Rays’ Drew Rasmussen ties career high with 9 strikeouts in series-sweeping win

The right-hander says his curveball Thursday against the Angels was the best it has ever been.
Rays starter Drew Rasmussen didn't take a no-hitter into the sixth inning as in his last two starts, but he tied career highs with nine strikeouts and 97 pitches.
Rays starter Drew Rasmussen didn't take a no-hitter into the sixth inning as in his last two starts, but he tied career highs with nine strikeouts and 97 pitches. [ SCOTT AUDETTE | AP ]
Published Aug. 25, 2022|Updated Aug. 26, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG — The season-long evolution of Drew Rasmussen’s pitching repertoire has revolved around one understanding: The right-hander knows he struggles to make the ball move right.

“So if we’re not gonna make it go right, let’s make it go left a lot at a bunch of different speeds,” Rasmussen said after his 5⅓ innings helped the Rays sweep the Angels with an 8-3 win Thursday at Tropicana Field.

The process started in spring training, when Rasmussen wanted to expand his pitching mix beyond two grips. He continued to learn a pair of breaking balls early in the season. He added a cutter, too. And during his latest outing — where he allowed one run and tied career highs with nine strikeouts and 97 pitches — Rasmussen said his curveball felt the best it ever has.

It marked the third time this season Rasmussen has thrown more than 90 pitches, extending a strong stretch in which he made perfect-game and no-hit bids.

“It’s tough to do, to back up his previous two (starts),” manager Kevin Cash said.

The Brewers tried to add a curveball in 2019, but it went “really bad,” Rasmussen said. It took time, and a lot of innings, for that level of comfort to develop. Cash said Rasmussen now has a “great feel” for the breaking balls that complement his fastball and cutter.

“You talk about the sweeping slider and then you talk about the curveball itself, those two pitches give me a little bit more variation off of what I was basically doing last year,” Rasmussen said. “And so, with a little bit more freedom, I think I’m really starting to see some success with that.”

Medical matters: Zunino, Franco, Baz

Mike Zunino tried everything. The Botox shot. Other neck injections. Physical therapy. Visits with experts.

“Tried to hit the gamut,” Zunino said Thursday.

The goal was to avoid thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, but that’s what ultimately happened on July 28. One month later, Zunino said he’s “progressing,” and his symptoms are gone. Since the injury affects his non-throwing shoulder, he expects a quicker rehab timeline to follow.

“I’m just hoping this recovery continues to stay on the path it’s on,” Zunino said.

The root of the injury, Zunino said, dates back to April. Then, everything really “blew up” in mid-to-late May. His final game was on June 9, and he’ll finish the season with a .148 average and five home runs.

Zunino will be a free agent after the season. He hasn’t put much thought into his looming decision — saying, “I’d drive myself crazy if I did” — but added, “(Tampa Bay) is a place I’d always consider to come back to.”

Additionally, Cash said there’s still not a set date for shortstop Wander Franco to resume his rehab assignment. Franco will remain in St. Petersburg through the weekend. And Shane Baz — who hasn’t pitched since July with a right elbow sprain — said he plans to start throwing Monday, approaching the process as if he’ll pitch again this season. A final decision has not yet been made.

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Friday’s game against the Red Sox — started by either Ryan Yarbrough or an opener — will only be available on AppleTV+. … The Nationals claimed right-hander Tommy Romero, designated for assignment by the Rays, off waivers. Kevin Herget, also designated for assignment, cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Durham. … Brendan McKay, who has dealt with numerous arm and shoulder injuries, left his Thursday Durham outing after one pitch and will undergo an MRI on Friday. ... The Florida Complex League Rays defeated the Mets’ Rookie-level affiliate to advance to the best-of-three finals against the Florida Complex League Yankees starting on Friday.

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