Rays' Nelson Cruz Placed on COVID-19 IL; Chris Mazza Recalled from Triple-A

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVAugust 22, 2021

Tampa Bay Rays' Nelson Cruz bats against the Baltimore Orioles during the fourth inning of a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

The Tampa Bay Rays announced Sunday they've placed designated hitter Nelson Cruz on MLB's COVID-19 injured list.

Relief pitcher Chris Mazza was recalled from the Triple-A Durham Bulls to fill the vacant spot on the Rays' 26-man roster.

Cruz, who was acquired in a July trade with the Minnesota Twins, is eligible for activation at any time. The COVID-related IL doesn't have a minimum duration like MLB's other injured lists.

The 41-year-old Dominican Republic native has struggled since the trade. He posted a .294 batting average and .907 OPS across 85 appearances for the Twins this season, but those numbers have dropped to .198 and .705, respectively, in 24 games for the Rays. He's still provided some pop with seven home runs, though.

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said Tuesday that Cruz's impact went beyond his baseline stats.

"You see it every day, even the days that maybe he's not contributing to the biggest at-bat or the biggest moment," Cash told reporters. "The positive effect it has on everybody throughout the lineup, hitting in front of him, hitting behind him—he has really added and thickened us up a lot."

Brett Phillips and Yandy Diaz should both see an uptick in playing time until Cruz is cleared to return.

Meanwhile, Mazza returns for another stint in the Rays' bullpen. He's struggled in his prior appearances at the MLB level this year with a 5.57 ERA and 1.33 WHIP with 15 strikeouts in 21 innings.

The 2011 27th-round pick has compiled a 5.21 ERA across 29 career games for the Rays, Boston Red Sox and New York Mets over the past three seasons.

He's enjoyed more success at Durham this season, tallying a 3.73 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 31.1 innings.

Mazza, 31, should handle a middle-innings role for Tampa, which finishes a three-game home series against the Chicago White Sox on Sunday before embarking on a five-game road trip with stops to face the Philadelphia Phillies and Baltimore Orioles.

The Rays enter Sunday's action four games ahead of the New York Yankees atop the AL East with MLB's third-best record at 76-48.