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Rays try to cope with mounting pitching injuries: ‘We’ve seen so many guys go down'

Jalen Beeks is the 10th to be sidelined for Tampa Bay and the fifth who will miss the remainder of the season.
Rays relief pitcher Jalen Beeks leaves the field with a trainer after getting hurt during the ninth inning against the Orioles on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in St. Petersburg.
Rays relief pitcher Jalen Beeks leaves the field with a trainer after getting hurt during the ninth inning against the Orioles on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in St. Petersburg. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | AP ]
Published Aug. 27, 2020|Updated Aug. 27, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — The names are impressive, a mix of talent and dependability, success and promise. Normally, Jalen Beeks would be honored to be among those.

But these are extraordinary, frustrating and somewhat cruel times. Beeks instead became the 10th key Rays pitcher to be injured, the fifth to be sidelined for the remainder of the season and likely beyond.

That became official shortly before Wednesday’s 4-3 win over the Orioles when Beeks was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament, and is headed for Tommy John surgery and a recovery and rehab of 12-15 months.

Beeks is the fourth Ray with such an injury. Colin Poche and Yonny Chirinos have already had Tommy John surgery, and Andrew Kittredge is first trying a rehab program.

Also out for the season is Brendan McKay, the team’s most advanced pitching prospect and top choice to fill a hole in the rotation, who had shoulder surgery.

Five other pitchers are either working to get back or resting to try. Relievers Nick Anderson (forearm) and Chaz Roe (elbow) are considered closest to returning, with top starter Charlie Morton (shoulder) throwing in a simulated game Thursday to gauge his readiness. Relievers Jose Alvarado and Oliver Drake are further behind.

Injuries are up throughout the majors, a product ascribed by Rays officials and many others to the impact of the accelerated Spring 2.0 training session following the three-month plus pandemic shutdown.

But the numbers and seriousness of the injuries are staggering, and obviously concerning, to the Rays, who are known for their pitching programs and prowess.

“There’s definitely been some sleepless nights,” pitching coach Kyle Snyder said before Beeks’ diagnosis was known. “There’s going to be a lot of looking back, there’s going to be a lot of things ultimately we’re going to be able to take away from what we’ve learned from this.

“My mind stayed in motion … ever since the first guy went down, trying to sort through a lot of things that have occurred and what we could have done differently.”

The injuries have taken a toll, as Snyder said seeing Beeks walk off the mound injured in the ninth inning Tuesday negated any good feelings about the win.

“It’s kind of hard to process,” reliever Anthony Banda said. “We’ve seen so many guys go down, it’s tough.”

A couple of days ago, manager Kevin Cash called the spate of injuries “head-scratching.’' He has likely gone beyond that now, at least in terms of politeness.

Of more immediate concern is getting through this season.

Though the injuries have severely shuffled their pitching plans and tested their depth, with reliever Ryan Sherriff called up as their 24th pitcher of the season, the Rays began Wednesday night leading the American League East.

“It’s been, I don’t know what you call it, if its randomness,” Cash said. “I know there’s a lot of finger-pointing and blaming going around as to why this, whatever. Guys are getting hurt. We care a lot about them. We want to do right by them and get them back and healthy as quick as possible.

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“In the meantime, go out, try to keep a positive vibe, positive environment and keep winning games.”

To do so, the Rays, seemingly, will have to keep the remaining members of the staff healthy.

“We’d love to bubble wrap about four of them,” Snyder said. “Unfortunately, there’s still a second half of a season to be played. We’ll just have to continue to be mindful about their workloads and their usage, and just hope with a lot of the prudence we bring to the approach we’ll be able to curtail some of the injuries that have occurred here over the last few weeks.”

Meanwhile, general manager Erik Neander and staff are likely going to be even busier looking for reinforcements leading up to Monday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline.

“I know our front office, with or without the injuries, they’re going to always look to improve our club,” Cash said. “It does seem like right now it’s a little but more glaring, a little bit more in your face that we’re nicked up in the pitching department.”

But Cash also tempered expectations of a big deal, saying getting back the five other injured pitchers would be a bigger boost.

“More than anything, more than any trade we can make, we would prioritize getting healthy,” he said. “If we can get healthy, we really like our club for good reason. But sometimes that health takes time. Hopefully the way we’re playing and continue to play, we can buy these guys time to do right by them, slot them back into their roles with them feeling good.”

Beeks, who had evolved into an effective multi-inning reliever (1-1, 3.26 in 12 games) obviously won’t be among them, likely not until 2022, as an MRI on Wednesday afternoon showed the torn ligament.

“It was unfortunate news for sure, not to say we didn’t have that kind of in the back of our minds,’' Cash said. “You just feel for him like you feel for all of them that go down. Jalen really kind of found his niche, he was really doing it, making the progress that him, Kyle and (bullpen coach Stan Boroski) and everybody else has worked so hard to get there.

“Talking to him, he said, You know what, it might be nice to go through this rehab and remember what it’s like to pitch pain-free again. So if 15 months brings that to him, we know we’ve got a special pitcher coming back along with the other guys.‘'