ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The choice wasn’t simple, but in the end, Juan Carlos Oviedo was viewed as the odd arm out.
With right-hander Jeremy Hellickson’s return to the rotation Saturday, the Tampa Bay Rays designated Oviedo, a right-handed reliever, for assignment before the second game of a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field. Oviedo made 32 appearances with the Rays (31 2/3 innings) and posted a 3.69 ERA with one save and 26 strikeouts, all earned this season, after he made his return to the majors following Tommy John surgery in September 2012.
"Not easy," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Oviedo, we had rehabbed him for a long time after he had been hurt. He had showed some really good moments this season. It was not an easy choice, actually. But one thing we do have is bullpen arms, whether it’s here or in the minor leagues. So just looking at the whole thing and trying to evaluate what you have and what you look like going forward, it was him."
Following Oviedo’s signing before the 2013 campaign, the Rays had hoped that he would grow into a dependable late-relief option. However, he missed all of last season because of the surgery, and his $2 million club option was declined last November. He was re-signed to a one-year, $1.5 million deal a month later.
Maddon said he was pleased with what Oviedo gave the Rays and that he wouldn’t be surprised if the reliever enjoyed success elsewhere. Oviedo hadn’t pitched for Tampa Bay since a victory over the Minnesota Twins on July 19, when he allowed one run and one hit in 1/3 inning.
"He’s going to pitch for somebody else," Maddon said. "And given the opportunity, he has a chance to pitch really well during the rest of the season. There’s nothing wrong with him at all, except that he just needs more opportunity, I think. He’s healthy. He’s well. His stuff’s good. Probably the only negative would have been command overall. But stuff-wise, his stuff was good."
Reliever Joel Peralta was scheduled to make a rehab start for High-A Charlotte against the Dunedin Blue Jays on Saturday night in Dunedin, Florida. He’s recovering from an illness, which he believes is the Chikungunya virus acquired during his visit to the Dominican Republic during the All-Star break.
Before going on the 15-day disabled list Tuesday (retroactive to July 13), he had a 4.15 ERA with one save and 44 strikeouts in 43 appearances (39 innings) this season.
Maddon seemed optimistic about Peralta’s progress.
"I don’t anticipate any negatives there," Maddon said.
Maddon said there’s a key reason for Ben Zobrist’s improved hitting: Better mechanics when batting from the left side.
Zobrist went 4 for 4 with one RBI in the Rays’ 6-4 victory over the Red Sox on Friday at Tropicana Field. The performance broke a three-game hitting slump, and it raised his batting average to .329 for July with one home run and 10 RBI. He also boasts an impressive .838 OPS and a .410 on-base percentage for the month.
Overall, Zobist has hit .266 with seven home runs and 28 RBI this season.
"Mechanically, he’s much better on the left side," Maddon said. "He just is. Right side, he has been good all year. With Zo, you can really tell when he has command of his strike zone, which he normally does. It’s really obvious when he doesn’t. … So right now, he’s got command of what he’s doing up there. His mechanics are solid."
— The Rays began Saturday with an eight-game winning streak, marking the fifth time in team history that they had won at least eight straight games. A big reason for the success: Tampa Bay pitchers lead the majors with a 1.50 ERA since the streak started.
— Maddon praised the fastball command of right-hander Chris Archer, who starts Sunday against Boston in the series finale. Archer said he has noticed his growth with the pitch, and the progress pleases him. He enters Sunday with a 6-5 record and a 3.31 ERA with 105 strikeouts in 20 starts this season.
"Yeah, totally," Archer said. "It’s been an evolution ever since I signed in 2006. I’ve gotten better and better. Just look at the numbers throughout the years, and it makes a difference. There’s a correlation between my base-on-balls and the amount of runs I give up over the course of a season."
— Attendance factor? Could be. Believe it or not, the Rays entered Saturday 28-14 this season when playing before crowds of 25,000 or more, at Tropicana Field and on the road. They entered 22-39 when crowds were smaller than 25,000.