Rays to Glas: 'Just go play baseball'

Opening Day starter's transformation has taken place on and off mound

March 27th, 2021

It took 10 days and one team flight for to realize something was different about the Rays.

He could feel it after he was traded from Pittsburgh to Tampa Bay on July 31, 2018, and immediately thrust into action against the Angels the next day. He was nervous, but the initial vibe he got from his new team suggested he shouldn’t have been. Nine days later, when the Rays flew to Toronto, Glasnow got a fuller view of Tampa Bay’s lauded clubhouse culture.

“It was just so much fun. Everyone's enjoying themselves and having fun, and no one's, like, afraid of saying something wrong or getting in trouble,” Glasnow said. “The Rays are like, 'We just want you to be comfortable from the start,’ and it was pretty easy to get that after my first flight.”

The Rays have helped Glasnow harness his elite potential by letting the 6-foot-8 righty be himself on the mound. The easygoing environment the team strives to create has allowed Glasnow to feel at ease being himself off the field, too.

The combination of the two -- of Glasnow coming into his own as a pitcher and a person -- has the Rays’ Opening Day starter poised for what many believe could be a special season.

“It's pretty cool to see him blossom, especially getting that Opening Day start and just seeing how far he's come in a sense of his personality and being himself and also performing on the mound,” outfielder Austin Meadows said. “It's just absolute nastiness. It's fun to watch. It's fun to watch him grow, and I think he's reached that potential now and he's just electric.”

At this point, the story of Glasnow’s turnaround on the mound is no secret.

The former top prospect shuttled between the rotation and bullpen during his 2016 debut with the Pirates. He complicated his delivery the following spring, lost the signature zip on his fastball and struggled in the Pirates’ rotation to start the '17 season. He was banished to the bullpen in ’18, sitting on a career 5.79 ERA when the Rays acquired him, Meadows and prospect Shane Baz for Chris Archer.

That immediately gave Glasnow a fresh start and another chance to start.

“I think it helped that he was kind of given, at that point in his career, that lane to go and say, 'I got every fifth day, I can prepare for that,'” manager Kevin Cash said.

With the Rays, pitching coach Kyle Snyder imbued Glasnow with confidence and encouraged him to fill up the strike zone rather than dot up the corners with two-seam fastballs, a focal point of Pittsburgh’s pitching plan at the time. The Rays told him to trust his high-octane fastball and knee-buckling curveball, and Snyder has worked with Glasnow this spring to add a slider to the 27-year-old’s pitch mix.

“You just continue to see him build, taking strides in the right direction, understanding what he has to do to get in the zone and compete against guys,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “It's really been fun to watch, fun to be a part of.”

Glasnow had by no means given up on himself before joining the Rays. He’d been too dominant throughout his Minor League career to not figure it out eventually. But having never experienced consistent success in the Majors, it took a few good starts with Tampa Bay to reignite his belief that, as he put it, “Whoa, I can do this.”

And he has done it ever since, posting a 3.32 ERA with 231 strikeouts in 173 2/3 innings over 34 regular-season starts with the Rays.

“Once you do well enough, you just kind of realize [that] some days you have bad days, some days you have good days, but I'm still a good pitcher,” Glasnow said. “Also, the shift of mentality, knowing I don't need to be so perfect, I'm sure over time, helped a lot.”

So, too, did the Rays’ relaxed environment. Glasnow used to worry about following the unwritten clubhouse protocol prevalent throughout baseball, adhering to an old-fashioned hierarchy that prioritizes veterans and urges rookies to fall in line. He felt uncomfortable if he was in the trainer’s room too early. He carried around concerns about speaking out or stepping on someone’s toes.

“I got caught in going up, not pitching well, not having confidence while also worrying about, off the field, having to [follow] weird little rules you have to think about,” he said. “I just think coming over here was completely the opposite. It was like, 'You're good at baseball. Just go play baseball.'”

Now, Glasnow serves as the Rays’ representative to the MLB Players Association, an important leadership role in the clubhouse. His pregame work is full of intent and purpose, with each step from his locker to the weight room to the training room part of a plan. He comes across as comfortable preparing the way that works best for him, letting his emotions show and throwing what he wants to throw.

“Glasnow knows who he is as a pitcher. I feel like I've kind of seen him, in some respects, kind of grow into that,” infielder Joey Wendle said. “Like, there's no doubt in his mind as to why he's doing or what he's doing.”

Away from the field, Glasnow said, he has had to learn that baseball isn’t everything. Another tenet of the old-school baseball mentality he finds restrictive is the idea that players can only get better by caring more. As with any profession, a degree of work-life balance is necessary. So Glasnow, a naturally curious person with a wide array of interests, has consciously sought to create it.

He has taken to listening to audiobooks and podcasts. He spent the offseason hanging out with a group of friends in Arizona that includes Cole Tucker, Bobby Dalbec, Jamie Westbrook and Patrick Murphy. He’s one of several co-hosts on “The Chris Rose Rotation” podcast. He has enjoyed hopping on other podcasts, he said, as a way to branch out and meet new people in or outside of baseball.

“It’s finding a balance, and then all those small little failures don't mean as much because you have self-worth outside of baseball,” Glasnow said. “When all you are, when all you can do, is identify yourself as a baseball player, you're kind of [screwed].”

Looking at Glasnow now compared to when they first met as young Pirates prospects, Rays right-hander Stetson Allie said he sees a “night-and-day” difference. And different, as Glasnow has learned over the past few years, can be a very good thing.

“He's the best,” Allie said. “That guy's the most talented human I've ever seen, the most genuine guy I've ever been around, and sky's the limit for him.”