ST. PETERSBURG -- The last time the Rays called up Luis Patiño to start a game, it was a one-and-done situation. The 21-year-old right-hander allowed seven runs over 5 1/3 innings in the Rays’ 11-1 loss to the Blue Jays on July 2 in Buffalo, N.Y., then he was on his way back to Triple-A Durham the next day.
This time, Patiño will have a chance to stick around.
The Rays added Patiño, who began the season as their No. 2 prospect, to their taxi squad on Wednesday morning. He will be recalled to start their series opener against the Indians on Thursday night at Progressive Field in Cleveland, his seventh big league outing and fifth start of the season.
“I think it's a privilege to be out here and be able to help this team again,” Patiño said Wednesday through interpreter Manny Navarro. “I know it's a process, but I've got the work going here and I'm excited to be able to start the game tomorrow.”
Patiño pitched five times for Tampa Bay at the beginning of the season, when its staff was decimated by injuries, but he never worked more than four innings. The Rays sent him down to Durham so that he could continue refining his arsenal and build up his workload.
In seven Triple-A starts, Patiño put together a 3.07 ERA with 41 strikeouts and 11 walks in 29 1/3 innings. He worked five innings in three of those starts, including an 11-strikeout gem against Jacksonville on June 25, then he threw 90 pitches over a season-high six innings last Friday.
“They wanted to lengthen me out a little bit so they want to work me as a starter. So I worked on my control and my length,” Patiño said. “I think more so just working a little bit on every pitch. I know the fastball, working on command with that, but also the breaking pitches. Not necessarily one specific pitch, but more so just getting all my pitches to tie them up a little bit.”
Manager Kevin Cash said the Rays haven’t determined how they’ll use Patiño moving forward, as they’ll make that decision after seeing how he pitches Thursday. The Rays created at least a temporary spot in the rotation for him by pushing back left-handers Josh Fleming, Rich Hill and Ryan Yarbrough, who will pitch the rest of the weekend either as starters or after openers.
Calling up Patiño and slotting him into the rotation will also give left-hander Shane McClanahan an extra day of rest and line him up to start next Tuesday against the Yankees at Tropicana Field. But Cash made it clear that bringing up Patiño was more about what he can do than the impact the move will have on the rest of the rotation.
“It’s about giving him the opportunity and seeing if he can take off,” Cash said. “It's tough to put pressure on a 21-year-old, but he's got a chance to be pretty good. And if he's good, I would imagine he's going to stick around.
“He's done good things in Triple-A. Young pitcher that we've got to find a way to give him a little bit of a lane, create a path for him to take off here for us, and hopefully tomorrow is the start of that.”
If Patiño pitches up to his potential, he could provide a significant boost to a Rays rotation that has been searching for consistent answers since ace Tyler Glasnow went down with a right elbow injury.
Rays starters were 6-8 with a 5.15 ERA in 28 games between June 15 -- the day after Glasnow exited his last start -- and Wednesday’s series finale against the Orioles, the seventh-highest ERA in the Majors during that stretch. Before that, Tampa Bay’s rotation ranked eighth in the Majors and second in the American League with a 3.49 ERA.
In the coming weeks, the Rays expect rehabbing starter Chris Archer to work his way back into the mix. Glasnow is still hoping to return before the end of the season. Perhaps they’ll add an arm in the days leading up to the July 30 Trade Deadline. Right now, though, it’s Patiño’s turn.
“I know this is a process, but I'm taking advantage of every opportunity that I have out here,” he said. “I'm going to give the best effort and my best 100 percent every single time.”
Rays agree to terms with 10th-round Draft pick
The Rays agreed to terms with 10th-round Draft pick Austin Vernon on Wednesday, MLB.com’s Jim Callis reported, for a bonus of $142,300 -- the full slot value of the 311th pick. The club has confirmed the details. Vernon is a 6-foot-8, 265-pound right-hander with a fastball up to 98 mph and a low-80s slider who set a school record with 109 strikeouts while posting a 2.55 ERA this spring and became the highest Draft pick in the history of North Carolina Central University.
Vernon sat out of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season while recovering from an arm injury that required surgery, and he pitched NC Central’s first no-hitter on May 7 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park before tying the program’s single-game record with 13 strikeouts in a 10-4 win at DBAP on May 13. The 22-year-old is the third pick signed by the Rays prior to the Aug. 1 deadline, as they have already agreed to deals with Day 1 picks Carson Williams and Cooper Kinney.