with two victories before getting routed again Sunday, 9-2, as a lack of control hampered the staff.

In the finale, Tyler Alexander — technically the Rays’ No. 5 starter — pitched as a bulk reliever behind opener Shawn Armstrong and allowed five runs in five innings.

“As a staff, we fell behind a little bit,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said after his pitchers issued eight walks. “(Toronto) had baserunners on and (was) really threatening for big innings throughout the course of the game. Wasn’t our day on the mound, but I’m confident we’ll bounce right back.”

In the series opener with Texas, the Rays will send out a heralded acquisition when Ryan Pepiot makes his organizational debut.

Tampa Bay’s No. 4 starter, the right-hander hails from Indianapolis and played locally at Butler University before being selected in the third round by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2019.

Tampa Bay acquired him and outfielder Jonny DeLuca in the December trade that sent pitcher Tyler Glasnow and outfielder Manuel Margot out west.

Despite having little experience at the major league level, Pepiot has generated eye-catching numbers in a small sample size.

In 17 games (10 starts) with the Dodgers, Pepiot produced a 5-1 record, a 2.76 ERA and a 1.085 WHIP. Last year, he went 2-1 with a 2.14 ERA and a superb 0.762 WHIP in eight games (three starts).

While control (32 walks and six hit batters in 78 1/3 innings) has been a concern, he has struck out 80 and allowed only 53 hits in 78 1/3 major league innings, though he has yielded 13 home runs.

Pepiot will be matching up against the Rangers for the first time ever.

–Field Level Media

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