Yacksel Rios’ Red Sox debut came just hours after the reliever arrived in Atlanta and was activated ahead of Wednesday night’s series finale against the Braves at Truist Park.
Acquired from the Mariners in exchange for cash considerations earlier in the week, it seemed as though the Sox were likely going to option Rios to Triple-A Worcester as opposed to keep him up in the majors.
That was not the case, though, as Boston instead optioned infielder Michael Chavis to the WooSox while keeping Rios on their 26-man roster.
Available out of the bullpen in his first game in a Red Sox uniform, the right-hander was called upon by manager Alex Cora in a rather crucial spot with two outs and runners at second and third in the sixth inning of a game his side was trailing, 7-6.
With two potential insurance runs in scoring position for Atlanta, Rios — donning the No. 75 — was tasked with getting out of the jam he inherited by going up against a formidable opponent in Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson.
Having faced Swanson four times prior to Wednesday, Rios, who was working with Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez for the first time, started out by peppering the outer half of the strike zone and initially falling behind in the count before getting a called strike to even things at 1-1.
His third pitch, a 97 mph heater, went for another called strike to get ahead in the count at 2-1. Two of the next three pitches were fouled off by Swanson, which put the right-handed hitter in a 2-2 count as the battle ensued.
On the seventh — and what would turn out to be the final — pitch of the at-bat, Rios delivered a low 88 mph slider that nearly wound up in the dirt and induced relatively weak contact off the bat of Swanson.
Rios was able to knock down Swanson’s 68 mph comebacker with ease and upon corralling the baseball, made the simple toss over to Bobby Dalbec at first base to record the putout and retire the side.
It was not much considering he threw all of seven pitches (five strikes) to end things in the sixth, but Rios’ effort would prove to be meaningful in the end, with the Red Sox coming back to defeat the Braves by a final score of 10-8 courtesy of a game-winning grand slam from Christian Arroyo in the top half of the seventh.
Because he was the last Boston pitcher on the mound before Arroyo came through in the clutch once more, Rios wound up picking up his his first win of the season in his Red Sox debut.
Of the seven pitches the 27-year-old threw on Wednesday night, four were four-seam fastballs and three were sliders. He sat around 95-96 mph with his four-seamer while topping out at 97.1 mph with it, and he also averaged 86.9 mph with his slider.
When speaking with reporters before Wednesday’s game, Red Sox manager Alex Cora acknowledged that Rios’ fastball was something that made him appealing to the Sox when he was designated for assignment by the Mariners earlier this month.
“He has a good fastball,” Cora said. “His fastball got better through the winter. He made some adjustments in spring training with the Rays. He went to Seattle. He gave up some runs and all that, but we believe that if we can use that fastball in certain spots, he should be OK. And the velocity is up, it just gives us another strong arm to our bullpen and that’s always good. So, we’ll see, we’ll see where it takes us.”
Rios, who turns 28 on June 27, was originally selected by the Phillies in the 12th round of the 2011 amateur draft out of high school. He made his major-league debut for Philadelphia in 2017 and has also spent time in the Pirates, Rays, and Mariners organizations.
After being let go by the Pirates over the winter and inking a minor-league pact with the Rays in February, Rios opened the 2021 season with Triple-A Durham, where he posted a 0.66 ERA and 2.31 FIP across 12 relief appearances spanning 13 2/3 innings pitched.
He was then dealt to the Mariners for cash on June 4, though his time in Seattle did not last long considering he gave up one run in each of his three outings with the club from June 5-10 and was later designated on June 11.
Like Cora, Rios hails from Caguas, Puerto Rico. And while the Sox manager might not know the righty all that well, he still has some familiarity with him dating back to the 2017 World Baseball Classic in which Cora served as Team Puerto Rico’s general manager.
“I know him, but I don’t know him that well,” said Cora. “But he’s a guy that from afar, he always intrigued me. We tried to actually add him to the roster in ’17 [for the World Baseball Classic], but he was trying to make a team with the Phillies at that time.
“But good kid, good fastball, good slider,” Cora added. “We’ll see where it takes us.”