New changeup, 'nasty' slider, Fairbanks set to go

Rays right-hander could be poised for breakout season in '20

July 9th, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG -- It's no secret that one of the Rays’ strengths last season was a dominant bullpen that typically kept opposing lineups off the scoreboard, especially late in games.

Nick Anderson was one of the best relievers in the Majors after the Rays acquired him from the Marlins. Diego Castillo, Oliver Drake, Chaz Roe and Colin Poche were all consistent performers. Then, there’s José Alvarado, who had a disappointing 2019 season but has the ability to bounce back and become a dominant piece of the 'pen in '20.

The Rays return that group this season, but another player who could become an integral part of the bullpen is .

“This has a chance to be a pretty big season for Pete,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “To just continue to establish just how talented he is.”

Fairbanks, who was acquired from the Rangers last July 13 and made 13 appearances with the Rays in 2019, was one of the relievers who pitched in a simulated game on Thursday during a Summer Camp workout at Tropicana Field, and the 26-year-old opened a lot of eyes.

The right-handed Fairbanks faced four hitters, striking out three, on 18 pitches. Kevin Kiermaier started the sim game with an infield single, but Fairbanks came back to strike out Hunter Renfroe, Nate Lowe and Chris Herrmann.

Fairbanks showed off the high velocity on his four-seam fastball, threw a newly-added changeup and used his slider as a wipeout pitch.

“He’s not very fun to face, whether you’re a righty or a lefty,” Kiermaier said. “To have that size that he does and to be pumping 98-100 [mph] with a nasty slider, I’m definitely glad to have him on our team. I would much rather play center field behind him than face him.”

Fairbanks had a unique year in 2019. He returned to the mound for the first time since ‘17, after undergoing his second Tommy John surgery. As he worked his way back, Fairbanks opened the season with Class A Advanced Down East in the Rangers' organization, but he quickly moved his way up, making his Major League debut on June 9.

A month later, the Rangers dealt Fairbanks to the Rays for Nick Solak. Tampa Bay then sent Fairbanks to Triple-A Durham in order to get him familiar with the organization. But before the season ended, he was a part of the Rays' bullpen and was impressing many people within the organization.

Fairbanks had a 5.11 ERA in 13 games for Tampa Bay, but he finished with a 2.89 Fielding Independent Pitching, indicating there was some bad luck involved. He was also used in high-leverage situations, recording two saves.

This past offseason, Fairbanks’ focus was to continue working on his fastball and his slider, which held opponents to a .196 average last season. He also added a changeup to his repertoire. However, his biggest change was with his mentality. That combination helped him toss five scoreless innings in Spring Training.

“For me, it’s just about having the confidence in myself that they have in me and going out every day in whatever opportunities and whatever role I’m thrown into,” Fairbanks siad. “I just need to try and execute and contribute the best that I can, in whatever situation that may be.”

Now that Fairbanks is more comfortable in the Rays' organization, he's a candidate for a breakout season. Over the past few months, he used the downtime to fine-tune his mechanics, which has him confident heading into the 60-game regular season.

“I think my stuff is the best it’s ever been,” Fairbanks said. “I was able to step away and not focus on results and focus on, 'Let’s see how I’m spinning, let’s see what the changeup is doing, let’s see what the slider is doing. Can I tweak this? What can I do differently with my approach and with my mechanics and lower half?' Just everything. Being able to go in and try and tinker on a daily basis has been very beneficial for me.”