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Jose Alvarado makes ‘exciting’ return to mound for Rays

After a lost 2019, Alvarado is pleased to be back, and his Rays bosses were glad to see him. Also, two relievers are signed.
Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Jose Alvarado throws during spring training baseball camp Friday in Port Charlotte. [JOHN BAZEMORE | AP]

PORT CHARLOTTE — There were a few memorable moments during Friday’s second workout of the spring, including a most interesting new drill for catchers by having staffers kick soccer balls at them.

But to Rays manager Kevin Cash the highlight — “the most exciting thing” — was clear, seeing lefty reliever Jose Alvarado back on the bullpen mound as he seeks to return to form after a 2019 marred by injury and family issues.

“He had a tough go last year, multiple reasons, injury obviously was part of that,” Cash said. “To see him look healthy, look the part, we all know how electric he can be. And it looks like it’s going in the right direction.”

Alvarado was similarly pleased, saying the sore elbow that ended his 2019 season in late August was fine, his mind was at ease after having his parents with him in Florida after getting out of Venezuela, and his spirits were high being back with his teammates.

“I’m happy, too,’’ Alvarado said. “I hadn’t touched the mound for maybe five months and a half. It’s very exciting for me. … I’m very happy to see my team.’’

Alvarado took it somewhat easy in his 15-pitch session, planning to build up to what was at times dominating form, with a 98-plus mph fastball. Alvarado started last season as the lead member of the Rays leveraged closing committee, but said Friday he wasn’t focused on regaining that role. “I don’t think about it too much,’’ he said. “If Cash needs me in the ninth inning, I’m ready.’’

Two relievers added

The Rays brought in two more relievers with big-league experience, signing right-handers Deck McGuire and Brooks Pounders to minor-league deals with camp invites. McGuire, 30, a 2010 first-round pick by Toronto from Georgia Tech, spent parts of 2017-18 with the Reds, Jays and Angels, compiling a 1-3, 5.23 record in 27 games, and last season in Korea, going 4-8, 5.05 as a starter. Pounders, 29, has a 4-2, 8.47 mark in 45 games over parts of four seasons with the Royals, Angels, Rockies and Mets. The Rays now have 67 players rostered, 35 pitchers.

McKay to prioritize pitching

Brendan McKay will get some work on his hitting, but Cash said, “We’ve informed him his priority this camp is going to be getting ready to pitch." The Rays want to convert McKay, 2-4, 5.14 in 13 games (11 starts) after his late June debut, from the six-day schedule he was on in the minors to a more standard five. McKay said he is good with the plan, though wants to remain a two-way player and hopes to get the chance to return to playing first base, so he isn’t limited to designated hitter and pinch-hit at-bats when he gets the opportunity. Barring an injury to one of their top five starters, McKay seems likely to open the season at Triple-A.

A kick in the grass

Who knew the Rays purchase of the Rowdies soccer team would have such synergy? Friday, Rays coach Paul Hoover gave his catchers a new way to work on pitch blocking by having staffers kick soccer balls at them. The genesis? “Ask Paul,’’ Cash said. “I have no idea. I really don’t. … Paul’s really good at what he does. If he can convince major-league catchers to play soccer on a baseball field, that’s doing something.’’ Catcher Chris Herrmann, a veteran of eight big-league seasons, said it was a new one for him: “Never seen that before. It makes days like these fun for us catchers.’’

Miscellany

The Rays will workout at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Charlotte Sports Park (2300 El Jobean Road). … Cash noted the impressive bullpen sessions by Anthony Banda and minor-leaguer Joe Ryan. … Japanese free agent addition Yoshi Tsutsugo is expected in camp Saturday after arriving in Tampa Thursday, then buying a new Range Rover and doing a FaceTime call with Cash. Two of the staffers hired to work with him were at camp on Friday. … The 12th annual BaseBALL Dinner & Auction benefitting the Boys & Girls Club of Charlotte County is Saturday night at the stadium.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkim@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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