- The Rays will take yet another unconventional route with their rotation Sunday and start reliever Sergio Romo for the second straight game, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Before Saturday, when he worked a perfect, three-strikeout inning against the Angels in his first-ever start, the 35-year-old Romo had amassed 588 straight relief appearances. The Rays started Romo in order for their second pitcher, lefty Ryan Yarbrough, to avoid facing the top of the Angels’ lineup (an all-righty group) three times. The plan ended up working, as Yarbrough fired 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball en route to a win.
The Rays, who have employed some outside-the-box thinking with regards to their rotation this season, will turn to veteran reliever Sergio Romo for his first career start Saturday. The 35-year-old right-hander will take the hill against the Angels’ formidable offense after beginning his MLB tenure with 588 straight appearances out of the bullpen. Unsurprisingly, there’s almost no chance Romo will be in the game long enough to pick up a win, manager Kevin Cash suggested. “The thought process is fairly obvious,” Cash said of the decision to start Romo (via Jay Paris of MLB.com). “They are a heavy stacked right-handed lineup. Now, they can obviously change that, but a couple of their guys aren’t going to move no matter who’s pitching. So, if Romo can get through an inning or two, we’ll see where we are at and probably give the ball to (Ryan) Yarbrough.”
Meanwhile, a more traditional starting option – righty Nathan Eovaldi – is nearing his Rays debut. Eovaldi, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2016 (as a Yankee), is likely to join the team after a Triple-A rehab start Wednesday, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweets. Eovaldi underwent Tommy John surgery late in the ’16 campaign, causing him to miss all of last season and some of this year, and has been dealing with a right rib muscle strain more recently.
- In other Rays news, the club placed shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria on the disabled list with a hamstring strain, retroactive to Friday, Topkin writes. The team recalled righty Ryne Stanek from Triple-A to take Hechavarria’s roster spot. The light-hitting Hechavarria’s absence will leave short to infielder Daniel Robertson, who has quietly been one of the majors’ premier offensive players this year. Robertson’s slashing .284/.438/.471 with four home runs and nearly as many walks (26) as strikeouts (29) through 130 trips to the plate.
- The Rays put Carlos Gomez on the 10-day DL with a groin strain and recalled infielder Christian Arroyo from Triple-A Durham, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Gomez’s injury doesn’t appear to be too severe, as Topkin notes that the organization is “playing it safe” and being careful in placing the struggling Gomez on the disabled list. The 32-year-old Gomez is hitting just .200/.252/.354 on the season, though his .264 BABIP is considerably south of his career .315 mark. Arroyo, the centerpiece in the offseason Evan Longoria swap, has had a similarly rough go of it in Durham, opening the year in a .200/.235/.308 slump. He’ll get some opportunities in the coming days against left-handed pitching, manager Kevin Cash said, though it appears that part of the thinking in bringing him to the big leagues was to give Cash an alternative to Matt Duffy, who is dealing with a sore hamstring but as of now won’t be placed on the DL.
- It seems that Rays righty Nathan Eovaldi is facing yet another hurdle. Per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, via Twitter, the long-rehabbing starter won’t make it back as hoped later this month. While his elbow isn’t the culprit this time, thankfully, Eovaldi will first need to recover from a right rib muscle strain. The prognosis is not terribly clear at the moment, so it could yet be that this’ll be more of a speed bump than a roadblock, but it’s certainly disappointing to hear that Eovaldi has again been dealt with tough luck on the cusp of a return to the majors.
- Rays two-way prospect Brendan McKay, the fourth pick in last year’s draft, is inching closer to the majors. The Rays have moved him from Single-A to High-A, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Prior to his promotion, the left-handed McKay, 22, opened the year with a 1.09 ERA and 14.59 K/9 against .73 BB/9 in 24 2/3 innings. He also held his own as a hitter, albeit not quite as much, with a .254/.484/.333 line in 91 PAs. Rays senior VP Chaim Bloom told Topkin that McKay “has been exceptional,” adding: “The results we’ve seen (as a pitcher) have been so phenomenal that he would be really hard-pressed to match that as a hitter. But he’s shown such as advanced approach at the plate, in fact to the point it felt at time he was being pitched around at that level.”
J.J. Cooper of Baseball America recently answered a question from a Twitter fan about undrafted free agents in MLB. It turns out that there were eight undrafted free agents on MLB rosters at the start of the year, and all eight of them were right-handed pitchers. Unlike football, where there are plenty of UDFA success stories, it’s exceedingly rare for a UDFA to produce significantly at the MLB level. Some outliers include Matt Shoemaker, Miguel Gonzalez, Darren O’Day and Kirby Yates. Of the UDFA’s currently in the majors on opening day, Tigers reliever Joe Jimenez (23 years old) and Rays pitcher Andrew Kittredge (28) are the only players below the age of 30. There are a few more fun facts in Cooper’s piece, making it well worth a full read.
Other items of note as the Tigers and Mariners prepare for a remarkably cold double-header…
- The Blue Jays announced earlier today that they’ve activated infielder Gio Urshela and optioned outfielder Dalton Pompey to Triple-A Buffalo. Urshela, 26, was recently acquired for cash (or a player to be named later) after the Indians designated him for assignment earlier this month; he’d been on the DL since the start of the season. While acclaimed as somewhat of a defensive wizard, Urshela carries an anemic bat and has posted a wRC+ of just 57 throughout the course of his major-league career.
- In other Blue Jays news, shortstop Aledmys Diaz has begun throwing, says Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca. He’s expected to begin hitting later this week. Diaz left last Sunday’s game after spraining his ankle, but it doesn’t appear as though the injury will keep him sidelined for much longer than the ten-day minimum at this point. Diaz was acquired from the Cardinals this offseason in exchange for outfielder J.B. Woodman; the shortstop has hit .216/.273/.431 so far with his new club.
- Rays righty Jose Mujica has been cleared of any significant arm issues, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweets. The minor-league hurler will need about a month of rest after being diagnosed with a forearm strain. So long as he can get back to health, though, he could represent a much-needed option later in the year.
- In other pitching injury news, the Rays have suffered another dent to their depth, as Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports on Twitter. 21-year-old right-hander Jose Mujica is sidelined with a forearm strain, per the report, which is never the sort of news you want to hear for a young hurler. Mujica had shown well in his first six starts at the Triple-A level, working to a 3.13 ERA with 32 strikeouts against ten walks in his 31 2/3 innings of action. His anticipated timeline is not yet known.
- “Don’t expect” the Rays to make a run at Matt Harvey, writes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Rolling the dice on reviving Harvey’s career would only make sense for the Rays if and when Harvey is released by the Mets (as opposed to working out a trade), of course, but Topkin doesn’t seem inclined to believe it’s likely in any scenario. The right-hander has posted an ERA just south of 7.00 over the past two seasons with the Mets following both Tommy John and thoracic outlet surgeries.
Rays righty Yonny Chirinos is expected to be sidelined for about a month after a full examination of his elbow, per a report from Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Meanwhile, fellow right-hander Nathan Eovaldi appears to be making good progress from elbow surgery.
Chirinos had already been put on the 10-day DL; at the time of the placement, though, it was not clear how long he would miss. While it’s certainly sub-optimal for the Tampa Bay organization to lose him at all, Topkin writes that the Rays were left feeling fortunate with the prognosis.
Elbow issues for young pitchers obviously tend to set off alarm bells. In this case, though, the medical opinion is that Chirinos is not dealing with any “structural damage,” per the report. Still, it seems the club has charted a cautious course for the rookie hurler, who has impressed (3.71 ERA with 8.1 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9) in his first 26 2/3 MLB innings.
The loss of Chirinos is balanced somewhat by the optimism on Eovaldi, who required work to address bone chips after nearly making it all the way back from Tommy John surgery. But he won’t be available right away, and the Rays would obviously prefer to be able to call upon both pitchers, particularly with the ballclub showing some life after a rough opening few weeks.
Eovaldi is aiming to make it back up to the majors after about three weeks of work on the minor-league mound, with a target of the Rays’ series against the Red Sox beginning May 22nd. He is already pumping upper-nineties heat, Topkin reports (Twitter links), and will begin a rehab assignment tomorrow. Eovaldi’s anticipated timeline reflects the fact that he needs to ramp fully back up after going down just before the start of the season.