Have arm, will travel.
It helps, too, if the destination features some of the world’s finest beaches and streets lined with palm trees.
Tampa Bay stockpiled three pitchers with area ties this year – Andrew Kittredge, Drew Rasmussen and Adam Conley – and that group played an important role as the Rays chased down an American League East title and a 100-win season. The Rays’ season ended last week in Game 4 of a best-of-5 AL Division Series against Boston.
On the opposite end of the country, Seattle’s Marco Gonzales produced another steady pitching campaign and helped the Mariners stay in contention for a playoff berth until the final day of the regular season.
Taylor Jones played in 35 games as a first baseman, left fielder and designated hitter for AL West champion Houston, putting together his strongest season yet.
Following is a look back at 2021 for those players.
A trusted fixture in Tampa Bay’s bullpen for the past five years, Kittredge (Ferris) rewarded the Rays with his best year as a big leaguer and his first All-Star Game appearance.
Kittredge, 31, pitched a career-high 71⅔ innings and finished with a 9-3 record and 1.88 ERA. Opponents batted .210 against him, and he struck out 77 and walked 15.
Appearing for the AL in the All-Star Game in July, Kittredge pitched a clean seventh inning to help preserve a 5-2 victory. The right-hander induced consecutive groundouts from Milwaukee’s Omar Narvaez, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Chris Taylor and Atlanta’s Ozzie Albies.
Kittredge was stellar in the postseason, too, after returning from a 10-day stint on the injured list due to a neck strain. He pitched 3⅓ scoreless innings over two appearances against Boston in the division series. He gave up a pair of hits, struck out two and didn’t walk a batter in his two outings.
The Rays made a savvy move to acquire Rasmussen (Mt. Spokane) in a four-player swap with Milwaukee in May. Tampa Bay, making room on the field for heralded prospect Wander Franco, sent shortstop Willy Adames to the Brewers and fetched relievers Rasmussen and J.P. Feyereisen in return.
Rasmussen, 26, dominated Triple-A batters in eight scoreless appearances before the Rays called up the right-hander in June. He carried a 4.97 ERA in eight relief efforts over the next month, but advanced metrics placed him in a more favorable light. In his first 12-plus innings out of the Rays’ pen, Rasmussen struck out 17, walked four and allowed one home run, suggesting he could generate strikeouts, avoid self-inflicted trouble and keep the ball in the park.
Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash thrust Rasmussen into his first start July 24, and he gave up one run in three innings in an 8-2 victory at Cleveland. He made three more relief appearances before Cash transitioned Rasmussen into a starting role on the team’s bullpen days.
Pitching four or five innings in each appearance, Rasmussen thrived in his eight starts over the final several weeks of the season. He produced a 1.46 ERA and allowed only 22 hits in 37 innings. He struck out 23 and walked six, and he held opposing batters to a .171 average and .256 slugging percentage during that stretch.
Rasmussen’s string of good fortune ended in Game 3 of the ALDS against Boston. He was tagged for three earned runs and six hits in two innings in an eventual 6-4 loss.
One of numerous Miami Marlins players to catch COVID-19 in a clubhouse outbreak in 2020, Conley (Washington State) intended to play in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2021. The ongoing pandemic derailed those plans, however, and Conley signed a minor-league deal with Tampa Bay in early May.
Conley, a 31-year-old left-hander, pitched 31 innings at Triple-A Durham before the Rays added him to their 40-man roster on Aug. 14.
By now it should be no surprise that Conley, like his aforementioned teammates, churned out career-best numbers working out of Tampa Bay’s bullpen. His 2.29 ERA was nearly 2½ runs better than his career mark (4.71), and he lowered his walk rate to a personal-best 2.7 over nine innings.
The southpaw was placed on the COVID-19 injury list on Sept. 28 and was unavailable to pitch for the Rays in the ALDS.
A stalwart in the Mariners’ starting rotation for four-plus seasons, Gonzales (Gonzaga University) turned in another solid performance. He was 10-6 with a 3.96 ERA over 25 starts, and he held opposing batters to a .234 average.
Gonzales was more vulnerable to the long ball, though. He allowed a career-high 29 homers, including two or more in nine starts.
Gonzales, 29, pitched his best over the final two months of the season as the Mariners tried in vain to chase down a wild-card berth to the postseason. The left-hander was 7-1 with a 2.61 ERA in his 12 starts in August and September. He allowed just 52 hits over those 76 innings.
Gonzales, who signed a four-year, $30 million deal in February 2020, is set to make $5.75 million in 2022, according to Spotrac.com. He is one of only two Mariners (Evan White) currently signed beyond 2023.
Jones (GU) had a seven-game stint in the majors with Houston in 2020, and he earned a three-game call-up in April after starting the season at Triple-A Sugar Land. Bouncing between the bigs and minors several times throughout the year, Jones finished with a .245 batting average with two homers and 16 RBIs over 35 games with Houston.
Jones, 27, was particularly effective at the plate for the Astros in August. He batted .333 (15 for 45) with a .622 slugging percentage over 14 games and 46 plate appearances.
He was placed on the COVID-19 injured list Aug. 31 and was optioned to Sugar Land upon his return Sept. 17. In 48 games this season at Triple-A, Jones batted .331 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs.
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