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Drake returns to reinforce Rays' bullpen

@juanctoribio
September 15, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays lost five pitchers for the season, but the staff got a big boost on Tuesday as Tampa Bay activated right-hander Oliver Drake from the 10-day injured list. Ji-Man Choi, who left Saturday’s game with a left hamstring strain, was placed on the IL. “There’s no

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays lost five pitchers for the season, but the staff got a big boost on Tuesday as Tampa Bay activated right-hander Oliver Drake from the 10-day injured list. Ji-Man Choi, who left Saturday’s game with a left hamstring strain, was placed on the IL.

“There’s no doubt we’ve missed him,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash of Drake. “Last year, he was so special for us and getting big outs and also being able to bounce back as well as any pitcher that we had.”

Getting Drake back in the mix will be beneficial for the Rays over the last two weeks of the regular season. Drake was one of Tampa Bay’s key bullpen arms last season, and he gives the Rays another multi-inning reliever who has had a lot of success against left-handed hitters despite pitching from the right side.

Last season, left-handed batters had a .360 OPS against Drake in 104 plate appearances, while right-handers finished at .865 in 115 plate appearances. In five games this season, Drake has found more success against righties, keeping them hitless over eight plate appearances.

“When you look at what Oliver did last year, it was pretty special,” Cash said. “He can go multiple innings, he can go back-to-back-to-back [days]. We’ll manage those workloads, but knowing that we get that type of a pitcher to add to our bullpen is going to be a huge help for us.”

Because Drake hasn’t pitched since Aug. 8, the Rays will likely ease him into action and try to avoid using him on back-to-back days, at least at the start. But after he gets a couple of appearances under his belt, Drake fully expects to be ready to pitch whenever called upon.

“I like playing baseball; I like pitching,” Drake said. “I want to pitch after good outings. I want to pitch after bad outings. That’s just kind of how I’m wired, and I like that. It’s just one of those things where we’ll see how it goes.”

With 14 pitchers on the roster and a crowded outfield, Cash said the club will rely on just five infielders for now, with Nate Lowe and Mike Brosseau replacing Choi at first base. Lowe will likely handle most of the opportunities against righties, while Brosseau would get the bulk of the at-bats against southpaws.

Cash added that the team could also lean on Michael Perez or Hunter Renfroe to play first, but that would only happen in emergency situations.

Injury updates

Mike Zunino (oblique) continues to progress and is scheduled to take live batting practice at the alternate training site on Tuesday. If all goes well, Cash said there’s a chance Zunino could travel with the team to Baltimore and New York in order to continue his rehab.

Yandy Díaz (hamstring) was at Tropicana Field on Tuesday, but the Rays’ third baseman is still not doing any baseball activities. Cash said Díaz is progressing “slowly but surely,” which was what the club expected. The Rays are still optimistic that Díaz will be ready for the postseason.

José Alvarado (shoulder) played catch on Monday and Cash said he’s “making really good progress.” The next step for the left-hander could be throwing a bullpen session and facing live hitters over the next week. If he continues progressing, Alvarado could be another option for the Rays if they clinch a postseason spot.

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.