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Who is Cooper Criswell? And why is he starting for Rays tonight?

The 26-year-old right-hander was claimed off waivers from the Angels in July and sent to Triple-A just days later.
Cooper Criswell, pictured throwing a pitch for the Angels during a 2021 game against the Padres in Anaheim, Calif., will start for the Rays tonight in Toronto. Tampa Bay needed someone to work multiple innings, and Criswell was the freshest option at Triple-A Durham.
Cooper Criswell, pictured throwing a pitch for the Angels during a 2021 game against the Padres in Anaheim, Calif., will start for the Rays tonight in Toronto. Tampa Bay needed someone to work multiple innings, and Criswell was the freshest option at Triple-A Durham. [ ASHLEY LANDIS | AP ]
Published Sep. 12|Updated Sep. 12

TORONTO — The need for bullpen reinforcements has been building, and when Luis Patino failed to get through the second inning Sunday the Rays leaned in heavily, calling up five pitchers from Triple-A Durham, three of whom will be active tonight.

Four were with the Rays, at least briefly, earlier this season.

Two of them, Javy Guerra and Kevin Herget, will be added to the 40-man roster and go into the bullpen when the Rays open a five-games-in-four-days series tonight against the Blue Jays.

Two others, Josh Fleming (who is on the 40-man roster) and Jimmy Yacabonis (who isn’t), will be on the taxi squad and available for duty later in the week. (Yonny Chirinos also is on the taxi squad and an option to be added as the “29th man” for Tuesday’s doubleheader.)

So that leaves Cooper Criswell

Who is he? And why is he starting tonight?

Because of Patino’s short outing Sunday, the Rays were forced to use Ryan Yarbrough — who was set to work bulk innings Monday — either as a starter or behind an opener. So, the Rays needed someone to work multiple innings and Criswell was the freshest option at Durham, having worked four innings last Wednesday. Plus, he is tough on right-handed hitters, of which the Jays have many.

Criswell is a 26-year-old right-hander the Rays claimed off waivers from the Angels, then three days later (during the All-Star break) designated for assignment and got him through waivers, so they could send him to Triple-A.

Criswell, 6-foot-6, 200 pounds, pitched in eight games for the Bulls, starting three, working three-four innings each time. He is 1-0 with a 3.95 ERA and 22 strikeouts and five walks over 27-1/3 innings. He doesn’t throw overly hard, usually in the 88-92 mph range, but throws strikes and pitches to contact, mixing a sinker, slider, cutter and changeup.

He was a 13th-round pick of the Angels in 2018 out of North Carolina (pitching coach Kyle Snyder’s school) and has made one big-league appearance. He started against the Padres on Aug. 27, 2021 and got knocked out in the second inning after allowing three runs on six hits.

Criswell will be the “replacement player” for reliever Brooks Raley, who is being placed on the restricted list since he is unvaccinated and can’t travel into Canada. That means the Rays don’t have to put Criswell on the 40-man roster to use him and risk losing him by taking him off.

They could send Criswell down after he pitches Monday and use that spot to bring in another fresh arm, but that player would not have the “replacement player” designation and thus would be subject to the usually applicable waiver and option rules.

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