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. Mariners lose lefty Drew Smyly to Tommy John surgery

    Ml

    SEATTLE — Drew Smyly was the centerpiece to one of Seattle's many offseason moves by general manager Jerry Dipoto. He was a priority acquisition as a proven lefty for the rotation the Mariners believed would thrive pitching at Safeco Field.

    Drew Smyly will undergo Tommy John surgery after being diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Seattle announced the diagnosis on Wednesday, ending Smyly's hopes of returning during the 2017 season. [AP photo]
  2. Jones: Steve Yzerman's plan for getting the Lightning back into the playoffs

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — Seems like forever since the Lightning played a hockey game.

    If the Lightning season started right now, would Steve Yzerman be happy with what he has? "We're still a couple of players short,'' Yzerman said.. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
  3. Mikhail Sergachev said he felt comfortable and welcomed in his first day in a Lightning uniform.
  4. Trump welcomes Joe Maddon and World Series champion Cubs to White House

    The Heater

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has welcomed the manager and several players from the World Series champion Chicago Cubs to the White House.

    President Donald Trump, with Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon, right, and team members, gives a thumb-up as he meets with the 2016 World Series Champions Chicago Cubs, Wednesday,  in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. [AP photo]
  5. Lightning re-signs Cory Conacher to two-year deal

    Blogs

    Cory Conacher said he wanted another shot in the NHL, and hoped it would be with the Lightning.

    Cory Conacher on Wednesday signed a two-year deal with Tampa Bay.