Baz feels 'exponentially' better, on track for May return

March 24th, 2022

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As far as these types of things go, considers himself pretty lucky.

“I’m honestly just glad it’s over now,” the Rays righty said Thursday, three days after he had arthroscopic surgery to remove loose bodies from his right elbow. “I’m feeling a lot better already.”

Heading in, there was optimism that Baz, the Rays’ top prospect and No. 12 in baseball per MLB Pipeline, would face minimal downtime and be able to resume business as usual by mid-April. There’s risk involved in any surgery, though, and so the 22-year-old was grateful to learn that everything went according to plan and he’s back on track for a mid- to late-May season debut.

“Basically, [it was a] big relief,” Baz said. “[Dr. Keith] Meister was saying that everything else in my elbow looks pristine, and he was like, ‘There's no wear and tear. I really didn't have to clean you up,’ kind of thing. So I’m definitely really happy with all that.”

Baz made a splash in September with three regular-season starts -- including his Sept. 20 MLB debut -- that provided a great teaser for the future. He finished the trio of outings with a 2-0 record, a 2.03 ERA and 18 strikeouts against three walks across 13 1/3 innings.

Baz reported to camp this season flying high and with a decent shot at cracking the rotation out of Spring Training. The worst-case scenario was that Baz would head to Triple-A Durham for a little additional seasoning, but even then, he was expected to be a major contributor to the parent club this season.

And then, Baz’s elbow locked up at home after a March 15 bullpen session. Rather than spend any time worrying, he immediately reached out to head athletic trainer Joe Benge. A CT scan the next day revealed the issue, and Baz was scheduled for surgery.

Thankfully, Baz said, this bump in the road only set him back a bit. He has since been able to refocus on getting ready for the season ahead -- particularly after Meister’s comment that, other than the small bone chip he’d removed, Baz’s elbow looked “pristine.”

“I feel better just in the two days -- like, exponentially -- so I'm feeling pretty confident about it,” Baz said.

Bard inks Minors deal
A new face arrived in camp Thursday, as the Rays signed righty reliever to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training. Bard, who missed all of last season after undergoing right hip surgery in May, said he received interest from other clubs but that joining Tampa Bay was a no-brainer. “[The] first time the Rays called, they're just enticing because, well, they develop guys, and I've had so many teammates who are friends that have played here and just love it here and rave about it,” he said. “And you just kind of get to know different organizations, and the Rays have always been one that seemed like a great place to play.”

Bard, who came up through the Twins’ system with current Rays Aaron Slegers, JT Chargois and Nick Anderson, received a warm welcome to the clubhouse from his former-now-current teammates. Time will tell where exactly he might slot in. He has a 3-3 record and 5.05 ERA across three seasons (46 games) with the Angels.

“I think there's a running joke in baseball that the Rays just have something kind of in the water that people can come here, and they just do well here,” said Bard, the younger brother of Rockies closer Daniel Bard. “Pitching, they know how to develop guys. It just seems like an awesome place to be.”

Welcome back, Poche
 breezed through the sixth inning of Thursday’s 7-1 loss to the Twins at Hammond Stadium, facing the minimum three batters on 11 pitches.

Not bad for a guy who hasn’t seen game action since Game 5 of the 2019 American League Division Series, back on Oct. 10 of that year.

“Just to get out there again, with the uniform against another team was just awesome,” Poche said. “Just kind of a product of the last 19, 20 months of work. It’s just an early step toward, obviously, the ultimate goal.”

Rasmussen on track in debut
came out of the gate hot, hitting 98 mph on the gun during his two innings.

The righty, who threw fastballs 65 percent of the time last season, also got in some good work with the offspeed stuff, throwing 10 sliders and two curves among his 26 total offerings. The fastball location was sharp, other than a home run by Jorge Polanco that appeared to be helped along by the windy day, and Byron Buxton caught a hanging slider for a double.

Rasmussen threw 12 more pitches in the bullpen to simulate a third up-and-down to close out his afternoon.

“[I] filled up the zone and felt good, which is a good place to start,” Rasmussen said. “Pitches were working the way we expect them to. … Second inning, command wasn’t quite as good, but that’s a part of it. You’ve got to kind of work through those things this time of year.

“I was pretty happy with how it came out.”