Rays’ two-way Brendan McKay will get in the swing

With pitching off limits during rehab from shoulder surgery, hitting will be the focus during exhibition action.
Brendan McKay, left, talks with pitcher Tyler Glasnow, right, Thursday in Port Charlotte.
Brendan McKay, left, talks with pitcher Tyler Glasnow, right, Thursday in Port Charlotte. [ WILL VRAGOVIC | Tampa Bay Rays ]
Published Feb. 19, 2021

Brendan McKay won’t be pitching in games anytime soon as he rehabilitates from the labrum repair surgery in his left shoulder that sidelined him last year.

But in the interim, the Rays’ two-way player will get a chance to work on his hitting, and is likely to get at-bats in exhibitions toward the end of spring.

“He’s going to get an opportunity to take the next four, five, six weeks to hit,” manager Kevin Cash said after Friday’s workout in Port Charlotte. “He’s had some broken seasons because of injuries, and not too long ago he was rated as the best college hitter coming out of the draft. So this might be a pretty good opportunity to get him back into the batter’s box and let him work just on the hitting side.”

The Rays still see McKay, 25, as a pitcher first. Cash said McKay’s recovery from the surgery, a posterior labrum repair (with no rotator cuff issues) has gone well, with plans for him to start throwing off the mound in March. “It looks good,” Cash said. “He looks strong.”

Part of the appeal of drafting McKay fourth overall in 2017, and the reason for paying him $7 million, was his potential as a two-way player. Since the rehab doesn’t limit him from swinging, the Rays will give him the opportunity.

McKay, who played first base in addition to pitching at Louisville, hasn’t hit much, or well, as a pro. In part, that is because the Rays put a focus on his pitching in trying to devise the best workout routines. In 135 games over parts of three minor-league seasons, he hit .214 with a .697 OPS. As a pitcher, he was 12-2, 1.78 with 226 strikeouts in 172 innings.

After getting to the major leagues in June 2019, the Rays made his mound work a priority. When shoulder issues first surfaced, they didn’t want him to create additional injury risk by swinging. He is 2-for-10 with a homer in seven big-league games as a hitter. As a pitcher, he is 2-4, 5.14 in 13 games.

“We felt it was important to give him the opportunity to come in and focus on hitting and see where we are, how he feels,” Cash said. “Not that we will make that many judgments off spring-training performance — we try to avoid doing that — but to give him a path to just really focus on getting in the cage, doing what the hitters do throughout a normal spring.”