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Ashland's Gaviglio eager for fresh start with Rangers

Count major-league pitcher Sam Gaviglio among the many people eager to put 2020 in the rearview mirror and start the new year fresh.

The former Ashland High and Oregon State star took a decisive step in that direction recently, agreeing to a minor-league contract with the Texas Rangers.

Gaviglio, who spent the past three seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays before being released in September, reached agreement with Texas Friday and was welcomed by the Rangers in a team announcement Monday. He’ll sign when he arrives at spring training in a couple weeks as a non-roster invitee.

“My agent and I felt like this was going to be a great fit for me,” said the 30-year-old Gaviglio, who lives in Talent but is spending this week in the Los Angeles area to train.

One of the primary reasons it appealed to him to stay in the American League with Texas is his relationship with pitching coach Doug Mathis. Mathis was the Seattle pitching coach when Gaviglio was with the Mariners in 2017, and more recently, he handled the Blue Jays’ AAA staff.

“I didn’t spend any time with him in AAA, but I just know him,” said Gaviglio, a 2008 Ashland High graduate who was taken in the fifth round of the 2011 major league draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. “I know him from spring training and being around him. He knows me as a pitcher and a person, as well. It’ll be nice to have some familiarity with each other, a level of comfort. He knows what he’s getting, I know what to expect from him and we can hit the ground running.”

The sooner, the better.

Gaviglio had a disappointing experience in the COVID-19-altered and abbreviated 2020 season.

The right-hander came off a strong showing the season before, eating up innings and proving to be a reliable go-to man out of the Blue Jays’ bullpen.

A former starter — he made 24 starts with Toronto before moving to the pen — Gaviglio led all big league relievers in 2019 with 952/3 innings, the most by a Blue Jays reliever in 27 years. His 88 strikeouts ranked ninth among AL relievers, and he posted a 4-2 record with a 4.61 ERA.

Hopes were high heading into 2020, and he seemed on track in spring training to realize them before the season was suspended before it began.

Gaviglio returned home, worked out with former OSU teammate Parker Berberet, a coach with the Medford Rogues, and awaited the resumption of play.

The 60-game regular season restarted in late July, but Gaviglio didn’t regain his role. He pitched in only four games, logging three innings with an ERA of 9.00. He walked five, struck out one and allowed three runs, all earned.

As a way to combat the effects of the virus, teams had a pool of 60 players and alternate training sites for 30-plus non-major-leaguers. Gaviglio shuttled between the two several times.

It left a sour taste, and he’s reluctant to revisit the season past.

“A lot of things were different,” said Gaviglio. “You just kind of learn and move on. I think I kind of let it take away from my own preparation and what I needed to do. I wouldn’t say I lost focus, but I don’t think it allowed me to be myself.

“I’m not too thrilled how it all went. I’m just trying to learn from it, move on and be ready for this season.”

He continued to work with Berberet and entertained inquiries from a number of teams before settling on the Rangers.

As in 2019, Gaviglio was healthy throughout 2020, but, he said, his mechanics were a bit off.

“I worked through those things and had some time in the offseason to think about what happened,” he said. “I really like where I’m at, how I’m throwing the ball. It’s coming out pretty easy, my command is very good, and my off-speed goes off that.”

That should bode well as he tries to make a Rangers roster that is in need of help. Texas finished last in the five-team AL West last season with a 22-38 record.

Its pitching ranked 23rd in the majors with a 5.02 ERA.

Gaviglio has a career record of 11-18 and an ERA of 4.88. In 2962/3 innings, he’s allowed 304 hits, struck out 243 and walked 91.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity,” said Gaviglio, “either competing for a starting spot or being in the bullpen. I’m looking forward to it.”

The Rangers’ spring training site is in Surprise, Arizona, about 25 miles from Phoenix. Gaviglio will arrive late next week, and pitchers and catchers report the following week. Exhibition games start Feb. 27.

The season is scheduled to begin April 1, but that was up in the air until Monday, when the Major League Players Association rejected a proposal by Major League Baseball to delay the start one month.

The proposal also called for a 154-game schedule, shorter than the normal 162, with the players getting paid for a full slate. Also, the playoffs would have been expanded for 2021, and the designated hitter rule would be used in both leagues, not just the AL.

Gaviglio didn’t have a vote on the proposal, but he’s comfortable with the players’ decision.

Delaying the season after gearing up for a set start date is “not very good for the players mentally,” he said, and expanding the playoffs is unnecessary.

“It definitely is a marathon season,” said Gaviglio. “You play 162 games and teams start getting separated quite a bit.”

Expanding the playoffs for last summer’s shortened season was appropriate, he added.

As for the DH rule, he likes the difference between the two leagues and the strategic decisions it fosters and doesn’t want to see it changed.

Gaviglio hasn’t been called on to bat often, the last time coming in 2018 when he rapped a double against the Philadelphia Phillies. He has two hits in eight career at-bats.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@rosebudmedia.com.

Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Sam Gaviglio fields a ground ball during a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, Monday, Aug. 27, 2018, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)