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De Leon optimistic following injury-plagued '17

Right-hander made 10 Minor League appearances last season
MLB.com @wwchastain

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Jose De Leon arrived to the Rays' camp this spring in an unfamiliar position: under the radar.

Last year, the right-hander found himself in the spotlight after coming to the Rays in a trade that sent second baseman Logan Forsythe to the Dodgers. Unfortunately, that spotlight quickly dimmed.

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Jose De Leon arrived to the Rays' camp this spring in an unfamiliar position: under the radar.

Last year, the right-hander found himself in the spotlight after coming to the Rays in a trade that sent second baseman Logan Forsythe to the Dodgers. Unfortunately, that spotlight quickly dimmed.

"I think 2017 is a year Jose would like to forget for a lot of reasons," Rays senior vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom said.

De Leon spent the 2017 season in the Minor Leagues, save for a one-day Major League stint on May 29 against the Rangers in Texas. He made his Rays debut that night and was credited with the win despite allowing three runs on four hits and three walks over 2 2/3 innings. De Leon threw 69 pitches, the most by a Rays reliever since Chris Archer threw 79 against the Orioles in Baltimore on Sept. 13, 2012.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

After being initially slowed by back tightness last year in Spring Training, the Puerto Rican right-hander was limited to 10 appearances (eight starts) in the Minors due to three stints on the disabled list with discomfort in the flexor mass muscle, a strained lat and forearm tendinitis.

"It was really frustrating," De Leon said. "Especially since it was my first year with the Rays. Coming from another organization, you try and do your thing. Not being able to do that, it was really frustrating for me."

Rather than pout about his plight, De Leon got to work during the offseason, which he spent in Puerto Rico working out with Edgar Diaz, who was Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez's trainer for 19 years.

"He knows what he can do, so I trust in him, and we had a really good offseason," De Leon said. "I'm really confident with that. So I'm excited. When you're healthy, everything takes care of itself. That's the big part, staying on the field."

Video: De Leon discusses Puerto Rico and his health

De Leon's offseason work didn't go unnoticed by the Rays.

"It was exciting to see him come in early and come in looking like he had put in a lot of work in the offseason," Bloom said. "He's in good spirits, and I know talking to [manager Kevin] Cash and [pitching coach] Kyle [Snyder] in the weeks leading up to [the beginning of Spring Training] how excited they were at how he looked early."

Added Cash: "You can see that he's changed his physique in some really positive ways. Work ethic has been tremendous. The way the ball's coming out of his hand, I don't know if we saw that too many times last year."

De Leon feels good, and he feels no pressure to try again to be relevant in the Rays' pitching plans.

"As a competitor, you just want to go out there," De Leon said. "It's not so much about trying to prove something, but to prove to yourself. To go out there and prove you're healthy. Prove what you can do. That was the struggle I had last year.

"But everything's good now. It's a new year, and whatever's in the past is in the past. But I learned a lot from last year. So I'm excited about this year."

As far as being relevant, De Leon remains firmly on the Rays' radar.

"Obviously, he didn't get to pitch much last year, but we still think really highly of his ability and we're looking forward to him getting a chance to show more of that in 2018," Bloom said.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays, Jose De Leon