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For relief, Rays are calling on ‘The Outcasts’

Rays Tales | The bullpen group is developing an identity with a run of success, with past failures providing a framework. Plus, rumblings.
Rays relief pitcher Matt Wisler delivers a pitch in the bullpen during an April practice at Tropicana Field as others look on. Wisler's bullpen mates call him “Human Hinge," because he bends often, as well as “Wis.”
Rays relief pitcher Matt Wisler delivers a pitch in the bullpen during an April practice at Tropicana Field as others look on. Wisler's bullpen mates call him “Human Hinge," because he bends often, as well as “Wis.” [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published May 7|Updated May 7

SEATTLE — The Rays’ bullpen is getting a bit of a reputation.

And an identity.

Sure, there are going to be some bad days and unhappy endings. There are for every team.

But it’s no coincidence that the Rays’ recent run of success, winning 12 of 16 going into play Saturday, has been fueled by remarkable relief work, in both standard roles and tag-teaming through planned and emergency bullpen days.

Manager Kevin Cash calls the group a lot of things: versatile, resilient and, of course, talented.

Also, and imperative given the way they are used, selfless.

“They’re not enamored with the role or when I’m pitching, who I’m pitching against,” he said. “Just, ‘When I get the chance to pitch, I’m going to try to help.’”

Pitching coach Kyle Snyder also notes the variety of options that is “disruptive” to hitters, with fewer flame-throwers but more “craft, funky deliveries, different looks, different types of breaking balls” used in an aggressive manner.

But it may be time to call them something else, to come up with a catchy name reflective of who they are and the job they do.

Some of the relievers have nicknames, earned and/or bestowed. There are some basic ones, following baseball custom to shorten/amend a last name, or add an -er or -y at the end.

Thus, Andrew Kittredge is “Kitt,” or occasionally “All-Star,” given his 2021 honor. Jalen Beeks is “Beeker,” Jeffrey Springs is “Springsy,” though with a role change under discussion, “Starter Springs” is getting some play.

There are a few more creative ones — the etymology of some more clear than others — such as Jason Adam as “Two Name,” Colin Poche as “Punchy” (strikeouts are called punchouts), Ryan Thompson as “Thumper,” Matt Wisler as “Human Hinge” (because he bends often), in addition to “Wis.” Currently injured Phoenix Sanders was “Hooked on Phonics.”

J.P. Feyereisen, who has come up with a few of them, is sometimes called by his full first name, Jonathon (primarily to annoy him); “Pope,” for the late Catholic leader John Paul II; or “Two Letter.”

Brooks Raley has some plays on his names — such as “Brooksy” and “Rales” — though one teammate is pushing “Crooks,” citing the way the crafty lefty steals money from hitters by getting them out.

Relievers-turned-starters are still included, such as Drew Rasmussen as “Uncle Drew,” playing off the Kyrie Irving character, and Josh Fleming as “Flem,” and, on some days, “‘Phlegm,” because he’s “so nasty.”

But what about the bullpen as a group, a la “The Nasty Boys” moniker of the 1990 Reds?

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Feyereisen suggested, “The Island of Misfit Toys,” noting “every guy has been released, traded or a failed starter.”

Kittredge, the veteran of the group, was on board with a slightly different spin, “The Castaways.”

But Fleming, despite his “traitor” status since moving into a bulk-inning/starter role, may have had the winner.

“The Outcasts,” he proposed. “All they do is get outs.”

A major minor move

The Rays and their Class A RiverDogs farm team made a grand gesture to the benefit of two Charleston (S.C.) youth league teams who had a recent game interrupted by gunfire. The 9- and 10-year-old players were invited to play their final two innings at the RiverDogs stadium, meet the minor-leaguers, then stay for Tuesday’s scheduled game. Plus, they got Rays caps. Other players in the youth league also were invited to the game, with additional funding from Major League Baseball and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, and treated to a picnic, as well as video messages from two big-leaguers with South Carolina ties, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Whit Merrifield.

Crowd control

Monday’s announced 2,488 in Oakland was the smallest regular-season crowd the Ray ever played before in a major-league stadium; the previous low was 4,277 at Montreal on July 13, 2001. Smallest overall? Four games at the Jays’ early 2021 Dunedin home, under COVID-19 limits, which drew 1,437 to 1,641. … The total for the three games in Oakland was 10,141. … With the sparse crowds, outfielder Brett Phillips said he could hear the full discourse from individual hecklers. Also, “a pin drop.”

Rays rumblings

Among high praise for Rays star shortstop Wander Franco was this recent comparison by Xander Bogaerts of the Red Sox: “Ozzie Smith with the glove, Barry Bonds with the bat.” … A soft launch is expected in June for Bally Sports+, which for $19.99 a month/$189.99 a year will provide direct-to-consumer streaming of Rays games. …. Would have been a nice touch for AppleTV+ to include one of the Bally Rays broadcasters — Brian Anderson, Dewayne Staats or Tricia Whitaker — on the crew for Friday’s game since all were in Seattle. … Kevin Kiermaier, on The Top Step podcast hosted by ex-Ray Grant Balfour and fellow Australian/former big-leaguer Ryan Rowland-Smith, said the Rays’ run of unheralded acquisitions who play key roles sometimes has him wondering, “What was the GM from the other team thinking?” … Thyroid surgery for Chloe Grimes, the 8-year-old cancer patient whose plight was highlighted by interactions with Phillips at an April game, was postponed until May 24 due to a hospital equipment issue.

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