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Schultz ready for long-awaited big league debut

Hard-throwing righty's ticket to Show was delayed by injury in '17
MLB.com @wwchastain

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Jaime Schultz should be perched on the brink of his second Major League season.

Instead, he's waiting to make his debut.

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Jaime Schultz should be perched on the brink of his second Major League season.

Instead, he's waiting to make his debut.

Flash back a year ago, and the hard-throwing right-hander fast became one of the most talked about players in Rays camp. While he didn't make the team out of Spring Training, he clearly would have been called up soon. And once he arrived, the Rays would have had a valuable piece for their bullpen.

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Unfortunately for Schultz and the Rays, injuries prevented that opportunity from occuring in 2017.

Schultz's first setback came in the first game he pitched for Triple-A Durham. The Bulls were playing at Gwinett and Schultz was in his second inning of work when he tried to throw a fastball. Accompanying that effort was the feeling of a pull in his right groin area.

"Just a little chronic groin injury," Schultz said. "This time it just took a little longer to rehab, and it kept flaring up. That set me back about three months.

"I had [a groin problem] in the past. But we stayed on top of it, strengthening, strengthening, and it just turned out to be the wrong strengthening, it was too tight."

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Schultz knew he'd missed an opportunity, and having that awareness hurt.

"It was tough at first, obviously, being on the brink [of being in the Major Leagues]," said Schultz, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Rays' No. 24 prospect. "You sit there and think about how things might have gone differently. I was just lucky to be around family and friends, who kind of talked me out of that."

Schultz returned to action in July, first with the Gulf Coast League Rays, then Double-A Charlotte, before finding a spot with Triple-A Durham on July 28.

The 5-foot-10, 200-pound fireplug began to show his stuff, like striking out the side in his one inning on Aug. 4, or striking out four in a 1 1/3 inning performance on Aug. 4.

Then September rolled around, and the injury bug bit again.

"I found out I had a torn right meniscus," he said. "I just kind of pitched through it until the end of the season. I'd missed enough time, so I just pushed through it."

Schultz finished at 1-1 with a 3.66 ERA and 32 strikeouts with six walks in 19 appearances.

Offseason surgeries to his groin and meniscus followed. Now he's healed and once again finds himself on the verge of the Major Leagues.

Schultz primarily uses a fastball-curveball combination, but he can drop the change in there as well. He uses a drop-and-drive delivery, so he was asked how that's played out with his repaired meniscus.

"It's a little crunchy here and there, but it's all healed up and ready go," Schultz said. "I'm just trying to find that fine line between pushing too hard but still making strides, and making an effort to get better. And I think I'm on the right path right now."

Rays manager Kevin Cash noted he's happy to see Schultz healthy again.

"I think we have to do right by him in allowing him to check some boxes to show his health," Cash said. "That message has kind of been provided to him. You pace yourself, enough to keep up with everybody. But we're optimistic he'll get to the point where he'll be right in the mix again."

Today, Schultz views his 2017 tribulations philosophically.

"Everything happens for a reason, and you just have to look at that as a positive, like, 'This year I'm going to be stronger, get everything cleared up,'" Schultz said. "I don't want to be the guy who goes up there and gets hurt on the first day and sits on the roster on the injury report. I want to go up there and make a statement and be there for a reason."

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2004.

Tampa Bay Rays, Jaime Schultz