The Rays are optioning right-hander Taj Bradley to Triple-A Durham, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (Twitter links). Reliever Ryan Thompson will be recalled to take his roster spot for now, though a spot will soon be required for Aaron Civale, having been acquired from the Guardians earlier today. The Rays have now announced the moves. The club also selected righty Erasmo Ramírez yesterday, optioning righty Calvin Faucher in a corresponding move.
Tampa has dealt with a number of injuries to its rotation this year, with Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen both out for the remainder of the season due to their injuries. Josh Fleming is also on the 60-day injured list and has an uncertain timeline. That has seen them roll with a rotation of Tyler Glasnow, Shane McClanahan, Zach Eflin and Bradley of late. Eflin recently required an MRI on his left knee, which was an ominous development given his history of knee issues, but he’s been cleared to start Tuesday.
Around that foursome, the Rays have been occasionally deploying some bullpen games, but they added Civale into the mix with a trade today. That could have still left room for Bradley to stick around, but it seems that Tampa would prefer to send him to Durham to get some work in there. He came into this season as one of the top prospects in the league but hasn’t quite made a smooth transition to the big leagues. He has allowed 5.67 earned runs per nine innings through 16 starts so far, though there seems to be a lot of bad luck in there. He’s striking out 30% of opponents while walking 7.9%, both of those numbers being better than league average, but his .342 batting average on balls in play and 64.8% strand rate and both on the unlucky side.
ERA estimators such as his 4.15 FIP and 3.53 SIERA paint a nicer picture of Bradley’s debut season thus far, but he will be bumped off the active roster nonetheless. This won’t impact him from a service time perspective, as he had already been optioned a few times earlier in the season and wasn’t going to get a full year of service time here in 2023 even before this move. With tomorrow’s trade deadline looming, there’s still a chance for the Rays to add another starter, with hurlers like Jack Flaherty, Michael Lorenzen and Eduardo Rodriguez just some of those thought to be available.
But for now, it seems the rotation spot will go to Zack Littell, as Topkin relays the righty will start on Friday. Littell had been working as a reliever earlier in the year but recently made some starts as an opener, with his workload gradually increasing. Seven of his last eight outings have been longer than a single inning and he tossed five frames in yesterday’s contest, allowing two earned runs on eight hits, striking out four while walking none.
He was a starter in the minors earlier in his career but has been a primary reliever since 2019. It’s unclear if the Rays plan on him moving to a starter’s role permanently, but it wouldn’t be the first time they went down this road. Both Springs and Rasmussen were working out of the bullpen before the Rays started stretching them out, successfully moving them both to rotation jobs before their current injuries. On the season as a whole, Littell has a 4.85 ERA in 29 2/3 innings, though with a .376 BABIP, 22.7% strikeout rate, 3.8% walk rate and 46.9% ground ball rate.
Ramírez, 33, signed a one-year deal with the Nationals in the offseason. But he posted a 6.33 ERA though 23 appearances and got released, landing with the Rays on a minor league deal. He worked a multi-inning role for the Bulls, tossing 23 innings over nine appearances with a 5.87 ERA. His .383 BABIP and 68% strand rate point to some bad luck while his peripherals were strong, with a 28.7% strikeout rate, 7.9% walk rate and 45.2% ground ball rate.