PORT CHARLOTTE — At first Ryne Stanek didn't understand the news. He certainly didn't expect it.
Stanek thought he was a successful starting pitcher. Didn't see a reason why that should change.
The bullpen? Why?
Then last summer, Rays minor league pitching instructor Dewey Robinson said the magic words: "This will definitely be your fastest track to the big leagues."
"I started thinking about all the starters we have at the moment. There would be a lot of guys I would have to leap frog to get to the big leagues," Stanek said.
"If I can get to the big leagues faster in that role I would go with it."
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That's how Stanek took his sometimes 100 mph fastball to the bullpen in Double A. He spent the second half of the season at Triple A Durham, making 23 relief appearances between two levels.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-hander is in big league camp working on his command. If he harnesses that Stanek could find himself pitching out of the 2017 Rays bullpen.
"He has that potential," Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics said. "... He's on the horizon."
Stanek, the Rays first pick in the 2013 draft, is starting down the path followed by Jake McGee, Alex Colome and Wade Davis – hard-throwers who began their minor league careers in the rotation but found themselves in the bullpen as they climbed the ranks.
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"It's called player development," Lukevics said.
The idea is to give the pitchers as many outings, innings and pitches as they can to build arm strength. It also helps the organization identify bullpen candidates.
Can they develop three, maybe four pitches needed to face a batting order three times? Can they throw all for strikes?
Or can do they throw hard but for shorter periods? Can they arm withstand multiple appearances in a week?
Stanek struggled as a starter. Lukevics said he thrived in a scripted run as a reliever. Being able to blow a 100-mph fastball past hitters late in a game helped.
"He comes at you hard," Lukevics said. "Hard and short."
A good fit in any bullpen.
"Especially with the pitching in the organization," Stanek said. "There are so many good arms all over the place, so it's wherever you can fit in."