ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays' first wave of September callups came with a twist — and a dip and a flutter.
Knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa is among three players who will join the team today, set to make his major-league debut as the first product of the team's new program emphasizing the specialty pitch.
C Curt Casali, who spent the first four months in the majors, and RHP Ryan Garton, the Mitchell High product who had three previous stints, were also called up.
Gamboa, 31, joined the Rays as a minor-league free agent this year, working under new pitching coordinator Charlie Haeger, after switching to being a primarily a knuckleballer in 2013. The right-hander was 6-4, 2.68 in 27 games for Triple-A Durham this season, with 12 starts. He logged 89 strikeouts and 39 walks in 94 innings, allowing a .196 average.
Gamboa spent two days in the majors with the Orioles in April 2015 but did not get in a game, so he will make his big-league debut. He will be the second-oldest player to do so with the Rays, behind Jim Morris, 35, whose story became a movie, The Rookie.
Casali was demoted Aug. 5 after the team's acquisition via waivers of Bobby Wilson, having hit .168 with seven home runs, 20 RBI and a .575 OPS in 71 games. Garton was 1-0, 4.73 in 23 games after making his major-league debut May 26.
WELCOME BACK, B.J.: Known more around the Tampa Bay area as B.J. during his eight years with the Rays, OF Melvin Upton Jr. returns to the Trop tonight for the first time since leaving as a free agent after the 2012 season.
The first two seasons of Upton's five-year, $75.25 million deal with the Braves didn't go well, but he improved after a trade to San Diego and was having a solid 2016 season when dealt to Toronto in late July.
"I never quite got comfortable over there (in Atlanta), and it just didn't work out," said Upton, 32. "Definitely feeling back to myself but definitely think it's going to get better. … I like where I'm at."
Upton, who still lives in Tampa, said he has been looking forward to coming back to face the Rays. "It doesn't feel like that long, but thinking about it, it's been a while," he said. "Obviously a place that I'll always remember. That's where I started and had a lot of good times there."
The Jays last week added another familiar face, reacquiring former Rays All-Star C Dioner Navarro.
WEATHER, OR NOT: Rays president Brian Auld said that as of Thursday afternoon there was no concern or discussion about having to postpone tonight's game due to Hurricane Hermine. "We are set for it to go as expected," he said in an email.
The Rays returned home from Boston on a relatively smooth Delta charter flight around 10:30 Wednesday night, and the Blue Jays also got in uneventfully and made it to their hotel by around 2:30 a.m.
The Rays have postponed three games at the Trop due to hurricane-related issues; two in 2004 vs. Detroit, and one in 2000 vs. Oakland.
BECKHAM FALLOUT: The decision to send down INF Tim Beckham after yet another baserunning blunder in Wednesday's game leaves the Rays a little short on middle infielders, as least for now. With Matt Duffy expected back at shortstop tonight and Logan Forsythe at second, they would have only Nick Franklin as a backup. Brad Miller, who was moved from shortstop to first base last month, would be another option, and Taylor Motter could be called up from Durham. Though the Rays were abrupt in sending down Beckham, he is expected back after Durham's season ends, potentially Monday.
MISCELLANY: St. Petersburg-raised U.S. Olympic sprinter Trayvon Bromell will throw out the first pitch Sunday. … CF Kevin Kiermaier said he will learn from his mistakes of aggressiveness on the bases, such as getting thrown out Wednesday trying to stretch a single to a double. … RHP Alex Cobb tonight will be the 12th pitcher to return to the majors this season after having Tommy John elbow surgery, seven in 2015.