The Rays have made some moves in between games of their double-header with the Red Sox today, as reported by Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (via Twitter). Left-hander Joe La Sorsa was designated for assignment and righty Trevor Kelley was optioned to Triple-A. Taking their places in the bullpen are the newly-acquired Robert Stephenson, as well as another right-hander in Shawn Armstrong. For Armstrong, he is set to make his 2023 debut after being activated from the 60-day injured list, as he has been sidelined due to a neck injury.
Armstrong’s neck problem surfaced in early March, so he missed quite a bit of Spring Training and thus needed a good amount of ramp-up time once he was healthy enough to pitch. The veteran reliever made seven appearances with Triple-A Durham and performed well, with a 2.00 ERA over his even nine innings of work.
Tampa Bay’s bullpen has always been something of a revolving door due to the team’s penchant for shuttling fresh arms up and down from Triple-A, but injuries and an overall so-so performance from the relief corps (who rank 22nd in bullpen ERA) has led to a bit more shuffling than usual. The Rays hope that Armstrong and Stephenson can help provide some stability, as the bullpen has been basically the only relative weak link on a team that otherwise looks like a World Series contender.
That said, injuries within the rotation are also a major concern, with Drew Rasmussen out until around August and Jeffrey Springs done for the season due to Tommy John surgery. In addition to those sidelined pitchers, Josh Fleming is now also set to miss “at least several weeks,” Topkin writes, due to an elbow problem. Fleming said he felt “discomfort on the outside of the elbow and near his triceps,” and is undergoing an MRI and CT scan today to determine the nature of the injury.
Fleming has a 4.62 ERA over 48 2/3 innings this season, starting three of his 11 games. While the results have been inconsistent for the groundball specialist, Fleming’s ability to work as a swingman has been helpful to the Rays as they navigate these injuries, though now Fleming himself is looking at a lengthy absence. Topkin suggests that Tampa might call up Yonny Chirinos to work as a regular starter, and of course Tampa Bay could conceivably turn to their past strategy of openers and bulk pitchers rather than a traditional starter.
La Sorsa’s contract was selected last week, and the southpaw’s brief stint in the big leagues resulted in his MLB debut — two scoreless innings in the Rays’ 1-0 loss to the Cubs on May 29. The 25-year-old La Sorsa also pitched at the Triple-A level for the first time in 2023, posting a 3.86 ERA over 21 innings in Durham. La Sorsa has some decent but not standout numbers over his four career minor league seasons, so it’s possible the Rays might be able to sneak him through the waiver wire before outrighting him back to Triple-A.