Uwasawa relishing chance to break into Majors with Rays

Plus, notes on the first day of workouts for Tampa Bay's pitchers and catchers

February 14th, 2024

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- started thinking about pitching in the Majors more than five years ago, when he pitched for Samurai Japan against a team of MLB All-Stars in the 2018 MLB Japan All-Star Series. While continuing his successful career with Nippon Professional Baseball’s Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, he tried to watch as many Major League games as he could.

One thing that stood out?

“A lot of guys came to the Rays,” Uwasawa said through interpreter Taishi Terashima, “and they became successful as pitchers.”

Uwasawa is hoping to continue that trend and turn his big league dream into a reality with the Rays. The 30-year-old right-hander turned down a guaranteed offer to accept a Minor League contract with an invitation to Tampa Bay’s Spring Training camp, and he got to work on Wednesday morning by throwing his first bullpen session during the club’s first workout.

After walking off the mound, Uwasawa spent several minutes talking to Rays president of baseball operations Erik Neander and manager Kevin Cash, who was pleased with what he saw and heard.

“Just a very personable guy, impressive guy. He's done a lot of really good things over in that league, and we're fortunate that we have over here,” Cash said. “He seemed very eager to get with [pitching coach Kyle Snyder], see what was going to help him be the best version of himself over here in this league.”

Uwasawa has already shown that motivation. He trained at the Driveline facility. He’s spoken to fellow non-roster invitees Jacob Waguespack and Burch Smith about the differences between pitching in America and Japan. And his primary motivation in signing with the Rays was the opportunity to improve.

“This is my year that I've got to show everyone in the States what I'm capable of doing, and that's why [I chose] the Rays,” he said. “I think they offer me a lot of opportunities to grow as a pitcher, so I think this is my spot.”

There is no guarantee that Uwasawa will have a spot on the Opening Day roster, and he could exercise a clause in his contract to pursue an opportunity elsewhere near the end of Spring Training. But he seemed committed to the idea of sticking with the Rays, even if that means a stint in Triple-A Durham.

“During Spring Training, I’m going to compete for a spot on the opening roster,” Uwasawa said. “But if that doesn't happen, I'm going to still try to get better as a pitcher. Even in Triple-A, nothing's going to change.”

One point in Uwasawa’s favor is his track record of durability. He pitched 170 innings last year, 160 the season before that and 160 1/3 in 2021, plus 171 1/3 more in ’18. When he was informed that Uwasawa had told reporters in Japan he could pitch “many innings without getting an injury,” Cash grinned.

“Cool. That’s great,” Cash said. “We’ll take any pitcher that says he likes to pitch a lot of innings. As much as any guy that we have in camp, he is built up. He’s been there, done it.”

Around the horn
• Three groups of pitchers threw bullpen sessions during Wednesday’s initial workout for pitchers and catchers, headlined by starters and , and relievers , and . Early arriving position players went through defensive drills and took batting practice.

• The Rays plan to build up Alexander and right-hander to pitch three innings by mid-March. Depending on how they handle that assignment, the staff will determine whether Alexander and Devenski will continue to stretch out as starters or stay put in a multi-inning relief capacity.

“My role the past four years has been pretty entertaining,” said Alexander, a former Tiger. “If I’m in like the swingman role that I normally am in, that’s fine. If I’m solidly in the bullpen, that’s also fine. I’ve gone my whole career with really not knowing, so nothing new.”

• Reliever lost his arbitration case against the Rays, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported on Tuesday night. He will earn $2.7 million rather than the $3.25 million he filed for, but he harbored no hard feelings after taking part in the hearing process for a second straight year.

“Honestly, I think I walked out of the hearing and I felt like they put on a good case, so I knew there was a good chance that they were going to win -- and they did,” Adam said. “They treated me well through the whole process. It was just a disagreement within the system, not a disagreement personally.”