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Hunter Strickland pitches in for Rays after Pete Fairbanks injury

Rays notes | With another high-leverage reliever hurt, Tampa Bay turns to veteran who had a rough spring.
Published Apr. 9
Updated Apr. 10

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays’ bullpen sustained another big loss Friday with the news that Pete Fairbanks, one of their high-leverage relievers, will miss at least a month with a rotator cuff strain.

But then Hunter Strickland, something of a surprise choice to replace Fairbanks, helped them secure a 10-5, home-opening win over the Yankees.

Strickland, a 32-year-old veteran of seven big-league seasons, had a rough spring (allowing 11 hits and six walks in eight innings) and an early reassignment. But he got himself straightened out at the alternate training site and, with a recommendation from Triple-A pitching coach Rick Knapp, the Rays decided to take a look.

After Strickland worked the seventh and eighth innings Friday, allowing just a solo homer, they were glad they did.

“That was awesome,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He picked this up in a big way. … We had high hopes for Hunter to help us in whatever capacity.”

Fairbanks threw Tuesday in Boston, then said he woke up the next day with his shoulder sore. A Thursday MRI and doctor visit confirmed the strain. Fairbanks, who has had two Tommy John elbow surgeries, said this was his first shoulder issue, and he was relieved the diagnosis wasn’t worse.

He will be shut down from throwing for two-three weeks, and with time needed to build back up, he could be sidelined into June. “I’m not going to speculate too much on any exact timetable,” he said, “but I wouldn’t think it would be anything to knock me out past the (mid-July) All-Star break.”

Related: In case they forgot, Rays remind Yankees who’s the boss

Fairbanks is the fourth reliever to be sidelined since late March and second of the three used in most high-leverage moments. Nick Anderson will miss at least half of the season with an elbow injury, leaving Diego Castillo to get the toughest assignments though not, Cash said, the closer title.

The Rays have also lost Chaz Roe to a shoulder strain and put lefty Ryan Sherriff on the restricted list as he needed some time away from the game.

“The whole thing is not ideal,” Cash said. “There’s no denying that, no getting around it. (Fairbanks) is a big, big part of helping us win games, along with some other guys that are now on the shelf. So you’ve just got to kind of take that approach of, we’re going to have to come together a little bit better than we were already doing.”

Related: Rays’ home opener is a hit with 10-5 win over Yankees

Phillips returns, Odom leaves

Outfielder Brett Phillips, sidelined since mid-spring with a left hamstring strain, was activated and started in centerfield, adding depth given the loss of Kevin Kiermaier (quad strain). … Joseph Odom, who was added last week as the third catcher, was designated for assignment to make room for Strickland on the 40-man roster. … Catcher Deivy Grullon, claimed Tuesday on waivers from Cincinnati, cleared COVID intake protocols and joined workouts at the alternate site.

Pomp and circumstance

With both teams assembled on the foul lines, the Rays played a 2020 recap video and unveiled their 2020 AL East and league championship banners, which had been hung above left-centerfield and were covered by black curtains. … Lynsey Bracken, a registered emergency room nurse at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, performed the anthem at the stadium. A taped ceremonial first pitch with Bayfront personnel was shown. … The game was the first with fans at the Trop since Oct. 9, 2019, which was Game 4 of the AL Division Series against Houston, with 548 days in between. … The Rays are 12-12 in home openers, 5-0 vs. the Yankees, including the 2004 game played in Tokyo.

Related: Rich Hill does his part to help Rays end losing streak

Quote of the day

“It’s going to be a sellout, but it should be like a normal Trop crowd.”

— Fairbanks, on the distanced crowd, announced at 9,021

Miscellany

• The Yankees played without Aaron Judge, who was sidelined by left side soreness, with a further evaluation to come. Just before game time, they placed third baseman Gio Urshela on the COVID injured list “due to side effects from vaccination” and called up Mike Ford.

Related: For Rays fans, Trop opener like returning home

• Chris Archer said he has enjoyed being back at the Trop since re-signing with the Rays. He expects to be more comfortable starting Saturday than working out of the bullpen as he did in his April 13 outing.

• Yoshi Tsustugo’s third-inning single clocked at 111.1 mph, his hardest-hit ball in the majors.

• Brandon Lowe extended his career-high on-base streak to 23 consecutive games.

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