Top prospect Baz to take Yarbrough's spot in Rays' rotation

June 7th, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays are ready to see top prospect Shane Baz back in the big leagues. On Tuesday afternoon, they cleared a spot for Baz in their rotation.

The Rays optioned left-hander Ryan Yarbrough to Triple-A Durham prior to Tuesday’s series opener against the Cardinals at Tropicana Field. Manager Kevin Cash confirmed that Baz will fill Yarbrough’s spot in the rotation, with the 22-year-old right-hander set for his season debut this weekend against the Twins at Target Field.

Baz has been sidelined since Spring Training after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow, but he looked ready to go during his Minor League rehab assignment. Baz allowed only two runs on eight hits and four walks while striking out 20 over 13 innings, and he built up his endurance over four Triple-A starts, giving him a standard Spring Training-style build-up.

His most recent start Sunday, when he struck out 10 and worked 4 1/3 innings on 79 pitches, showed the Rays everything they needed to see.

“He checked every box along the way throughout his rehab,” Cash said. “You could argue that he's had a more normal progression build-up than anybody on this roster. We were really pleased with the way he threw the other night. It seems like he’s backed up each outing to translate into helping us win games. Excited to have him here.”

To take Yarbrough’s spot on the active roster, the Rays called up reliever Luke Bard from Durham. Baz is on the 60-day injured list, although he became eligible for reinstatement Monday. His next regular turn to pitch would be Friday, but if he slots right into Yarbrough’s spot, he’ll start Saturday afternoon.

Baz, MLB Pipeline’s No. 12 overall prospect, made his Major League debut last September and put together a 2.03 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings over three starts. He started Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Red Sox last October and gave up three runs on six hits in 2 1/3 innings in his postseason debut.

To make room for Baz, Tampa Bay made what Cash called an “extremely tough decision” to send down Yarbrough. The 30-year-old lefty, earning $3.85 million this season in his fifth year with the Rays, had been on a nice run before Sunday’s outing at Tropicana Field, posting a 2.55 ERA in his previous five outings despite the team going 0-5 in those games.

But Yarbrough lacked any semblance of command when he was hit hard by the White Sox on Sunday, permitting six runs on eight hits and two walks in only 1 2/3 innings. He didn’t attempt to excuse his performance afterward, taking the blame for Tampa Bay’s 6-5 loss and saying, “Especially when you feel like you've been throwing pretty well lately, to have one of those is a nice little hit to the gut.”

“Very confident he's going to continue to contribute,” Cash said. “I think there are things that he can go down there and find some consistency and rhythm with, but it definitely doesn't make it easier in the moment -- certainly for Yarbs.

“We've kind of wrapped our heads around this for a little while. I know Yarbs, what he's contributed to our club, has been incredibly impactful. Just felt like, at this given time, we're better positioned with the five starters that we have.”

Those five are ace Shane McClanahan, right-hander Drew Rasmussen, veteran Corey Kluber, lefty Jeffrey Springs and now Baz. Righty Luis Patiño (strained left oblique) could enter the mix in a few weeks, as he began his Minor League rehab assignment with a one-inning appearance for the Rookie-level Florida Complex League Rays on Monday. Patiño will now report to Durham, where he’ll begin the sort of Spring Training-style progression that Baz just completed.