'Comfortable' Beeks eyes Opening Day roster
Cash impressed with young lefty's improvement, attitude
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For the first time in his career, there's a realistic chance for Jalen Beeks to make an Opening Day roster.
Beeks, who was acquired from Boston in exchange for Nathan Eovaldi last July, knew that there was a slim chance that he would make the Red Sox Opening Day roster last spring. This year, it appears that Beeks is on track to be one of the bulk guys in the Rays' bullpen.
"I'm still fighting for it," Beeks said. "I'm still working my butt off every day to earn that spot."
It didn't take long for Beeks to become a key piece of the Rays' bullpen last season. Just three days after being acquired, the 25-year-old left-hander was asked to come into a July 28 game against Baltimore that resulted in his worst outing of the season. Despite giving up eight runs in 3 1/3 innings in Baltimore, the Rays continued to trot Beeks out for the remainder of the season. In 11 appearances after that, Beeks finished with a 3.07 ERA in 41 innings.
"It was tough," Beeks said about jumping right back into the big leagues after the trade. "Especially because I had not had a lot of success at the big league level. They threw me right in the big leagues, and I was excited, but you know, there's pressure with that, too."
The only person Beeks knew inside the Rays' clubhouse when he arrived in Baltimore last July was reliever Ryne Stanek, who was his teammate at the University of Arkansas. The unfamiliarity with the team was a challenge for Beeks early on, but over the final months of the year, he became more comfortable with everything in the organization.
"I have a lot of relationships here now," Beeks said. "I think it’s just natural that you want to make a good first impression with everyone that you meet, but it's more exciting. I'm more ready to just play instead of doing all the other stuff that goes with it."
Pitching coach Kyle Snyder and Beeks have developed a good relationship over the past six months. Snyder traveled to Arkansas over the offseason to meet with Beeks to watch him pitch. In the sessions, the two decided to make small changes to Beeks' delivery. The two worked on helping Beeks get a better load with his backside and shortening up his back arm during his motion.
"I've shortened my stab in the back," Beeks said. "My arm motion is a little shorter, a little cleaner. That has helped."
Due to the changes, which were mostly made about three outings ago, Beeks has seen an uptick in velocity with his fastball this spring. The fastball has been as high as 94 mph, which is significantly higher than his 91.8 mph average from a year ago. Beeks has also been working on trying to add more depth to his slider, in order to add it to his fastball-curveball-changeup mix.
Earlier this week, manager Kevin Cash said that he expects the team to carry three or four bulk guys heading into the regular season. As of now, it appears Yonny Chirinos, Ryan Yarbrough and Wilmer Font are locks at those spots, with Beeks making a strong case to become the fourth.
A 12-pitch at-bat Friday against Detroit’s Dustin Peterson really impressed Cash and the Rays. Beeks ultimately came out on top, getting Peterson to fly out to right field.
"He continues to impress," Cash said. "That long at-bat [on Friday], I don't know if he's capable of doing that last year. He just kept throwing strike after strike. Really encouraged."
Now familiar with the organization, Beeks could be standing out on the field on Opening Day for the first time in his young career.
"I got a few starts under me that were decent, and I got to know all the other guys. Got more comfortable, and I think the relaxed atmosphere here helps a lot with that. It's been nothing but a lot of fun and great since I’ve been here."