NEW YORK – Dan Jennings walked into the Tampa Bay Rays clubhouse, saw Logan Morrison walk by and gave his old Miami Marlins teammate a poke on the arm. Morrison did a double take and gave the pitcher a hug.
Rays reinforcements arrive daily.
Tampa Bay acquired Jennings from the Chicago White Sox on Thursday to boost the left side of the bullpen and obtained first baseman Lucas Duda from the New York Mets. The Rays sent first baseman Casey Gillaspie, the 20th overall draft pick in 2014, to the White Sox and right-hander Drew Smith, a third-round selection two years ago, to the Mets.
The Rays, 2 1/2 games out of first in the AL East, are trying to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2013. They obtained infielder Trevor Plouffe from Oakland on June 17, infielder Adeiny Hechavarria from the Marlins on June 26 and right-hander Sergio Romo from the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 23.
“This has been a great group to watch play and to play themselves into the position that we’re in,” Tampa Bay senior vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom said. “We believe in these guys and we really like these group, and we want to keep sending them reinforcements to show them that we want to do everything we can to help them get where they’re trying to go.”
Jennings found about trade after the White Sox lost 8-3 to the Cubs on Wednesday night.
He parked in the garage under his building in the South Loop and was out of cell phone range for 5-to-10 minutes as he helped wife Courtney, who is 7 months pregnant, get upstairs along with 3 1/2-year-old daughter Brooklyn. When the phone came to life upstairs, he saw White Sox general manager Rick Hahn had left a text.
Jennings was 3-1 with a 3.45 ERA in 48 appearances for the White Sox this season and held left-handed hitters to a .169 batting average (12 for 71) with one extra-base hit.
“Over the last four weeks we’ve seen his stuff kind of tick up,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
Jennings caught a flight to New York on Thursday and arrived at Yankee Stadium’s visitor’s clubhouse about 2 1/2 hours before the game. The deals signaled to players that management thinks the Rays can win this year.
“Their commitment to this team shows a lot,” outfielder Steven Souza Jr. said. “We’re just excited that they’re behind us in this.”
The 30-year-old Jennings is not eligible for free agency until after the 2019 season. He lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and works out with Morrison during the offseason.
“LoMo is great,” Jennings said. “I like his fire, his passion, and he keeps it light. That’s the biggest thing.”
Duda, a 31-year-old eligible for free agency after this season, is hitting .246 with 17 homers and 37 RBIs. The Rays envision him spending most of his time at designated hitter.
“I’ve heard rumors and stuff,” Duda said at the Mets clubhouse in San Diego. “Kind of a mixed emotion. Guys here I’ve really grown pretty close to.”
Outfielder Curtis Granderson, also eligible for free agency, held onto Duda’s left leg as the first baseman walked out, prompting laughter.
Smith, a 23-year-old right-hander, was a third-round draft pick by Detroit two years ago and was dealt to Tampa Bay in April. He is 1-2 with a 1.60 ERA with seven saves in 31 games this season for four minor league teams ranging from Class-A to Triple-A.
Tampa Bay designated right-handed reliever Diego Moreno and outfielder Shane Peterson for assignment. More moves are ahead Friday, when Duda reports and rookie right-hander Austin Pruitt will be brought up to start against the New York Yankees. Pruitt takes the slot of injured right-hander Jake Odorizzi.
“It’s fun to be in the position,” Bloom said. “It’s exciting. It’s exhilarating.”