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Rays option Ryan Yarbrough ahead of Shane Baz’s return

Shane Baz: Kim Klement | Ryan Yarbrough: Nathan Ray Seebeck

Shane Baz, the top prospect in the Rays minor league system and No. 6 overall in baseball, according to Baseball America, is slated to make his return from the injured list in the coming series against Minnesota.

To make room, the Rays elected to option longstanding member of the rotation Ryan Yarbrough to the minors.

Yarbrough’s career with the Rays has been a rollercoaster. Promoted to the majors earlier than anticipated due to injury, he became the test case for the “bulk” concept as a pitcher operating on a starters rotation but entering the game behind an “opener.”

Concerns over precedent, in terms of his personal development as well as when it came to arbitration, have followed his career. Yarbrough pitched to general success nevertheless, and appeared to be treated as a starter during his eventual salary arbitration; however, the wheels began to come off in 2021 when his velocity dipped to extraordinary lows.

Lefties have long gotten by in baseball while throwing at lower velocity than their right-handed peers, but the dip Yarbrough experienced hurt his performance overall. He began to rebound toward the end of the year, but concluded with a 5.11 ERA, good for an ERA- of 124 (i.e. 24% worse than league average).

This season, Yarbrough’s velocity was back to his norm, but his overall results continued to underwhelm.

Soft tossing can have its advantages. In each of the last three seasons Yarbrough boasted the lowest average exit velocity allowed in baseball (under 85 mph on average in 2019, 2020, and 2021); however, despite an 85.2 avg EV, other factors have continued to hinder his success.

At the time of his optioning, Yarbrough has so far put up a 5.65 ERA (157 ERA-) and 5.30 FIP (124 FIP-). A groin injury in April limited Yarbrough to only 7 appearances thus far in 2022 (including 6 traditional starts), but it’s difficult to find any statistics outside of exit velocity in his favor.

Images can be misleading, but in this case an image makes this demotion easy to understand:

Shane Baz returns to the Rays rotation after a strong performance in 2021, allowing just three runs and striking out 18 across three starts heading into the playoffs. He required elbow surgery this spring to remove loose bodies, and received a positive prognosis following the operation:

“Basically, [it was a] big relief,” Baz said. “[Dr. Keith] Meister was saying that everything else in my elbow looks pristine, and he was like, ‘There’s no wear and tear. I really didn’t have to clean you up,’ kind of thing. So I’m definitely really happy with all that.”

[mlb.com]

For Baz, though, the time away can be seen as a blessing in disguise.

If the Rays want Shane Baz to pitch meaningful innings in the Fall, they were going to need him to rest his arm at some point or another, either through limited pitch counts or by sitting out some time in Durham. Baz has never reached 100 innings in a season before, even when healthy.

The good news is that, through four starts in Triple-A, Baz has successfully thrown 2.1, 2.1, 4.0, and 4.0 innings over his four starts since being reactivated, putting him in position to throw a bulk amount for the Rays, apparently as soon as this week.

Based on the existing rotation, the Rays No. 11 will take the mound in Minnesota on June 11 on what will be only one extra day’s rest from his rotation slot in Durham.

Ahead of his return, the Rays option of Yarbrough allowed the team to bring up an extra reliever in RHP Luke Bard, who has not pitched in the majors since 2020. He pitched two innings of shutout baseball against the Cardinals last night as the Rays stacked up runs, allowing one hit and striking out two.