Rays' De Leon unhittable in second rehab start

No. 28 overall prospect fans five in five no-hit frames for Charlotte

Jose De Leon made two Spring Training starts for the Rays before joining Puerto Rico for the World Baseball Classic. (David Goldman/AP)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | May 16, 2017 4:15 PM ET

Right-hander Jose De Leon isn't worried about results as he comes back from forearm soreness that put him on the disabled list for the first month of the 2017 season. Rather, he's focused on making sure he feels healthy.

Either way, he ticked both boxes Tuesday afternoon.

Making his second rehab start for Class A Advanced Charlotte, the Rays' No. 3 prospect didn't allow a hit while striking out five and walking two over five scoreless innings in a 6-1 win over Dunedin at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.

"I felt really good," said De Leon, who's recovering from flexor mass muscle discomfort. "I've been feeling more comfortable every time I'm out there. I thought my changeup was working much better today, and that allowed me to work in some curveballs and sliders. They have a good lineup, so it came down to making some quality fastball pitches. They were putting the ball in play and I had some great defense behind me, so overall, it was a really good day."

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It didn't take long for the 24-year-old to show his dominance. He set down the first 10 Blue Jays he faced before walking rehabbing shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in the fourth inning. A free pass to Josh Almonte in the fifth was De Leon's only other blemish. The Stone Crabs starter was taken out after five innings and 69 pitches, 42 of which were strikes. The no-hit bid came to an end when Andrew Guillotte singled off Taylor Hawkins with one out in the seventh.

De Leon said his command felt good during his pregame bullpen session, and he carried that into the contest. (His fastball sat at 90-93 mph, according to Charlotte braodcaster John Vittas.) 

"I was spotting the fastball really well early on," he said. "When that happens, the hitters get in swing mode, and you know you can expand what you're using. They're trying to be aggressive, but when you have that many pitches going, it can really help you out."

Tuesday's outing was an improvement over De Leon's season debut last Thursday, when he allowed two earned runs on five hits while fanning seven in 3 1/3 innings at home against Fort Myers. But MLB.com's No. 28 overall prospect wasn't worried about his 5.40 ERA after that start -- the same way he won't get overly excited about a .000 batting average-against on Tuesday.

"Slim to none," he said when asked how much he cares about results during the rehab process. "I'm trying to get back full healthy. That's where my concentration is. My first outing, I felt close to 100 percent, and today, I feel like I made some improvements. It's a work in progress, but I try not to pay attention to numbers."

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Acquired from the Dodgers for Logan Forsythe back in January, De Leon made his big league debut last season after posting a 2.61 ERA with 111 strikeouts in 86 1/3 innings for Triple-A Oklahoma City and was hoping to crack the Majors out of his first Spring Training with Tampa Bay. He made two Grapefruit League starts in early March but was reassigned to Triple-A Durham on March 15. He made an appearance for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, striking out five over 2 2/3 innings in a second-round win over Venezuela on March 18, but began to feel discomfort in his forearm later that month and was placed on Durham's disabled list April 4.

De Leon remained in extended spring training, first working on fielding drills before starting the Rays' throwing program in late April with the Minor League season already well under way.

"I don't know if it was because it was really hot today with the 11:00 a.m. start, but I got a little tired in the fifth inning," he said. "I'm still building my stamina back up, and that comes with time. It's a process right now. I was at 61 pitches in my first start and got close to 70 this time, so those are good steps. I'm building back, and that's all I'm thinking about right now."

De Leon said he hasn't been told when he'll join the Durham staff, but when he does, that rotation will be one of the Minors' most feared, if it isn't already. No. 2 prospect Brent Honeywell (52nd overall) and No. 9 prospect Jacob Faria (62nd) both rank among the top 10 in the Minors in strikeouts, and No. 8 Chih-Wei Hu has already been called up by the big club once this season.

"It's great being part of this organization because they take a lot of pride in young pitching," De Leon said. "They emphasize the fastball and changeup a lot in the ways they work with guys, and that fits me perfectly. ... All I want to do for them is stay healthy and work my way back to the big leagues."

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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