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Rays see lots of potential in reassembled bullpen

Rays notes | With several relievers returning from injury and David Robertson being added, the relief crew is looking strong.
Rays relief pitcher Pete Fairbanks (29) delivers a pitch in the eighth inning of Monday's victory over the Red Sox at Tropicana Field.
Rays relief pitcher Pete Fairbanks (29) delivers a pitch in the eighth inning of Monday's victory over the Red Sox at Tropicana Field. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Sep. 1
Updated Sep. 1

ST. PETERSBURG — For much of the first five months of the season, the Rays were scrambling to replace injured pitchers and restock their bullpen even as they compiled the best ERA in the majors.

As they open September play Wednesday, the focus will be on sorting through their options to assemble the strongest group to get them deep into October.

Pete Fairbanks and J.P. Feyereisen looked sharp Monday in their return from shoulder injuries. Former Yankees and White Sox closer David Robertson is being called up Wednesday as one of the two September roster additions. And Matt Wisler, who has a 1.98 ERA in 24 games for the Rays, is expected to be back relatively soon, possibly even Wednesday, from a finger issue.

Not all the news is good — Ryan Thompson now seems unlikely to make it back from shoulder inflammation, and Oliver Drake probably won’t pitch this season due to a flexor strain — but the Rays feel they are in solid shape going forward.

“We’ve kind of been waiting for this for quite some time,” manager Kevin Cash said. “I don’t know if we’ve been right in the bullpen all year.

“We’ve had a lot of guys that we felt coming out of spring or going into spring that, ‘Wow, this could be a pretty special group,’ and it hasn’t quite matched up that way. But to a man, you’ve got to really respect everybody that has played a role and played a part in all this. They’ve put together a special season down there.”

Thompson was expected back by late August but never seemed fully over the shoulder inflammation that sidelined him June 28 and will have additional medical evaluations. “We’re going to shut him down for a while,” Cash said. “He’s seeing some doctors, just not feeling right.”

Cash said before Tuesday’s game the Rays hadn’t decided who else would be called up, as teams this year can only expand their active rosters from 26 to 28.

If Wisler is not ready to be activated, and Cash indicated Monday he was still feeling the middle finger inflammation, other available pitchers on the 40-man roster are reliever Ryan Sherriff and starter Brent Honeywell. Nick Anderson is another possible later addition, as he continues to rehab a spring elbow injury at Triple-A Durham.

Another option for the Rays, who are missing first baseman Ji-Man Choi (who started on field work) and outfielder Brett Phillips, would be adding a position player, with slick-fielding infielder Taylor Walls seemingly most likely.

COVID-19 concerns

Boston shortstop Xander Bogaerts was removed from the game in the second inning as the Red Sox learned he tested positive for COVID-19. He was the sixth Sox player who has done so, joining reliever Hirokazu Sawamura on Tuesday, and the seventh to be placed on the COVID-19-related injured list, plus three coaches. Cash said that as far as he knew the Red Sox outbreak did not have any impact on the Rays.

Crowd control

After Monday’s crowd of 6,753, a record low for a game against the Red Sox at Tropicana Field in 24 seasons of play, the Rays cut the prices on the least expensive ticket, reducing party deck seats from $30 to $16. Tuesday’s attendance wasn’t much better, however, an announced 6,868.

Miscellany

• Rookie Wander Franco singled in the third to extend his on-base streak to 31 games, breaking a tie with Giants Hall of Famer Mel Ott as the fifth-longest among players 20 and younger. It is the longest single-season streak by any Ray since Tommy Pham had a 32-game run in 2018.

• Aaron Slegers, released Sunday by the Angels, rejoined the Rays on a minor-league deal for the rest of this season and next, with a 2020 big-league camp invite. The 6-foot-10 right-hander pitched for the Rays in 2019 and 2020.

• The Rays finished August 21-6, the sixth time in 24 seasons they won 20 games in a calendar month.

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