MILWAUKEE — The Rays had an idea of what they were getting when they aggressively lobbied to sign Jason Adam shortly after the lockdown ended in March. They were confident he was healthy, had a good enough repertoire to help out, and would improve under their guidance.
They had no idea they were signing one of the most effective and dominant high leverage relievers in the game.
“He was a bright spot,” exclaimed manager Kevin Cash. “I don’t think anyone expected the performance we got from him. But glad we have.
Adam, who turned 31 last week, not only managed but succeeded in every assignment the Rays gave him. With injuries to Andrew Kittredge and JP Feyereisen, that often means going up against the toughest hitters on the opposing roster in the seventh, eighth or ninth inning.
And with aplomb.
He posted a 1.24 ERA, 0.133 opponents average and 0.414 OPS (the lowest in the American League, minimum 30 innings). He hasn’t allowed a run in 42 of his 47 appearances (including 13 of his last 14) or a hit in 33 (including his last six). He blocked 23 of the 24 legacy runners (including his last 21). And he hasn’t walked a batter since June 9, allowing just 32 of 158 to reach base all season.
“We all had a lot of fun watching,” pitching coach Kyle Snyder said.
“Just kind of given where he was in his career, the fact that he’s healthy, he revamped the arm stroke. And arguably has as much stuff as any reliever in the game. And he regularly goes out and puts it to work.
Adam had good things in his previous stints with the Royals, Blue Jays and hometown Cubs (and the Twins and Padres in the minors), but he couldn’t use it properly because he was often behind in counts and was throwing mostly fastballs. In 78 1/3 innings over 79 major league games, he had a 4.71 ERA, allowing 64 hits and 39 walks. Also, injuries were a problem which cost him the 2015-16 seasons and more.
The Rays got Adam to be more in the zone, which allowed him to expand his pitching mix, leaving hitters in the awkward position of guessing if he’s throwing his 94.8 mph fastball, his change of 89.7mph speed or its 81.4mph slider, which it uses remarkably pretty evenly now.
“If you stay ahead and put your menu to work, you’re doing a really good job of maintaining your unpredictability at this point,” Snyder said. “And then you combine that with the fact that it’s really elite stuff, you’re going to be very successful.”
Adam, conversely, said the Rays — especially Snyder and bullpen coach Stan Boroski — deserved the credit.
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“I certainly hoped and planned and anticipated (to do well) to some degree, but at the same time it’s amazing how ‘Snydes’ and Stan have really catapulted my career,” he said. . “I’m so thankful just because I can be too thoughtful and they really made it easier for me.”
Adam was coming off a 2021 season interrupted by a horrific injury that occurred on May 21 when he jumped for a ball during batting practice with Triple-A Iowa – an open dislocation of his left ankle, which which means that the bone protruded from his skin.
He recovered and surprisingly returned to the mound for the Cubs in late September. The Rays have seen enough to know he finished the season healthy and, during months off during the lockout, grew more intrigued and interested. he was the first player on their roster to call.
Ten minutes after the lockout ended, Rays executives reached out, thinking being the first in, having their excellent reputation for improving pitchers and offering a major league contract would all help. (Ironically, a key factor in their interest was the flexibility of Adam having a remaining option, so he could be sent to miners.)
Adam had a few other offers, so the Rays negotiated a bit — eventually signing him for $900,000, plus $150,000 in performance bonuses — and called in a secret weapon to close the deal: outfielder Brett Phillips , who played with Adam in Kansas City, sold him to the team.
Ryan Bristow, who as assistant director of pro personnel and scouting led the chase, said the game was obviously a good one.
“It was as simple as seeing those three quality pitches and hoping we could bring them more into the zone,” he said. “And probably just a classically underrated type of guy who needed a really simple message that turned into something really important to him.”
Or, as teammate Jalen Beeks put it, “Offseason resumption, I think.”
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