The Rays have been battling through injuries all season, with Austin Meadows being the latest player to land on the injured list on Friday. But Tampa Bay got a key piece back on Sunday, as catcher Mike Zunino was activated from the 10-day injured list, and left-hander Sean Gilmartin was optioned to the alternate training site to make room on the active roster.
“It’s nice to be back,” Zunino said. “It’s a nice time frame with about a week left of games where I can get a good amount of reps under my belt and really get some momentum going into the postseason.”
Zunino was placed on the 10-day injured list with a left oblique strain on Aug. 29, retroactive to Aug. 26, but he traveled with the team to Baltimore, hoping to be activated over the weekend. The 29-year-old had multiple rounds of live batting practice and simulated games as he neared his return.
“It’s not the most ideal build-up, but that’s what’s at stake right now with no games for him to go play in,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said on Saturday. “But he’s in a good spot and should be 100 percent ready to go.”
Zunino has had another slow season at the plate, hitting .133 in 60 at-bats, but he was swinging the bat better before going down with the oblique ailment. In his last six games, Zunino had a 1.083 OPS with two home runs and four RBIs.
Despite Zunino’s struggles at the plate, his real value comes defensively. Last season, he had a 12.7 defensive fWAR as part of a 107.4 defensive fWAR in his eight-year career.
With three catchers on the roster, Cash said he’s not sure how the rotation will go, but the Rays will prioritize getting Zunino at-bats and consistent reps as he works himself back from the injury.
Having the three catchers also gives the Rays more flexibility to monitor Zunino’s workload, which will be the priority. It also allows Tampa Bay to have Zunino serve as the designated hitter if he needs some extra at-bats.
“If there’s a matchup there that we like and it’s a day where we want to keep him out of squatting, but we want to keep his timing at the plate,” Cash said, "he certainly could do that.”
Tying the record is an impressive feat for the Rays, especially in a condensed season. The Rangers needed 148 games in order to have 12 different pitchers record a save. The Rays needed just 53.
“It’s been great to see,” Fairbanks said of the bullpen. “But I’m not going to lobby Cash in any direction for his usage, because knowing him it’ll be the exact opposite of what I lobby for.”