Even though the Mariners handed the Rays a 6-2 loss in 10 innings on Sunday, their sixth straight overall, the news wasn't all bad for Tampa Bay, which completed its first week without ace right-hander Tyler Glasnow.
On Friday, the Rays reported that Glasnow had a positive visit in Texas with orthopedic specialist Dr. Keith Meister, who confirmed an initial diagnosis that he did not need surgery to address the partial tear in the ulnar collateral ligament and flexor strain in his right elbow. It's still possible, although far from certain, that Glasnow could return to the rotation this season. The way the Tampa Bay roster is constructed, it would be problematic to replace Glasnow’s contribution with multiple pitchers.
On Sunday afternoon, even though the Rays found themselves on the wrong end of a four-game sweep at T-Mobile Park that kept them from returning to first place in the American League East, they got a strong start from rookie left-hander Shane McClanahan. He allowed a run, three hits and a walk to go with a season-best eight strikeouts over six innings, his longest appearance in 10 starts. It was exactly the kind of dominant innings-eating outing Tampa had come to expect from Glasnow, who was fourth in the majors in innings pitched when he got injured.
The Rays won't demand gleaming results every turn from McClanahan, a 24-year-old who had posted a 7.15 ERA in his previous three starts combined, but if they want to maintain their push in the division and beyond, it's a sample of what they'll need to make up for Glasnow's vacancy. McClanahan doesn’t have a long track record. He pitched 120 2/3 innings in 2019, his first full season in professional baseball, and worked at Tampa Bay’s alternate site a year ago when the minor leagues were shut down.
Rays starters collectively have a 3.77 ERA, third in the American League, but they're only 10th of 14 teams in innings pitched. Tampa will need the rest of its starters — regardless if they're on the roster right now or not — to face more batters.
The Rays will dip into the minors, like they're doing with the promotion of top prospect Wander Franco, but they also could look to the trade market or even scour their own big-league bullpen to make up for Glasnow's loss. With the non-waiver trade deadline still 5 1/2 weeks away, a significant swap coming soon seems unlikely.
Who else does Tampa Bay have on hand?
Left-hander Rich Hill is 41 years old and has performed effectively, posting a 3.64 ERA in 14 starts, but he averages less than 5 1/3 innings per outing and has lasted as many as six innings in just six of his starts (and none in June). It's been 14 years since Hill pitched 195 innings for the Cubs; he topped out at 135 2/3 for the Dodgers four years ago. He's a little more than halfway there now.
There was a reason lefty Ryan Yarbrough threw the Rays’ first complete game in five years on June 3. It was an opportunity for manager Kevin Cash to rest his relievers. No team relies on its bullpen more than Tampa, which (despite playing in the AL) lead the majors in relief innings in a tie with the Padres with 304 1/3. The next-closest AL team is the Angels, who are 27 innings behind. Yarbrough is 29 and can give a little more length than Hill, but the complete game remains an outlier; his second-longest outing of the season is 6 1/3 innings. He's never pitched more than 147 1/3 innings in a major-league season and 157 1/3 was his max in Triple-A four years ago.
The Rays have asked 25-year-old lefty John Fleming to go deeper into games, and the results have been mixed. He has a 3.59 ERA in 12 appearances, but in his four longest outings of the season (the ones lasting at least six innings), he's allowed a combined 17 earned runs in 25 1/3 innings. He pitched a combined 148 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2019.
Michael Wacha was an All-Star with the Cardinals in 2015, logging 181 1/3 innings that season, but since then, he has a 4.58 ERA in nearly 600 innings — fifth starter-type stuff. He's been an opener/bulk guy in 12 appearances and opened eyes with a one-hit, nine-strikeout performance over six innings in mid-April against the Yankees. His strikeout rate has plummeted since then, and most of his other appearances haven't been as promising. He allowed five runs and 11 hits against the Mariners on Friday when he took Glasnow's turn in the rotation.
Collin McHugh has been terrific as a reclamation, posting a 2.39 ERA with a 39-7 strikeout/walk ratio in 26 1/3 innings. But he hasn't faced more than 11 batters in any single appearance, and hasn't logged big innings in five years while dealing with injuries.
If Tampa turns to the minors and injury rehab assignments, these are the next Rays in line:
- Right-hander Luis Patiño, a 21-year-old consensus top 15-20 overall prospect, already has made three starts for the Rays this season, posting a 3.60 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 15 innings before sustaining a lacerated finger. Since returning to action at Triple-A Durham on June 1, he's been even better, posting a 2.93 ERA with 19 strikeouts and three walks in 15 1/3 innings.
- Chris Archer returned to the mound a week ago Saturday, throwing 10 pitches in a bullpen session, after sustaining a forearm injury early this season. His next step would be live batting practice, but Tampa is taking it slowly. Archer had thoracic outlet surgery a year ago when he was still with the Pirates.
- Right-hander Shane Baz, 22, is the 24th overall prospect according to Baseball Prospectus. He's made just one appearance for Durham, but between there and Class AA, he has a 2.45 ERA with 54 strikeouts and just three walks in 36 2/3 innings. He's another prospect the Rays got from the Pirates.
- Lefty Brendan McKay, who started a rehab assignment at extended spring training on May 26, recently threw in a game for the first time since his shoulder surgery in 2020. McKay, who also has hitting skills, had great numbers as a pitcher coming up the minor-league ladder in 2019, going 6-0 with a 1.10 ERA in 13 starts between Double-A and Triple-A before making 11 starts with Tampa and appearing in three postseason games.
The Rays have plenty of trade chips if they wanted to pursue someone like Max Scherzer, who could be on the market if the Nationals remain out of contention in late July. Scherzer would still be owed about $12 million, which is not typically Tampa Bay’s style, and would be subject to a bidding war. But the Rays got so close to winning the World Series in 2020 that (other than money) Scherzer would make a lot of sense.
The Rays reportedly could be in the market for lesser names who will be free agents in 2022, like Matthew Boyd of the Tigers, old friend Alex Cobb of the Angels, Danny Duffy of the Royals, Jon Gray of the Rockies and Michael Pineda of the Twins. Other pitchers under multiyear deals who could be available include: Jose Berrios of the Twins, Kyle Gibson of the Rangers, Marco Gonzales of the Mariners and Germán Marquez of the Rockies.
Tampa Bay might not want to make a big deal for a pitcher because of the cost, but these innings are going to have to come from somewhere.