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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sharing secrets: Mt. Spokane grad Drew Rasmussen teaches Rays teammate his sweeper pitch while rehabbing elbow

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Drew Rasmussen says Garrett Cleavinger’s sweeper is “significantly better” than his.  (Tribune News Service)
By Marc Topkin Tribune News Service

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla – Brought together by the pain of 2023 injuries, Drew Rasmussen and Garrett Cleavinger spent a lot of time with each other this past offseason at a rehab and training facility near their Arizona homes.

They worked out on the same days, ran and lifted weights on the same schedule, went to physical therapy at the same office.

That also allowed them plenty of time to talk shop

– including the conversation that led to Cleavinger emerging this season as one of the game’s better left-handed relievers by adding a sweeper to his repertoire.

Each remembers the initial late December/early January conversation a bit differently.

Cleavinger recalls a more casual chat.

“He was going through his sprint work or something for that day and I was in one of the cages just throwing and I don’t know what made me ask him, but I just asked him about his sliders and what he does and what he thinks about,” Cleavinger said.

“So we kind of talked about grips a little bit and his thought process and stuff. Obviously he’s a really good person to pick his brain.”

Rasmussen’s recollection was that it was more of a targeted query.

“I just knew he was saying a third option (to his fastball and slider) could just give him a little bit more wiggle room,” Rasmussen, the former Mt. Spokane standout, said. “He was thinking about trying to figure out a changeup, trying to figure out a curveball, something bigger.

“And I just gave him a simple suggestion. I said, ‘Look, this is all I’m trying to do (in throwing the sweeper).’ I thought just the slot he throws from and how quality the stuff is already that if he could get comfortable with it, he would have a chance to be pretty successful with it.”

There is no question about what they agreed on. Nor how much improvement that change has led to.

From the day Rasmussen showed him the grip, Cleavinger started throwing the sweeper – which is slower and breaks more than a traditional slider – and refining control and command of it.

“I was towards the end of my throwing that day, and I threw a few. Then every day after that, I just kept kind of playing with it a little bit,” Cleavinger said.

“Then we started throwing bullpens, and I was like, ‘Oh, let’s just see what happens.’ You know what I mean? It came out of my hand pretty good. And the numbers were decent. So I was like, ‘All right, we’ll keep going with it. And we’ll see what happens and bring it to spring.’ ”

When Cleavinger, fully recovered from a right knee injury that ended his 2023 season in May, got to Port Charlotte and showed off his new toy, pitching coach Kyle Snyder suggested another refinement:

Increase the velocity and tighten up the spin and break on his existing traditional slider – the one he’d been throwing since Double A in the Phillies organization – to create more separation, in terms of velocity and break, between the two pitches.

“Showing up having the bigger (breaking slider), we were like, ‘OK, let’s not have a big one and a medium one, let’s have a big one and a smaller, harder one,’ ” Cleavinger said.

Snyder said the overall improvement has been significant. The numbers prove it.

Cleavinger (5-1, 3.31) has allowed only 13 earned runs in 39 appearances, striking out 45 with three saves.

Rasmussen, targeting a late-season return from July 2023 elbow surgery, said he is just glad the sweeper worked out so well. He said Cleavinger deserves the credit for his work and also that Cleavinger’s sweeper is “significantly better” than his.

“We’re all trying to work together here to make each other better,” Rasmussen said. “So if I can impact the team in any way right now, it feels pretty good.”