ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays have prided themselves in both their creativity in maximizing the effectiveness of pitchers they have by using them in non-traditional roles and their resiliency in compensating for the absences of the ones who have been hurt.
But this might be pushing it.
Yonny Chirinos, who had emerged as the second of the remaining two full-time starters in the rotation, will be sidelined for at least a month due to a finger injury.
That means he will join two of the Rays’ other top starters, Blake Snell (elbow surgery) and Tyler Glasnow (forearm strain), on the sidelines at least into September, if not deeper. And, as with any injury, there is the possibility of setbacks keeping them out of action the rest of the year. That it’s Chirinos’ middle finger, well, hold your one-liners.
So now the Rays are sorting out what they have left from a team built on pitching, and what they need to do.
They have Charlie Morton, who gave them another strong start in Monday’s 2-0 loss to the Blue Jays, though he is on pace for a career high in innings at age 35, which isn’t necessarily a wise idea. Rookie Brendan McKay, who has been understandably just okay in five starts. Ryan Yarbrough, who has pitched well, usually behind an opener. And Jalen Beeks, who has not pitched well at all of late in any situation.
That group, combined with Thursday’s off-day, will get the Rays to next Monday in San Diego when they have to come up with a plan. (Figure McKay, who pitches on a six-day schedule, starts the Aug. 13 second game against the Padres.)
“This will be a challenge, no doubt,’’ senior VP Chaim Bloom said. “But fortunately we have a group that’s shown itself to be very resilient and not afraid of adversity. So many of them have come up big when called upon and they’ll need to do so even more now.’’
Complicating the situation, the Rays don’t have a lot of options. The new hard July 31 trade deadline eliminates most August deals. They can trade for pitchers on minor-league contracts (well, most, there’s some limits.) Can claim a pitcher, and his full contract, off waivers, as the Reds did Monday with Kevin Gausman from Atlanta. They can sift through the independent leagues.
More likely, they’re going to fill from within. Or at least try.
Trevor Richards, acquired last week from Miami, started 45 games over the last two seasons before being recently moved to the bullpen. He’ll probably need 10-14 days at Triple A to get stretched back out to starter, or at least bulk inning, length, and should be able to help then. Also a couple weeks out from completing his Tommy John rehab is Anthony Banda.
But for now? For next Monday?
Rostered options include Austin Pruitt, who came up Monday and worked two scoreless innings, and Jose De Leon, who is pitching at Durham after completing his Tommy John rehab. Or the Rays could try one of their Triple-A starter types who would need to be added to the 40-man: Ryan Merritt (4-4, 6.43), Ricardo Pinto (7-4, 4.04), Arturo Reyes (7-6, 5.1), Aaron Slegers (4-5, 5.68). Another option is to add Hoby Milner as a multi-inning reliever.
They also may have to decide whether losing Chirinos’ innings each rotation turn makes it better to alter or abandon the opener strategy. Yarbrough could just shift back to traditional starter, though they are using an opener for him tonight.
“We think we have a number of capable pitchers who can fill this void and we’ll need to be creative and flexible in how we use them to win games and make sure we stay strong into September,’’ Bloom said.
Chirinos left Sunday’s game with inflammation in his right middle finger that first surfaced in his last start. He will be shut down from throwing for two weeks and then re-evaluated, and even best case would need at least two more weeks to get built up enough to return to action.
“It’s irritated,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. “He tried to kind of work through it a little bit but we felt like after this last five-inning outing it kind of flared up on him. Took him out of the game, had some doctors and it made the most sense to shut him down.’’
Chirinos, who began the season splitting time between starting and relief work, moved full time into the rotation in late May after Glasnow was sidelined. Chirinos was 9-5, 3.62 overall; 6-5, 3.55 in 17 starts.
“Of course it’s sad, no one ever wants to get on the (injured list),’’ Chirinos said via team translator Manny Navarro. “A pitch I threw (Sunday) early in the game I felt it, felt some pain, and it just kind of lingered as the game went on.’’
Snell and others were confident the Rays would get through it: “Oh yeah. We’re nasty.’’
Cash is too, though he admitted he isn’t sure quite how.
“We’ll put our heads together and do what’s best for the guys currently on the team and how we’re going to be able to pull from the minor leagues to provide pitches and innings,’’ he said. “But we’ve got three guys that we counted on for 180-plus innings, they’re all sitting and watching games. So, not ideal.
“But bet on these guys to pick each other up and find a way to figure it out.’’