ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays have started their ascension back up the American League East standings despite the loss of three regulars — OF Wil Myers, OF/DH David DeJesus and C Ryan Hanigan.
Those players have missed a combined 139 games while on the disabled list. Now, all three are getting ready to return.
DeJesus is set to begin his rehab assignment today in the Gulf Coast League. He will be the DH for two games, then is expected to join Single-A Port Charlotte on Monday, though no firm program has been established.
Out since June 19 with a fracture in his left hand, DeJesus said he’s happy to be getting back into the swing of things.
“I can see the end of the tunnel coming,” he said. “I didn’t expect it to last this long, but understanding that it’s a process, it’s in the hand where there are a lot of small bones and you have to make sure they are really healed before coming back.
“And the training staff has done a great job of keeping an eye on me and giving me a program to follow. So I’m excited.”
Myers began a rehab assignment this week with Triple-A Durham, appearing in three games heading into Friday’s action. He was 4-for-9 with a grand slam, three walks and three stolen bases. Rays manager Joe Maddon said Myers — out since June 1 with a right wrist fracture — could join the major-league team as soon as next week, but he needs to be fully ready to return before that decision is made.
“We don’t need, ‘I’m OK right now but I want to be in the big leagues,’ where they come up, take 15 at-bats and are lost. We don’t need that right now,” Maddon said. “We have to know that when you come back, you have to feel like you can contribute right now. It’s important that he takes the time that he needs, and when he feels that he is able to compete here and contribute, then he is ready to come back.”
Hanigan, out with an oblique strain since July 9, has yet to have his rehab plotted out. Maddon said he walked into Tropicana Field with Hanigan on Friday and said the catcher is feeling better.
Getting all three players back should make a positive impact, Maddon said.
“If Wil is right, we like to have his power source,” Maddon said. “Before David got hurt, he had the highest slugging percentage on the team. And then Ryan is here for a reason and when he’s ready to go, he’ll get back in there.
“So they will all be very positive contributions, there is no question in my mind.”
Smiling about Smyly
Recently acquired LHP Drew Smyly will make his Tropicana Field debut today against the Yankees. After arriving from Detroit in the David Price trade, Smyly started his first two Rays games on the road — against Oakland and Texas — and posted a 2.08 ERA in 13 innings.
Maddon likes the first impression Smyly has made in the short period of time.
“All kinds of good stuff going on with him,” Maddon said. “He’s a solid guy who knows himself but doesn’t know it all, so it’s really been fun to work with a guy like that. His ceiling can be really high as he starts to understand what he is doing out there.”
In his previous start, Smyly threw a career-high 116 pitches in a career-long 72⁄3 innings, allowing only two hits in a combined shutout effort against the Rangers. He said the key to that start was throwing strikes.
“Throwing quality strikes, that’s the name of the game, to try to get hitters off balance, and I think it worked,” Smyly said. “If you make it into the eighth, you know you are doing something right and having a good game. It’s exciting to pitch deep into a game. That’s what you want to do as a starter. It just shows that you are being efficient.”
The Rays began a stretch Friday of facing AL East opponents in 29 of the next 32 games, with Detroit the only non-division opponent.
“You have to beat the best to be the best, so bring it on,” Maddon said. “We need this right now. We need to take advantage of the schedule and keep playing like we have been playing. The concept and the theory is to win the series, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do and keeping going against the Yankees.”
RHP Brandon Gomes was optioned to Durham after Friday’s game, and a position player is expected to be called up today. ... The Rays pitching staff has lowered its ERA each month this season: 4.41 in March/April, 3.93 in May, 3.30 in June, 2.71 in July and 2.53 in August. ... Former Jefferson High coach Pop Cuesta, who retired in May after 43 years, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. ... CF Desmond Jennings was back in the lineup after being given the day off Thursday in Texas. ... OF Kevin Kiermaier will be honored before today’s game as the team’s recipient of the Heart and Hustle Award, which goes to players who “demonstrate a passion for the game of baseball and best embody the values, spirit and tradition of the game.” The winner among the 30 team nominees will be announced on Nov. 18.