By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Nathan Eovaldi couldn’t get his arm loose prior to an Aug. 10 game last season against the Boston Red Sox.
The right-handed pitcher was on the New York Yankees at the time, and as it turned out, that would be the final day he threw a pitch in pinstripes.
“I just thought it was going to be one of those days I couldn’t get loose,” Eovaldi said. “I went to the bullpen and my velocity was down.”
His velocity remained down during the game and was removed after just one inning. He had an MRI the next day and the news was surprisingly bad.
“I don’t know when (I hurt it),” he said. “I never felt a pop or anything. I was shocked. Especially when they said the flexor tendon was off the bone because I didn’t really feel like it was that much pain.”
In addition to tearing his flexor tendon off the bone, he also had a partial tear of his UCL. Nine days later, he was on the operating table, having Tommy John surgery for the second time.
He likely would’ve re-signed with the Yankees following last season had he not been injured, but instead, he spent the winter getting healthy.
“This offseason was a lot different,” Eovaldi said. “I was a free agent, and we didn’t know if I was going to sign with anybody and then I was also having to rehab everyday to keep my arm in shape and try to get it back as good as I could.”
The 27-year-old signed with the Rays on Valentine’s Day in a contract that appears to be a win-win for both sides. Tampa Bay will pay him $2 million this year to get healthy, and then have a $2 million option for next season, which Eovaldi can make up to $3.5 million with incentives.
“We’ve all seen him. He actually pitched some really good games against us last year,” Manager Kevin Cash said. “We’re probably not going to sign him if he’s healthy. He’s probably going somewhere else, but we had an opportunity to get him. I think it’s a huge credit to our training staff.”
Eovaldi didn’t just pick the Rays because they offered him a contract. He really did his homework on the team.
“I was really excited for, not only the contract, but to be with the Rays organization,” Eovaldi said. “I’ve heard about the reputation of the training staff that they have of taking care of players and getting them healthy, especially with Tommy John. I want to be somewhere that’s going to be able to take care of me the right away and that contract says they’re going to take care of me.”
Eovaldi could even see a scenario where he pitches in 2017.
“In my mind, I’d like to think there’s a possibility I could be ready to go by the end of the season,” he said. “It keeps me going. But if I’m not, I’m not. And if I am, that’s great.
“Ideally, we want to be ready for next year. We want to go into the offseason as all my other offseasons.”
He began throwing over the weekend, not on the mound or in any bullpen sessions, though. Just having a catch on flat ground, which is a fulfilling feeling on the road to recovery.
PORT CHARLOTTE — Chris Archer was among Tampa Bay Rays pitchers who threw their first live batting practice sessions Tuesday morning.
“It was the first time facing hitters and first time working with (catcher Jesus) Sucre),” Archer said. “It was overall, a really, really, good day.”
Unlike the rest of the pitchers, Archer’s program was a little bit different. In an attempt to simulate a real game scenario, he threw 15 pitches, sat down for about six minutes and then threw 15 more pitches. This was also because he’s trying to work toward getting ready for the World Baseball Classic.
“(Pitching coach Jim) Hickey, (athletic trainer Ron) Porterfield and myself talked about it in the offseason,” Archer said of the different plan. “I actually prefer to throw it like that. It’s just more realistic.”
Other pitchers throwing included Alex Colome, Brad Boxberger, Ryne Stanek and Jose Alvardo.
According to Colome, he’s at about 85 percent ready for the regular season right now, and feels like he will be at 100 percent the next time he throws. Colome, too, is preparing for the WBC.
Rays manager Kevin Cash singled out Boxberger as having a strong session.
“Box threw the ball really well today, I thought,” Cash said. “You could see the depth in his changeup which was great to see. The ball is coming out of his hand really well.”
Cash announced pitchers for Friday’s spring training opener against the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers, saying right-hander Austin Pruitt will be the starter. Following Pruitt will be Jacob Faria, Ryan Garton, Diego Moreno, Ryne Stanek, Hunter Wood, Jose Alvarado and Jeff Walters.
NO WIETERS FOR RAYS
CBS sports’ Jon Heyman reported Tuesday morning that catcher Matt Wieters was close to reaching a deal with the Washington Nationals. The Rays had offered him a contract, but according to reports, Wieters went with a two-year deal plus a chance to opt out with Washington.
Matt Duffy tracked pitches during live batting practice sessions for the second day in a row on Tuesday. Duffy is slowly working his way back from heel surgery.
The Rays were missing third baseman Evan Longoria for the second straight day. He reported to camp Tuesday morning with a high fever again, and was sent home to get some rest.