Rays find starting pitcher, acquire Aaron Civale from Cleveland

NEW YORK — The Rays found a way to address their biggest need Monday by acquiring an established starting pitcher, right-hander Aaron Civale, from Cleveland.

And they showed a willingness to pay a high price to do so, giving up one of their most promising young hitters, Kyle Manzardo, a top-40 prospect in the game.

The Rays saw Civale as the right fit because of what he’s already done in parts of five seasons in the majors, how well he’s pitching now and what they expect him to do the rest of this year, while also has him under control for the next two seasons as well. Civale is expected to join the rotation Saturday in Detroit, taking the place of rookie Taj Bradley, who was sent back to Triple A.

“This was the most obvious need that we had. … It didn’t look like it was going to be an easy deadline to line up on what we needed the most. This is the big item for us,” said baseball operations president Erik Neander from Tropicana Field.

“This is a really good pitcher who has been a really good pitcher. It’s not a place where we just think it’s in front of him, but it hasn’t been behind him. This is someone who has done it, and he’s done it at a really, really high level here recently.”

And as an added bonus, Rays executives hope the move will give a boost to a team that compiled the majors’ best record through the first three months of the season but struggled mightily in July, starting 5-15 before winning three of their last. four, including 5-1 Monday over the Yankees.

“Our players want to win. I think the way our team is built, I think they would all probably agree that this is a way to really help us do that ,” said Neander. “July has been a rough month. There is no way around it. It’s been a really challenging month – the ball hasn’t bounced our way.

“We got a huge series win in Houston over the weekend. And maybe that combined with bringing in a pitcher like Aaron can just put some energy back into this and send these guys on their way, that would be a good way for this to play. Players play to win, we play to win. There was an opportunity to help this team right now by splitting with a really good view and we felt it was worth it.”

Kyle Manzardo was part of a host of players who can play first base for the Rays.
Kyle Manzardo was part of a host of players who can play first base for the Rays. (JEFFEREE WOO | Times)

Civale, 28, will be an experienced addition to the Rays’ injury-depleted rotation, having compiled a 29-23, 3.77 record over parts of five seasons with Cleveland. After missing most of April and May with an oblique strain, Civale has been on a tremendous run going 4-1, 2.24 in his last 11 starts and 3-0, 1.45 over his last six including six shutout innings Sunday.

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Civale’s cutter and curveball, ranked among the game’s best by some metrics and Cleveland manager Terry Francona, are the best weapons in a six-pitch repertoire. He doesn’t throw too hard or strike out a lot of batters, but like Zach Eflin, has tremendous command.

“This is someone who can really pitch,” Neander said. “The cutter and the curveball are plus pitches that he can really work off of. He commands everything. He has a really good feel for how to use those things. He’s been a really good pitcher, simply, that we’ve had the opportunity to garden for a few years here.

“I don’t think it’s that complicated. He has been really effective. We needed an effective starter and get a chance to have one for a few years.”

Civale hasn’t been the most durable starter. He was sidelined with a sprained middle finger in 2021 and served three injured roster stops last year (left glute soreness, right wrist sprain, right forearm inflammation). He has not pitched more than 124 innings in any major-league season.

Civale is making $2.6 million this season in the first of three years of arbitration eligibility, and the added scrutiny made it more palatable for the Rays to give up Manzardo.

The 23-year-old lefty swinger quickly emerged as one of the game’s top prospects with an impressive 2022 season at Class-A Bowling Green and Double-A Montgomery, ranked No. 37 by MLB Pipeline and selected to the recent All- Star Futures Game. He was still adjusting to Triple-A pitching this season (.238, 11 homers, 38 RBIs, .784 OPS, in 73 games) when he was sidelined by a sore left shoulder early in ​July, but is expected to return to action soon.

The Rays have several other left-handed hitting first basemen in the system, including Jonathan Aranda, Austin Shenton and 2022 top pick Xavier Isaac.

“He’s a really good hitter, a really good prospect,” Neander said. “I think it’s just the cost of doing business. I think it’s made a little bit easier with (All-Star first baseman Yandy Diaz) on an extension. You’ve got players like Aranda, Austin Shenton is in Triple A now, you’ve got some left-handed hitters taking advantage of opportunities here this season. It definitely helps. So an area of ​​depth, so to speak, I think, within our system.”

With their biggest need met, the Rays will continue to work until Tuesday’s deadline at 6 p.m. 18.00 at other trade opportunities, with potential needs for emergency assistance and capture assistance.

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