ST. PETERSBURG — At some point it's going to be easier to count the Rays players who have not been injured this season.
Monday, before Tampa Bay's 7-6 victory over the Yankees, Blake Snell became the latest to go on the disabled list.
Yes, the same Blake Snell who emerged this season as their top starter and as an All-Star. And the same one who looked so sharp Tuesday pitching on his biggest stage against the National League's best.
The official diagnosis is shoulder fatigue, though manager Kevin Cash also used the word inflammation, which is somewhat common for pitchers, as is tendinitis, and that it's been an issue for a couple weeks.
And the official word is to not worry, that an MRI showed no structural damage, that Snell just needs a little rest, and should only miss another week or so, returning sometime during the beginning of the next homestand, which starts July 31.
"I'm very confident, I'm hopeful he's going to respond to some rest, some treatment, get back on the mound and miss (just) one time through,'' Cash said. "That's our hope and we'll just kind of take it day to day and go from there.''
But, still …
It's a prized, young, affordable pitcher, and a shoulder that for the first time doesn't feel quite right.
There has to be concern.
"He has to take as much as needs because he's a huge piece of this franchise and we need him back being healthy more than anything,'' said centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, the Rays' expert, not by choice, on dealing with injuries. "I'm sure he'll be okay after time. Maybe all he is needs is only a little bit of rest.''
Snell first started feeling something about two weeks ago, attributed it to the heaviest first-half workload of his career and kept pitching. The rough three-inning outing in Minnesota on the Thursday before the break may have been more of a sign than anyone knew, or wanted to recognize, at the time. But Snell went on to Washington, and looked fine working 12/3 innings and 39 pitches, even that first-pitch homer he gave up coming on a 98 mph fastball.
"I felt good after that,'' he said. "The next day I was more sore, that might have been a little bit of it.''
The plan was to rest for a few days, thinking it would feel better. Snell flew home to Seattle on Wednesday for a couple days relaxation with his family, then back to Tampa on Friday.
Playing catch on Saturday was just okay. Trying to throw a bullpen session Sunday was bad, so much so he said he cut it short after about eight pitches.
"When I threw the 'pen, that was frustrating for me,'' he said.
Still, Snell, 25, insisted he wasn't too worried sliding into the MRI tube Monday morning. "Not really nervous,'' he said. "If (a serious injury) happens it's meant to happen is kind of how I look at it.''
But he was relieved to get word from Dr. Koco Eaton that the shoulder checked out okay.
"Definitely anxious to see what was going on that was making me feel that way,'' he said. "But after seeing that and seeing how good everything was it's good for me because it's only going to be a short stay on the DL and then be back ready to do when it starts feeling better.''
Cash said the Rays are doing "the smart thing" and Snell "the right thing" in taking the next week to rest (with the DL move backdated to July 20).
The question has to be asked if he should not have pitched in the All-Star Game.
"Not from my thought,'' said Cash, who was with him in Washington as an AL coach. "I talked to him before the break, he had a normal bullpen session. Talking to him, he felt 100 percent at the All-Star Game. I think that is obvious the way he threw the ball, 97, 98 miles an hour. So, no, no concern whatsoever.''
And Snell said he had no second thoughts: "That was probably one of the best days of my life, so I'm not going to regret it.''
The best case for the Rays is that the time off helps, Snell gets back on the bump and pitches the final two months as well as he did the first 3½ in going 12-5, 2.27 with no hint of any further issues.
"We felt like taking a start off and resting and having this long break would be the best thing for me moving forward,'' Snell said.
Given how it's been going, the Rays would probably take that.
Injuries this season haven't just seemed excessive. They have been.
Eighteen players have already been on the DL, including all four members of the projected opening day rotation. (That includes prospect Jose De Leon, but not two other young pitchers expected to be with the Rays, but also out for the year due to Tommy John surgery, Brent Honeywell and Anthony Banda.)
Add in the constant shuttling to Triple A, do you know how many players have been on the major-league roster all season?
Seriously. Pitchers Matt Andriese and Sergio Romo, first baseman/DH C.J. Cron, catcher Jesus Sucre and outfielder Mallex Smith.
"That's how 2018 has gone for us,'' Kiermaier said.
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays.