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Rays’ Justin Sterner still grasping reality of making big-league debut

BALTIMORE — Justin Sterner woke up in his plush Baltimore hotel room Saturday and still wasn’t sure it was all real.

The baseballs in his Camden Yards locker from his first pitch and first strikeout, the 100-plus text messages on his phone and the photos he posed for on the field with his family after Friday’s game all assured that it was.

And that he now indeed is a major-league player.

“I think that was the craziest realization, just like, okay, from now on, kind of the rest of my life, I get to say that I’ve been in the big leagues, which is crazy,” Sterner said Saturday afternoon.

The 27-year-old right-hander got the unexpected promotion from Triple-A Durham on Friday because the Rays were shorthanded in the bullpen, with four of the nine relievers unavailable.

That he got to pitch — in a close game (handling the seventh and eighth innings with the Rays down 3-1) — and did well with two scoreless innings made it all better.

Having his family travel on short notice from Utah and southern California to share the occasion took it to another level.

The group included Sterner’s wife, Courtney, and their 2-year-old son; his parents, a brother and a sister (who are twins); his wife’s parents and her sister and brother.

“It’s been a big team effort,” Sterner said. “Just to have all those people that have contributed and helped us, me and my wife, just kind of get to that point, it was just cool to see them get to soak it in, too. To see my parents, it was, I’m speechless thinking about it. It was just really cool.”

Cash ejected for first time in 2024

Manager Kevin Cash was calm afterward but hot at the time, as what started with him yelling at home plate umpire Chad Fairchild from the dugout led to Fairchild stepping back from the plate during Jose Caballero’s third-inning at-bat, responding and tossing Cash from the game.

“Chad’s a really good umpire, maybe one of the best,” Cash said. “Just a little bit of disagreement on some of the calls.”

It was Cash’s first ejection this season and the 17th of his 10-season managerial career. Bench coach Rodney Linares took over.

Medical matters: Poche, Springs, Lowe

• Lefty reliever Colin Poche, sidelined since late April due to mid-back tightness, is moving closer to a return, with plans to start a rehab assignment Sunday with Durham.

The Rays acquired Richard Lovelady from the Cubs on May 8 to fill Poche’s void. In six games, Lovelady has a 1-3, 10.13 record, allowing six earned runs and nine hits over 5 1/3 innings. Poche had an 0-1, 6.75 mark in 10 games.

• Lefty starter Jeffrey Springs, whose rehab from April 2023 Tommy John elbow surgery was halted May 25 when he felt something in his lat area, threw a 20-pitch bullpen session Saturday. He is expected to start a new 30-day rehab assignment in the next seven to 10 days.

• Outfielder Josh Lowe (right oblique strain) was the DH for Durham on Saturday in Jacksonville, going 1-for-4 with a triple. If he gets through Sunday’s game with no issues, he is expected to rejoin the Rays on Tuesday in Miami.

• Infielder Taylor Walls (right hip surgery) was 2-for-4 playing shortstop in his second rehab game for Durham.

Miscellany

The four homers Taj Bradley allowed Saturday were two shy of the Rays’ single-game record; James Shields allowed a modern MLB record-tying six in 2010. ... Bradley’s 29 homers are the second most through 26 career starts for a Ray behind current TV analyst Doug Waechter’s 31 from 2003-05. ... Yandy Diaz, via team interpreter Manny Diaz, on legging out his first triple since 2021: “I lost my air, but I was good. ... I’m going to need the big tank (of oxygen).” ... Cash said Tyler Alexander, sent down Thursday, will stay stretched out at Durham, working either as a starter or in a bulk-inning role. … Diaz moved past Fred McGriff into seventh place on the franchise all-time hits list at 604, and past Carl Crawford for sixth on the walks list at 29. ... Cash said he let lefty swinger Brandon Lowe face Orioles lefty reliever Danny Coulombe in the seventh Friday rather than use a pitch hitter because he felt Lowe had a better chance to hit the ball out of the short rightfield than a righty pinch-hitter would have to the more spacious leftfield.

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