Not So Fresh-Faced Rookies For Rays

ST. PETERSBURGTypically, September callup stories are about fresh-faced prospects giddy for their first shot at the big leagues.

But this year the Rays had a couple more mature versions.

One was knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa, who made his big league debut in his ninth pro season at age 31 years, 256 days. That made him the second oldest to debut with the Rays, behind lefthander Jim Morris, whose debut at 35 led to the movie “The Rookie.”

Gamboa, a 21st-round pick in 2008 from UC Davis, spent his first eight seasons in the Orioles organization, and the righthander’s career seemed stalled until he agreed to convert to knuckleballing in 2013.

He received his first callup in April 2015, but he didn’t get into a game as he sat in the Baltimore bullpen for two days.

The Rays signed Gamboa in January as a minor league free agent. He was the most advanced candidate for the organization’s new knuckleball program run by new pitching coordinator Charlie Haeger.

Gamboa went 6-4, 2.68 in 27 games (12 starts) at Triple-A Durham. He struck out 89 batters in 94 innings.

“It feels good to overcome the statistical part of it,” Gamboa said. “All the odds were definitely against me being 31 and making my debut at that age. There was a lot that I had to overcome.”

Gamboa appeared in seven big league games, striking out 11 and walking eight in 13.1 innings while recording a 1.35 ERA.

The other surprise callup was lefthander Justin Marks, a 28-year-old who in his seven seasons of pro ball had pitched in one big league game, for the Royals on April 20, 2014.

Marks received the call from the Rays after a strong showing at Durham that included a July 16 no-hitter. Tampa Bay outrighted him off the 40-man roster in October.


The Rays optioned utility infielder Tim Beckham, who had committed repeated baserunning mistakes, to Durham just as major league rosters expanded. They did not recall him in September, and they amplified their message by signing free agent Alexei Ramirez to provide depth when starting shortstop Matt Duffy opted for season-ending surgery.

The Rays fired big league hitting coach Derek Shelton, who spent seven seasons on the job, and replaced him with minor league hitting coordinator Chad Mottola.

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