FORT MYERS — It wasn’t exactly the major-league debut Calvin Faucher grew up dreaming about. The Rays pitcher got lit up May 9 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim. And now, he will always be a side note to a likely Hall of Famer’s career.
“I gave up (Shohei) Ohtani’s first career grand slam,” Faucher said with a laugh.
But it didn’t faze Faucher or the Rays, who are eyeing him for a bullpen spot out of spring training.
“I mean, just the experience of being out there in that environment. Facing ... the best hitters in the world in (Mike) Trout and Ohtani. So, that was, awesome, honestly,” Faucher said. “Even though it didn’t end up in my favor, it was still a great experience.”
Faucher, 27, has reason to be confident.
With one of the best curveballs in baseball, the right-hander always has had the foundation to be an effective reliever in the big leagues, the Rays believe. This spring, he’s showing how he can build from that base.
Monday, Faucher pitched a scoreless inning against a tough Braves lineup, striking out two. The final strikeout came on a sweeping slider that left Braves slugger Matt Olson waving his bat at it.
In three outings this spring, Faucher, who got a late start with an oblique strain, has allowed one hit, a home run, for the one run against him. He has struck out six over three innings pitched.
“He’s been really, really impressive,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He had the delay because of the oblique. He’s come back — the live BPs have been really, really good. The stuff has played up well. And I think that was his third outing. We’re trying to get him to get built up to maybe a two-inning, six-out appearance. But this third outing, the stuff was really crisp.
“There’s not many guys in baseball that are featuring 88-89 mile per hour curveballs,” Cash added. “And you look at Matt Olson, who’s one of the best hitters and certainly one of the better breaking-ball hitters in our game, Faucher made some good pitches to him.”
In fact, last season Faucher’s curveball spin was ranked among the top 94 percentile in the major leagues. The average spin was 2925 rpm, 19th-best in the big leagues. It’s one of the reasons the Rays targeted him along with Nelson Cruz in a 2021 trade with the Twins.
“I mean, it’s just special. It’s kind of an outlier pitch,” pitching coach Kyle Snyder said. “He’s got two breaking balls; one true, traditional, end-over-end, spin-driven breaking curveball and then he has a sweeping breaking ball that he’ll actually get up in the 87-88 mph range that has a lot more gloved side than it does depth.
“But both of them are tremendous breaking balls. Certainly in a vacuum, and probably as good of raw-stuff breaking balls as you’ll probably see.”
The curveball was natural for Faucher. In the spring of 2020, he found the grip that has given it elite spin and velocity. It has helped his slider, too.
But in the Twins organization, Faucher never found success. He had a 4.64 ERA over 159 innings at various minor-league levels. After the Rays acquired him, things began to click.
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“I would say pretty much simplifying, bringing their philosophy,” Faucher said. “In the game of getting ahead, staying ahead, and then expanding the zone from there.”
After getting initiated into the big leagues, Faucher implemented what the Rays taught him and started to show what the organization saw in him. In 14 appearances in the first half of last season, he had a 7.11 ERA, three losses and 12 strikeouts in 12⅔ innings pitched. In eight appearances down the stretch, he had a 3.11 ERA and struck out nine in 8⅔ innings.
He is impressing this spring as he battles for an open bullpen spot, but Faucher isn’t getting caught up in that.
“I am just kind of focusing on where I’m at where everything’s at now,” he said. “Not getting too high, not getting too low and kind of staying even keel. I think it’s important for what I do.”
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