Underdog label drives Pruitt up Rays' ranks

April 3rd, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG -- Chris Archer noticed early in Spring Training.

"The first time I saw him throw a live batting practice at Spring Training, I'm like, 'I've got to learn from this guy,'" Archer said. "... He's a really good pitcher. I've watched a number of his bullpens. And from watching him, I've joked with him, I've learned a lot. Because he can really, really pitch."

Pruitt, 27, who has worked primarily as a starter in the Minor Leagues since beginning his professional career in 2013, is in the bullpen for the Rays. Pruitt made 28 starts for Triple-A Durham in 2016, accruing 149 strikeouts in 162 2/3 innings while posting a 1.19 WHIP, earning Most Valuable Player honors for the Bulls.

"The whole organization knew about him," Archer said. "The outside world might not have known about him, but he's dealt at every level he's been at since he's been in this organization. I like the fact that the Rays took notice of what the man did in Spring Training. They did their best to have him be a part of this team, because they know he can be a game-changer."

Pruitt said that Archer actually had asked him for some pitching advice.

"We were in the lunch room getting some food," Pruitt said. "I couldn't tell if he was serious, and I'm like, 'Dude, you know how to pitch, you've been here several years.' It was pretty cool."

Pruitt surmised from the experience that "maybe there's something to be learned from everybody."

The 5-foot-11, 165-pound right-hander has been an underdog throughout his baseball career that saw him advance from Woodlands College Park High School in The Woodlands, Texas, to Navarro (Texas) Junior College and then to the University of Houston before Tampa Bay selected him in the ninth round of the 2013 Draft.

Pruitt understands what it's like to always be starting from square one, and he has an idea why he's always had to prove himself.

"Pitchers are normally a little bigger than I am," Pruitt said. "Throw a little bit harder than I do. That could be it."

But there are advantages to being an underdog.

"You work with a little chip on your shoulder a little bit," Pruitt said. "Makes you work a little bit harder to prove some people wrong."

Pruitt had a rough outing in the Rays' 7-3 win over the Yankees on Sunday, when he started the ninth but didn't retire a batter, leaving the game with the bases loaded for Alex Colome. Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash wasn't out of sorts about Pruitt's Major League debut.

"I think Austin Pruitt threw the ball well," Cash said. "I mean, if you go back and look, he gave up two soft ground balls, one hard-hit line drive. He was in the zone. That's all you can ask for from a young guy making his debut. We'll get him back out there as soon as possible. We know that he's going to get us a lot of big outs this year."

Pruitt didn't seem rattled about his debut.

"It stinks the way it happened," Pruitt said. "But it was good to get that first one out of the way. … It was really cool to be out there in front of all those people."

Cash's comments sat well, too.

"It means a lot that the manager [said that] after something like that," Pruitt said. "I had some tough luck, but it's nice the manager still has confidence in me to go out there and get the job done."