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Rays' Gamboa makes big-league debut at age 31

Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Eddie Gamboa in the dugout before the game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, Sept. 2, 2016.
Published Sep. 3, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Eddie Gamboa came prepared Friday to make his major-league debut. He brought three catchers mitts large enough to handle the mind-of-its-own flight of his knuckleball.

"I have more gloves than the catchers," Gamboa said.

Whoever is catching gets to use one when Gamboa pitches.

Gamboa, 31, was the second-oldest player to make his big league debut as a Ray. LHP Jim Morris was 35 when he joined the team in 1999.

"It's something you dream of, and when it becomes a reality it kind of blows your mind," Gamboa said.

Gamboa, one of three during the first wave of September callups, is the second knuckleballer to pitch for the Rays, joining Dennis Springer (1998).

He entered the game in the eighth inning with a four-run lead and loaded the bases on a single and a pair of walks. He struck out Jays RF Michael Saunders for his lone out. He allowed a run.

Signed as a minor-league free agent in January, Gamboa, who spent two days last season with the Orioles but did not pitch, has committed to throwing the knuckler on a nearly full-time basis. He estimates that 80 percent of his pitches are knuckleballs.

"It's my go-to pitch," he said. "Now we're at the next level so see how it works here."

Manager Kevin Cash called Gamboa "a little bit of the unknown. … He's had a solid season (at Triple-A Durham), so we're very intrigued to see him."

Gamboa was 6-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 27 games/12 starts for the Bulls.

He received the news Thursday while the team was in Gwinnett, Ga., for a three-game series that ended Friday. Bulls manager Jared Sandberg told Gamboa he was going to pitch Friday in a dome.

"I knew which dome he meant," Gamboa said. "Gwinnett doesn't have a dome, so I was pretty pumped."

PLAY HARDER: The announcement that INF Tim Beckham was optioned to Durham came Wednesday after the Rays' game at Boston and after the clubhouse was closed, so Cash's first comments on the matter came before Friday's game.

"The thought process was that we had too many baserunning gaffes and that's not how we want to operate, and we're not going to stand for that from anybody going forward," Cash said. "We got to do a better job."

Beckham had three baserunning blunders, two due to lack of hustle, during the recent trip.

CASALI RETURNS: C Curt Casali, who was on the opening day roster, was recalled Friday along with RHP Ryan Garton.

Casali had one hit in his last 27 at-bats before he was optioned to Durham on Aug. 5 to make room for C Bobby Wilson. His .168 average was the third-lowest among MLB catchers with at least 100 at-bats.

In 81 at-bats with the Bulls, Casali hit .254/.407/.365. He had two home runs and 15 RBIs.

"He seems to be in a better spot," Cash said.

NOTEWORTHY: The Rays played a tribute on the video board before the second inning for Melvin Upton Jr., who played in Tampa Bay from 2004 to 2012 … Josh Donaldson's fly that struck the B-ring catwalk in the first inning was the 13th ball to hit a catwalk this season, tying the Trop record set in 2000 and tied in 2001. … Viewership of Rays games on Fox Sun Sports in August was up 13 percent over July.

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