Rays’ Ryan Pepiot finds himself in ‘a good place’

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – If enthusiasm can be translated into production, this could be a break-out season for Tampa Bay Rays’ righthander Ryan Pepiot.

A combination of a lingering injury and a traffic jam on the mound likely initiated off-season movement from the sunny confines of Dodger Stadium to Florida’s Gulf Coast. Now, Pepiot has an opportunity to move into the Tampa rotation and plans to take every advantage.

Though a high draft pick in the 2019 draft, (third-round selection), the Dodgers acted upon two unusual components of their culture. With Pepiot languishing for a few seasons on the bubble between Triple AAA and the major leagues, the Dodgers looked at 6-3, 215-pound product of Butler University and did two things that are an anathema within their baseball personality.

First, they essentially gave up on Pepiot and then finalized a trade. It is rare for the Dodgers to make any significant trade, but the 26-year-old native of Indianapolis was not on their Tarot card.

“The Dodgers told me there were talks with the Rays,” he said Monday morning in the Rays clubhouse here. “Through the first couple of days of talking, nothing for sure yet. Then, after the third day, I think it was a Friday, and I’m at the Dodgers complex working out. Still nothing happened that afternoon, and then I went to dinner. That’s when my phone rung and the trade sunk in. It was great news, and we were excited.”

An injury to an oblique last season during spring training likely made Pepiot expendable. Never completed healed, Pepiot ended the 2023 season with a marginal 2-1 record, a 2.14 ERA for just three starts.

What put Pepiot initially on the Dodgers’ major league radar screen was an exceptional run in 2022. At AAA Oklahoma City, he went 9-1, a 2.56 ERA in 19 starts. Called to the majors, he responded with a 3-0 effort, a 3.47 ERA in seven starts, and a potential place alongside righty Walker Buehler, and lefties Julio Urias and Clayton Kershaw.

Then, the oblique.

Proclaiming himself ready for a new club now, Pepiot pointed to the level of success and a winning culture established by the Tampa Bay organization.

“(The Rays) are a great organization,” he offered. “Pitching-wise, especially. I know some guys here. Everyone with the Rays reached out pretty quickly and their communication was great. They did not ask anything baseball-wise the first couple of days. They wanted to get to know me as a person and that created a family atmosphere. I could not ask for anything more.”

Save the oblique injury, one look at the 2024 Dodgers starting rotation and the conclusion that a revolving door existed on the Dodger Stadium mound.

First, Urias, facing legal issues, was released and granted free agency on Nov. 2, 2023. Then, the Dodgers were uncertain regarding the future of Kershaw but eventually signed the future Hall of Famer just before spring training. The future of Buehler, too, was uncertain.

Coming off two Tommy John surgeries, the prospect of a once mighty complement to Kershaw was marginal at best.

Then, projections of the 2024 season came into focus. Looking ahead with Bobby Miller, Michael Grove, James Paxton, and Japanese import Yoshinobu Yamanoto, Pepiot was stuck in that revolving door. He was then offered to the Rays for Tyler Glasnow, an eight-year veteran and the last six with the Rays and the teams completed a four-player deal on Dec. 16th of last year.

While Pepiot is penciled as a potential number two behind Zack Eflin in the rotation, he cites the experience in the Dodgers clubhouse as significant.

“I had hope to move into the Dodgers’ rotation,” he said. “It was great to be with those guys. I picked their brains and gathered ideas to see what made them successful. I learned from Kershaw, a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and to be in the same clubhouse and on road trips. I’ll try and implement some stuff I picked up from those guys.”

Elsewhere… Monday was the initial day for the full-squad workout and manager Kevin Cash proclaimed, “it was a good day,” he said. “Hitters looked good, the ground ball sessions looked really good and I watched the catchers throw. Our catching this spring might be the deepest that we’ve had. Maybe not quite ready to contribute to the big-league level but deepest we’ve had as far as talent.” … Except for second baseman Brandon Lowe, all players, Cash said, were in camp. Lowe was sent home before the workout began Monday with a nasty cold … fans are encouraged to watch practice and sessions begin around 10 A M each morning … the first pre-season game is this Saturday against Atlanta in Port Charlotte. Cash said the designated starter will likely go one inning, If the starter experiences a low-pitch inning, he could go out for a second inning Through the opening weeks of the spring, relievers will throw one inning.

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