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Rays playoff hopes bolstered by arrival of Dan Jennings

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Jennings got hugs and love from his new teammates, igniting the playoff contending Rays clubhouse this afternoon

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK – Up until midnight on Thursday, July 27, Dan Jennings’ life revolved around his seven-month pregnant wife, Courtney, his daughter, Brooklyn, and pitching for the rebuilding White Sox.

A phone call – which he initially missed because of service issues in his garage – changed the latter.

Once he got up to his South Side apartment in Chicago, ready to sleep after the White Sox lost to the crosstown rival Cubs on Wednesday, Jennings noticed a missed call and a text message from White Sox general manager Rick Hahn: His time had come.

“I don’t know if I’ve had time to think about it yet,” Jennings said to reporters on Thursday afternoon as he sat in the Yankee Stadium dugout, reflecting on the trade that brought him to the playoff contending Rays. To acquire the left-hander, Tampa Bay gave up Casey Gillaspie, a former first round pick (20th overall) in 2014 and the organization’s 10th best prospect, according to MLB.com.

It could turn out to be a significant loss one day, but in the meantime, the Rays have made it clear that winning is the goal.

“I’m happy [the Rays] decided to go in that direction,” Rays superstar third baseman Evan Longoria said about the new veteran southpaw. “It’s one of those things where three, four years if Casey turns out to be the prospect he’s expected to be [it will sting], but we are trying to win now.”

Jennings was welcomed warmly by his new teammates: Thursday’s starter Chris Archer was the first man to embrace Jennings, giving him a hug and welcoming him to Tampa; former Marlins teammate Logan Morrison stopped in his tracks, smiled and hugged Jennings even more tightly, telling him “it’s go time, baby!”

The Rays are entering the dog days of the second half, and the clubhouse was clearly energized by the afternoon’s acquisitions.

Tampa Bay entered Thursday’s series opener against the Yankees 1.5 games back of second place in the American League East and one game back of the Royals for the second Wild Card. The bullpen, which was recently strengthened with the acquisition of Sergio Romo, still needed an effective southpaw.

Lefties have hit a feeble .164/.286/.211 against Jennings in 2017. In 48 games, this season, Jennings has gone 3-1 with a 3.45 ERA.

“Dan has a great track record in being able to get left-handed hitters out, and righties too,” Longoria said. “He’s a big left-handed pitcher and a guy we really needed.”

Perhaps nobody is more thrilled with Jennings’ acquisition than Rays skipper Kevin Cash. The team has not had many lefty relievers to trot out this season so Jennings – a pitcher with a 2.25 ERA, .146 BAA, and 26 strikeouts in 24 innings of work since June 6 – gives Cash a trustworthy option.

“We’re excited,” Cash said. “We knew we needed that lefty to help us and Dan Jennings has been on a nice run the last month [or so]. Over the last four weeks, we’ve seen his stuff tick up and he’s gotten some big outs with the White Sox and now he’s going to get big outs for us.”

In his sixth MLB season, Jennings comes with two additional seasons of team control, so he will likely be a fixture in the Rays’ bullpen for the foreseeable future.

“I’m very excited to see what this year brings and years to come,” Jennings said.

Looking to the future is exciting as the Rays compete for playoff positioning and the team is putting in every effort possible. In addition to Jennings, the Rays have acquired Trevor Plouffe, Adeiny Hechavarria, Romo, and Lucas Duda (who team acquired on Thursday) over the last six weeks.

Acquiring help at the trade deadline is a fresh change for the Rays, something that hasn’t been the case for a long time.

“Well it hasn’t been the case because we haven’t been good enough,” Cash said. “That’s kind of on me and the guys that have been here. We’re appreciative of the guys because they’ve won ball games and [the front office] wants to do everything to help out.”

Now the contending Rays have Adeiny Hechavarria at short, Trevor Plouffe on the bench, a new DH in Lucas Duda on the way, and Dan Jennings in the bullpen. It’s a fun time to be following the Tampa Bay Rays.