ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Wesley Wright thought his season would end much differently. After the non-waiver trade deadline passed July 31, the left-handed reliever pictured his season closing with the Houston Astros, the only franchise he had known since making his major league debut in 2008.
But plans changed, as they often do this time of year in the nomadic baseball world. When he received word that the Tampa Bay Rays claimed him off waivers, making the move official Monday, he felt a variety of emotions: A little shocked, excited and sad all at the same time.
“You get used to being in a place for a part of six seasons, and it becomes your home,” Wright said Tuesday. “I had a lot of great teammates over there. A little shocked and excited at the same time to get into a situation where I have a chance to go into the playoffs, something I have never done before.”
Wright, 28, should receive that chance soon. His addition is another move, coupled with the acquisition of reliever Jesse Crain on July 29, that could strengthen the Rays’ bullpen as they prepare for the stretch run of the American League East race.
The Rays’ recent five-game slide during a swing through Phoenix and Los Angeles provided examples of how valuable a trusted bullpen can be. The Rays envision Wright, and eventually Crain (on the disabled list with a sore shoulder), being an upgrade compared to Kyle Farnsworth (released Saturday) and Josh Lueke (optioned to Triple-A Durham on Tuesday).
“I found a good sense of humor, very affable,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “You meet him, and you immediately like him. He’s got good stuff. He can get a good lefty out. You can pitch him to some tough righties also, but he could be a very important part of our bullpen moving forward.”
As Maddon’s analysis suggests, Tampa Bay envisions Wright being a key arm against quality left-handed batters. He comes with promising credentials: He is a career 10-15 with a 4.44 ERA in 286 games, and this season, he is 0-4 with a 3.92 ERA in 41 1/3 innings, leading all AL left-handed relievers with 54 appearances. Since the All-Star break, he has posted a 2.08 ERA in 8 2/3 innings.
“After the trade deadline, I kind of put my head around being in Houston the rest of the season and finishing up strong and going into the offseason on a positive note,” Wright said. “When I got called into the office and heard I was coming here, I was excited.”
That excitement comes with some familiarity. Before arriving Tuesday, Wright knew first baseman James Loney and outfielder Jason Bourgeois, who played for Houston in 2010 and 2011. Wright learned from Carlos Pena, formerly of the Astros who played for the Rays last season, about Tampa Bay’s clubhouse culture as well.
On Tuesday, Wright received a taste of the environment. Maddon teased him about his height (Wright stands 5-foot-11, 185 pounds). Reliever Jamey Wright approached him and said, “That’s my cousin from another mother.”
Even Wesley Wright, an Auburn fan, dished some Rays-like goodwill, teasing Alabama fan Desmond Jennings with some Iron Bowl-related ribbing.
“War Eagle,” Wright recalls telling Jennings in a training room.
For Wright, a new start has begun, within a place where personality is embraced. He has experience at Tropicana Field, pitching here as a rookie in 2008, when he struck out Carl Crawford swinging in 1/3 innings of work, and earlier this season when the Astros visited from July 12-14.
Now, Wright will climb Tropicana Field’s mound wearing a different uniform, with playoff visions in mind.
“I want to come in and contribute,” he said, “the best I can.”