Pepiot leans on positives after Rays debut

April 2nd, 2024

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays don’t need to be the next Tyler Glasnow, although the two will be linked forever.

But given the current makeup of the Rays’ rotation, they need the 26-year-old to be a dependable force as he enters his first full season in the Majors.

Pepiot had stretches during Monday’s 9-3 loss to the Rangers when he showed he could be just that. But a shaky first inning affected by poor command and some nerves along with a messy sixth inning left him with a rather ugly line in his first regular-season start with Tampa Bay: six runs on four hits and four walks over 5 2/3 innings.

Manager Kevin Cash said those numbers weren’t indicative of his starter’s night.

“That was a little bit of an odd outing,” Cash said. “He really threw the ball pretty well. You take away the walks, and I think we're all pretty pleased with the stat line.”

But oh, those walks. Pepiot worked himself into a hole by walking Marcus Semien and Corey Seager to open the game. He nearly escaped the inning unscathed, but with two outs, Pepiot left an 86 mph changeup over the heart of the plate to Josh Jung, who launched it into the left-field seats.

The changeup has been Pepiot’s bread-and-butter pitch during his young career, and it plays well off his mid-90s four-seamer that he often delivers up in the zone. But he did not have a feel for his offspeed offering during his 31-pitch first inning. He threw seven of them in the frame, and all of them stayed above the knees, including the pitch to Jung, which caught the most of the plate.

“I don't think he had as good a feel for it as he did coming out of Spring Training,” Cash said. “Today was a little different.”

Pepiot admitted that he had “a little bit” of nerves when the game began.

“Kind of sped things up a little bit in that first inning,” Pepiot said. “But after that, felt like I settled in and tried to just keep the guys in the ballgame.”

Pepiot put up zeros over the next four innings and needed only 39 pitches to do it. He threw fewer balls during that stretch (12) than he did in the first inning (15). He permitted only two baserunners. The changeup got more depth. His slider was effective. He struck out three batters, all on his heater up in the zone.

“It was nice to kind of flush the first inning and keep us in the ballgame,” Pepiot said.

Pepiot also showed off some athleticism when he completed a rare 5-3-1 double play to end the fourth inning. Rangers rookie Wyatt Langford attempted to score from first base on a grounder to the left side of a shifted infield. As he broke for a vacated plate, so did Pepiot, who received the ball from first baseman Austin Shenton and tagged out Langford as both slid into home.

“I got there just in time,” Pepiot said. “I haven’t had a dirty uniform in a while.”

Pepiot was charged with three more runs in a sixth inning that saw two inherited runners score. His efforts after his rough first went for naught as Rangers starter Dane Dunning kept Tampa Bay guessing for most of the game. Through the first six innings, he didn’t allow a baserunner to reach third and allowed only one hit.

“[Dunning] had a good slider going and threw the sinker where we wanted to,” Cash said. “Really kept us off balance. I’d like to think that we can have some better at-bats going into the seventh or whenever it was when we hit the home run. But we didn’t.”

The Rays broke through in the seventh with a solo shot from right fielder Richie Palacios -- his first with the Rays after coming over from St. Louis in a January trade – and a two-run dinger from center fielder Jose Siri.

But the Rays mustered nothing more as they lost their sixth consecutive game to Texas, including both contests during their American League Wild Card Series matchup at Tropicana Field last October.

The results were mixed, but there were definite positives in Pepiot’s Rays debut -- and they will take any positive starting pitching developments right now.

The club has five impact starters on the injured list. Although ace Shane McClanahan probably won’t return until 2025, Jeffrey Springs, Drew Rasmussen, Taj Bradley and Shane Baz are expected to be available later in the season. Pepiot will still be an important member of the rotation once the team’s IL becomes less crowded. Until then, the high-upside hurler who has 11 big league starts under his belt will be counted on to pick up the slack.

“Just going to go back to the drawing board and keep attacking the zone,” Pepiot said.