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Rays begin road trip with beefed up bullpen

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The Rays begin a difficult 8-games-in-8 days road trip against the Yankees tonight, minus one starter, but head to New York and Houston with a stronger bullpen. After losing 5 straight games, they leave home as winners of their last two.

On Thursday, Tampa Bay acquired left-handed reliever Dan Jennings from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for former first round pick Casey Gillaspie. Jennings fills the void of a dependable lefty in the bullpen. Last week, the Rays acquired right-handed reliever Sergio Romo.

With the addition of Jennings, manager Kevin Cash now has the ability to match up better against left-handed hitters in the late innings. The other left-hander in the bullpen, Adam Kolarek, has been scored upon in four of his eight July appearances, allowing four earned runs in 5 innings pitched.

Jennings, the former 9th round pick of the Miami Marlins, is 3-1 with a 3.45 earned run average for the White Sox this year and has an impressive career ERA of 2.86. Jennings will be called upon to join Brad Boxberger and Tommy Hunter as set-up guys trying to turn the game over to Alex Colome in the 9th inning with a lead.

With the glaring need for a left-handed bullpen presence and Logan Morrison entrenched at first base for the foreseeable future, the Rays felt giving up their 2014 top pick was worth the gamble. Gillaspie was batting .227 with 9 home runs and 44 runs batted in at Class AAA Durham.

The trade comes a day after placing right-handed starter Jake Odorizzi on the disabled list with what was described as a “lower back strain.” Andrew Kittredge, who has spent some time with the Rays this season, was recalled from Durham to take Odorizzi’s spot in the rotation. He will likely start Friday’s game against the Yankees.

The bullpen will probably see extensive action on this road trip. Four games against Aaron Judge and the Yankees in homer-friendly Yankee Stadium will test any staff.

As if that were not enough, Tampa Bay will then move on to Houston to face an Astros team that leads Major League Baseball in almost every conceivable offensive statistic. That includes a team batting average of .292, which has helped them compile an American League best record of 67-34.

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Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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