July 5, 2022

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Poche back after TJ surgery and better than ever

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This story was excerpted from Adam Berry’s Rays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ST. PETERSBURG — As he assumed his position in the Rays’ bullpen at Tropicana Field before Friday night’s series opener against the Red Sox, Colin Poche gave himself a moment to take it all in and think about what it took for him to get back there.

The last time Poche had pitched in a Major League game at that point was Oct. 10, 2019: Game 5 of the Rays’ American League Division Series against the Astros. He’d spent a long time recovering from Tommy John surgery, grinding through days of often-monotonous rehab work with an eye on that moment.

“Walking out there for the first time for a game again, almost got a little emotional, just kind of taking it all in, thinking about the journey over the last few years,” Poche said. “A pretty special day.”

Poche quickly reminded everyone he has a pretty special arm, too. The lefty struck out one batter in a perfect, six-pitch seventh inning against the Red Sox. On Sunday, he walked one batter and struck out another in a hitless eighth inning to help preserve the Rays’ 5-2 win. He’s thrown 18 pitches, all those familiar (and seemingly “rising”) fastballs, with velocity (93.2 mph) right around where he left off in ’19 (92.9).

“I felt good,” Poche said Friday. “They were all strikes, so that’s always good just to be around the plate and everything. You always give yourself a chance if you’re throwing strikes.”

The Rays are going to ask a lot of their relievers this season, like any other year, and it seems clear they’re going to get a lot from pitchers returning from injuries that cost them some or all of last season: Jeffrey Springs, Ryan Thompson, Jalen Beeks and Poche.

Poche was Tampa Bay’s Minor League Reliever of the Year in 2018, when he struck out 110(!) batters with a 0.82 ERA in 66 innings. The fact that he was thrown into important situations immediately after being recalled from Triple-A Durham says everything you need to know about how highly he’s thought of by manager Kevin Cash and the Rays’ coaching staff.

“His outing [Friday] was the best outing we’ve seen from him since well before his injury. It was almost like right when he got called up,” Cash said. “There might have been something in his arm for a little while. He pitched through it, but glad to see his velo back up.”

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