ANAHEIM, Calif. — Brendan McKay didn’t have an answer to the question of which meant more to him, getting his first big-league win, as he did in his June 29 debut on the mound, or his first hit, which came on a pinch-hit single Sunday against the Angels.
“I honestly don’t know,’’ McKay said. “I think they both feel the same way. You’re kind of getting weight off your shoulder and just having that moment of enjoyment. It’s fun. Really fun.’’
That actually says a lot about how seriously McKay still takes his hitting, even as this season the Rays have made his pitching, and keeping him healthy to do so, a much bigger priority based on their needs.
Manager Kevin Cash’s plan was just to get McKay to the plate in the eighth inning of what was a 6-1 deficit so he could at least see some live pitching in advance of his Wednesday start in Dodger Stadium.
It turned out a lot better than that.
The talented two-way rookie slapped a single to left, logging his first big-league hit and getting the ball as a souvenir of his accomplishment.
“It worked out,’’ he said.
McKay got his first win in his first start after being called up in late June, so that was the easy part. He got a start at DH two days later and went 0-for-4, then got up twice during an Aug. 13 start in San Diego, walking once.
He was excited when told to go get loose in the cage Sunday and more so when he got the hit, then the ball to commemorate it.
“Crazy,’’ he said. “I hadn’t seen live pitching in probably close to a month, so it was fun to get back in there and see what it was like and get back after it.’’
The 20 save club
Emilio Pagan was new to the Rays after a trade from Oakland, didn’t make the big-league roster out of spring training, and had varying duties when promoted in mid April, all of which makes his emergence as their most reliable reliever even more impressive.
He added to his credentials late Saturday, when he closed out the 3-1 win over the Angels to earn his 20th save of the season.
“The 20 saves is really impressive that he didn’t even start with us … (and) when we got him, he wasn’t just right in that closer role,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. “So he’s made the most of his opportunities.’’
Cash said as he has gotten to know Pagan since the trade, there is much to appreciate, starting with how he’s always willing to pitch.
“We knew we had a guy we really liked,’’ Cash said. “I don’t know if we were going to say he would eventually slot in and be a dominant closer or a dominant eighth-ninth-inning guy, but he has certainly worked to that.
“I think he has done a tremendous job of taking simple information and getting the most out of his stuff. And he goes out there on a nightly basis and puts it to use.’’
Pagan said he welcomed the opportunity.
“Not making the opening day roster, this is more than I could have hoped for,’’ he said. “A pretty surreal feeling, and I’m honored the coaching staff believed in me to get it done.’’
Number of the day
14 Consecutive games with a hit, a career high, by Austin Meadows, including seven homers.
• Ryan Yarbrough’s loss was his first since June 13, also against the Angels, ending a string of 15 outings without an L.
• The Rays, focused obviously on winning a wild-card spot, will be eliminated from the AL East with a combination of three losses and Yankees wins.
• Cash said he was “really, really encouraged” by the two perfect innings worked by lefty Anthony Banda in his second outing since coming back up after rehabbing from June 2018 Tommy John surgery.
• The Rays caught a break with the Dodgers rotation, as they won’t face any of their top starters. Ross Stripling goes Tuesday and Tony Gonsolin on Wednesday.
• Yonny Chirinos (finger inflammation) will be pitching and Brandon Lowe (quad strain, bruised leg) hitting during a simulated game Monday in Port Charlotte. Chirinos seems closer to returning, potentially this weekend. Lowe will participate in at least one, and maybe several, instructional league games this week.