ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays have lost another key member of their bullpen to injury, placing right-hander Pete Fairbanks on the injured list with a rotator cuff strain that he said will sideline him at least a month.
On a busy morning leading up to the home opener, the Rays also activated outfielder Brett Phillips from the injured list, called up reliever Hunter Strickland and designated catcher Joseph Odom for assignment.
Fairbanks pitched Tuesday in Bosto,n then woke up Wednesday with his shoulder sore. He said he was relieved the diagnosis wasn’t worse, never having had shoulder issues before (though he underwent two Tommy John elbow surgeries).
“I don’t think I recovered that well the past week leading up to it,” he said. “It wasn’t anything lingering from the spring or anything like that, it just kind of happened.”
Manager Kevin Cash said Fairbanks would be shut down from throwing for 2-3 weeks. Factoring in time to build back up, it would seem he could be sidelined into June.
“Anywhere about a month would be my guess,” Fairbanks said. “I’m not the training staff. So I’m not going to speculate too much on any exact timetable, but I wouldn’t think it would be anything to knock my out past the All-Star break.”
Fairbanks is the fourth reliever to be sidelined since late March and the second of the three the Rays planned to use most in high-leverage moments. He joins Nick Anderson, who will miss at least the first half of the season with a partial tear of an elbow ligament.
Since opening day, the Rays also saw Chaz Roe go on the injured list with a shoulder issue and Ryan Sherriff go 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. He’s 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 gonna have to come together a little bit better than we were already doing.”
With Fairbanks joining Anderson on the sidelines, Diego Castillo is the remaining healthy member of the planned top three. Other experienced relievers, such as Andrew Kittredge, will assume larger roles.
Cash said Castillo will get many high-leverage opportunities but will not be considered “the closer,” a designation the Rays typically don’t make.
Strickland is a veteran of seven big-league seasons who signed a non-roster deal with the Rays and had a rough spring. But Cash said he made significant progress over the last 10 days at the alternate training site.
“Like we always say about spring results, we try not to put too much emphasis on them,” Cash said. “Hunter made some nice adjustments. His velo ticked up. The slider ticked up velocity-wise, and he showed the ability to land it in the zone in any count. Talking to (Triple-A pitching coach) Rick Knapp down there at the alt site, (Strickland) is in a really good spot, so whatever took place over the last 10 days seems very encouraging.
“Even when we reassigned him, he went right to work with some of the messages, and he’s a guy that’s got back-end experience, major-league experience, probably something that we could benefit from right now, given what’s taken place in the bullpen.”
Fairbanks, acquired from Texas in July 2019, emerged as a high-leverage reliever last season, pitching in 27 of the 60 games, posting a 6-3, 2.70 record, striking 39 in 26-2/3 innings. He also appeared in nine of the 20 postseason games. He pitched in three games this season, most recently on Tuesday.
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