ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Tampa Bay’s offseason effort to bolster an inconsistent offense is already producing results.
Luke Scott and Carlos Pena were the Rays’ two biggest acquisitions this winter, and the duo has driven in nine runs to help the Rays open the season with a pair of victories over the New York Yankees.
“That’s what we talked about. We needed or wanted to see some significant power adjustment,” manager Joe Maddon said Saturday night after Scott had three hits and drove in three runs in his debut as Tampa Bay’s designated hitter, pacing an 8-6 win before a sellout crowd of 34,078 at Tropicana Field.
“Power is also driving in runs,” Maddon added. “It’s not just hitting home runs. These guys have done a nice job.”
The Yankees trimmed a six-run deficit to two in the ninth, even getting Alex Rodriguez to plate as the potential tying run. But Fernando Rodney came out of the bullpen to retire A-Rod on a first-pitch grounder to a perfectly positioned second baseman playing on the left of second base.
Left-hander David Price (1-0) allowed two runs and five hits over 6 1-3 innings to win for the first time since Aug. 28. The two-time All-Star walked four and struck out five.
The Rays will go for a three-game sweep of the defending AL East champions Sunday, sending 2011 AL rookie of the year Jeremy Hellickson to the mound against right-hander Phil Hughes.
The Yankees aren’t concerned by their slow start.
“We’re two games in right now. It hasn’t really gone the way we would have liked for it to. But, hey, that’s the name of the game,” New York’s Nick Swisher said. “We just got to keep battling, keep fighting, stick together as a team because we’re going to do a lot of special things.”
Matt Joyce hit a solo homer off Hiroki Kuroda (0-1) for the Rays, and added a two-run single against Clay Rapada in the seventh after umpires used instant replay to overturn what initially was ruled a two-run homer for Evan Longoria.
Pena had a RBI single for Tampa Bay, building on his three-hit, five-RBI performance from Friday’s 7-6 season-opening victory.
The slugger, signed this winter along with Scott to add punch to the lineup, hit a grand slam off CC Sabathia and a game-winning RBI single in the ninth off Mariano Rivera in the opener.
“We added some big guys,” Joyce said of Scott and Pena. “It really makes everybody around them better.”
Longoria’s fly to the wall in right field was changed to a ground-rule double. Replays showed a fan wearing a Yankees jersey reached over the railing and caught the ball, which would not have carried into the stands, with a glove. The reversal left runners on second and third, and Joyce followed with his two-run single to make it 8-2.
New York scored on RBI singles by Andruw Jones and Eduardo Nunez in the fourth. Raul Ibanez’s ninth-inning sacrifice fly and Swisher’s three-run homer off Joel Peralta trimmed a six-run Yankees deficit to 8-6. Robinson Cano drew a walk from Jake McGee, but Rodriguez grounded out.
A 19-game winner two years ago when he finished second in Cy Young Award balloting, Price drooped to a 12-13 with a 3.49 ERA last season. He went 0-2 over his last six starts of 2011 — the longest winless streak of his career — and before Saturday night had gone eight consecutive starts at home since beating Boston on July 15.
Kuroda, signed as a free agent after spending the past four seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, allowed six runs and eight hits over 5 2-3 innings in his Yankees debut.
“Overall I wasn’t really sharp. I didn’t exactly command my pitches,” Kuroda said through a translator. “I didn’t have one pitch I could rely on today. It was really disappointing.”
Improving an offense that suffered from a lack of power was Tampa Bay’s biggest priority this offseason.
Although Scott is coming a year in which he batted .220 with nine homers and 22 RBIs before undergoing season-ending surgery in July to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, he hit .269 and averaged 25 home runs per year from 2008-10 with the Orioles. Pena is the Rays’ all-time home run leader and is back with the team after being away a year with the Chicago Cubs.
Scott, who drew an intentional walk as a pinch hitter in his Tampa Bay debut on opening day, lined a bases-loaded single to center in his first official at-bat for his new team. Pena’s opening-day grand slam came in his first at-bat since rejoining the Rays, and his second-inning RBI single off Kuroda made it 3-0 Saturday.
Joyce, moved by Maddon into the cleanup spot after going 0 for 4 with four strikeouts as the No. 9 hitter on Friday, hit his solo homer for 4-0 lead in the third.
“I was a little surprised to be hitting there after what happened yesterday,” Joyce said, smiling. “But Joe has a way of picking right guy for the right spots.”
NOTES: Rays CF B.J. Upton, who’s on the 15-day disabled list because of lower back soreness, is expected to begin a minor league rehab stint on Monday. … Yankees SS Derek Jeter was the DH, and manager Joe Girardi said A-Rod might DH or get a day off Sunday. Girardi’s desire to keep his veteran players fresh during the season and the artificial turf at Tropicana Field were factors in the manager’s thinking. … New York second-place hitter Curtis Granderson and No. 6 Swisher switched spots against Price. Girardi said the change might be used on a regular basis when the opposition starts a left-hander.