Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa Bay Rays reliever Jake McGee feeling like he belongs after strong end to rookie season

PORT CHARLOTTE — Left-hander Jake McGee's winter in Reno, Nev., was a little more laid-back this year.

That's because, for the first time, McGee, 25, didn't take a second job.

McGee usually had kept himself busy after baseball seasons by working for a friend's courier service company. From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., five days a week, McGee would cram his 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame into a Saturn, delivering papers to real estate brokers.

"It was pretty easy," he said, smiling. "Just drove around all day."

But the fact that McGee instead relaxed this offseason was fitting, considering the hard thrower was coming off a rookie year in which he established himself in the Rays bullpen.

McGee shook off a rocky start in which he was being too fine and instead trusted his stuff — specifically a mid to high 90s fastball — down the stretch in picking up four confidence-building September wins.

"He believes he belongs," manager Joe Maddon said. "Last year, I think he was more in survival mode, Stage 2 — 'I like this, I really want to stay here, I want to please people,' never the thought about winning that night. The thought was more about not looking bad as opposed to doing something to help us win. That's the dangerous stage of development that never helps you as a team or organization to really win. You have to get them to Stage 3."

McGee's ability has rarely been questioned. He emerged as one of the team's top pitching prospects after getting drafted in the fifth round in 2004, converted from starter to reliever and even overcoming Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in 2008. But McGee, upon making his first opening day roster last year, was too tentative early and got sent down to Triple-A Durham after posting a 5.14 ERA in the first month.

"I was trying to aim the ball and not letting the stuff I have do its work," he said.

When McGee returned in mid July, he had a different look — and approach. Figuring he had nothing to lose, McGee decided that if he was going to get beat, "they'd have to beat me with my best stuff."

He finally believed he belonged during a three-game stretch at the end of the season. On Sept. 18 at Fenway Park, McGee earned the win after throwing 22/3 innings, retiring Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz.

McGee also was the winning pitcher in the Rays' final two victories, including Game 162, against the Yankees, when, before Evan Longoria hit his walkoff homer in the 12th, he got himself out of a first-and-third, no-out situation in the top half of the inning.

"I felt like I could get any big-league hitter out if I had my best stuff," McGee said. "It's helped a lot confidence-wise, and I feel like I'm part of the team, a little more settled in."

McGee's camp didn't start so smoothly when he hurt his elbow in a "freak accident," a foul ball hitting him while he was leaning against a batting cage. "Never going to do that again," he quipped.

But McGee feels he's even more prepared for this season, with his fastball velocity close to where it should be. And he says he's throwing his slider harder than he has in his life.

"This year," McGee said, "I'm ready to go."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com

Tampa Bay Rays reliever Jake McGee feeling like he belongs after strong end to rookie season 03/18/12 [Last modified: Sunday, March 18, 2012 9:12pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Lefty quarterback's task? Make sure nothing's lost in translation

    College

    GAINESVILLE — When Florida receiver Brandon Powell first met new quarterback Malik Zaire this summer, he was struck by the Notre Dame grad transfer's enthusiasm and outgoing personality.

    Florida quarterback Malik Zaire talks with the press during the NCAA college football team's media day in Gainesville. Zaire is a lefty quarterback, just like Tim Tebow. (Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun via AP, File)
  2. Nikita Kucherov in a wide-ranging Q&A

    Blogs

    While Lightning wing Nikita Kucherov has a tendency to be quiet around the media, he's a Russian with a variety of interests and a passionate hockey mind.

    Nikita Kucherov recently did a Q&A with Russia's Sovsport.ru, in which he addressed an array of topics.
  3. Steven Souza's two passions collide in charity fantasy football event

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Steven Souza knows a thing or two about football.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston gets a hug from right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (20) after throwing the ceremonial first pitch of the game between the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, July 23, 2017.
  4. Vibe is good around Clearwater volleyball this season

    Volleyball Preps

    CLEARWATER — Katy Rice knows what a good volleyball team looks like, and the Clearwater coach believes she has a pretty good one this year. Rice was a left-side hitter on the only two teams to win a volleyball state championship at Clearwater, in 1997 and 2000.

    Clearwater High School girl's volleyball player Hailey Bosetti (OPP) plays the ball during team practice on Monday (8/14/17) at the school in Clearwater.
  5. Jameis Winston's subtle but strong moment of leadership displayed on 'Hard Knocks'

    Bucs

    Quarterback Jameis Winston went to each teammate in the locker room prior to the Bucs' preseason opener Friday at Cincinnati with one message: "I got your back."

    Then he proved it.

    Jameis Winston sarcastically tells offensive linemen James Stone and James Harrison he's glad glad they're having fun while quarterback Ryan Griffin is being attended to in the locker room by the Bucs medical staff. [HBO/NFL FILMS]