ST. PETERSBURG -- Dane De La Rosa had good stuff in Tampa Bay. His fastball velocity climbed all the way to 96 mph as the year would go on, just like it has with the Angels in 2013. And in his final season in the Rays' organization, he started to develop the tighter breaking ball that Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey believes has made all the difference.
De La Rosa just needed an opportunity, and in Tampa Bay, there were too many bright young arms for him to get it.
"I think it worked out pretty well for him, because if he was here, he'd probably still be in Durham," Hickey said, referencing the organization's Triple-A affiliate. "But I give him a lot of credit, because his road has been tough and it would've been the easiest thing in the world for him to get discouraged and give up. But he stuck to it, went to the independent ball and he went through a lot of trials and tribulations and here he is in the big leagues. And with the way that he looked throwing, he's got an opportunity to stay here for a while."
De La Rosa picked up his second career save during Tuesday's 6-5 win at Tropicana Field. Asked if it meant more to get it against the Rays, he said: "[Heck] yeah it meant more."
That save, the 30-year-old De La Rosa said, brought things "full circle."
"Joe [Maddon] used to talk about the levels of being a big leaguer," he added. "And I think, right now, I'm at that last level, which is knowing I should be here and building on each outing as a big leaguer."
De La Rosa was drafted by the Yankees in the 24th round in 2002, then spent 2007-09 toiling in independent ball before the Rays signed him to their Minor League system in November 2009. The 6-foot-7 right-hander posted a 1.97 ERA in Double-A in 2010, a 3.20 ERA in Triple-A in 2011 and a 2.79 ERA -- with 20 saves -- in Triple-A in 2012, but made only 12 big league appearances during that time.
On March 27, just before the end of Spring Training, the Angels acquired De La Rosa for Minor League reliever Steve Geltz. And that's been one of few moves that has paid off this season, with De La Rosa posting a 3.45 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP in 60 innings.
This month, he's allowed one run in 11 appearances.
"He was kind of unlucky when he was here," said Rays catcher Jose Lobaton, who caught De La Rosa with the Durham Bulls. "I always knew he had good stuff. The thing is, sometimes you don't know when it's going to happen. Sometimes people need a new team, which was his case. Now he's doing better and better. That's good."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.