ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays are hoping time will prove that Tuesday’s losses weren’t as bad as they looked.
That All-Star starter Shane McClanahan, who was taken out of the game in the fifth inning due to a neck issue on the same side as his recent left shoulder injury, will be okay, as he insisted, and make his next start as scheduled Sunday.
“I feel fine,” McClanahan said. “Feel like still I’m in a good spot, and I’m excited for the next start.”
And that their offense, which after the 5-0 loss to Houston was shut out in back-to-back games for the first time in more than five years and for 20 innings and counting, will re-emerge.
“They’re good, and we’ve got to make some adjustments,” said Christian Bethancourt, who had the first of the Rays’ three hits. “Hopefully (Wednesday) is better.”
But until proven otherwise, what happened Tuesday has to be considered concerning.
Plus, the Rays dropped to 82-66, two games behind the wild-card leading Blue Jays and potentially back to the bottom of the three-team field, pending Seattle’s late result.
McClanahan was having a rough night of it anyway, having allowed four runs, and with a man on to start the fifth, when he felt “a little tweak or something like that” after a changeup on his first pitch to Jeremy Pena.
He threw two more pitches, and when manager Kevin Cash saw McClanahan tilting his head to one side and the other, then flexing his left shoulder, he went to the mound with assistant athletic trainer Mike Sandoval.
Given that McClanahan had just returned Thursday, and sharply, from a 15-day injured list stint due to a left shoulder impingement, Cash was taking no chances, or debate, and took McClanahan out.
“It was just one of those things,” McClanahan said. “I fought to stay in the game. I feel fine now. I felt fine five seconds after. But, middle of September, I respect the precautionary move. I’m just getting off the (injured list), so I can see, I guess, the err (on the side) of caution, but no, I feel fine. I’m ready to get back out there and help this team win.”
Cash acknowledged the seeming coincidence of issues in the same general area and that “there’s always concern,” but seemed confident McClanahan was okay, or at least was willing to trust him that he was.
“I think he’s in a pretty good spot,” Cash said. “He was pretty adamant he did not want to come out. He was not happy about that. But we’re trying to make the best decision. It’s the second start back from missing some time on the IL.
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“I think we all understand how important he is to our club. And if I see something that is uncharacteristic, I think the best course of action is to pull him out of the ballgame and we can revisit. It’s okay for him to be mad at me.”
McClanahan was doubly frustrated because of how he pitched, giving up a run in the first by allowing hits to three of the first four Astros, then starting the third allowing a walk, a single and a three-run homer to Pena.
“Middle of September, we’re in a playoff push. I need to be better than that,” he said. “(I’m a) little disappointed. I could have done a way better job (Tuesday) executing pitches, throwing quality strikes and limiting the damage.”
Cash said he thought McClanahan “looked good” and that his “stuff was right in line with what it was in Toronto,” wanting to give credit to the Astros hitters.
But McClanahan was not quite as dominant. Against the Jays, he hit 99 mph eight times and topped out at 100.1, throwing 46 of 69 pitches for strikes. Tuesday, he had only two pitches clocked at 98 or higher (topping out at 98.9 mph), and threw only 45 of 80 for strikes.
Catcher Francisco Mejia said he didn’t look the same. “I asked him in the bullpen if he was feeling fine,” Mejia said, via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “I noticed him throwing a little different; he was hitting 99 in Toronto ...
“I think he was just a little lost even in his (pre-game) bullpen. I think he was trying to find his command on most of his pitches and I think it went to the game.”
Ultimately, time will tell.
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