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Rays top prospect Taj Bradley reportedly set to start Thursday vs. Mets

Bradley has struggled in Triple-A since being sent down last month, but injuries have left a hole in Tampa Bay’s rotation.

Taj Bradley of the Tampa Bay Rays delivers a pitch to the Houston Astros in the first inning at Tropicana Field on April 24, 2023 in St Petersburg, Florida. Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays had already been patching together their starting rotation with duct tape and bullpen days, and the long-term injury to Drew Rasmussen only exacerbated things further. Tyler Glasnow looks set to return next week, but that still leaves at least one open slot, and it appears Tampa will look to the farm system to fill it — according to reports, the team plans on recalling top pitching prospect Taj Bradley to start on Thursday against the New York Mets.

That “have a chance to stick around” detail is key. Bradley made his Major League debut back in April after Jeffrey Springs underwent Tommy John surgery, and the righty quickly showed why he’s MLB Pipeline’s No. 18 overall prospect. Bradley posted a 3.52 ERA over three starts, with 23 strikeouts in just 15.1 innings. Just when it seemed like the Rays had a future ace on their hands, though, he was gone — sent back to Triple-A, allegedly so that the team could get him accustomed to a five-man rotation (rather than the six-day schedule he’d previously been on).

Whether you buy that explanation or think there was some service-time gaming afoot, the move seemed to mess with Bradley’s rhythm. His last three starts in the Minors have been ugly, with 16 runs allowed and just five strikeouts over nine innings of work, and while that may be due to the team forcing him to mix in his offspeed offerings a bit more to become less reliant on his dominant fastball, it’s still cause for at least some concern.

That fastball remains dominant, though, and Bradley’s whole package remains among the most electrifying in Minors. The adjustment period may be a bit bumpier this time, but given the Rays’ aspirations this season and the state of their rotation — even after Glasnow returns, that still leaves just three other reliable options alongside Shane McClanahan and Zach Eflin — it’s hard to see Bradley getting sent back down so soon this time.