Saturday, April 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays Tales: Some feel-good stories

The Rays haven't had a lot to feel good about this season, not with all the injuries, all the personnel issues and, most disappointing, all the losses, which seem certain to surpass 90. But as they slog through the final month of what likely will be their worst season since the Devil Rays days of 2007, there are some feel-good stories:

Chase Whitley

Returning from Tommy John surgery to pitch in the majors for the first time since May 2015, expected to make his first appearance today against the Yankees, from whom the Rays claimed him off waivers.

Quotable: "It's just an incredible blessing to be able to be back. Nothing is ever guaranteed, especially throughout this process. It's tested my faith, and I know I've grown in the last year. It's such an incredible honor to be back. It's such a long road. At any point you go in for surgery, it's never a minor surgery when it's on you. Even though I was around a lot of supportive people, and everyone told me with the work ethic and whatever you'd be back, but you can never count on it. You can never take for granted your health.

"From every aspect of the whole process, it's been an unbelievable blessing just to be around (Rays head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield) and those guys, to the way I've been treated and to get to know (fellow rehabbing starter) Alex (Cobb) on a personal level and how hard he works and how much fun he is to be around."

Eddie Gamboa

Converted knuckleballer was called up and made his major-league debut at 31 years, 256 days, second oldest to do so with the Rays, behind Jim Morris, who was featured in the movie, The Rookie. Has pitched twice, with a 2.70 ERA.

Quotable: "I don't know if it's kicked in yet. I'm taking it all in. … It's been great for everybody. But at the same time the goal is not to just get here and hang out. The goal is to get here and do well and be successful and continue to do what we love, and that's to continue to play the game of baseball. Fortunately, it's at the highest level of ball. I'm happy to be here and just want to do the best to help the team in any way possible. …

"It feels good to overcome the statistical part of it. All the odds were definitely against me being 31 and making my debut at that age. There were huge obstacles, there was a lot that I had to overcome. There was a lot that I had to not do — I'm not married, I don't have any kids — I had to sacrifice a lot to keep the dream alive. If I were married at age 24 with kids, you've got a family, you've got mouths to feed. I've been very fortunate to have my family (mom, dad, two sisters, brother-in-law, cousins) as the support group to really help me get to where I am, that bubble that's been with me my whole career."

Justin Marks

Finally made it back to the majors three-plus years — and four organizations — after a one-game stint with the Royals on April 20, 2014. Worked three hitless innings Friday, though he walked five.

Quotable: "Just wanted to get back here. It wasn't a fear or anything (of not), just wanted to work hard and get back here. … I was blindsided I would say (by the callup after the Triple-A season ended Monday). It was something I kind of put in the back of my mind, I really didn't want to think about it. I wanted to finish the season strong, and I did it. … I drove (to St. Petersburg on Monday night). I had my stuff packed and everything and I was like, I can either leave now and get there at 4 a.m. or just wait around (for a flight in the morning), so I was like, 'Just get in the truck.' I had enough adrenaline going and I could just knock it out. I was going to go back home to Kentucky, and now I'm here. …

"(The journey) has been pretty cool. Obviously I would like to say I spent the last three years in the big leagues, but it hasn't been that way. This definitely feels better than the first time. To work all the way back after becoming a minor-league free agent, to go through spring training, to start the year off injured, to work my way back at this point, it's been pretty cool."

RHP Alex Cobb

Returned from May 2015 Tommy John elbow surgery to pitch in the majors for the first time since September 2014. Is 0-0, 4.09 in two starts, with three to go.

Quotable: "When I first got called up in Boston (last month), I really took a moment to look around and was thankful for being here. … There were definitely days throughout my rehab where the big leagues felt far away. Walking off the mound not feeling great physically, not feeling even close mentally, wondering how I was going to get big-league outs not being able to even get rehab outs. The big leagues felt far away for me for a long time, and now to be back up and getting to the point where we're talking about just working on getting outs and not all the other stuff that goes on with it."

Triple-A manager Jared Sandberg

Called up to spend most of the week with the team, with Triple-A hitting coach Ozzie Timmons and pitching coach Kyle Snyder to follow.

Quotable: "It is a good reward at the end of the season, but it also provides some continuity from player development to the major-league staff to have conversations with those guys and talk about players. And also to see the players I had during the season and to watch them face major-league competition and see them don a major-league uniform is very rewarding. …

"For me personally, especially since there was a long break between the time I was in the major leagues as a player (last in 2003), so to be able to see it again a couple years ago (in a similar 2014 callup) it was great, to be able to be Joe Maddon's bench coach in spring training (at times), to be able to come up to New York and see the major-league lifestyle."

Short stops

• The Rays sent a strong message to Tim Beckham and Taylor Motter in not calling them back up due to apparent attitudinal issues, even more so in signing free agent discard Alexei Ramirez, to fill in at shortstop with Matt Duffy shut down. But they sent another kind of message in not turning to promising prospect Daniel Robertson, who had a good but not great year at Triple A (.259-5-43, .713 OPS), in that the exposure and experience wasn't worth the potential future financial downside of starting his service time clock now.

• With the unexpected firing of hitting coach Derek Shelton and the fairly logical promotion of minor-league coordinator Chad Mottola to the job, no other changes are planned, so expect to see the rest of the staff to return intact with 1B coach Rocco Baldelli planning to come back, and assuming 3B coach Charlie Montoyo doesn't get a managing job elsewhere.

Rays rumblings

No Rays were among the 30 on Baseball America's all-minor-league all-star teams, though traded RHP German Marquez and INF Trea Turner were, nor were there any on the 12-man mlbpipeline.com squad. … Rays OF/1B prospect Jake Bauers tweeted, "The fact that Tim Tebow (the guy who hasn't played baseball in over 10 years) got a signing bonus and was demanding weekends off is a joke." … Marquez, traded with Jake McGee to Colorado for Corey Dickerson (and Class A 3B Kevin Padlo), was named Double-A Eastern League pitcher of the year after going 9-6, 2.85 and got called up to make his big-league debut. … The 2017 schedule should be released shortly, with the Rays hosting the Marlins, Reds, Brewers and Cubs in addition to the AL squads. … The Rays ranked seventh with a .529 winning percentage for their U.S.-based seven minor-league teams, with four making the playoffs.

     
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