Notes: Rays call up Casanova
Young catcher called up to play for first time since 2002
TORONTO -- It may have taken longer than expected, but Devil Rays catcher Raul Casanova finally arrived in Toronto on Tuesday morning in preparation for his season debut with Tampa Bay.
The Rays purchased Casanova's contract from Triple-A Durham on Monday after placing backup catcher Shawn Riggans on the 15-day disabled list with right elbow tendonitis.
Casanova was scheduled to arrive in Toronto on Monday, but his connecting flight in Cincinnati was cancelled because of severe thunderstorms. Despite the late arrival, Casanova arrived at Rogers Centre and found his name already inserted into the starting lineup in place of starter Dioner Navarro.
Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon says he decided to give Navarro a day off because of Casanova's experience catching 24-year-old right-hander Andy Sonnanstine, who was set to make his Major League debut on Tuesday night against the Jays.
"He's caught [Sonnanstine] several times already this year," Maddon said. "Dioner's been catching a lot. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to put Sonnanstine into more of a comfort zone and get Casanova involved."
Casanova hasn't seen extended time at the Major League level since a 31-game stint with the Brewers in 2002. He spent most of 2006 rehabbing from a bad back and still experiences back spasms from time to time that require heat pads and massages before and after each game. The 34-year-old was hitting .258 with three home runs and 12 RBIs in 29 games for Durham.
Casanova says his experience with Durham this season is why he was expecting to get the call behind the plate for Sonnanstine's start.
"I was prepared to play because I knew Sonnanstine was starting today and I was catching him down there," Casanova said. "I always come to the park ready to play every day. So, I wasn't surprised."
Casanova's Minor League experience this season should make his transition to the big leagues a little bit easier. In addition to catching Sonnanstine, Cassanova has already worked with relief pitchers Tim Corcoran and Chad Orvella, and starter J.P. Howell.
Tampa Bay is the fifth different organization Casanova has played for since the start of 2002, and he says the Rays' up-and-coming pitching staff is one of the best he has seen.
"I've been in the Minor Leagues quite a bit, and I think these are the best arms I've seen in the time I've been in Triple-A the last four or five years," Casanova said. "They have pretty good arms in this organization."
Bullpen stepping up: After a rough start to the season, the Rays' bullpen is starting to establish itself as one of the strengths of the team. Tampa's relief corps has posted a 3.48 ERA with 14 strikeouts over 10 1/3 innings to start the month of June.
Maddon thinks newly defined roles in the bullpen are one of the keys to their recent success.
"I think as we're more able to clearly define our roles, you're going to see them become more consistent," Maddon said. "I wasn't prepared to do that before because I didn't think we had the people in place to clearly define themselves. But, it's getting to the point now where they're creating this different vibe. When you see them, and talk to them, their confidence level is growing and we might be getting to that point."
Former starter Casey Fossum was recently added to the bullpen, which gives Maddon the option of using a situational left-hander late in games. Then there's right-hander Gary Glover, who has established himself as a go-to guy in key set-up situations. Over his last nine appearances, Glover has a 1.50 ERA, compared to the 7.90 ERA that he had in his first eight outings this season.
Combine those two with closer Al Reyes, who is a perfect 14-for-14 in save opportunities this season, and the Rays have a formidable late-inning relief trio.
Maddon says finding the right role for his each of relievers is one of the most challenging things he has had to do a manager.
"As a manager in the American League, that is a primary thing you have to do on a daily basis," Maddon said. "It's interesting, challenging and difficult. When you get guys out there who are capable of putting zero's like that, that's when your team can get on a roll. I don't think you can win a championship without it."
Down on the farm: Right-hander Lewis Rollins was named the Rays Minor League Pitcher of the Month for May. He went 4-0 with a 0.23 ERA and 35 strikeouts over 39 innings. ... Catcher Jason Jaso was named the Rays Minor League Player of the Month after hitting .374 with 10 doubles and a .447 on-base percentage for Double-A Montgomery. ... First baseman Brent Butler went 2-for-4 as Triple-A Durham fell to Louisville 10-2. After Butler finished his at-bats, he moved to pitcher, where he tossed a scoreless inning.
Did you know? The Rays have seven players with at least five home runs. The only team in the Major Leagues who has more is Toronto with eight.
This date in Rays history: June 5, 2006 -- Right-hander James Shields picked up his first Major League victory as the Rays defeated the Angels, 4-0, at Tropicana Field. Maddon also got ejected for the first time in his career with the Rays.
Quotable: "People are becoming more passionate about us and that's a good thing. I'm good with them demonstrating their pleasure or displeasure equally. It's good, just come out and do something and as the place fills up and we play better, it's going to become a more pleasurable experience. But in the meantime, I'll take their displeasure, too." -- Maddon's reaction to getting booed during the eighth inning when he took Shields out of the ballgame
Coming Up: Rays ace Scott Kazmir (3-3, 3.95) is scheduled to take the mound when the Tampa Bay faces the Blue Jays at 7:07 p.m. ET on Wednesday at Rogers Centre. Toronto will counter with right-hander Tomo Ohka (2-4, 5.30).
Gregor Chisholm is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.