2 low-profile signings paying off for Rays

2 years ago

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.

On March 17, the Rays signed 30-year-old reliever Jason Adam to a one-year contract that would pay him $900,000 in the Majors. Eight days later, they sent Triple-A infielder Esteban Quiroz to the Cubs and received right-handed-hitting Harold Ramirez in return.

They were low-profile, under-the-radar moves during a Spring Training full of big-name, buzz-filled transactions. And in typical Rays fashion, both additions are working out great so far.

Ramirez homered in back-to-back games against the Marlins and now has a .295/.336/.400 slash line with only 12 strikeouts in 113 plate appearances after the Rays’ series opener against the Yankees on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Adam has been awesome out of the Rays’ bullpen. The right-hander boasts a 0.96 ERA and a 0.54 WHIP to go with 24 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings over 19 outings. According to Statcast, his .203 xwOBA entering play Thursday — based on the quality of contact he has induced, plus his walks and strikeouts — was the second-best mark in the Majors, behind only lights-out Yankees reliever Clay Holmes.

“He’s been unbelievable, and his stuff is unreal,” said reliever J.P. Feyereisen, who’s responsible for Adam’s “Two Name” nickname. “Between him and Harold, I don’t know who you can say is a better addition.”

Ramirez can make an even bigger impact if he keeps hitting the ball in the air like he did against Miami. It was something he set out to do in Spring Training, only to revert back to his ground-ball tendencies at the start of the season. But over the past week, Ramirez revisited the idea with Tampa Bay’s hitting coaches, saying simply, “Hey, I’m tired of hitting ground balls.” This week, Ramirez has been using his lower half to unlock more power.

“I think that’s where the game is going, where guys that hit the ball hard are always searching to get more consistency in the air,” manager Kevin Cash said. “If he can find that consistency, we know that he’s going to give himself many opportunities to hit balls in the gaps and occasionally over the wall.”

Adam is a more traditional Rays success story. He always had great stuff, with a high-spin fastball and a nasty changeup, but previously struggled to throw strikes on a consistent basis. So Tampa Bay’s advice was simple and, if you know the club’s history of developing and improving pitchers, familiar: Trust your stuff and throw it in the zone.

“Attacking the middle of the plate and letting your stuff play, I think everything kind of ticks up a little bit, because you just get a little bit of a bigger area to work with instead of trying to dot the outside corner — which my past would tell you I’m not very good at,” Adam said, laughing. “I just try to throw everything as good as I can and trust that, so that’s been nice.”

Adam’s stuff hasn’t changed much, other than his slider having more horizontal sweep to it than before. But Adam has significantly increased his changeup usage, throwing it 35.6 percent of the time this season compared to 10.6 percent in 2021, 15.4 in ’20 and 11.6 in ’19. It has been practically unhittable, generating a 40 percent whiff rate and a .083 opponents’ average while finishing nine of his 24 strikeouts.

And Adam has been a natural fit in Tampa Bay’s flexible bullpen, willing to do whatever’s asked of him and instantly connecting with a like-minded group of relievers.

“I love it. I think it’s matchup-based, so you’re going in confident that, ‘I’m in a good situation to succeed here,’ so that’s awesome,” Adam said. “It’s a good group of guys who just want to win. We just want to win a lot of games and we want to go win a World Series.”