Civale settling in during first camp with Rays

Cleavinger, White impressing in return from injuries

February 22nd, 2024

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder typically makes the rounds every offseason. He’ll meet with as many of Tampa Bay’s pitchers as he can, watch them throw a bullpen session and share a meal, building a bond well before they report for Spring Training.

One such journey this winter took Snyder north to Northeastern University in Boston, less than a mile from Fenway Park. That was where Snyder met with starter , who is now in his first spring camp with the Rays after coming over from Cleveland in a Trade Deadline deal last year.

Rays catching prospect Dominic Keegan, who lives north of Boston, joined the pitcher and coach for lunch and a bullpen session, which Civale threw to Keegan in front of the Northeastern baseball team. The time and effort stood out to Civale.

“It was great,” Civale said. “It was really awesome of Kyle to do that.”

Civale didn’t necessarily have time to get comfortable with the Rays last season. He had been in one organization his entire career, then all of a sudden, he was on the move and making important starts for a new club contending for an American League East title. It didn’t afford him much time to settle in and unpack the nuances of how he uses his six-pitch mix.

This spring, Civale’s first in Florida, will be different as he has time to develop relationships with the Rays’ catchers, staff and Snyder.

“Just getting more and more used to these guys and more comfortable around them, instead of trying to figure out whose names are what,” Civale said, smiling, after throwing two innings of live batting practice at Charlotte Sports Park on Thursday morning. “Trying to figure out how to work better with everybody.”

Tampa Bay expects Civale will be an important part of its team, slotting in alongside Zach Eflin and Zack Littell toward the top of their Opening Day rotation. The numbers he put up down the stretch may not have been great, particularly the 5.36 ERA in 45 1/3 innings over 10 starts compared to the 2.34 mark he posted for the Guardians to begin the year, but he and the Rays believe he’ll bounce back.

For one, Civale said his stuff was “as good as it’s been” after the trade. His strikeout rate soared, and his walk rate went down. Snyder also noted Civale’s poor batted-ball luck, demonstrated by his .375 BABIP in August and .359 mark in September while the league average generally hovers just below .300.

“I think he's going to suppress contact really, really well, and he'll get back closer to the version that he was throughout the two, three years in Cleveland,” manager Kevin Cash said.

A little better luck, combined with the things he did well for Tampa Bay, should help Civale accomplish his top goal entering his first full season with the Rays.

“The thing for me that I would most like to improve is how deep I pitch in a game, innings pitched per start,” Civale said. “That just comes down to me executing more pitches, not throwing as many pitches per batter and being a little bit more precise.”

That familiar feeling

Lefty reliever took the mound for live batting practice, facing hitters for the first time in 9 1/2 months. Cleavinger, who had been expected to play a prominent role in Tampa Bay’s bullpen, did not pitch after May 7 following surgery to repair a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee.

Cleavinger is fully healthy this spring, with no limitations. Snyder was impressed with the lefty’s velocity (in the mid-90s) as well as his new sweeper, which should complement his slider.

“Felt a little weird, just because you haven’t been out there doing it for a while,” Cleavinger said, smiling. “But it went well.”

Back on the rise

Relief prospect , who is on the 40-man roster and could be a bullpen option this season, also threw live BP. The 25-year-old right-hander flew through the Rays’ Minor League system by pitching for all four full-season affiliates in ’21, only to require Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for all of ’22.

White returned last year to make 24 appearances in the Minors but struggled to find consistent velocity and command. He’s looking and feeling more like himself now, though, noting it’s been “like I didn’t even have surgery” since he reported to Spring Training.

“[He was] probably featuring two better offspeed pitches than he's ever featured before, filling the strike zone up with a very unique fastball,” Snyder said. “I'm as confident as I've ever been that we're going to see Colby White return to form.”