Rays journal: A connection to 3,000-hit man Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols of the Angels didn't impress the Rays, or many other teams, when he was coming into the league in 1999. The 13th-round pick by the Cardinals got his 3,000th hit Friday night, and Rays players were happy to see it. [Getty Images]
Albert Pujols of the Angels didn't impress the Rays, or many other teams, when he was coming into the league in 1999. The 13th-round pick by the Cardinals got his 3,000th hit Friday night, and Rays players were happy to see it. [Getty Images]
Published May 5

ST. PETERSBURG — He's not quite in the category of "ones that got away" like Buster Posey, Josh Hamilton and Bobby Abreu, but with Albert Pujols reaching the 3,000-hit milestone Friday it's worth recalling he could have been a Devil Ray.

With their area scout pushing Pujols hard before the 1999 draft, the Rays had the thick-bodied then-shortstop in for a private workout but were unimpressed — even asking him to put on catcher's gear — and deemed him a late-round pick at best. The Cardinals took a $60,000 flyer in the 13th round, which worked out pretty well.

Playing most of the last four years in Anaheim gave now-Rays 1B/DH C.J. Cron a close up view of Pujols' awesomeness, and even more of an appreciation from him rapping that 3,000th hit.

"It's unbelievable,'' Cron said. "Coming up through the Angels system he was the other first baseman, so we'd always be taking ground balls, he would help me all the time. …

"He was an open book to me. Any questions I had, he was there. I think being around him daily, seeing the professionalism that he brought to the field every day, it just kind of paved the way of how baseball should be played. He was influential in my career for sure.''

Rays OF Carlos Gomez took to Instagram to congratulate Pujols, a fellow Dominican, as "a tremendous example" on and off the field. Gomez later told radio man Neil Solondz it went back to his 2007 rookie year with the Mets when Pujols spoke to him about pimping a home run.

Stanek on the scene
RHP Ryne Stanek was happy to be back with the Rays after opening the season at Triple-A Durham, saying additional work to make his slider an effective third option to his high-octane fastball and splitter has made him a better overall reliever.

The Rays are hoping that with the expanded arsenal and improved confidence after three 2017 big-league stints he is good enough to stick around.

"The fastball has been pretty electric,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "Saying that, I think he is the first to realize he can't come up here and throw an inning's worth of fastballs and not have some complementary off-speed, whether it's the splitter or the slider. … I like the fact that he's been in the zone.

"We've got to find a way to get him comfortable. The same mentality he takes on a Durham mound he has to take at the Trop. When he does that, he's going to help us. And he's going to help us for many years.''

Cash: Faria start 'really, really good'

RHP Jake Faria pitched really well again on Saturday, just not as long as he would have liked. Not quite as sharp as Monday when he threw eight shutout innings, Faria nonetheless impressed, allowing one run and three hits until getting pulled with two on and one out in the sixth to have Chaz Roe face Josh Donaldson, and get a double play. "Jake set the tone … he was really, really good,'' Cash said.

Lending a hand
Cash made mention of the defensive improvements by Mallex Smith, who has played well in place of injured CF Kevin Kiermaier. "I think Mallex has done a really nice job,'' Cash said. "I know he had the hiccup there in Chicago a couple weeks back. But since then he's made some nice plays for us. His throws have been really (good). He's gone and got it well. I think he's done a good job of cleaning some things up.''

Not-so-minor-matters
Two-way prospect LHP/1B Brendan McKay earned the Rays April minor-league pitcher of the month award, then impressed further Friday, throwing 42/3 hitless innings for Class A Bowling Green, striking out nine. In five starts, he is 1-0, 1.45 with an eye-popping 33 strikeouts — and two walks — in 182/3 innings. In 16 games, McKay is hitting .265 with a .756 OPS. … Class A Charlotte 1B Nate Lowe was named their top April player (as well as the Florida State League's), hitting .393 with five homers, 24 RBIs.

Miscellany
• RHP Nathan Eovaldi (arthroscopic elbow surgery) came through his Friday rehab start with the Stone Crabs well, with another start likely Wednesday.
• 3B Matt Duffy was given a tough error Friday by official scorer Bill Mathews on a pop-up that hit the stairs on the catwalk and caromed from second base toward third.
• Cool to see former Rays LH relief prospect Adam Liberatore, traded to the Dodgers in November 2014, close out Friday's four-pitcher no-hitter.
• Jays 1B Justin Smoak is expected back from paternity leave on Sunday.
• RHP Chris Archer said he has been watching video of the Blue Jays hitters he isn't familiar with and is looking forward to today's start.

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