Cruz excited to return to Minnesota with Rays

August 12th, 2021

BOSTON -- Three weeks ago, Nelson Cruz said his goodbyes to Twins teammates, coaches and staff at Target Field in Minneapolis. On July 22, when the veteran designated hitter was traded from Minnesota to Tampa Bay, he said it was “shocking,” “emotional” and “heartbreaking” to leave behind the family he found during his 2 1/2 seasons with the Twins.

This weekend, Cruz will get to say hello again as the Rays head to Target Field for a three-game series against the Twins beginning Friday night. It’s fair to expect a warm welcome for Cruz, who was a key leader in the clubhouse and a huge part of Minnesota’s lineup as it won consecutive American League Central titles in 2019 and '20.

“We won the division back-to-back years, so that definitely makes it special,” Cruz said Thursday afternoon. “Good fan base. The whole organization is just very first-class. Coaching staff’s very close with the players. Definitely a good 2 1/2 years.”

Well out of the postseason race prior to the Trade Deadline, the Twins sent out Cruz for pitching prospects Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman. The Rays were drawn to all the attributes that made Cruz such a hit in Minnesota: his powerful right-handed bat, his experience and his unparalleled reputation as an excellent teammate.

Cruz has faced his former teams before, but this is a unique situation, given the timing of the trade and his standing within the organization. For one, some of his belongings are still in Minnesota. He moved out of his rental house after the trade, but as he left quickly to join the Rays in Cleveland, he had to leave some of his stuff behind.

And it’s only been three weeks since the players Cruz will try to beat this weekend were his teammates, ones who said the 41-year-old was like a father figure and who still keep in touch with him. He figured those close bonds, including the one he enjoys with Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, will make his return more emotional.

“I have a great relationship with those guys, so it's going to be nice to see them,” Cruz said.

Phillips joins Rays
It’s been a whirlwind week for right-hander Evan Phillips. After being released by the Orioles on Aug. 2, the 26-year-old reliever signed a Minor League deal with the Rays on Aug. 4 and joined Triple-A Durham. Eight days and two appearances with the Bulls later, Phillips found himself in the visitors' bullpen at Fenway Park on Thursday afternoon.

The Rays selected Phillips’ contract to add a fresh arm to their bullpen behind right-hander Drew Rasmussen prior to the series finale against the Red Sox. They sent left-hander Dietrich Enns, who pitched 3 2/3 innings after Josh Fleming’s short start in Wednesday night’s 20-8 loss, back to Triple-A to make room for Phillips.

“It's been a crazy last week, that's for sure,” Phillips said after meeting manager Kevin Cash and going through a quick workout on the field Thursday. “From leaving Baltimore's organization and being able to get picked up by Tampa pretty much right away, it was exactly where I wanted to be.

“I've been playing against the Rays and the Durham Bulls down in Triple-A for a while and I've just seen the way they operate things, and I was always interested in playing in that organization. So I was very fortunate to get a phone call that they had made me an offer for a Minor League deal. And it was really great down there for one week in Durham, and just very fortunate to have this opportunity here."

Phillips struggled over 48 appearances with the Braves and Orioles from 2018-20, posting a 7.50 ERA and a 1.83 WHIP in 54 innings. But the Rays were intrigued by his fastball and his ability to rack up strikeouts, plus he’s capable of pitching multiple innings.

“I honestly feel like I'm the best pitcher I've ever been right now," Phillips said. "I wouldn't lie to you. I know I've been shaky at the Major League level so far, but I'm getting better. So I expect things to go better this time around.”

About last night …
• By rallying for seven runs in the ninth inning in their 20-8 loss to the Red Sox on Wednesday night, the Rays became the first team in the modern era (since 1900) to score seven runs or more in a single inning and still lose by 12 or more runs, according to STATS LLC.

• Brett Phillips’ grand slam in the ninth was the third of his career, with all three coming over a nine-game/four-start stretch over 12 days. He is tied with Jose Altuve and C.J. Cron for the most grand slams in the Majors this season, is in possession of the Rays’ single-season record for slams and two shy of Tampa Bay’s all-time record shared by Carlos Peña and Ben Zobrist.

• Additionally, Phillips has hit three grand slams in a span of 19 plate appearances. Only two other players in American League/National League history have hit three slams within a stretch of 20 or fewer plate appearances, according to STATS LLC: Jim Northrup (three in 14 plate appearances) from June 24-29, 1968, and Lou Gehrig (three in 20 plate appearances) from Aug. 29-Sept. 1, 1931.