Left-hander Jalen Beeks is just one of the Rays’ returning relievers who could play a key role this season. Safe to say he looks up to the task so far.
After drawing rave reviews from the first day of Spring Training, Beeks has allowed two hits and one walk while striking out half of the 18 hitters he’s faced in his first three appearances. Not bad for a guy who hadn’t pitched in a Major League game since Aug. 25, 2020, right?
“He’s nasty,” manager Kevin Cash said after Beeks recorded five outs in Sunday’s 9-3 win over the White Sox. “He’s really throwing the ball well. We’ve got a lot of conversations ahead of us just about his workload and coming back from [Tommy John surgery in September 2020], but he’s definitely healthy.”
Beeks is showing it, too. The 28-year-old lefty is throwing harder than before, with his fastball averaging 94.5 mph, compared to 93 mph in 2020. He’s worked 1 2/3 innings in two of his outings and two innings in the other.
“Definitely grateful. I’ve worked really hard to get back,” Beeks said Sunday afternoon. “I’m trying not to think about it, just trusting my coaches. They’ve been helping me throughout all this. I mean, I’ve got a lot of people I could thank. I could sit here for a long time and let you know about them.”
Asked Monday afternoon to take a shot at making that list, Beeks reeled off names for more than a minute and still felt like he’d left out a lot of people: the Rays’ entire training staff, including Major League medical coordinator Paul Harker; Dr. Keith Meister, who performed his surgery; Jeremy Braziel, a trainer in Fayetteville, Ark., who worked with Beeks throughout the first six months and the final three months of his rehab; his wife, parents and grandparents; his group of friends back home; and his Rays teammates.
He could have gone on.
“That’s just right off the top of my head,” Beeks said. “There’s a lot behind the scenes that just goes into my elbow getting better, and I’m grateful for all of it — from the prayers and well-wishes to the people surrounding me, it’s been a blessing.”
Ideally, Beeks will be this year’s version of 2021 Collin McHugh — someone who could pitch in any role, in any leverage, for any number of innings, but also someone who needs a couple days to recover after multi-inning appearances. His second appearance came on three days’ rest, and Sunday’s outing was on two days’ rest. But there’s more to it than that, because, as Cash noted, the Rays must monitor Beeks’ season-long workload coming back from Tommy John surgery.
“Although we understand how valuable he’s been early on, how good he’s been, we want to make sure we have him for six months,” Cash said.
The most important thing is that Beeks is back, healthy and, yes, nasty.
“I wouldn’t say better than I expected, but I’m still happy with where I’m at. I always knew that I could get to this point — and I can do better than what I’m doing right now,” Beeks said. “I always knew there was more in there. I never quite put it all together, especially my big league career, so it is nice to be here. But I’m not surprised. This was the goal.”