A condensed spring training has presented challenges when it comes to pitchers. Specifically, managing workloads when the risk of injury is higher during a hurry-up environment that resulted from the labor agreement.
For the most part, starting pitchers will be limited in the early going. Hence, Rays manager Kevin Cash has much to sort out before next Friday’s opener against the Orioles at Tropicana Field with regard to what will be a crowded bullpen.
As usual, though, there are plenty of experienced candidates, and expanded rosters will certainly help.
Numbers game: Given the aforementioned condensed spring training schedule, MLB expanded rosters from 26 to 28 until May 2 when the limit goes back to 26. There will be no limit on how many pitchers a team can carry. That would be mean a couple of additional arms in the bullpen while the starters are still working on bolstering their pitch counts. Rays fans could see as many as 14 or 15 pitchers during the season’s opening month, including a couple of new faces in the bullpen. That brings us to……
Welcome to the ‘pen: Righthanders Jason Adam and Brooks Raley are new members of what will be a busy bullpen. The 30-year-old Adam, signed as a free agent on March 17, pitched in 12 games for the Cubs last season (5.91 ERA). He has appeared in 79 games, all in relief, during a four-year career (6-4, 4.71 ERA) with the Royals, Blue Jays and Cubs…..Raley, 33, debuted with the Cubs in 2012 and has since moved around quite a bit, including five seasons in Korea (2015-19) before returning to the majors with the Reds in 2020. He made 58 appearances with the Astros last year, going 2-3 with two saves and a 4.78 ERA. He was signed in November.
Delayed start: Fortunately, this appears to be nothing alarming for Shane Baz. The 22-year-old righthander, who made his much-anticipated MLB debut last September, will be out until at least mid-May following surgery on March 21 to remove loose bodies in his pitching elbow. Baz could be throwing again by mid-April followed by a few weeks of building up strength and getting back on the mound.
Mr. Consistency: On Friday, the Rays acquired right-handed hitter Harold Ramirez from the Cubs in exchange for minor-league infielder Esteban Quiroz. The 27-year-old Columbian hit .268 with seven homers and 48 RBIs in 99 games with Cleveland last season. Ramirez, an outfielder/DH who debuted with the Marlins in 2019, has been remarkably consistent in his 221 career games. He is a .275 hitter with a .715 OPS against lefties and .270/.713 versus righties.
Honoring Jean: The Rays honored the late Jean Ramirez during Friday’s game in Port Charlotte against the Orioles. Ramirez, who served as the team’s bullpen catcher, sadly took his life in January. Every member of the team wore Ramirez’s No. 98. Brandon Lowe, wearing a pair of cleats Ramirez painted for him, hit a grand slam in the fifth inning. In this video, Lowe, who lost a relative to suicide and is active in supporting the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, talks about auctioning the cleats to help bring attention to mental illness.
Checking yet another box: Tyler Zombro had a memorable outing against the Red Sox on Saturday in Fort Myers. The 27-year-old righthander, who was struck in the head by a batted ball traveling 104 mph while with Triple-A Durham last June, made his first game appearance since that scary incident, which required emergency brain surgery. Zombro, who had been pitching a couple of times per week this spring in minor league.