After a rough start to the spring, Rays newcomer Mike Ekstrom settled in and pitched well enough to earn the team's final bullpen spot.
Manager Joe Maddon praised the control of his fastball, while a three-inning scoreless stint against Baltimore late in the spring schedule helped solidify his place on the roster.
This week I caught up with Ekstrom to talk about the spring and the upcoming season.
Ekstrom: Well you know it’s a little different the first week or so, just meeting new people trying to remember everyone’s names.
There were some frustrating moments for you early in the spring, Talk about some of those struggles and what did it take to stick with it and keep fighting for that spot?
What was the highlight of your spring? A hitter you faced or a specific outing?
Ekstrom: Well probably my last outing was a big part of what got me on the team. Basically it’d come down to me and another guy and I knew I had a three-inning start. If I did good I could maybe make the team, if I did bad I’d go to AAA for sure.
What was it was like having to compete with teammates for the last spot?
Ekstrom: It’s something that’s there, but nobody really ever talks about it. Because I mean, you’re friends with all the guys and [the guys I’m competing with] are the guys I’m hanging out with.
I know the Rays are kind of a younger team, but was there anyone in that bullpen that maybe mentored you a bit or you were able to learn something from?
Ekstrom: I don’t know if anybody in particular, but most of the guys are pretty set in their roles. They’ve all been established, they’ve all been through it. I mean, most of them have been to the World Series.
When did you find out you'd made the team and who gave you the news?
What do you think of the Rays chances this year in what most regard as the toughest division in baseball?
Ekstrom: From what I’ve seen, all we’ve done is win…I mean spring training was pretty impressive. We have a lot of young guys, lots of talent, and every guy knows how to go about their business. It’s definitely the most talented team I’ve been a part of. I mean, we’re all expecting to win this year, for sure.
Now that you’re in the American League, are there any teams or hitters you’re looking forward to facing or stadiums you’d like to pitch in?
Ekstrom: It’ll be cool. Hopefully I’m up here long enough to go to all the stadiums and see stuff, all the baseball heritage. Definitely gonna be fun, going to some new places.
What’s the atmosphere like in that clubhouse, with the team expecting to contend and win now?
Ekstrom: Everybody here expects to win, which is a little different than last year (with San Diego). But I mean, time will tell if the team does or not. Most of these guys have been to the World Series and know what it takes to go into the playoffs and have success.
You’re someone that’s used to shuttling back and forth between the minors and the big leagues. When you’re unsure of your roster spot moving forward, how do you handle that mentally and does it ever affect the way you go about things?
Ekstrom: Well that’s kind of my role. I’m used to going up and down. I mean, once JP [Howell] comes back, I’ll be sent down. That’s what I’m thinking. There’s no point in really thinking or worrying about it.
Ekstrom: I’d say staying healthy is probably my number one goal, every year. Staying healthy, making all of my appearances. As far as like "set goals", strikeouts or walks, I don’t really get into that. Just being prepared to pitch every day...being able to pitch every day.