Rasmussen called up, dazzles in hometown
Not long after Drew Rasmussen was traded to the Rays and reported to Triple-A Durham, he and his wife, Stevie, looked at Tampa Bay’s schedule. They circled this weekend’s four-game series in Seattle, thinking, “Ah, that would be an awesome trip to get called up for.”
Their wish came true on Saturday, when the Rays recalled Rasmussen from Triple-A and added him to their bullpen before facing the Mariners at T-Mobile Park in Seattle. Rasmussen took the spot that opened up when infielder Mike Brosseau was optioned late Friday night, and he put on a show in his Rays debut. The right-hander retired all five hitters he faced and struck out four of them, and the Rays’ first look at his power stuff was one of Tampa Bay’s highlights in a 6-5 loss to Seattle.
“I think he's going to be able to help us quite a bit,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “When you see that -- the velo, the breaking ball, his ability to command it in the zone -- I was very impressed. It will be another fun piece to have down there.”
It was the perfect set of circumstances for Rasmussen, the 25-year-old right-hander who was born in nearby Puyallup, Wash., and grew up in Spokane, and his wife, who’s from Portland. Rasmussen said he even played in Seattle’s ballpark back when it was known as Safeco Field.
Then again, joining the Rays in the first place was also a full-circle moment for Rasmussen. Tampa Bay selected him 31st overall in the 2017 Draft, but he failed his physical, underwent Tommy John surgery that September and returned to Oregon State University. Four years and one trade later, he put on a No. 57 Rays jersey with his name on it.
“It’s just a funny game and how life works,” Rasmussen said during a pregame interview. “It was a weird way to circle back almost to where I belong. But it all worked out, and we're here now.”
The Rays acquired Rasmussen alongside right-handed reliever J.P. Feyereisen from the Brewers in the Willy Adames deal on May 21. They immediately thrust Feyereisen into a high-leverage role in the big league bullpen, and he rewarded their trust by putting together a 0.71 ERA with three saves in his first 11 appearances. But Rasmussen, Feyereisen’s catch partner in Milwaukee, was assigned to Triple-A.
That time turned out to be valuable, Rasmussen said.
“They really helped with the process, being able to catch my breath after the initial whirlwind that is moving across the country, relocating and only having a short time period to do it before you're ready to play again,” he said. “After I caught my breath, it was an easy clubhouse to transition into.”
Then all Rasmussen did for Durham was strike out 23 of the 42 batters he faced while allowing five hits and two walks in 11 1/3 scoreless innings over eight appearances. The Rays’ player development staff encouraged him to use his upper-90s fastball at the top of the zone and spin his devastating slider off of that. Clearly, it worked.
“It’s been incredible,” Rasmussen said. “The confidence that they instill in pitchers and the ability to go out and get every hitter out is second to none.”
Upon completion of the deal, general manager Erik Neander said Rasmussen and Feyereisen had “end-of-game” potential. To that end, manager Kevin Cash said he wouldn’t hesitate to use Rasmussen in a big spot right away against the Mariners.
“It's been pretty special,” Cash said. “He's a guy, along with J.P., that our guys really honed in on and we talked about. … We feel like we've gotten two good guys, two good players that can contribute at the Major League level for us, and now, we're going to get to see kind of the other half of that trade.”
When Durham manager Brady Williams informed Rasmussen that he was getting called up to join the team in Seattle, the reliever said he and his wife were “ecstatic.” He and Stevie will get to see their families for the first time since Spring Training, and they saved 30 tickets for them without even counting the number of college and high school friends who said they planned to be in the crowd the rest of the weekend.
“It's a surprise trip to come home, see family, get to catch up with everyone, even if it's just for a short time period,” he said.
Lowe sits, Wendle starts at second
Second baseman Brandon Lowe was not in the Rays lineup on Saturday night against right-hander Logan Gilbert, a rare day off for Lowe against a righty starter. Cash said it was just that, however: a day off. Lowe is expected to start Sunday against lefty Marco Gonzales.
“Just wanted to let him relax a little bit, and he can help us late in the ballgame with a big at-bat if needed,” Cash said.
With Lowe off and Brosseau on the taxi squad in Seattle before reporting to Triple-A, Joey Wendle made his first appearance of the season at second base. Wendle has plenty of experience at second, but he had only played third and shortstop this season prior to Saturday’s game. Taylor Walls started at shortstop, with Yandy Díaz at third base.
“It’s kind of weird how it's worked out so far this year that he hasn't gotten over there, but I think Joey would say that he's as comfortable at second base as he is at third base,” Cash said. “I don't see any issue with it. Wherever Joey is on the field, we like it when ground balls are going his direction.”