Sarasota, Fla. — When Renato Núñez gets hot, his home runs are known to come in bunches.
The Orioles will be careful not to waste them all in March after Núñez’s first blast of the spring, a towering two-run shot to left field in the fourth inning, was the lone offensive highlight in a 3-3 tie Monday against the Tampa Bay Rays at Ed Smith Stadium.
Núñez, who was the Orioles’ everyday designated hitter in 2019, has been playing more third base this spring to give the team more flexibility. He entered Monday’s game with three hits and a walk in 13 plate appearances.
“I thought Nuney had a nice game,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I like the hustle down the line on the ground ball, made a really nice play on the pop-up that’s a tough in-between play when he was in the shift. Nice running catch, and then the homer. Nuney has had a nice spring. He’s done some good things. He’s improving defensively, and good to see him pop one there.”
Otherwise, a Rays pitching staff featuring major leaguers Charlie Morton and Jalen Beeks kept the Orioles quiet, as they finished with six hits and eight strikeouts and left eight runners on base.
Outfield prospect Yusniel Diaz tripled in the sixth inning and scored on a sacrifice fly by Chris Davis for the run that tied the game.
Right-hander Asher Wojciechowski would have had a perfect three innings if leadoff batter Austin Meadows had been punched out on a close check-swing with a full count in the first inning.
Either way, he erased that walk by forcing the next batter to ground into a double play and set the Rays down in order the rest of the way, striking out two.
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“I thought Asher threw the ball great,” Hyde said. “Had some nice curveballs, thought the fastball had some life — more than it did last time — and worked ahead and threw strikes. A good three innings for him.”
Two true outcomes for Zimmermann
Just as he did last week, left-hander Bruce Zimmermann (Ellicott City) relieved Wojciechowski and continued to make a strong impression on Hyde and the coaching staff.
Zimmermann, who finished last year at Triple-A Norfolk, allowed a two-out home run in the fourth inning and a two-run home run in the sixth. In between, he struck out six Rays batters while walking one and allowing four hits.
“I thought that the line doesn’t really tell how he pitched,” Hyde said. “The slider was really good at times. … He showed really good stuff. I think the fastball on the board was 94, which a lot of times is 95. It looked like he belonged. It looked like he was comfortable, and I was impressed.”
Rookie reliever Hunter Harvey didn’t pitch in a game until Monday because of an illness that delayed him from getting on a mound last month, but looked in midseason form already in his spring debut.
Harvey’s fastball was routinely 96-97 mph on the stadium radar gun, and he allowed a hit with one strikeout in a scoreless inning.
Left-hander Tanner Scott was throwing even harder and had a 1-2-3 eighth inning, and Travis Lakins Sr. had a scoreless ninth to preserve the draw.