Bradley (pec strain) won't be ready for Opening Day

Rays have options for how to fill righty's spot in rotation

March 13th, 2024

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- There are still about two weeks left in Spring Training, and the Rays’ rotation depth is already being tested.

Right-hander Taj Bradley is expected to begin the season on the injured list after sustaining a right pec strain while warming up in the bullpen for his scheduled start Tuesday against the Orioles in Sarasota. Bradley felt tightness in his chest and was scratched from that outing, and an MRI confirmed a pec strain for the 22-year-old starter.

Bradley will be shut down from throwing for two weeks, manager Kevin Cash said, before he’s reevaluated. Cash noted that Bradley’s injury could have been worse, as there’s no tendon involved, but it will prevent him from being part of the Rays’ Opening Day rotation.

“Just happy that it is what it is -- just a simple fix, I feel like,” Bradley said Wednesday morning inside the Rays’ clubhouse at Charlotte Sports Park. “Just take it day by day.”

Bradley said he hadn’t felt anything unusual until about halfway through his pregame bullpen session Tuesday. He then felt “a little tightness” and said pitching coach Kyle Snyder “saw something that didn't look normal,” which ultimately led to the decision to have him scratched and examined.

Injuries are always frustrating for pitchers at this time of Spring Training, when they are building up their workloads. But this one hurts a little more, considering how good Bradley had looked this spring and how much the Rays are counting on him to take a step forward this year after an uneven rookie campaign.

Bradley threw 43 pitches over three innings in his lone Grapefruit League start, and the time down will likely set back his progression. It might not require a full Spring Training-type ramp-up from bullpens to live batting practice sessions to game action, but he won’t be rushed back.

“It'll be a gradual build-up again,” Cash said.

Cash said Bradley’s timetable to return is unclear, and Bradley repeatedly said he would take his recovery “day by day.” But even an aggressive estimate would have him missing most or all of April.

In the meantime, the Rays will need to fill out a rotation that was already full of workload concerns.

Zach Eflin, their top returning starter, worked a career-high 177 2/3 innings over 31 starts last season. Aaron Civale has never handled more than 23 starts (last season) or 124 1/3 innings (2021) in a big league season. Zack Littell earned a spot in the rotation after years as a reliever. And Ryan Pepiot, part of the Rays’ return for Tyler Glasnow, threw only 64 2/3 innings between Triple-A and the Majors last season.

Who’s next in line? The Rays might have to get creative.

“Look, Kyle's done a good job of getting guys built out, stretched out,” Cash said. “We’ll see how it all shakes out. I mean, it just opens an opportunity for one of those guys. I feel like some of those guys have had really strong camps and pitched well for us. So, nothing defined quite yet.”

Right-hander Chris Devenski is being stretched out to take on a bulk-inning role, as is versatile lefty Tyler Alexander. Another name to watch is non-roster right-hander Jacob Waguespack, whose fastball has ticked up into the mid-90s this spring. Waguespack hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2020, his second year with the Blue Jays. The now 30-year-old spent 2021 in Triple-A then played in Japan for the Orix Buffaloes the past two seasons.

“More power, more velo than maybe what we anticipated. I think he's really taken to some of the messaging, and he's a really bright guy that's going to constantly try to find different shapes or grips that can help him,” Cash said. “We've all been very encouraged with the type of camp that he's had.”

Other depth options include non-roster right-hander Naoyuki Uwasawa, who has struggled this spring in his transition from Japan, and lefty Jacob Lopez, the club’s No. 14 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.

The Rays will eventually get reinforcements from within, but they aren’t coming anytime soon.

Former top prospect Shane Baz is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Saturday then hopes to throw live batting practice next week, which would begin his progression toward game action. After undergoing Tommy John surgery, Baz will have a limited workload whenever he’s deemed ready to return.

Left-hander Jeffrey Springs and righty Drew Rasmussen, also working their way back from elbow surgery, aren’t due back until midseason at the earliest. Ace Shane McClanahan is expected to miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August.