Rays pitcher Taj Bradley will miss start of season with pectoral strain

Rays pitcher Taj Bradley will miss start of season with pectoral strain

PORT CHARLOTTE — Taj Bradley has a strained pectoral muscle and will not throw for at least two weeks. The Rays right-hander likely will start the season on the injured list as he rehabs from the strain that forced him to be scratched from Tuesday’s scheduled start against the Orioles in Sarasota.

“He’s not going to throw probably for, I think in fairness, two weeks and then we’ll kind of revisit it,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said Wednesday morning. “It’s a little bit of a unique injury, and in a good way. … There’s no tendon involved. So we think it’s kind of, ‘just manage it.’ Let’s see how he feels going day to day coming in, but it’ll be a no-throw and he will not be pitching for us opening day.”

Bradley’s injury throws a rotation that is largely untested behind Zach Eflin into more uncertainty.

Aaron Civale struggled to put hitters away after being acquired from Cleveland in late July. Zack Littell, who earned his way out of the bullpen last season, is in his first spring as a starter. Ryan Pepiot, who came over from the Dodgers in the Tyler Glasnow trade, has limited big-league experience after missing most of 2023 with an oblique injury.

Now, the Rays will have to dip into their pitching depth, which is limited, even before they break camp. Pitching coach Kyle Snyder has been stretching out several bullpen arms as potential starters in Jacob Waguespack, Chris Devenski and Tyler Alexander.

“Kyle’s done a good job of getting guys built out, stretched up, between Wags, Devo, Alexander. (Naoyuki) Uwasawa is also in that group, so we’ll see how it all shakes out,” Cash said. “It just opens an opportunity for one of those guys. And I feel like some of those guys have had really strong camps and pitched well for us. But nothing is defined quite yet.”

Waguespack has stood out from the pack, mostly because of his ability to miss bats.

The 30-year-old had a solid rookie year with the Blue Jays in 2019, posting a 5-5 record and 4.38 ERA over 16 appearances, including 13 starts. In 2020, however, his ERA ballooned to 8.15 ERA in 17⅔ innings over 11 appearances before he was sent to the minors. After spending most of 2021 in Triple A, he signed with Orix of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball.

Waguespack had a 2.97 ERA in 32 appearances (72⅔ innings) in his first season with the Buffaloes, but it swelled to 5.77 over 43⅔ innings in his second season. Still, he maintained a solid strikeout percentage (29%), which is what the Rays liked about him and why they brought him in to work with Snyder.

“More power, more (velocity) than maybe what we anticipated,” Cash said. “I think he’s really taken to some of the messaging. He’s a really bright guy. ... He’s going to constantly try to find different shapes or grips that can help him, but I’ve been very encouraged. We’ve all been very encouraged with the type of camp that he’s had.”

Another option could be lefty prospect Jacob Lopez, a 26-year-old who debuted in August and struck out five in three innings Wednesday,

“He looked good,” Cash said. “He’s got a lot deception in that delivery. He said he got his cutter where he wanted to get it and felt good. It’s nice to have good results as we’re kind of building him up, got to that three-inning mark.”

Cash had been very excited about Bradley, who had an impressive first spring start against the Yankees. But as he warmed up before Tuesday’s game, Bradley said he felt a tightness in his pectoral muscle and Snyder saw something in his delivery that raised concern. They shut him down halfway through the warm-up and sent him for an MRI.

“Going into it, I felt fine, and then as it progressed I just felt a little tightness, and then Snyder saw something that he didn’t think looked normal,” Bradley said. “And he just brought it up and we spoke on it, and then we decided to go get it checked out before going into the game.”

Bradley pitched three scoreless innings against the Yankees on March 6, striking out one while allowing two hits and no walks. But he has thrown only 43 pitches this spring, so he isn’t built up very far. After the two-week shutdown, Cash said, Bradley might not need a full spring training-like build-up, but he will have to progress slowly.

Bradley, who will turn 23 next week, said he has never before dealt with a pectoral issue in his career and is uncertain how long it will take to get back to where he can throw.

He was, however, relieved that it was not something more serious.

“I am just happy that it is what it is, it’s just a simple fix,” Bradley said. “I think it’s the best thing that it could have been.”

Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report.

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