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Rays’ Ryan Yarbrough looks a lot more himself

Notes | Lefty follows up a rough season debut with an encouraging outing; Ji-Man Choi returns.
Rays starting pitcher Ryan Yarbrough works against the the Mariners during the first inning Sunday afternoon.
Rays starting pitcher Ryan Yarbrough works against the the Mariners during the first inning Sunday afternoon. [ JOHN FROSCHAUER | Associated Press ]
Published May 9

SEATTLE — His name on the sign above the locker was mistakenly spelled “Yarborough,” which may have been a tad more annoying since Ryan Yarbrough began his career with the Mariners before being traded to Tampa Bay before the 2018 season.

But of much greater importance to the Rays on Sunday, Yarbrough pitched very much like himself in working five impressive shutout innings, changing speeds, throwing strikes and inducing weak contact.

“He really looked good and (it’s) really encouraging for all of us to see him kind of come out and look the part that he’s been for so many years,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.

Yarbrough looked bad Tuesday in his season debut, allowing five runs in a 31-pitch first inning and lasting only until the third, having been sidelined with groin tightness and making two rough rehab outings.

He maintained it was more a lack of timing and rhythm than his stuff lacking, and felt he made some adjustments and improvements in the days since.

He seemed to, as he allowed only four singles and a walk in the 2-1 loss to Seattle, getting out of what slight trouble he had.

“We were really trying to get some rhythm and timing, some tempo, going,” Yarbrough said. “Feel like that was 100 percent better, definitely a step in the right direction and just something to continue to build off of.”

Mixing his pitches, and not relying as much on his cutter, helped. So did throwing them where and how he wanted.

“Just mixing speeds and everything,” he said. “A lot of different shapes, keeping guys really off-balance, not where they could just sit on one specific thing.”

For starters: Jeffrey Springs

The assignment is different, as lefty Jeffrey Springs will start Monday against the Angels, moving into the rotation in place of demoted Josh Fleming. But Springs said his basic job description won’t change from when he was working as a multi-inning reliever.

“Just obviously trying to pitch and get outs as much as I can. … I’m going to pitch until (Cash) takes the ball from me,” he said. “I’m not viewing it anything different other than just pitching a little bit earlier in the game.”

But Springs, 29, appreciates the opportunity, having started during parts of 2016-17 in Texas’ minor-league system: “I’m excited for sure. I mean, who doesn’t want to be a major league starter?”

Cash said he would be pleased to get four innings out of Springs, whose season highs are 3 1/3 innings and 43 pitches. Springs said he is aiming to go at least five innings.

Choi returns, Paredes leaves

The Rays 'Ji-Man Choi reacts after striking out on a pitch from Mariners starting pitcher George Kirby during the first inning.
The Rays 'Ji-Man Choi reacts after striking out on a pitch from Mariners starting pitcher George Kirby during the first inning. [ JOHN FROSCHAUER | Associated Press ]
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Cash said they were excited to have first baseman Ji-Man Choi back, the irritation in his right elbow caused by loose bodies having subsided. The Rays went 8-2 while Choi was on the injured list, but Cash said Choi, who hit .357 with a .491 on-base percentage in his first 15 games, had “a big influence” on their offense. He was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. Infielder Isaac Paredes, acquired from Detroit in the late-spring Austin Meadows traded, was optioned back to Triple-A Durham to make room.

Mom on their minds

Players used an assortment of pink gear and equipment Sunday for Mother’s Day. Being on the road, and three time zones away, made it tougher, but Rays players who have kids said the day was doubly significant for them as they wanted to honor their mothers and their wives.

“It means a lot,” infielder Taylor Walls said. “The first thing I did when I woke up this morning was call (my wife Hallie) and text my mom (Michelle). I have a whole new meaning behind what being a mother is after seeing everything that my wife does for our daughter. So I even appreciate my mother more for that. And I know I appreciate Hallie more than anything.”

Outfielder Kevin Kiermaier said over time he similarly has developed a greater understanding of all that his mother, Chris, did for him and his two brothers. “I knew I had a great mom when I was 8 years old,” he said. “But once you get older, you’re like, ‘Wow, I truly appreciate it.’”

Knowing all that his wife, Marisa, does for their two young sons, Karter and Krew, makes him even more thankful, which he showed Sunday by sending flowers, chocolate covered strawberries and a gift. “I watch how great my wife Marisa is with our kids and how much time she has to be with him especially throughout the season while we’re on 10-game road trips just like this,” he said. “It’s not easy by any means.”

Miscellany

Randy Arozarena was caught stealing twice Sunday. … The Rays head next to Anaheim, where they will face former manager Joe Maddon, who left after 2014. Since then the Rays are 8-3 against him: 2-2 with the Cubs, 6-1 so far with the Angels.

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