Zombro's latest milestone: a Spring Training appearance

March 26th, 2022

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For , every milestone is meaningful.

Earlier this month, the 27-year-old right-hander reported to the Rays’ Minor League camp as an active pitcher less than nine months after he underwent emergency brain surgery the night he was struck on the right side of his head by a 104 mph line drive. On March 10, he faced hitters in live batting practice for the first time since that game with Triple-A Durham. Four days later, he pitched a perfect inning in an intrasquad scrimmage on a back field at Charlotte Sports Park -- his first game action since June 3.

Zombro reached another significant point in his return Saturday afternoon at JetBlue Park. When veteran starter Corey Kluber exited the Rays’ 5-3 loss to the Red Sox after 3 1/3 innings, Zombro trotted in from the visitors’ bullpen, scaled the mound and took the ball from manager Kevin Cash in his first game off the Minor League camp backfields.

“Everything feels the same. Honestly, it's good to be back in a game environment,” Zombro said. “It's good to have that little adrenaline kick -- game situation, scoreboard, fans, umpires. Much different than the back field, so it felt really good to be out there.”

Zombro faced two batters and recorded two outs, with a wild pitch mixed in the middle, then gave way to a parade of relievers likely to break camp in the Rays’ bullpen: Matt Wisler, Brooks Raley, J.P. Feyereisen and JT Chargois. Zombro came to big league camp and pitched in Grapefruit League games in previous years, so this was nothing new. But it was entirely welcome for everyone involved.

“That was pretty cool -- more than nice, for what he's been through,” Cash said. “I know [pitching coach Kyle Snyder has] been pretty adamant in wanting to get him over here and get him in a ballgame. He looked good. I know he's a tick behind velocity stuff, but that's going to come.”

Zombro said he has been pitching two-inning stints every third or fourth day during Minor League Spring Training games, building up his pitch count and getting back up to speed after being cleared to pitch late in the offseason. He spoke with Snyder and pitching coordinators Rolando Garza and Jorge Moncada, who looked for a time when his schedule aligned with the Rays’ need for another arm. It came on Saturday, when Zombro put on a No. 21 jersey and made the trip to Fenway South with the Rays.

“They lined that up well for me,” Zombro said. “Good to get in competition and be in front of fans, so that was great.”

There was one funny moment when Cash met with Zombro and Tampa Bay’s infielders on the mound. Zombro wears a cap with a protective Kevlar insert and padding underneath it, along with a small flap covering his right temple. There was some uncertainty about whether he could also tuck a PitchCom receiver inside his hat, so they fiddled with his cap for a few seconds before Zombro began warming up.

“I didn't know if it was going to fit in my headgear, so we had to go old-school conventional with actual fingers being put down,” Zombro said, smiling. “We were engineers out there.”