ST. PETERSBURG — After nearly a full month away, Jose Alvarado returned to the Rays on Friday.
Alvarado last appeared in a game for Tampa Bay on June 1, then left for his native Venezuela. Alvarado was placed on the family medical emergency list on June 2 and was transferred to the restricted list on June 9. The left-handed reliever said he returned home to tend to his mother.
“She’s had health issues ever since last year, “ Alvarado said through an interpreter. “We’ve had to do surgeries with her, but I’m pretty sure I left her in good hands.”
Alvarado said he hopes to remain with the team for the rest of the season before returning home in the offseason.
“I’m happy to hear that the family situation is much more stable,” said manager Kevin Cash. “Now we’ve got to get going because, obviously, we’ve talked about countless opportunities where he could have been used in games and he wasn’t.”
Alvarado said he continued to throw for about three days when he first arrived in Venezuela, but his training fell off as his stay grew longer. He returned from Venezuela on June 14 and spent time in Port Charlotte to get back into game shape.
“I’ve been throwing … and I’m just ready to get back and work for this team,” he said.
Roster moves galore
After reinstating Alvarado, the Rays made a series of moves to sort out their 40-man and active rosters.
Catcher Nick Ciuffo was designated for assignment to make room for Alvarado. Ciuffo, a 2013 first-round pick, had a .632 OPS through parts of seven seasons in the Rays’ minor-league system.
They optioned left-hander Jalen Beeks and infielder Michael Brosseau to Triple-A Durham. Beeks had a 2.79 ERA in 61⅓ innings. Cash said giving Beeks time down in Durham will allow him to get stretched out and “pitch in a little bit less anxiety.” Brosseau had three hits, including two doubles, in his first three games with the Rays.
Brendan McKay, a two-way prospect, joined the Rays and will be added to the roster before Saturday’s game, where he will be the starting pitcher in his major-league debut. Cash said he expects McKay to take at least one more turn through the rotation. “He’s pretty special, the way he goes about his business,” Cash said. McKay posted a 1.22 ERA and a .644 OPS in the minors this season.
Mixed emotions at Trop
Conflicting opinions filled Tropicana Field in the Rays’ first game back from an extended road trip.
Fans donned Montreal Expos apparel in wake of the recent announcement that the Rays will explore an option to split the home games between Tampa Bay and Montreal.
J.P. Mailhot, a Montreal native, adopted the Rays as his favorite team when the Expos left for Washington, D.C. His family expressed excitement about the possible twin city plan on Friday night. Mailhot traveled to St. Petersburg from Montreal with his wife, Nathalie, and their son, J.P. Mailhot Jr. “We drove down Tuesday,” the elder Mailhot said. “We’ll be set up here for a month.”
Mailhot said his family has made the trek from Montreal to Tampa Bay regularly over the past 15 years.
Other fans were less enthusiastic about the proposed split-season plan.
Jay Evans, a Tampa native now living in West Virginia, brought a sign to the game reading, “Expose (Rays owner) Stu (Sternberg). Keep our Rays in Tampa Bay!!”
Paul Sinwelski, a St. Petersburg resident, ordered a Montreal Expos batting helmet on eBay, crossed out the logo in black marker and wore it to the game to express his opposition.
Players union chief Tony Clark said the plan to split future seasons between Tampa Bay and Montreal presents “a lot of challenges” and would require approval from the players given the “significant burden” of maintaining two homes.
“There is a lot of work that is going to need to be done before that consideration becomes closer to a reality,” Clark told the Associated Press in London, where the Yankees and Red Sox play this weekend. “We look forward to being a part of that conversation as well.’’
Leaders of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce wrote to their members that the plan was worthy of discussion and consideration: “We believe it’s an opportunity we must seize and create the best win for St. Pete — for the generations ahead and for us today.’’
Three top Rays prospects — shortstop Wander Franco, catcher Ronaldo Hernandez and pitcher/DH Brendan McKay — were selected to play for the AL team in the All-Star Futures Game on July 7 in Cleveland. McKay won’t be going since he has been called up to the majors. Franco, 18, is ranked by many as the top prospect in the game and was recently promoted from Class A Bowling Green to advanced Class A Charlotte. Overall, he’s hitting .331 with seven homers, 33 RBIs and a .927 OPS in 65 games. Hernandez, 21, has been with Charlotte, hitting .266 with five homers, 32 RBIs and a .709 OPS in 54 games.
• Kevin Kiermaier left Thursday’s game against the Twins with a right calf issue, but he said he expects to return to the starting lineup on Sunday: “I woke up today feeling a little bit better, so very optimistic.”
• The Rays are offering $2 tickets to the upcoming home series against the Orioles. Fans can purchase tickets, peanuts and fountain drinks for $2 each during each game of the July 1-3 series.