All three characteristics have been challenged of late thanks to injuries. There were a few days last week when righthanders J.P. Feyereisen (shoulder impingement) and Andrew Kittredge (back tightness) overlapped on the injured list. It is difficult to overstate how effective they have been this season. After all, the former has yet to allow an earned run in 22 appearances and the latter has three wins, five saves and a 2.84 ERA.

Bullpen Battles Through Injuries; Cardinals Visit For First Time Since 2014

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Rays bullpen has been one of the majors’ most effective in recent years thanks largely to its depth, versatility, and next-man-up mantra.

All three characteristics have been challenged of late thanks to injuries. There were a few days last week when righthanders J.P. Feyereisen (shoulder impingement) and Andrew Kittredge (back tightness) overlapped on the injured list. It is difficult to overstate how effective they have been this season. After all, the former has yet to allow an earned run in 22 appearances and the latter has three wins, five saves and a 2.84 ERA.

Kittredge missed about two weeks before returning to throw a scoreless ninth inning in Sunday’s 6-5 loss against the White Sox.

The Tampa Bay Rays bullpen has been one of the majors’ most effective in recent years thanks largely to its depth, versatility, and next-man-up mantra.
J.P. Feyereisen, Credit: Will Vragovic Tampa Bay Rays

“Definitely excited to get back out there, and with the injuries that we’ve got, it’s all hands on deck,” he said.

It helps having a well-oiled Durham-to-St. Pete shuttle. Shawn Armstrong and Ralph Garza, Jr., in his third stint with the parent club this season, gave the Rays a chance to get back into Sunday’s game against Chicago.

After the White Sox scored six runs in the first two innings off starter Ryan Yarbrough, Armstrong threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings before Garza logged a career-high 3 2/3 innings. The 28-year-old righthander allowed seven hits, but did not allow the White Sox to tack on.

The 31-year-old Armstrong, who started the season with Miami and was designated for assignment May 2, signed a minor-league deal with the Rays on May 10. His was brought up from Durham last Tuesday for his second stint with the team.

The Tampa Bay Rays bullpen has been one of the majors’ most effective in recent years thanks largely to its depth, versatility, and next-man-up mantra.
Andrew Kittredge, Credit: Tyler Schank, Tampa Bay Rays

“They are our backbone right now,” said Mike Zunino, of a bullpen that  has seen Jason Adam string together 13 straight scoreless appearances and Colin Poche allow only one run in his last 13 outings

It is such efforts that are required when injuries pile up in a bullpen that this season has yet to have the services of Nick Anderson (elbow) and Pete Fairbanks (right lat strain), both of whom could return after the all-star break. JT Chargois (left oblique) started the season with the Rays before going on the 10-day IL on April 12. He was transferred to the 60-day IL on May 22.

Baz appears ready to return: Shane Baz made his fourth rehab start for Triple-A Durham on Sunday, and it was impressive. The righthander, who turns 23 on June 17, struck out 10 in 4 1/3 innings. He had arthroscopic surgery to remove loose bodies in his right elbow March 21. Baz made his MLB debut last September 20 against Toronto and went 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA. He also started Game 2 of the ALDS against Boston, allowing three earned runs 2 1/3 innings in a no-decision. He was due to be reinstated Monday, but the team made no such move.

A start of something?: Zunino’s two-run homer off Lucas Giolito in the sixth inning Sunday that brought the Rays to within a run was only his second at the Trop this season. The catcher hit 14 of his career-high 33 homers at home last season. He heads into the St. Louis series hitting .152 with five homers, 16 RBI and a .513 OPS.

“I feel for Zunino right now,” said manager Kevin Cash, following Sunday’s game. “I feel like he has taken some good swings and not with a ton to show for it. Glad he got one over the wall and hopefully that can carry over (into the St. Louis series.)”

Short on hits: The Rays have played six games since Wander Franco was placed on the injured list with a right quad strain. In that stretch, Taylor Walls (2-for-12) and Vidal Brujan (1-for-10) have each started three games at short and are a combined 3-for-22 at the plate. On the season, Brujan is hitting .134 in 67 at-bats and Walls .151 in 126 at-bats.

In a groove: It does not all fall on Randy Arozarena. However, with Franco out of the lineup and Brandon Lowe’s (back) prolonged absence, the outfielder’s bat is badly needed. In his last 19 games, Arozarena is hitting .333 (26-for-78) with five of his six homers and 15 of his 24 RBI. He has lifted his average from .218 to .262.

It had been a while: Drew Rasmussen thought it was 2015 or 2016 with Oregon State when he last went seven innings. That’s what he did Saturday against the White Sox, who he blanked while allowing only three hits and not walking a batter. Unfortunately, the righthander saw the bullpen blow a 2-0 lead in a 3-2 loss.

Rasmussen lasted only three innings in his previous start (no-decision) at Texas on May 30, when he walked three and allowed five runs. He got back on track during an 81-pitch outing against Chicago. While two double plays helped the cause, the lack of free passes was key.

“They can’t defend walks,” said Rasmussen, who is scheduled to make his next start Friday night at Minnesota, of the fielders behind him. “That is something that I struggled with in Texas and it was great to turn that around.”

Long time no see: The Cardinals are in town for a three-game series beginning Tuesday night. It will be their visit to the Trop since 2014 when the teams split two games. The Rays played at St. Louis in 2017, taking two of three. Arozarena, acquired from the Cardinals in January 2020, gets to face his former team for the first time.

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