Austin Pruitt was never regarded as a top 10 prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays organization but the 27-year-old is being asked to perform like one in big situations this season.

The team’s next request of Pruitt comes Tuesday night when the rookie gets to start opposite of Major League Baseball strikeout leader Chris Sale of the first-place Boston Red Sox.

Last week it was taking the hill against the American League-leading Houston Astros. Five days before that? Starting in the Bronx against the New York Yankees.

Good luck, newbie. Don’t mess it up.

Results have been mixed throughout Pruitt’s MLB debut season, but the Rays aren’t shy about throwing the Texas native into the fire. In Houston, where he went to college, Pruitt delivered his best start of the season while improving to 6-2 on the year. He set a new personal innings-pitched mark for the second consecutive outing, lasting five during a loss in New York and then going 6 1/3 scoreless in Houston.

The majority of Pruitt’s work – 17 of 20 appearances – has come in relief. Not all those entrances from the bullpen have been during high-leverage situations, but 11 have been against American League East opponents, including three against the Yankees and two against the Red Sox.

Considering how Pruitt’s season began, the former ninth-round draft pick deserves a little credit for simply not letting it damage his resolve. Pruitt failed to record an out during his MLB debut against the Yankees on Opening Day and got hit hard twice. He surrendered a run on two hits two days later and sported an earned run average in the double digits throughout much of the month of April.

Coming at batters with a low-90s fastball and a decent slider while mixing in curveballs, changeups and sinkers, Pruitt’s managed to make enough adjustments to MLB lineups to get his ERA down to 5.65. Those alterations included a couple trips back down to Triple-A Durham, the last of which spanned most of July.

When healthy, the Rays rotation isn’t where Pruitt’s MLB services are preferred. Injuries to Matt Andriese and Jake Odorizzi combined with the demotion of Blake Snell, however, required Pruitt to be called back up and plugged in as a temporary starter.

Odorizzi is scheduled to come back and start Wednesday night’s game against the Red Sox and Andriese – out since June – may finally return this month. Barring unforeseen setbacks, manager Kevin Cash and the Rays will have to decide what to do with Pruitt. Keep him in the bullpen or option him back to Durham?

Eric Horchy is a staff writer with OutsidePitchMLB.com. You can follow and interact with him on Twitter: @EricHorchy

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