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Why Ryan Pepiot has been a good fit but not a fill-in for Tyler Glasnow

ST. PETERSBURG — When the Rays finally completed the weeks-in-the-making, four-player December trade of Tyler Glasnow to the Dodgers that landed them Ryan Pepiot, they had a lot of information to share with their new right-handed starter.

Who his new bosses were, what he should expect, where to go for spring training, when they’d like to see him, how they saw him fitting in and why they traded for him.

Also, a very specific instruction:

To not feel like he had to be Glasnow and try to fill his Size 16 spikes.

“We wanted to be sure he wasn’t going to be like, ‘Oh, these are the shoes that I have to throw on three or four pairs of tube socks to get into,’” Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder said.

“I know Glas wasn’t healthy the entire time here, but when he was he was really dominant, which is part of the reason why L.A. wanted him. But it was an equal part of the reason why we wanted Pepiot. And I just didn’t want him to put any unnecessary pressure on himself.”

That message was repeated by manager Kevin Cash and baseball operations president Erik Neander.

And very much welcomed by Pepiot.

“From Day 1, they were very adamant that, ‘Hey, there’s not a comparison, that it’s not like you have to compete with Glas and be him,’” Pepiot said. “Hearing that, it was like, OK, a bunch of pressure is lifted off. …

“They were like, just go out and be Ryan. You don’t have to be anything else.”

So far, it’s been good to be Ryan.

Pepiot, 26, enters Sunday’s game against the Mets on a roll, having worked six innings in each of his previous three starts, allowing a total of two runs. Over six starts this season, he has a 3-2 record and 3.12 ERA with 38 strikeouts and 10 walks in 34⅔ innings.

His success is a product of several elements — an arsenal that includes a 95 mph fastball paired with an elite changeup, a deceptive delivery that includes 90th-percentile extension of nearly 7 feet, and a fierce competitiveness that drives him.

More specifically, and somewhat extraordinarily, he has an ability to throw his fastball in the strike zone and have hitters miss it.

The swing-and-miss rate for his full complement of pitches in the zone is 29.4%, highest in the majors entering the weekend, per baseballsavant.com.

On his four-seam fastball, the whiff rate is an even more impressive 39.2%, second to Texas reliever David Robertson among all pitchers (with a minimum 35 innings thrown).

“That’s what’s unique,” Snyder said. “In today’s game, if you can throw the ball in the zone, achieve soft contact and whiffs, limit productivity, then you’ve got special stuff.”

Dodgers general manager Brandon Gomes said “elite fastball quality” was what led the team to make Pepiot a third-round pick out of Indiana’s Butler University in 2019. It was something that only improved as he moved through their system and to the majors in 2022 and ‘23.

“Getting swing-and-miss in the strike zone is a huge indication of how good your fastball is,” Gomes, a former Rays reliever, said Friday.

“And that doesn’t always mean that you throw hard. There are just different components of how you get that, and I think Pep has a couple — he has the velocity, he has the movement, and I think there’s some real deception to his delivery that guys just don’t really see him.”

Pepiot said he doesn’t feel he is doing much different now than he did with the Dodgers, where he went 3-0 with a 3.47 ERA over seven stints during an up-and-down 2022 season, then 2-1, 2.14 over eight games (three starts) last year. He had a National League-best 0.76 walks and hits per inning after making a mid-August return from a spring oblique strain.

“I’m kind of doing what I was doing last year,” he said, “trying to fill up the zone.”

But Pepiot said the Rays present their message in a simpler way, which fits his preference of thinking less and competing more.

“Since I’ve been here, it’s an emphasis on strike one, an emphasis on sprinting to two strikes and getting guys out within three (pitches), or being in one-two (counts),” he said.

“So just doing that, and really fully buying into the process. I bought in Day 1 when I came here, because it simplified and it made sense. It was kind of what I like to do — just attack.”

There are other things Pepiot likes about pitching for the Rays, such as the relative security of knowing he has a spot in the rotation, and he doesn’t feel the pressure of being demoted after a bad outing.

Another is the camaraderie of the players (”I feel like I already have friends I’m going to have the rest of my life”) and the personable, supportive nature of the staff.

“We’re very encouraging here,” Snyder said. “I consider myself to kind of be like Mickey, the cut man in a boxing ring. ... You’re always trying to push and push and push, and instill more confidence and belief in themselves.

“That’s consistent across the board, but I think that’s something else that he’s adhered to a little bit. He’s a competitive guy, he’s got a lot of fire in him.”

Snyder said the Rays couldn’t be any more pleased with Pepiot’s work thus far.

“He’s just going to continue to blossom,” Snyder said. “His confidence is at an all-time high. He’s a tremendous athlete. He’s still relatively young, certainly young relative to his workload. We’re just excited to see him pitch.”

With Glasnow also off to a strong start — 5-1, 2.72 with an MLB-leading 53 strikeouts in 43 innings — the Dodgers, too, are pleased with the deal, which included the swap of outfielders Jonny DeLuca and Manuel Margot (who was then sent to the Twins) and a savings of $33 million for the Rays.

“We felt like it was one of those things where it was a good trade for both,” Gomes said. “With our ability to get Tyler, who we feel is a clear-cut ace, and Pep, who could work his way to that as he develops and continues to mature. This is not surprising what he’s doing at all.

“Up to this point, Glas has been great. And Pep has been great. So, I think both sides are very happy.”

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