Choi activated; Strickland dealt to Angels

May 15th, 2021

Facing a crunch as their injury-riddled roster begins to get healthier, the Rays made a pair of moves before their 12-5 win over the Mets on Saturday afternoon at Tropicana Field.

First, the Rays traded reliever to the Angels for a player to be named later or cash considerations. Then, Tampa Bay reinstated first baseman from the 10-day injured list. Those moves rebalanced the Rays’ roster, giving them 13 pitchers and 13 position players, and brought the energetic, joyful Choi back into the fold.

“We're excited about Ji-Man coming back and getting back here,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He's been a big part of our lineup, our offense, our team for a couple years now.”

Strickland pitched well for the Rays, adding depth to a bullpen depleted by injuries as he posted a 1.69 ERA and 1.25 WHIP with 16 strikeouts in 16 innings over 13 appearances. The veteran right-hander, once a mainstay of the Giants’ bullpen, mostly worked in lower-leverage situations for the Rays but seemed to re-establish himself after a couple rough seasons with the Mariners, Nationals and Mets.

“I think we're getting healthier. Hunter Strickland's done a tremendous job for us,” Cash said. “We wish him well … with an opportunity to go over to Anaheim and contribute to what they're doing.”

The Rays needed to clear a spot for Choi, who has been out all season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on March 31. They also have several pitchers working their way back from injuries:

• Michael Wacha (right hamstring tightness) is slated to throw an extended bullpen session on Sunday.

• Chris Archer, who rejoined the team on Friday following the death of his mother, has begun a throwing program as he resumes his rehabilitation from right lateral forearm tightness. His return isn’t imminent, as Cash said Archer is “basically in a full build-up mode” during which they’ll gauge how his forearm feels before plotting out his rehab and determining his role.

• Chaz Roe (right shoulder strain) and Oliver Drake (right flexor tendon strain) are still “a ways away,” Cash said, but they threw their first bullpen sessions -- consisting of 10-15 fastballs each -- on Saturday morning.

Additionally, their pitching staff is put together in a way that would have made it hard to send down or send out anyone else. Tyler Glasnow, Rich Hill, Ryan Yarbrough, Josh Fleming and Shane McClanahan are their top starting/bulk-inning options. Collin McHugh and Luis Patiño have been used as multi-inning openers and length options out of the bullpen. Relievers Diego Castillo, Pete Fairbanks, Andrew Kittredge, Ryan Thompson, Jeffrey Springs and Cody Reed have all been used in big spots.

With Strickland out of Minor League options and unable to be sent to Triple-A Durham without being put on waivers, the Rays found a landing spot for him with the Angels. And sending him out cleared a spot for Choi, who was not in the starting lineup -- Yandy Díaz started at first base -- but was available off the bench after going through a light pregame workout Saturday morning at Tropicana Field.

Choi had been dealing with a knee issue since the beginning of Spring Training, but he underwent surgery and recently completed a six-game rehab assignment with Durham. Choi returned to St. Petersburg and reported some soreness in his knee. But Cash said Saturday morning that Choi felt “significantly better” and “seems to be turning the page from the soreness that he might have had from flying back in.” Choi will likely start Sunday’s series finale against Mets right-hander Marcus Stroman.

The Rays entered the year expecting a bounce-back season from Choi, who hit .230/.331/.410 with three homers and 16 RBIs in 42 games last season. Overall, he has put together a .257/.359/.461 slash line with 30 homers and 106 RBIs in 218 games for the Rays since 2018.

“I think it's pretty underrated with Yandy and Ji-Man, the way they can lengthen out the bat, especially the way sometimes our lineup rolls through three innings,” hitting coach Chad Mottola said earlier this week. “It makes them slow down, and then the next couple guys come up with a double or home run. I don't think they're recognized as much as they should be for doing that.”