Can Ryan Pepiot solidify the Rays’ rotation?

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – It appears at this point, and early in the season, Tampa Bay righthander Ryan Pepiot has made a seamless transition. Not that Pepiot was considered a minor talent and force, but his move from the Dodgers’ organization to the Rays’ starting rotation sought fans and the Tampa organization to forget Tyler Glasnow.

Formidable on the mound and an influential presence in the clubhouse, Glasnow left a lasting impression. Comments from pitchers during spring training all pointed to Glasnow’s engaging personality and comradeship in the clubhouse.

His trade to the Dodgers did not pull emotionally at his heart but merely accentuated the financial realities facing impact players. Traded to the Dodgers from Tampa last December 16 for Pepiot and outfielder Jonny DuLuca, Glasnow promptly signed a five-year $136,562,500 contract extension, all guaranteed. In return, the Rays received Pepiot, a starter of potential but injury liability.

Drafted by the Dodgers in the first round of the 2019 draft from Butler University, and the highest-drafted player in school history, Pepiot kicked around for two seasons in the Dodgers organization. Then, a break-out season in 2022.

Here, Pepoit recorded a 9-1 mark, and a 2.56 ERA in 17 starts for Triple AAA Oklahoma City. That prompted a look at the major league level but that turned soar quickly. In spring training last year, Pepiot suffered from a straining oblique muscle in his left side and did not emerge from the 60-day injured list until early August.

At that time, he managed three stars at the end of last season and patience with the Dodgers organization apparently waned. From there, Pepoit apparently disappeared from the Dodgers’ radar screen and the subsequent trade to Tampa Bay.

From the commencement of the deal, Pepiot was slated into the Tampa Bay rotation. Over the opening weeks of the season, he responded with a 2-2 mark, and a 4.37 ERA for his initial four starts in a Rays uniform.

With the advent of the trade, Pepoit credits the caliber and structure of the Dodgers organization as vital. The opportunity, he points out, to learn and grow from Clayton Kershaw had an enormous impact. The Rays sensed that dialogue and, since then, Pepiot emerged as a significant student of the game.

“With the Dodgers, I had hoped to move into the rotation,” Pepiot said. “I would take the ball at any opportunity. It was great to be with those guys and pick their brains. I wanted to see what made them successful and especially Kershaw being a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. I was able to pick his brain, be in the same dugout, and on road trips. That was a great advantage.”

Over the past few seasons, the Dodgers’ pitching staff has remained among the leaders in wins and ERA. When Pepoit talks about the education at Dodger University, he also protracts the learning curve into the future.

Pepiot cites time with power right-hander Walker Buehler, and indicated, “Walker and I are pretty close. He was rehabbing with me. Having those guys who had the success they had at the big league level, I was able to get ideas and bounce stuff off each of them. I hope to implement some of those things in my game.”

Of his first four starts, the opening outing was likely the most challenging. In dropping a 9-3 decision to the Texas Rangers on April 1, Pepoit lasted into the sixth inning but delivered 94 pitches. That included a 31-pitch first inning and 69 after five innings. That would be considered the most difficult start to date but leaves little concern as to his overall contribution.

“With four starts now, and what he’s done, it’s pretty impressive,” said Kevin Cash, the Rays manager. “We could not ask for much more. You take away the first inning of his season debut (April 1 against Texas), and he’s putting up really good numbers, throwing strikes at a high clip, getting his strikeouts, mixing his pitches, and limiting the opposition.

Pepoit is slated to make his fifth start of the season on April 23 at home against Detroit.

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