Is Taj Bradley the piece the Tampa Bay Rays need to make a deep run this fall?

Atlanta Braves v Tampa Bay Rays
Atlanta Braves v Tampa Bay Rays / Mike Ehrmann/GettyImages

Rookie right-hander Taj Bradley toed the rubber in the big leagues Sunday for the first time since July 29. The highly touted prospect's rookie season has not gone by design due to the Rays pitching staff suffering what feels like a never-ending stream of injuries. As a result, the production from Bradley this season has been short of optimal. Bradley went 0-5 with a 7.89 Earned Run Average in July before being optioned to Triple-A at the end of the month.

His season ERA prior to Sunday's start was a lackluster 5.67. He isn't to be blamed, however, as he nor did the team expect him to pitch north of 70 innings through the first four months of the season. No matter how talented, that is a tall order for any rookie who is only 22 years old with no major league experience.

The Rays were finally able to do what was in the best interest of both Bradley himself and the team by optioning him back down to Triple-A at the end of July, almost immediately after acquiring starting pitcher Aaron Civale at the trade deadline. This allowed Bradley to make some needed adjustments as well as providing him a mental break from an expedited rookie campaign.

The five-week break from the majors appeared to have been effective, as Bradley made his return against the Guardians on Sept. 3. In that outing, Bradley pitched five innings while recording seven strikeouts and only allowing one earned run on three hits. The most noteworthy adjustment that Bradley showed in that outing was a significant reduction on his cutter usage -- a pitch that opposing hitters have been able to exploit this season. The average batting average on Bradley's cutter is .325 according to Baseball Savant, much higher than any other pitch in his arsenal.

Prior to Sunday's start, Bradley had been relying on his cutter approximately 27.2 percent of the time. On Sunday, he employed his cutter at a rate of 3.5 percent.

It appears that Bradley has made some fruitful adjustments in Triple-A over the course of the past several weeks, and is now rested and ready to showcase the talent that will be expected of him. After all, he was one of, if not the, top prospect in the Rays' farm system prior to the start of this season. If Bradley can continue to provide similar efficiency that he did on Sunday throughout the rest of September and possibly even into the postseason, this is a monumental boost to the club and just might be what they needed to make a deep run in October.