Sunday, February 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Curt Casali makes memorable MLB debut for Rays

MINNEAPOLIS — Promoted to the major leagues for the first time, thrust into the starting lineup Friday, logging his first hit with family watching and the Rays winning. C Curt Casali has a lot to look forward to.

Especially when looking back is a bit of a blur.

A year ago, Casali, 25, was in Class A, playing for the Port Charlotte Stone Crabs after being acquired from Detroit at the end of spring training.

"It's been a crazy year to say the least," Casali said.

From the Stone Crabs, he got a late-July promotion to Double-A Montgomery, made an injury-abbreviated stint in the Arizona Fall League, took advantage of a spring training invite to make a good impression on the big-league staff, opened this season at Montgomery, then moved up after a month to Triple-A Durham.

The first time Ryan Hanigan went on the disabled list in late May (hamstring tightness), the Rays called up Ali Solis — and they went 1-12. With Hanigan out again, potentially for two to three more weeks with an oblique strain, they turned to Casali.

And Friday — despite the nerves that hit him when he walked toward the bullpen before the game — couldn't have gone much better, with raves from starter Alex Cobb, manager Joe Maddon and even home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt for the way he received the ball.

"Curt was unbelievable,'' Cobb said. "His job behind the plate, working with me before the game, it was almost like cramming for an exam, trying to get to know me as quick as possible, and it was fantastic. You could tell as the course of the game went on, we were just having this chemistry where he was knowing what pitches I wanted to throw beforehand. The job he does framing pitches and really getting that low strike is tremendous.''

More impressive since it was the first time they'd worked together in a game, limited previously to a couple of spring training bullpen sessions.

"He was shaking a little bit in the beginning but as the game went on he was shaking less and we got into a pretty good groove,'' Casali said.

Known more for offense, though hitting only .237 with three homers and 15 RBIs in 46 games at Durham, Casali will have to show he can handle the defensive assignment to earn his share of playing time from veteran Jose Molina.

"I felt good behind the plate (at Durham), better than I have in my entire career," Casali said. "I just look forward to keeping it going and hopefully show these guys what I can do."

He got off to a good start, singling to right-center in his first at-bat, with the ball tossed into the Rays dugout as a souvenir, and scoring. He grounded out in his next three at-bats to finish 1-for-4.

Though Casali didn't get word of his promotion until Thursday afternoon, his parents and two brothers made it to Minneapolis for his debut, as did his girlfriend, who was about to board a flight to Las Vegas when he called her Thursday.

"Walking out there, I just kind of took a second to look around and appreciate what was happening,'' Casali said. "It was pretty cool.''

Manager Joe Maddon said there was "no finish line" for Hanigan's DL stay, that "it's one of those injuries that if you keep pushing it's just going to get worse; you've got to give him some time."

Price check: LHP David Price said he is pretty much on a regular schedule to start tonight despite the four-day All-Star break.

Price spent the entire time in Minneapolis, flying in after pitching Sunday at the Trop, taking part in the All-Star festivities Monday and Tuesday (though not active for the game), taking Wednesday off, then working out by himself at Target Field on Thursday.

"I made it into a normal week," he said. "I got all my workouts in. At the All-Star Game on Tuesday I threw a bullpen. … I kept it as normal as I could because I knew I had to throw (today)."

Draft breeze: The Rays didn't reach agreements with any of their four remaining unsigned draft picks by the Friday deadline. They ended up with 37 of their 41 picks signed, including their top 25. No. 1 pick Casey Gillaspie had a five-RBI night Friday for short-season Class A Hudson Valley and is hitting .344 in 17 July games.

Rehab report: RHP Jeremy Hellickson will pitch Sunday for the Stone Crabs in Clearwater, then likely rejoin the Rays next weekend. Hellickson was optioned to the minors so he can stay on a regular schedule with the Rays not needing a fifth starter as they have two off-days in the next week. He threw six innings Monday for Montgomery, allowing one run on five hits, striking out 11. … OF Wil Myers, targeting a mid-August return, tweeted of "progress" with his previously fractured right wrist, lightly throwing a tennis ball and taking swings with a Speed Hitter device.

Miscellany: The Rays now lead the overall series with the Twins 64-63, and are 13-4 at Target Field. ... Casali became the 19th Ray to hit safely in his first big-league plate appearance. ... Rookie Cole Figueroa started at second as Maddon said he wants to make sure everyone plays this weekend and it was the best matchup; Ben Zobrist played left. … Charlie Montoyo won his 613th game Friday as manager of Durham, tying Bill Evers' Bulls record. … RHP Jake Odorizzi and RHP Alex Cobb, who pitched Friday, will start the Tuesday-Wednesday series in St. Louis.

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