Baz right where he should be in return from TJ surgery

February 16th, 2024

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Shortly after stepping off the bullpen mound between Fields 3 and 4 on a relatively quiet Friday morning at Charlotte Sports Park, offered a one-word review of his first Spring Training bullpen session.

“Great,” he said with a smile.

At this point, how could he feel any other way?

Baz is a healthy participant in Spring Training, a welcome change for the 24-year-old right-hander. After roaring through the upper Minors to debut for the Rays in September 2021, Baz had a delayed beginning in ‘22 and made only six big league starts before undergoing Tommy John surgery that September.

Baz spent last season recovering, unable to contribute as injuries further ravaged Tampa Bay’s rotation, but he completed his rehabilitation late in the year and got to enjoy a normal offseason.

“It is so nice to just come out here and throw and do my routine,” Baz said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

This won’t necessarily be a normal spring for Baz, however. Considering the time he missed and the limited number of innings he pitched previously, the former top prospect will be built up slower than the rest of the Rays’ starting pitchers.

Baz said he threw three bullpens in the offseason, although he was able to work out and play catch like normal. He figured he’ll face hitters toward the end of camp, then build up his pitch count and perhaps take part in some sort of rehab assignment before he’s fully ready for action. This idea is simply to make the most of the innings Baz can pitch this season.

“[The Rays’ staff has] done this a lot more times than I have, so I trust them fully. It’s a lot better to have a little delayed start than it is having to take a break in the middle of the season, especially if I’m throwing well,” Baz said. “Then, obviously, I don’t want to get shut down at the end of the year. I think this was kind of the lesser of two evils, but I think it’s going to go real smooth, and obviously, I’ll do whatever I can to help the team out.”

With that timeline in mind, Baz could be a key early-to-midseason addition to Tampa Bay’s rotation. He said after his bullpen on Friday that he was “just feeling like my old self.” The right-hander is still tinkering with his changeup, but he said his other offerings were “where they need to be” and estimated he was throwing in the low-to-mid 90s, right where he should be in a side session this time of year.

Given what he’s heard from pitching coach Kyle Snyder, Rays manager Kevin Cash acknowledged it will be difficult -- but important -- to take it slow with Baz.

“Kyle’s really excited with where he’s at. Being totally honest, it’ll probably be a little bit of a challenge for us not to get so enticed to get him out there and build him up,” Cash said. “But we’ve got to do right by him. He’s fully on board and understanding what his plan will be throughout the spring.”

Around the horn
• The Rays prevailed in their arbitration case against Harold Ramírez, who will be paid $3.8 million this season rather than the $4.3 million salary he filed for.

• Outfielder Jonny DeLuca, acquired from the Dodgers in December, reported to camp Friday morning and took batting practice with the early arriving position players. Newly signed reliever Phil Maton threw a bullpen session during Friday’s workout, as did right-handers Jason Adam and Kevin Kelly and lefty Jacob Lopez.

• Pitchers and catchers met with pitching coach Kyle Snyder, vice president of process and analytics Jonathan Erlichman and staff to discuss this year’s new rules, with an emphasis on the pitch timer. Rays hurlers finished with 36 pitch timer violations last season, tied for third-most in the Majors, although many of those were by Tyler Glasnow (eight) and other pitchers no longer with the team.

“We can do better as a group with the pitch clock. We had a lot of violations,” Cash said. “Just reminders they are putting an emphasis on speeding the game up, and we’re going to do a better job.”

• The Rays will have a shorter workout on Saturday morning in advance of Fan Fest at Tropicana Field, which is set to begin at noon E.T. for season-ticket holders and 1 p.m. for the general public. The event is free, but all attendees must claim a ticket using the Ballpark App.