Mejía returns to Rays as non-roster invitee

February 29th, 2024

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Rays added a familiar face to their catching group on Thursday, signing to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training.

René Pinto is the only catcher on the Rays’ 40-man roster and is expected to be their regular starter. Non-roster invitee Alex Jackson is expected to be the club’s second catcher after extending his Minor League contract with Tampa Bay over the offseason. But Mejía gives the Rays another experienced option, one who has plenty of familiarity with their staff and approach.

“Good guy to have around. He was great in the clubhouse, certainly helped with our pitchers,” manager Kevin Cash said after the Rays' 12-9 loss to the Braves. “We know Frankie well, he knows us well, so it should be a pretty good fit.”

Mejía, a former Top 100 prospect, joined the Rays as one of the four players they acquired from the Padres for Blake Snell in a December 2020 trade. The switch-hitter split time with Mike Zunino behind the plate in 2021 and put up solid offensive numbers, batting .260/.322/.416 with 35 RBIs in 84 games.

Mejía’s pitch-framing and blocking grade out poorly, and he threw out only four runners while allowing 38 stolen bases last season. He took a step back offensively the last two years as well, posting a .649 OPS, and ceded playing time first to Christian Bethancourt and then to Pinto.

The Rays designated Mejía for assignment late last August, but he accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A Durham to remain in the organization. He hit .317/.368/.619 with five homers in 14 games in September, became a free agent at the end of the season and landed with the Angels on a Minor League deal earlier this month.

But the Angels granted him his release last weekend, as they wanted to dedicate more playing time to their younger catchers while allowing Mejía time to catch on with another club. That led the 28-year-old back to the Rays, who have been looking for additional catching depth.

Pinto, Jackson and Rob Brantly were the only catchers in camp with Major League experience, and Mejía now leads their catchers with 355 games played in the Majors. He had a locker set up at Charlotte Sports Park on Thursday afternoon, with a new No. 0 jersey hanging inside.

Around the horn

• Right-hander had a forgettable Spring Training debut in the Rays’ loss, giving up seven runs on eight hits, including two homers, while recording one strikeout in two innings out of the bullpen.

Six of those runs came in his first inning, and Uwasawa admitted afterward he didn’t throw as many warmup pitches as he would have liked. He was then immediately met with another challenge, as his PitchCom device was set up for another pitcher.

“Obviously, all the things are challenging, but this is my first outing,” Uwasawa said through interpreter Taishi Terashima. “So I've got to just get used to it, and I'm sure the next one is going to be better than this one.”

Uwasawa said his stuff felt fine, but he didn’t execute well enough. Cash and pitching coach Kyle Snyder encouraged him not to worry about his first outing.

“I said, 'Please don't analyze anything, because we're certainly not going to analyze anything.' It's a lot for a guy to come over and do what he's doing, and one inning certainly doesn't matter too much,” Cash said. “I'm glad he got his work in. He's going to be that much better for it moving forward.

• Infield prospect Austin Shenton, who was added to the 40-man roster over the offseason after hitting .304/.423/.584 between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, went 2-for-3 with four RBIs.

“He can hit, man. He picked up right where he left off last year in Durham,” Cash said. “It's a quick bat, and he just sprays line drives all over the place.”

• Starter Taj Bradley faced hitters for two innings of live batting practice on Thursday morning. Relievers Pete Fairbanks and Kevin Kelly also worked an inning each.

J. Lowe not worried about injury

Right fielder will be shut down for six days, and likely won’t play for about two weeks, after being irritated by inflammation in his left hip. Lowe said he could play, if needed, but didn’t want to risk it turning into a more significant injury.

“I feel OK,” Lowe said. “It’s just something that I would rather get taken care of right now than let it linger and then have to miss time during the season.”

Lowe said he started feeling something in his hip as he ramped up his sprint work during the offseason, but the pain would always subside. The feeling returned during the first week of Spring Training, so Lowe had his hip examined. An MRI revealed no structural damage, so Lowe was prescribed anti-inflammatory treatment and rest.

Asked if he had any concerns about his availability for Opening Day in four weeks, Lowe responded simply, “Nope.”

Up next

The Rays will head north to face the Pirates on Friday afternoon at LECOM Park. Left-hander Jacob Lopez is scheduled to start, with non-roster invitees Carlos Garcia, Michael Gomez, Zac Houston, Mason Montgomery and Erasmo Ramírez lined up to pitch behind him. There will be no Bally Sports Sun or Rays Radio coverage of the game, but you can follow the game via MLB.TV, as Pittsburgh will be broadcasting the game. First pitch is set for 1:05 p.m.