For a team with one of the top rotations and deepest pitching staffs in the majors, the Rays have been forced to piece things together the first three-plus weeks of the season.
Starters Charlie Morton and Yonny Chirinos, plus top replacement Brendan McKay, have been sidelined by injury.
So have four relievers, Oliver Drake and Jose Alvarado for projected short stints, Colin Poche and Andrew Kittredge for the season.
Two other starters, Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow, have been pitching with restricted workloads, and mixed results.
And the fifth starter, Ryan Yarbrough, took the mound Saturday against the Blue Jays in Buffalo, N.Y., trying to get back to form after two rough outings following two good ones, but the game was suspended after 31/2 innings due to rain, with the Rays leading 1-0 on Austin Meadows’ third-inning homer.
The suspended game will resume at 1:07 p.m. Sunday and played to nine-inning (or more) conclusion. The regularly scheduled game will start 30 minutes thereafter, shortened to seven innings under the league’s new rule for doubleheaders. Both teams will be allowed to add a 29th man for the second game.
With severe lightning in the area and their clubhouse area in a metal-framed tent, Rays players and staff waited out the nearly two-hour delay in the suites area of Sahlen Field, the Triple-A stadium that was renovated to house the Blue Jays. It went well, with snacks and all, until they were allowed to return to the clubhouse. Though the rain let up, the threat of more led to the suspension. And with a forecast for rain again Sunday, there could be a chance of another postponement, and the possibility of a make-up game as part of a doubleheader at Tropicana Field next weekend.
Before Saturday’s game, there had been some good news, with Chirinos cleared to come back to start Sunday (he’ll pitch the originally scheduled game), and Morton progressing to the point where a return next weekend seems possible, plus there was some encouragement from Snell’s and Glasnow’s last outings.
But manager Kevin Cash said it’s too early to feel they are finally heading in the right direction.
“Not quite yet,’' Cash said via Zoom video call before the game. “I’m looking forward for that feeling to come, but no.
“We’re pretty gassed in the bullpen. We don’t want certain guys to throw in certain situations, and we haven’t got out of the woods with that. Maybe by (Monday’s) off-day we can freshen everybody up, but I don’t think we’re going to feel really complete until we get Charlie back on the mound, and Yonny to see what he’s capable of.‘'
The ripple effect on their staff is obvious.
With Morton (shoulder inflammation) and Chirinos (biceps inflammation) out and Snell and Glasnow throwing five or less innings, the bullpen has been taxed, covering a majors-most 1011/3 innings, limiting options and forcing relievers to be used when available as opposed to when the Rays want to use them.
And they’ve been shorthanded there, too.
Poche (Tommy John surgery) and Alvarado, who was placed on the injured list before Saturday’s game with shoulder inflammation, were two of their top three lefty relievers. And Kittredge (elbow ligament tear) and Drake (biceps tendinitis) were two of their most versatile right-handers, capable of pitching through an inning and sometimes two.
Saturday, the bullpen consisted of Nick Anderson, Jalen Beeks, Diego Castillo, Pete Fairbanks, Aaron Loup and Chaz Roe, plus recent callups Anthony Banda, John Curtiss, Aaron Slegers and rookie Ryan Thompson. Having an extra day’s rest will help.
Trevor Richards filled in for Morton (shoulder inflammation) on Friday, and likely will again Thursday against the Yankees. The Rays tried openers a couple times as well, with McKay, who was behind due to a case of COVID-19, unlikely to be available due to a shoulder issue.
Through all that gloom, pitching coach Kyle Snyder does see some reason for optimism.
“I’m definitely feeling better about things right now than I did 10 days ago despite the recent results,’' Snyder said by phone Saturday afternoon. “I was hoping we’d be firing on all cylinders right now, but that’s just how it goes.‘'
Yarbrough had the chance to change things on Saturday. In his first two outings, Yarbrough threw 5⅓ shutout innings and 6⅓ allowing two runs. In his next twos, both against the Red Sox, he allowed nine runs (including three homers) over 9⅓ innings.
Snyder said Yarbrough’s biggest issue was with execution of his cutter, and he seemed to be better with it Saturday, and mixing in changeups more.
“I thought he was good,’' Cash said. “I thought he was better at getting in the zone, established strikes early on and throughout. He made some big pitches with some guys on base, got out of a first-and-third jam. It’s always unfortunate when you’re counting on hopefully between 80-100 pitches and that gets shaved off. But he’ll be that much fresher next time we call on him.‘'