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Rays prospect Brendan McKay slowed by shoulder stiffness

The two-way player is concentrating on pitching, but has yet to throw his first spring training bullpen session.

PORT CHARLOTTE — As the Rays transition from spring training workouts to games, two-way prospect Brendan McKay had still not thrown his first bullpen session of camp.

McKay has been slowed by shoulder stiffness, manager Kevin Cash said Friday, the eve of the Rays’ Grapefruit League opener.

He could return to the mound soon. McKay had a long-toss throwing session from 120 feet on Friday, and Cash said if he came out of that without any issues, he could throw his first bullpen within the next two days.

Cash said the issue isn’t necessarily a setback for McKay, indicating that the team had always planned to bring him along slowly this spring.

“He’s fine,” Cash said. “The plan anyway was that he was going to be behind. He feels fine. We’ll wait and see how he comes in tomorrow.”

While McKay will get to work on his hitting, the team’s priority is to get him ready to contribute as a pitcher, hoping McKay can move from the six-day schedule he had in the minors to pitching every fifth day.

Uncharted territory

As the Rays start testing where best to play outfielder Manuel Margot when he’s not filling in for Kevin Kiermaier in centerfield, Margot will start in leftfield in Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener against Boston.

Margot, who has made all but one of his 404 major-league starts in centerfield, has never played leftfield outside of 11 games in winter ball in the Dominican Republilc. Cash said he initially had Margot slated for rightfield, but wanted to see how he adjusts to a unique leftfield spot at JetBlue Park, which resembles Fenway Park’s Green Monster.

“I feel like I’m a good enough athlete to be able to adjust,” Margot said via translator Manny Navarro. “It’s a little different, especially the field we’re going to play at (Saturday) with the field being a little bit shorter."

Three’s a charm

Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Oliver Drake (47) pitches at the top of the ninth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sept. 07, 2019, at Tropicana Field. [ ALLIE GOULDING | Times ]

Right-handed reliever Oliver Drake is tinkering with a breaking ball to add a third pitch to his arsenal to go along with his fastball and splitter.

“It was a focus this offseason, just trying to figure out how we can improve on last year,” Drake said. “I think the breaking ball will help. I’ve been fiddling with that, and we’ll see how it works.”

Drake hopes developing a hybrid slider-cutter pitch could help him against right-handed hitters, who hit just .214 against him last season. He held left-handed hitters to a .149 average. A third pitch could also allow Drake to work more extended relief outings.

Quote of the Day

“Actually I’m not sure about that.”

— Rays slugger Yoshimoto Tsutsugo, via an interpreter, when asked about whether the screens set up across the infield to encourage players to hit more line drives and balls into the air helps. Tsutsugo also trained with the screens in Japan.

Miscellany

Tsutsugo drew a crowd of Japanese reporters before Friday’s workout to watch him take grounders at third base. Cash said he was impressed. … Aside from Drake, relievers Brooks Pounders and Deck McGuire threw bullpen sessions during Friday’s abbreviated workout. … Reliever Jose Alvarado threw a bullpen Thursday, but the team will take it slow with pitching him in spring games.

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