The Rays announced Wednesday that they’ve designated right-hander Zack Burdi for assignment and selected the contract of fellow righty Ben Heller from Triple-A Durham. It’s the second time this season Burdi has been designated for assignment by Tampa Bay. He cleared waivers and accepted an outright assignment to Durham the first time around.
Burdi tossed three shutout innings during his first stint with the Rays earlier this season but was mauled for six runs (five earned) on five hits and a walk — all in one inning — during yesterday’s 20-1 drubbing at the hands of the Blue Jays. Tampa Bay needed at least one fresh arm in the ’pen, and Burdi surely wasn’t going to be available after laboring through a six-run, 36-pitch frame.
The 28-year-old Burdi is a former first-rounder whose results have not yet aligned with his former top prospect status. That’s due largely to injury, as he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018 and then suffered a torn patellar tendon in his knee the following year. There were no minor leagues to return to in 2020, so Burdi jumped straight to the big leagues with the White Sox after pitching just 33 combined innings in 2018-19. The results weren’t good (nine runs in 7 1/3 innings) and Burdi has yet to find his footing. In 21 1/3 big league innings, he has an 8.44 ERA. The Rays will have a week to pass him through outright waivers, trade him or release him.
Heller, 31, has appeared in parts of four big league seasons. All of those came with the Yankees, who acquired him alongside Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield and J.P. Feyereisen in the trade sending Andrew Miller to Cleveland. Heller has been successful in limited opportunities, pitching to a 2.59 ERA in 31 1/3 MLB frames — albeit with worse-than-average strikeout and walk rates (21.7%, 10.9%).
Had it not been for 2018 Tommy John surgery, he might’ve had additional opportunities with the Yankees. Heller missed that entire season, was only healthy enough to throw 21 innings in 2019, and spent much of the shortened 2020 season on the injured list due to a nerve injury in his biceps.
Heller has spent the season in Durham’s bullpen, working in a multi-inning role and logging a 3.91 ERA in 23 frames spread across 16 outings. He’s fanned a strong 26.6% of his opponents against a sharp 6.4% walk rate and only allowed a pair of homers so far. Assuming he gets into a game with the Rays, it’ll be his first big league appearance since that injury-shortened 2020 campaign.
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