ST. PETERSBURG -- A No. 5 who pitched like a No. 1 and a proud papa led the way to an 8-1 Rays win over the Rangers on Friday night at Tropicana Field, as Jake Odorizzi picked up his first victory in the Major Leagues.
The Rays are now 3-2 on the season's opening homestand.
Sean Rodriguez started at first base a day after going on paternity leave for the birth of his fourth child. Rays manager Joe Maddon wanted to give left-handed hitting James Loney a night off against tough left-hander Joe Saunders, and he is prone to look for positive karma wherever he can find it, and he struck gold with the proud papa.
Batting with the bases loaded in the first, Rodriguez got hit by a slider to drive in the first run of the game.
In the third, he stepped to the plate for his second at-bat with two runners aboard. Saunders fell behind 2-1 before delivering a 90-mph fastball that Rodriguez re-routed into the left-field stands for his first home run of the season and a 4-0 Rays lead.
"That was a decent pitch," Saunders said. "He just put a good swing on it. Wrong pitch, wrong time. You live, you learn, you tip your cap and try to move on."
Maddon smiled about Rodriguez's big game.
"Go Daddy did a nice job tonight," Maddon said. "He came in and I said, 'Let's go daddy,' and he did. That ball was really well struck. ... He had a pretty complete evening, including a bouncing baby boy. Good for him."
Wil Myers returned to the lineup after missing Thursday night's action due to flu-like symptoms and he chipped in with a slashing RBI single through the middle in the fourth to put the Rays up 5-0.
Ryan Hanigan finished off any hopes for a Rangers comeback by delivering a three-run homer in the sixth for an 8-0 Rays lead. Rodriguez started the rally by leading off the inning with a double to left-center.
Rodriguez tied his career high with four RBIs.
"It's been great with the birth of my son, and getting a W topped off a great day," Rodriguez said.
Odorizzi made a nice accounting for himself in his first regular-season start since earning the fifth spot in the Rays' rotation.
The rookie right-hander pitched six scoreless innings, limiting the Rangers to three hits and three walks while striking out four to pick up the win. Throughout the game Odorizzi effectively used the split change that Alex Cobb helped teach him and he worked to refine all spring.
"We went to it a lot in big situations, just about any situation," Odorizzi said. "And, it's just a lot of hard work that's paying off, and we're seeing dividends now."
Maddon liked what he saw from his rookie starter.
"He's starting to get a feel for that [split change]," Maddon said. "I really thought him and Hanigan did a nice job. Hanny really demonstrated his catching acumen, a couple really well-timed trips to the mound when he needed it. I liked the way he used his stuff. That's a good lineup he faced tonight. I thought they worked in concert very well."
Odorizzi did manage to get some help from the Rangers, who ran themselves out of a rally in the fourth.
Mitch Moreland delivered a one-out single with two aboard. Problems arose when the lead runner, Prince Fielder, decided to stop after rounding third, rather than trying to score from second. The bases got backed up, eventually resulting in a rundown between third and home. Fielder was tagged out on the 9-4-5-2 play for the second out. Odorizzi then struck out Donnie Murphy to end the threat.
Odorizzi, who came to the Rays from the Royals in the James Shields trade prior to the 2013 season, split time between the Rays and Triple-A Durham last season. But it wasn't until Friday night that he finally nailed down his first win.
"It's kind of escaping me right now honestly," said Odorizzi when asked about his emotions after finally getting his first W. "It's kind of a surreal type of moment. It feels like it took a while but I'm glad I got it out of the way. It was a team win, which made it that much better."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.