PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays sustained what may be their first big injury of the spring, as high-leverage reliever Pete Fairbanks walked off the mound mid-inning Sunday and is headed for further testing Monday.
The team said Fairbanks left with tightness in the lat muscle, which is in the mid-back area. A severe strain could lead to an extended absence; Fairbanks is expected to undergo an MRI exam Monday.
“He’s going to miss some time,” manager Kevin Cash said after a 4-1 win over Atlanta. “You walk off the mound, it’s going to take some time to get back out on the mound.”
When healthy, Fairbanks, 28, can be one of the Rays’ most effective relievers, but injuries have been an issue. He was on the injured list twice last season with shoulder problems, missing 50 games. In 74 games over the last two seasons, Fairbanks is 9-9, 3.25 with five saves, allowing a .236 average and .652 OPS while striking out 31.1 percent of hitters faced.
Cash said Fairbanks had given no indication anything was amiss this spring until feeling discomfort on his final pitch, his fifth of the day to his second batter. Afterward, Fairbanks rotated his shoulder repeatedly then motioned to the dugout that something was wrong.
Starter Ryan Yarbrough said the Rays were understandably concerned, though noted the depth they have in the bullpen. “It’s more the fact of just how crucial he is for our bullpen just with how high leverage of a reliever he is,” he said. “So hopefully it’s just something that he’s going to be able to bounce back fast (from).”
The Rays made their first cuts, with no real surprises, reducing their camp roster to 42. Players on the 40-man roster optioned to the minors were infielder Jonathan Aranda, catcher Rene Pinto, catcher/infielder Ford Proctor and pitchers Calvin Faucher and Brendan McKay. Non-roster players reassigned were pitchers Adrian De Horta, Zack Erwin, David Hess, David McKay and Aaron Slegers.
Cash said several impressed, mentioning Pinto (who is strong defensively and would be called up if Mike Zunino or Francisco Mejia were hurt), Proctor and Faucher, and that it was encouraging to see Brendan McKay, who has battled injuries, “smiling and feeling good throwing a baseball.”
Game recap: Rays 4, Braves 1
Aranda hit a game-tying double and outfield prospect Heriberto Hernandez a three-run homer in the eighth for the 2-6-2 Rays. … “Encouraging” was the key word for Yarbrough after he worked 3 2/3 scoreless innings in his first game action. He allowed soft singles to the first three Braves, then just a walk afterward, throwing 38 of 59 pitches for strikes and showing the slight increase in velocity, to the 89-91 mph range, he had been working on. “Everything seems to be where it needs to be with just a little bit of uptick in velo,” he said. “Especially with the cutters, you’re able to kind of get those little awkward swings again, which I feel like I didn’t see at all last year.” … Rightfielder Brett Phillips threw out Guillermo Heredia at the plate in the first. … Ex-Ray Charlie Morton worked 4 2/3 hitless innings for Atlanta.
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Monday is the Rays’ only day of the spring with no scheduled exhibition, but not all of the players are off: Shane McClanahan, Ryan Thompson, prospect Tommy Romero and non-roster right-hander Chris Mazza will throw in a simulated game; Mejia will catch. … The Rays had to abandon use of the PitchCom signaling system for a few batters when Zunino’s receiver fell out of his helmet in the dugout and couldn’t immediately be found. … With the Rays starting to line up their rotation, Drew Rasmussen will start Tuesday, Josh Fleming Wednesday and Corey Kluber Thursday.
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