ST. PETERSBURG -- Concerns about the Rays' offense -- or lack thereof -- resonated throughout the team's stay in Port Charlotte, Fla., this spring.
The Rays batted a Major League-low .231 as a team during Spring Training. It seemed that one Grapefruit League game after the next saw the Rays pitch well and struggle to score runs, prompting the question: How in the world are these guys going to score runs in the regular season?
Well, Spring Training games don't count in the standings. And somehow, the Rays have managed to find their missing offense, having hit .333 in their first two games. The club's latest batting clinic came on Saturday night at Tropicana Field, wrapped in an 8-6 win over the Yankees with 34,078 watching.
Luke Scott made his first start of the season for the Rays, and the former Orioles slugger offered a testimonial for why Tampa Bay invested $5 million to sign him as its designated hitter this season.
Scott put the Rays up, 2-0, in the first, when he singled through the middle off Hiroki Kuroda for his first hit as a member of the Rays. Scott singled again in his second at-bat, then doubled home another run in the sixth to put the Rays up, 5-2, and help chase Kuroda.
"With a guy like [Kuroda], you sit either pitch or location," Scott said. "You can't really try to do too much. Take any aggressiveness out of your swing, because it's not going to match up too well with his kind of stuff and his ability to command his offspeed and put some run on his fastball. I just try to stay up the middle of the field the whole game and stay on pitches -- not try and launch, not try and take real aggressive hacks. Just take what he gives me."
While Scott made a significant contribution, he had a lot of company on Saturday night.
Jose Lobaton kept the first-inning momentum going when he doubled to lead off the second and scored on a two-out single by Carlos Pena, who collected his sixth RBI of the season.
Matt Joyce also had a big night.
After hitting in the No. 9 spot on Friday against Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia, Joyce found himself in the cleanup spot, thanks to a hunch by Rays manager Joe Maddon, who felt like such a move might give Joyce a lift.
Joyce responded with a walk in his first at-bat, a solo home run in his second and, finally, a two-run single in the seventh that put the Rays up, 8-2.
"Well, I was a little surprised to be hitting in the four-hole today, coming in from what happened the day before," Joyce said. "But Joe has a way of kind of picking the right guy at the right time. You know, I was excited to take the challenge and just step in that place and try to come up for the team."
This season, Tampa Bay has already scored 15 runs -- a plateau that took the club 63 innings to reach last season.
"The offense has been phenomenal," Joyce said. "We're really excited. We've been aggressive on the right pitches and disciplined, and taking some walks when need be. We've obviously put up a lot of runs in the first two games, and I think that's a little bit of a surprise to a lot of people. Luke had a great night and really got us going with that single up the middle and drove in those first two runs."
The Rays' bullpen, which did not allow a run -- or a hit -- on Friday, performed well again on Saturday night before getting a little sloppy in the final innings, when Josh Lueke struggled to find the strike zone. Joel Peralta entered the game to clean up Lueke's mess and in the process surrendered a three-run homer to Nick Swisher in the ninth that finished the scoring.
However, there was one final anxious moment that saw Fernando Rodney enter the game in the ninth to face Alex Rodriguez with two outs and a runner aboard. Fortunately for the Rays, Rodriguez swung at Rodney's first pitch and grounded out to second baseman Sean Rodriguez, who was shifted to the left side, to end the game.
David Price started for the Rays, allowing two runs on five hits while walking four and striking out five in 6 1/3 innings to earn his first win of the season. In the process, Price snapped a career-long seven-start winless streak dating back to last Sept. 2 against the Orioles. He had not won at home since last July 15 against Boston.
The Rays' seven-game regular-season winning streak dating back to last season is the longest active run in the Major Leagues. There has been just one longer winning streak in team history, when the Rays won 12 in a row from June 9-22, 2004.
"We just haven't gotten it done," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "Give them credit. They're swinging the bats really well right now, hitting line drives all over the place. They're really doing a good job. We've played two close games and just haven't been able to pull it out."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.