'Pen begins to heal with Fairbanks' return

August 28th, 2021

BALTIMORE -- The Rays reinstated right-hander from the 10-day injured list before their series opener against the Orioles at Camden Yards on Friday night, bringing back the first of Tampa Bay’s bullpen reinforcements for the stretch run.

It’s not like the Rays have been running on empty out in the bullpen. They began Friday’s game with a 3.02 bullpen ERA, the lowest mark in the Majors, and a 2.51 ERA since the All-Star break despite having 14 pitchers -- including 12 relievers -- on the injured list. They’ve dug into their depth and found effective options at every turn.

“It's definitely going to be really good to get some of those guys back healthy,” reliever said earlier this week. “I know we've had a lot of turnover and moving parts here the last couple of weeks, but everyone's stepped up. We've thrown really well in spite of a lot of the injuries, but getting a lot of those guys back healthy is really going to help us down the stretch here.”

For a hint of what might be on deck, look at the Triple-A Durham box score from last Sunday. In that game, the Bulls used right-handers , , , and Fairbanks. They all could join the Rays within the next two weeks, and it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if they’re doing high-leverage work for Tampa Bay the next two months.

Combine those five, plus rehabbing right-hander , with the group of arms currently in the bullpen and the Rays could have an embarrassment of reliever riches to draw from in the most important games of the season.

“Getting some reinforcements back, some of the guys who've been really big parts of our success over the last couple of years, it can only be good. It can only mean good things for us,” right-hander said. “It's really, really admirable what this team's been able to do, kind of mixing and matching over the last couple of months with all the injuries we've had, especially in the bullpen. Getting the troops back together and kind of making this last push for this last month or so, we expect good things out of ourselves.”

Fairbanks, who had been on the 10-day IL since July 29 due to right shoulder inflammation, is the first to return. He admitted it was “frustrating” to miss nearly a month, thinking he might have bounced back quicker after a cortisone shot to address the injury, and manager Kevin Cash said the Rays won’t use him too heavily coming back from his second shoulder injury of the season. But the right-hander is confident he has a “pretty good handle” on how to manage his shoulder and happy with how he pitched during his rehab assignment.

“I think that anything that is inflammation-related or muscular, you're going to deal with some aspect of soreness or whatever to deal with it,” Fairbanks said. “But now, I feel like I'm in a very good place throwing the ball and feeling good while I'm doing it.”

Wisler, out since Aug. 16 due to right middle finger inflammation, was eligible to return Friday but likely won’t be back this weekend. Feyereisen, out since July 21 with right shoulder discomfort, could be the next to return. Anderson and Thompson also expect to be back, and the Rays should have an easier time fitting them in the bullpen when active rosters expand from 26 to 28 players next Wednesday.

The Rays are also encouraged by what they’ve seen from Robertson, who joined the organization Aug. 16 on a Minor League deal. He has put together 11 strikeouts without a walk over five strong appearances for Durham, and Cash received encouraging reports about Robertson from Fairbanks and Triple-A manager Brady Williams. Fairbanks said the veteran could add plenty on and off the mound.

“[Triple-A pitching coach] Rick Knapp said that you'd be a fool to not try and talk to him and pick his brain about whatever you can or whatever came to your mind, and there's no better advice than that,” Fairbanks said of Robertson. ‘He's an incredible guy, and obviously he's had success for very long time, so it's definitely somebody that you kind of gravitate toward.”

Considering whom it has now and who is coming back, the Rays’ bullpen might be saving its best stretch for last.

“I think that there are a lot of good arms here and in Durham, and I think that it just speaks to the depth of what the pitching department here has really been able to do and continue to do no matter who's been there or who stepped in to fill a role,” Fairbanks said. “I'm very excited to be a part of that group whenever it does finally come back together.”