February 3, 2023

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'A win-win': A year later, trade is clearly paying off

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Rasmussen, Feyereisen continue dealing for Rays, who improved to 9 games over .500
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ST. PETERSBURG — On May 21, 2021, the Rays completed what general manager Peter Bendix called “the most difficult trade that I’ve been a part of.” Tampa Bay sent beloved shortstop Willy Adames and reliever Trevor Richards to the Brewers for a pair of right-handed pitchers buried in Milwaukee’s deep bullpen: J.P. Feyereisen and Drew Rasmussen.

A little more than a year later, the deal couldn’t be working out much better. For both sides.

Adames brought much-needed leadership and liveliness to the Brewers, and his offensive game has reached another level since he left Tropicana Field. Milwaukee also flipped Richards and a prospect to the Blue Jays for Rowdy Tellez, who has become its everyday first baseman. After winning the National League Central last season, the Brewers are back in first place this year.

How’s it working out for the Rays? Look no further than their 5-4 win over the Marlins on Wednesday night, which pushed them to a season-high nine games over .500 (26-17) heading into a four-game showdown with the first-place Yankees (31-13) at The Trop starting Thursday night.

Rasmussen held the Marlins to three runs in his five-inning start, improving to 5-1 with a 2.68 ERA this season. Feyereisen struck out Miami’s 2-3-4 hitters in a perfect eighth. Even shortstop Wander Franco, Adames’ eventual successor, looked a lot more like himself with a pair of doubles — including one in a five-run first inning highlighted by Harold Ramírez’s two-run homer — for his first multihit game since May 9.

“I think it really is a win-win trade,” Bendix said. “When we make a trade, we want to make our team better. That is our primary, only goal, is making our team better. … Other teams are trying to make their team better, and if both teams accomplish that, it really is a win-win that is going to leave both teams feeling really satisfied, feeling really happy and wanting to make more trades.”

The rare late-May trade came about last year for the simplest of reasons. The Brewers needed a shortstop and had pitching to spare, with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of arms. The Rays needed pitching and had a shortstop to spare, knowing they had Taylor Walls and Franco waiting in the wings. They were a perfect match.

That didn’t mean it went down easily, though. The Rays were not going to move Adames for prospects at that point of the season, Bendix said, “almost no matter how good the prospects were.” To part with such a popular clubhouse fixture, Tampa Bay sought players who could contribute immediately.

The Rays got that in Feyereisen, who quickly became a high-leverage reliever while posting a 2.45 ERA in 34 outings for them last year. He has been even better this season, having allowed just one unearned run and five hits (all singles) while striking out 23 in 21 innings over 18 appearances.

“The way that he has taken this year and attacked the strike zone, attacked hitters, has been really, really impressive,” manager Kevin Cash said recently. “I think that is what’s allowed [him] to show his stuff as good as it is.”

And the Rays got another major contributor in Rasmussen, although it took a little longer for his role to come into focus. Rasmussen initially reported to Triple-A Durham, joined Tampa Bay’s bullpen, went back down (to make room for Franco, coincidentally) and quickly returned as a reliever. But as the Rays recognized what Rasmussen was capable of, and continued to lose key arms, they gradually transitioned him into a starting role.

Rasmussen hasn’t looked back since.

“It’s been a complete 180 in my career. Now in the rotation, now getting the chance to throw every five days, there’s just no guarantee that stuff would happen in Milwaukee,” Rasmussen said. “That place is awesome, and it’s full of really good people. But here, it’s been nothing but a blessing.”

The 26-year-old right-hander has capitalized on the opportunity and has continued to get better. Rasmussen wasn’t at his best Wednesday, grinding through at-bats and kicking himself for a pair of second-inning walks, but he still put the Rays in position to win while striking out seven. He extended his personal winning streak to five games while posting a 1.71 ERA during that six-start stretch.

“He’s unbelievable,” Feyereisen said, “and he’s like a completely new pitcher.”

Indeed, Rasmussen altered his arsenal to feature three breaking balls — a cutter, a sweeping slider and a refined curveball — that complement his power fastball. The Rays have won eight of his nine outings this season, and he has yet to allow more than three runs in a start. Tampa Bay is 15-4 in his 19 career starts.

“His aptitude has been tremendous, and the way that he’s evolved and improved and taken to the starter’s role and had incredible results has been really impressive,” Bendix said. “I think he’s exceeded even our very high expectations for him.”

The same could be said for the trade that brought Rasmussen here, no matter which way you look at it.

“I feel like it’s rare in any sport that both teams are really happy with how it worked out,” Rasmussen said. “It definitely did work for both sides.”

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