Rays’ Taj Bradley has strong start but early exit after being hit by ball

Notes | The 21-year-old right-hander was struck on the calf by a ground ball and removed for precautionary reasons but said he was fine.
Rays pitcher Taj Bradley (45) looks on from the dugout during a game against the Minnesota Twins last month at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers.
Rays pitcher Taj Bradley (45) looks on from the dugout during a game against the Minnesota Twins last month at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published March 4, 2023|Updated March 4, 2023

TAMPA — Top pitching prospect Taj Bradley was off to a good start Saturday, setting down the first three Yankees, including All-Star Anthony Rizzo, in the first inning, hitting 98 mph and mixing in an impressive changeup.

But his outing ended after one pitch in the second, when he was hit on the side of the right calf by a 107 mph ground ball off the bat of Josh Donaldson and removed by manager Kevin Cash for precautionary reasons.

“It feels fine,” Bradley said, wearing a compression sleeve on his calf. “Cash came out and just told me it’s spring training and we don’t want to push anything. He knows I feel fine. And then I was reaching my pitch count (20-25), so he was like, ‘You might as well go inside and get it looked at.’ But everything feels fine.”

Cash said much the same: “He’s totally fine. … Just felt it got his legs, so let’s get him out, we don’t want him to alter anything. But he was good.”

Bradley, 21, made the most of the 14 pitches he did throw in the first, retiring prospect Anthony Volpe on a popup, then striking out Oswaldo Cabrera and getting Rizzo to ground out.

Improving the changeup is high on Bradley’s to-do list, and the movement on the 89 mph, 1-2 pitch to Cabrera was exceptional. “They said it profiled like a sinker on the TrackMan (data system),” Bradley said. “I’ve never seen it do that before, so that’s a plus on (Saturday), also.”

Though a long shot to replace injured Tyler Glasnow in the rotation at the start of the season, Bradley is expected to join the Rays at some point this year.

Mead goes deep twice

Top position player prospect Curtis Mead also had a big day, hitting two home runs, the second a 443-foot blast to center that struck high off the batter’s-eye screen beyond the fence.

The Australian-born infielder is known for hitting the ball hard and showed it, the fifth-inning blast estimated at 105 mph off the bat. The first, off big-league veteran Luis Severino, went 347 feet at 94.7 mph.

“It was a good day,” said Mead, 22. “It’s been a little bit of a slow start, so good to get a few runs on the board. (The second homer) definitely felt better than the first one. Both of them felt really good.”

Cash said it’s important to remember that playing in big-league exhibitions can be nerve-wracking for young players. “I think maybe we’ve seen that a little bit (Mead’s) first couple games, but whatever he did (Saturday) looked pretty impressive,” Cash said. “He’s got a lot of power to his swing, a lot of length to his swing. It’s fun to watch him hit.”

Game details: Rays 14, Yankees 10

Two Rays hitters were cited for violating the pitch clock by not being ready to hit with 8 seconds remaining: Randy Arozarena (on his first pitch) and Ben Gamel (for strike three). … Tristan Gray and Ronny Simon also homered for the 3-4-1 Rays. … Infield prospect Osleivis Basabe was 1-for-2, lowering his spring average to .667 (6-for-9). Said Cash: “He’s been very, very impressive.” ...Though there were 29 hits, 24 runs, eight walks, two hit batters and an injury delay for Bradley, the game was played in 2:56.

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Ryan Burr, a nonroster right-hander who pitched last season in the White Sox organization, was the first cut, reassigned to minor-league camp. … Announced attendance was 9,827, a sellout at Steinbrenner Field.

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