ST. PETERSBURG — Out of both need and the desire to improve, the Rays continue to shuffle their bullpen crew.
Wednesday, that meant calling up former Yankee Ben Heller from Triple-A, placing recent acquisition Zack Littell on the injured list and designating Zack Burdi for assignment.
That left the Rays short one reliever. With some question over corner infielder Yandy Diaz’s availability due to what manager Kevin Cash called “a family matter,” they opted to add infielder Vidal Brujan instead.
As a result, additional moves are expected for Thursday’s matinee. Left-handed reliever Jake Diekman is slated to return from the paternity list, and righty Calvin Faucher was added to the taxi squad. (If Diaz’s status remains unclear, he could be placed on the family medical emergency list and replaced on the roster.)
Littell pitched four times after being claimed off waivers from Boston, most recently on Monday, and developed a shoulder issue. “Just a cranky shoulder and not something that we want to push through at this moment,” Cash said. “See if we can get him right.”
Burdi, in his third stint with the Rays this season, had a rough outing in Tuesday’s 20-1 loss, allowing the Blue Jays to score six runs on a combination of five hits, a walk and two run-scoring wild pitches.
Heller, 31, last pitched in the majors in 2020, a 2021 stress fracture in his elbow the latest in a series of injuries that derailed his career, which includes a 2-0 record and 2.59 ERA in 31 big-league games. He impressed during spring training and was 2-2 with a 3.91 ERA in 16 games with Durham.
“There’s been a lot of times in the last three years that I doubted if I’d ever get another chance to pitch at this level,” Heller said. “I get a little emotional thinking about it. It’s special to pitch at this level, and I don’t take it for granted, the opportunity. I’m so thankful for the Rays and for my family, friends, trainers, everyone who supported me along this journey. It’s been a lot of ups and downs, but, yeah, really just thankful for the chance to be back here.”
Heller’s wife, two young kids and some friends and relatives were flying down, but though he warmed up twice Wednesday, he didn’t get in the game.
Franco strikes back
Shortstop Wander Franco broke a couple of droughts with a three-hit, two-RBI game. A single in the fourth that scored Manuel Margot (who had tripled) snapped a career-long 12-game stretch without an RBI and an 0-for-13 streak with runners in scoring position. He also had his first game of three or more hits since April 24.
All in all, that was a better day than Franco’s frustrating Tuesday, when the Rays lost 20-1. He was 0-for-4 and briefly had words in the dugout with leftfielder Randy Arozarena, as sometimes happens between players during games.
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“I’m happy for Wander,” Cash said. “Hits make any player feel good. He had started to hit some balls hard and didn’t get much to show for it. (Wednesday), he found some holes, for sure, and picked us up.”
The Rays improved to 8-2 against lefty starters and 23-5 at home. … Attendance was a season-low 8,699. ... Brandon Lowe said the stiff neck that sidelined him Tuesday felt “100 times better” and he expects to be in the lineup Thursday. ... Saturday’s pitching matchup looks to be a good, and familiar one, with Tyler Glasnow expected to come off the injured list to make his season debut against longtime Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. They faced off twice in 2020 — in Games 1 and 5 of the World Series. … Luke Raley planned to get the ball from his Tuesday strikeout of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. signed. … Shane McClanahan joined Matt Moore (2013) and Charlie Morton (2019) as the only Rays pitchers to start 8-0; none have been 9-0.
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