BRADENTON — When Tyler Glasnow last worked for the Pirates in July 2018, he was a middling middle reliever, relegated to bullpen work at age 24 after two so-so seasons as a starter bouncing between Triple-A and the majors.
Then he was traded to the Rays, who still saw great promise and gave him an opportunity — specifically, with a spot in the rotation — to show it. Over two-plus seasons, he has done just that.
Wednesday — in a bit of symmetry, if not irony — Glasnow faced his old mates in a spring exhibition game after being named the Rays’ opening-day starter.
“We’re excited,” manager Kevin Cash said. “I know it’s a big deal to pitchers. The way Tyler has thrown the ball the last couple seasons, he deserves the opportunity.”
Glasnow said the right things about it being “great” and “awesome” and “a nice feeling.” But he also said he’s not concerned where he slots in the rotation, as long as he has a spot and the chance to make 30 starts.
“I just want those starts to be good when I start,” he said.
More significant to Glasnow is the progress he’s made since joining the Rays.
“From looking back from a couple years ago to now, it’s definitely like a huge shift, for sure,” he said. ’'I would have been, like, I know at some point, I’m going to figure it out and get it going.
“But I think looking back on it now and just the trajectory of how it all happened, ... it’s awesome. I just think what they’ve helped me with, and everything that I’ve gone through from Pittsburgh to here and how much they’ve helped me, it’s just so meaningful.”
Some of that was instruction, as Glasnow — like so many other Rays — enjoys working with pitching coach Kyle Snyder. He also flourished in the casual and relaxed atmosphere of the Rays clubhouse, which is a good fit for his personality.
Cash said the Rays wanted to provide the opportunity and see what Glasnow could do with it.
“We kind of laid out a plan when we acquired him,” Cash said. “(General manager Erik Neander) and Kyle were pretty adamant, we’re going to start him. We know it’s going to be two innings and three innings and get the buildup going.
“I think it helped that he was kind of given at that point in his career that lane to go and say, ‘I’ve got every fifth day, I can prepare for that.’ And he had a lot of success, pretty dominating his first handful of starts for us.”
Not that he couldn’t pitch in relief, too, Cash said.
“Glasnow’s mind works really fast,” he continued. “I’m not saying he couldn’t pitch in the bullpen. But having that ability to pitch and then process a lot in between and get ready on that third day, fourth day, to be ready to pitch again seems to allow his mind to work that he can prepare and have the confidence to go out and do that.”
Glasnow is the Rays’ top returning starter after offseason decisions to let Charlie Morton leave and trade Blake Snell, so the decision wasn’t unexpected. Ryan Yarbrough likely was the other option.
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Even Glasnow said he was basing his schedule on pitching the April 1 opener or the next day. Plus, he’s excited about the chance to hit, since the Rays open at the Marlins under National League rules.
Cash called Glasnow into his office in Port Charlotte Wednesday morning to tell the decision. “Yeah, sweet,” Glasnow said.
Glasnow then headed to Bradenton, where he worked four-plus innings, allowing four runs on six hits with seven strikeouts. He said he was pleased with his stuff (hitting 100 mph again) but not his pitch count, throwing 76 (50 strikes).
Cash was similarly casual in announcing the decision during his Wednesday morning media session, slipping the news into the back end of an answer about Glasnow’s role in recommending that the Rays sign pitcher Stetson Allie.
“So Tyler not only is going to pitch and pitch opening day for us,” Cash said, “but he’s also one of our scouts.”
After joking that the schedule simply worked out that way, Cash said Glasnow deserved the honor for several reasons.
“He’s a guy that we feel confident should be built up ... to go out there and log innings,” Cash said. “From what he did last season, the way he competed in the postseason, kind of all of the above.”