CLEVELAND — When the Rays sent rookie starter Taj Bradley back to Triple A on July 31, they had several specific adjustments they wanted him to make to his pitching, such as throwing his changeup more and to lower locations, and doing better in controlling counts.
But they also wanted him to get a mental break, understanding the challenges he faced as a 22-year-old whose path to the majors was accelerated and that his role was amplified given injuries to other starters; he endured a rough stretch over his previous six big-league outings, going 0-4, 9.12.
Bradley was brought back up Sunday to rejoin the rotation, working five solid innings in the 6-2 win over Cleveland. He said the five-week stay in Durham, where he went 1-2, 2.91 over five starts, did him well in all phases.
“It was majority just having fun again,” he said. “Up here, just I felt like I had to do too much or different things, pressure on your shoulders and stuff like that. ... (Manager Kevin) Cash, when I got optioned back, just said, ‘Hey, man, this might be a good thing. Go down there, take a breather and then come back up ready.’ ”
The Rays will be counting on Bradley for much of their critical September, as they are three days into a stretch of playing 17 straight and 23 of 24.
He showed Sunday he can help, allowing just two runs (one earned) and three hits over five innings, getting seven strikeouts against a Guardians team that fans the least in the American League; he did, however, walk a pro career-high five. Changeups were 29% of his pitches, up from an average of 12.
“I felt really good,” Bradley said. “I felt confident and just in attack mode and I just went five (innings). I was happy. ... I was able to get out of some tough spots. With those walks, it was more than I’m used to and just limited the run control with those walks. Those are free runs that they didn’t get, so I was happy with that.”
Saturday night not immaculate
Rays reliever Robert Stephenson struck out the three Cleveland batters he faced in the 10th inning Saturday, realized when he got back to the dugout he had done so on the minimum nine pitches, and wondered, like many others, if he had made history with an immaculate inning.
That was in question because after the second out, the Rays intentionally walked Andres Gimenez.
Since the 2017 rule change an intentional walk no longer requires throwing any pitches, but Stephenson still officially faced four batters and was charged with a walk.
So it wasn’t surprising that the Elias Sports Bureau, which is Major League Baseball’s official statistician, said Sunday that Stephenson did not join the select group. (How select? Consider there have been 322 no-hitters thrown in major-league history but only 114 immaculate innings.)
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Stephenson did make history another way, as the first pitcher under the new rule to strike out the side on nine pitches and have an intentional walk in the same inning.
“I guess it’s interesting to be the only one to do that,” Stephenson said. “It would be cool if it was part of the actual (immaculate inning) statistic.”
Reliever Jason Adam said the report on his Saturday night MRI confirmed a mild left oblique strain, and he is confident of making a late-September return. Cash called it “a big loss” and said “we’re going to have to figure it out in the bullpen.” Stephenson and lefty Colin Poche likely will share Adam’s setup role. ... Poche on Sunday picked up his 10th win, third most on the team behind starters Zach Eflin and (now injured) Shane McClanahan. ... Aaron Civale, who grew up and lives in the Boston area, faces the Red Sox on Monday for the third time in his career, knowing he’ll hear from family and friends back home. ... Yandy Diaz played in his 500th game for the Rays.
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