BOSTON — Drew Rasmussen likes to know what’s coming.
And as he transitioned from the bullpen to emerge over the last two months as a key member of the Rays’ rotation, a routine-oriented and somewhat meticulous approach to the game and to life are key.
“I love to have a plan,” said Rasmussen, the pitcher the Rays will trust with Sunday’s pivotal Game 3 of the American League Division Series at the Red Sox. “I understand not everything is always going to go to plan, and so having to adjust on the fly does happen.
“But I love having a plan. And when everything works out the way it’s supposed to, that does bring me a little bit of peace.”
He begins most start days with a morning walk, for example. Internet scouting will help him end up at a locally-owned coffee shop, hoping it has a decent bagel, though Starbucks will do in a pinch, as will a croissant or pastry.
For a 7 o’clock game, he’ll head out for the ballpark by 2 p.m., grab something from the food room, then settle in for a bout with a crossword puzzle, preferring the USA Today version since it’s standardized and available anywhere the Rays play. And when he’s done with that, win or lose, he’ll jump into a card game with teammates or staff, typically for hands of Pluck, similar to Spades and Hearts.
That takes him to 2-2-½ hours before game time, and his base of preparation shifts to the weight room. He makes sure the music is turned up and runs through an elaborate regimen of stretching that can last more than an hour.
Then it’s time for a snack — a PB&J sandwich (white or wheat is fine, whichever bag is open; strawberry jam over grape jelly if available) and a banana.
Next is a shower, a change into a clean uniform, then back to the weight room for another half hour or so of dynamic exercises, using weighted PlyoCare training balls designed “to get the body moving” — especially his prized right arm, which has endured two Tommy John surgeries.
Then he’ll walk out to the field to begin his traditional warmups that everyone sees. Once every item is checked on the lengthy pre-game routine he adopted from his days as a starter at Oregon State and in the minors in 2019, he is ready to start.
And, based on the results to this point, he likely will pitch well.
“That’s Drew,” said reliever J.P. Feyereisen, a teammate in Milwaukee and, after the surprising late May trade for Willy Adames, with the Rays. “He’ll tell you, after two Tommy John surgeries ...’I need to be as strict as I can with my routine so that I don’t ever have to deal with a third one.’
“He’s a great guy. He’s got his routine and that’s why I’ve always thought starting-wise is perfect for him because he can stay in that routine. And I think it’s showing that starting for him is definitely the way to go.”
Rasmussen, 26, has certainly pitched well, and his next assignment will be his grandest, as the Rays are tied 1-1 with the Red Sox in the best-of-five series, with the next two games at Fenway Park.
Since coming to the Rays, and around a couple stints at Triple-A Durham, he is 4-0, 2.44 in 20 games. Since the mid-August move into the rotation — which happened because scheduled starter Ryan Yarbrough tested positive for COVID-19, but was in the works anyway — Rasmussen through eight games is 3-0, 1.46 with a remarkable consistency, working four to five innings, allowing zero to two runs and one to four hits (six once), throwing an efficient 50-74 pitches.
Rasmussen has been tinkering with his slider, developing his changeup and mixing in some curveballs, but his game is power.
“At the end of the day, he’s got a 96 ½-mile-an-hour fastball on average that he locates as good as anybody on our club,” pitching coach Kyle Snyder said. “If you want to point to the one thing that I think probably has led to the efficiency of the outs that he’s gotten, I probably point to that.”
The Rays have treated Rasmussen with care, specifically limiting his workload, because he has had the two surgeries — and desperately wants to avoid a third injury, which ends most careers.
That thought process is also part of the reason for his extensive pre-game routine. There is a mental side to that as well.
To be fair, Rasmussen is not as obsessive as Hall of Famer and former Ray Wade Boggs, known for his pre-game rituals that were tied to specific times and things like only eating chicken on game days.
And he is not as maniacally detailed as injured Rays starter Tyler Glasnow, who has a 50-plus item minute-by-minute program on a note in his phone that he follows to the line on his game days.
“All these guys have their little idiosyncrasies and that kind of separates them from the rest of the group,” Snyder said. “A lot of them are trying to get to the same place, but it’s just different. Some guys like to meditate, headspace stuff. Some guys go for a walk in the morning as opposed to sleeping in with their body feeling like it’s dragging.
“It’s interesting, and it’s all about his prep. Prep overwhelmingly translates into confidence when you know that you’ve done what you feel like you need to do to get out there, and then everything else goes dark from there.”
Rasmussen said his work as a reliever with the Brewers last year and earlier this season taught him to become more “go with the flow,” but being on a starter schedule definitely fits more with his mentality. He does claim that away from the field he is not nearly the control freak, enjoying hiking and exploring new cities (though usually pre-planning the route) and letting his wife, Stevie, pick their restaurant options half the time.
“Oh, start days are pretty scripted,” he said. “I can get off script — it’s not that big of a deal. But, yeah, it’s a pretty similar routine every single time.”
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