Fairbanks' clear focus: 'Making the team'

Righty gets off to solid start with scoreless inning in spring opener

February 22nd, 2020

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- was part of the Rays’ bullpen in September and played a role in the team making the postseason, recording two crucial saves down the stretch.

But with the amount of pitching depth on the roster, Fairbanks is clear about what he needs to focus on over the rest of Spring Training.

“Making the team. Does that count?” Fairbanks said with a smile, when asked what he was looking to focus on over the next five weeks. “That’s my No. 1 priority.”

Despite some bad luck and a tight strike zone that allowed the Red Sox to load the bases against Fairbanks, the right-hander was able to pitch a scoreless third inning in the Rays’ 4-3 loss on Saturday at JetBlue Park. He struck out Michael Chavis to end the threat.

“I felt good out there,” Fairbanks said. “A little rusty with the slider. Fastball felt great. It’s a little different going from throwing in front of nobody indoors to throwing in front of the people that matter with the organization -- instead of throwing on Field 6, to throw at Fenway South. It was pretty cool.”

“From our side, it looked like some close pitches to [J.D. Martinez],” Rays manager Kevin Cash added. “But as we know, close doesn’t get it done. But he did ultimately come back and made big pitches.”

Fairbanks threw 24 pitches, 15 for strikes, including a pair of changeups, a pitch that he added to his mix over the offseason. Fairbanks featured a four-seam fastball and a slider last season, but adding a changeup could help his four-seamer, which finished in the Majors' 98th percentile in velocity.

A new pitch could help Fairbanks’ chances of making the Opening Day roster. Fairbanks made 13 appearances with the Rays last season, posting a 5.11 ERA, and with Emilio Pagán being traded to San Diego, Fairbanks could have a better shot at making the club.

With rosters getting expanded to 26 players this year, the Rays will have to decide whether they want to carry 12 or 13 pitchers. If they carry 12, it’s likely that they’ll opt to go with a reliever who can provide multiple innings. If the club goes with 13 pitchers, Fairbanks will compete with Andrew Kittredge and non-roster invitee Aaron Loup.

Fairbanks, however, will have to continue to prove himself through the spring, and Saturday’s outing was a good start.

“My No. 1 priority is to make it out of camp and stay up there,” Fairbanks said. “That’s more of my focus. It’s executing and contributing to the big league level.”