Glasnow's dominance on display in season debut

Despite loss, Rays energized by return of 6-foot-8 flamethrower after he K's 8 in 4 1/3

May 28th, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG -- It had been 718 days since last scaled the mound at Tropicana Field. The exact amount of time may not have crossed his mind when he toed the rubber on Saturday afternoon, but he knew it felt right.

“I remember being like, 'Oh, this is kind of nice to be back out here,’” Glasnow said. “It was just like a feeling I hadn't felt in a while, so it was familiar and it felt nice.”

Glasnow’s season debut in the Rays’ 6-5 loss to the Dodgers wasn’t without its flaws, but it was at times a tantalizing reminder of what he’s bringing back to the Rays’ rotation. Sidelined since early Spring Training, Glasnow allowed three runs on five hits and one walk while striking out eight over 4 1/3 innings.

It was Glasnow’s first start at Tropicana Field since June 8, 2021, and only his fourth Major League outing since June 14, 2021. He underwent Tommy John surgery in August 2021 and returned in the final days of last season, only to be set back on Feb. 27 by a Grade 2 left oblique strain.

“Happy to have him back,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “You saw the stuff early on, that it's no different than what we saw last October. It's pretty wipeout stuff.”

Glasnow threw 83 pitches, 55 for strikes, after maxing out at six innings and 67 pitches during his Minor League rehab assignment. The Rays were down a run when he left the game to a standing ovation, but they pulled ahead on a two-run homer by Harold Ramírez off Clayton Kershaw in the fifth inning.

They gave up that advantage when lefty Colin Poche allowed two runs in the seventh, then reliever Trevor Kelley surrendered a solo homer to Miguel Vargas in the eighth. The Rays rallied in the ninth but finished with the tying run 90 feet away from home plate in the club’s 10th loss (of only 16 total) by two or fewer runs.

“That was a gritty win. So much respect for this Tampa [Bay] team, the way they play,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “They don’t give you anything.”

Ultimately, Glasnow’s return from the injured list was the most important development of the day for the Rays. And it came at a good time.

The Rays have managed to maintain the Majors’ best record even while piecing together their pitching in recent weeks due to injuries. They’re down three key starters in Shane Baz (recovering from Tommy John surgery last September), Jeffrey Springs (Tommy John surgery last month) and Drew Rasmussen (flexor strain, out until at least August).

And Glasnow, when healthy, is no ordinary starter.

“Healthy Glasnow is a nightmare,” Roberts said before the game. “It’s velocity. It’s secondary. It’s [at the] top of the zone. A lot of swing and miss. Neutral. It’s a tall order, literally and figuratively.”

The 6-foot-8 right-hander has electric stuff that makes him one of the most dominant strikeout artists in the game. In his first big league start since Game 2 of the American League Wild Card Series on Oct. 8, his fastball averaged 96.5 mph and topped out at 98.4 mph. The Dodgers whiffed on 45 percent of their swings, including five of eight against his slider and six of 11 against his curveball.

“He’s obviously a big part of this team, and we're thrilled to have him back,” Poche said. “The stuff just jumps off the page. It's pretty noticeable all throughout the stadium when he's throwing the baseball.”

But when the Dodgers made contact on Saturday, it was often loud. Max Muncy led off the second inning by crushing a high fastball a Statcast-projected 408 feet to right-center field. Freddie Freeman hit a 106.7 mph double in the third inning.

J.D. Martinez and Muncy generated a run in the fourth by pulling back-to-back doubles off Glasnow’s curveball, a pitch that catcher Christian Bethancourt noted it “felt like they were kind of looking for” the second time through the order. Muncy came around to score the game’s third run when Glasnow spiked a curveball to David Peralta well out in front of the plate.

Glasnow had a few critiques of his performance, including some “counter-rotation” in his delivery that kept him from getting behind some pitches and a few too many balls left over the plate. But it was a successful first step, one that could go a long way for Tampa Bay’s rotation.

“I felt good,” Glasnow said. “Wasn't perfect, but definitely, coming back for the first one, I'm happy with it.”