Reliever Kevin Kelly can finally exhale as Rays complete roster

They also add Calvin Faucher to the bullpen, while Luke Raley and Josh Lowe nab bench spots ahead of Thursday’s opening day.
Kevin Kelly, seen here earlier in spring training, was actually told a few weeks ago that he would be on the final roster but sworn to secrecy.
Kevin Kelly, seen here earlier in spring training, was actually told a few weeks ago that he would be on the final roster but sworn to secrecy. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published March 27|Updated March 28

TAMPA — As soon as he got into the clubhouse Monday, Kevin Kelly had a very important phone call to make. For weeks, the Rays’ right-handed reliever had kept a secret from everyone. Monday, it was time to call his parents and break the news: He was on the Rays’ opening day roster.

Kelly and Calvin Faucher won the two open bullpen spots, while Josh Lowe and Luke Raley nabbed the two open position player spots. Jonathan Aranda, Vidal Brujan and Trevor Kelley were optioned to Triple-A Durham to finalize the roster at 26.

Kelly had a unique situation this spring. As a Rule-5 draftee, he had to make the major-league roster or be returned to the Guardians. He pitched well in 10 appearances, striking out 17 and putting up a 2.38 ERA.

“We talked about many times in spring how it’s more challenging for him maybe than anybody else in camp. I thought he handled it well after the first couple of weeks,” manager Kevin Cash said. “We actually told him a couple weeks ago (that he would make the team). ... To my knowledge, we told him to keep it secret; I’m not sure if he told his parents.”

He had not.

So Monday, after pitching two innings in the Rays’ loss to the Yankees at Steinbrenner Field, he was pulling his phone out of his locker as he spoke to the media to make the call.

“They told me, ‘Don’t worry about how how you perform or anything just go out there and get ready for the season, but keep it quiet,’” Kelly said of the Rays. “So I followed that.”

Luckily, Kelly’s parents had hedged their bets and already bought tickets for Thursday’s opener at Tropicana Field.

It also was not a surprise that Raley made the team after an unbelievable spring, hitting .326 with five homers and a 1.117 OPS. Most importantly, he showed he had flexibility defensively by playing some at first base.

Luke Raley works to hold the runner on first base during a March 13 spring game against the Tigers.
Luke Raley works to hold the runner on first base during a March 13 spring game against the Tigers. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

“We like Luke a lot. How much we liked him, we probably like him that much more (after this spring),” Cash said. “The bat is one thing, but being able to go over there and play first base the way he has could be really helpful for us. But he is very deserving to be on the roster and certainly contribute early on.”

It’s the second time Lowe has made the opening day roster, but the Rays have confidence this will be a better experience. He had two stints with the big league club last season, playing in just 19 games and hitting .188 the first time out before being demoted.

Lowe, however, feels more comfortable now.

“Absolutely. When you’re playing with somebody that you have a relationship with, you’re personal with, it makes it a lot more comfortable to go out there and do those things,” Lowe said. “I’m starting to feel that way more and more every day, so I just know it’s going to translate on the field.”

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Faucher, who started the spring with an oblique injury, finished strong. He struck out eight over 5.1 innings and posted a 1.69 ERA.

“Calvin has been a guy that’s always had the stuff. I feel like this last month, he has found a way to kind of put it all together,” Cash said. “The strike throwing has been elite. The stuff is outstanding. And if that just carries over now to these games that count, we’re going to have a pretty good reliever with us.”

For the guys who missed the cut, Cash reminded them to be ready for the call to come back up.

“That’s our track record, that we really utilize our Durham roster throughout the course of the season,” Cash said. “We’re fortunate that we have so many talented players going there. The front office has done a good job of just getting as much depth as possible that, when they’re needed, we know we’ve got some really good candidates.”

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