By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Tampa Bay Rays No. 3 prospect Jose De Leon made his 2017 debut Thursday in a rehab appearance with the Charlotte Stone Crabs.
There were some first-game jitters for De Leon, who has been in extended spring training since camp broke six weeks ago as he recovered from forearm tightness.
“I always have them, even in extended,” De Leon said. “I think if you don’t have them, you’re ready to step away from the game.”
De Leon appeared to get stronger as the game progressed. He hit 94 mph on the radar gun in the third inning, where he struck out the side.
For the most part, he sat between 91-92 mph on the gun with his fastball.
Although his official line will read two runs allowed on five hits, the first inning should’ve been a three up, three down frame. De Leon, however, was victimized by a blunder from his infielders on a foul ball that kept the inning alive and led to two hits and a run before he could close the inning.
In total, he struck out seven with no walks on 61 pitches — 41 strikes — in 3.1 innings. The final four outs recorded came on strikeouts.
“I felt more confident, and I think the fastball had a little bit more life,” De Leon said. “I’m not afraid to say this is the best I’ve felt in a while. I’m happy that I was able to go out there and throw more pitches than I threw last time with no pain whatsoever. It was a success.”
According to De Leon, he felt tightness in his forearm having a catch back at Rays camp shortly after the World Baseball Classic.
The 24-year-old was acquired by the Rays in a trade from the Los Angeles Dodgers on Jan. 23, which sent second baseman Logan Forsythe to LA.
De Leon went 7-1 with a 2.61 earned run average at Triple-A Oklahoma City last season before being called up in September to the Dodgers, where he went 2-0 with a 6.35 ERA in four starts. According to the LA Times, when the Dodgers promoted him, he had thrown 18 straight scoreless innings and recorded 40 strikeouts since his last walk.