ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays will tell you Shane McClanahan is healthy.
His manager said so. His pitching coach said so. And he said so, repeatedly, after another rough outing — due just to poor pitching — led to another bad day for his Rays. Sunday’s 7-1 loss to the Blue Jays dropped them back in the American League wild-card race.
With nine games left in the regular season, all on the road, the Rays are two games behind Toronto for the top spot and the chance to host a first-round postseason series.
But thanks to the Mariners blowing an 11-2 lead and losing at the Royals, the Rays remain a half-game ahead of them in the three-team field. And the Orioles’ extra-inning loss to the Astros reduced to five the Rays’ magic number (Tampa Bay wins and Baltimore losses) to clinch a fourth consecutive playoff berth.
“We control our own destiny, I guess,” infielder Taylor Walls said. “Not winning (Sunday) hurts a little bit, but at the same time, we’ve got enough games ahead of us if we play well enough, I’m pretty confident that we could be where we want to be.”
Getting more consistent offensively would help. The Rays scored two runs total in three losses to Houston in their previous series, 10 runs in each of the first two games against the Jays, then one in each of the last two.
If there is any solace in McClanahan’s struggles, it is that manager Kevin Cash, pitching coach Kyle Snyder and the ace lefty are confident he can address them.
The specific issue is a lack of command with his pitches — causing him to fall behind too many hitters too often — a prime reason he allowed a career-most three home runs while working just five innings Sunday and striking out a career-low two.
“Just didn’t have it (Sunday), my command and feel of the strike zone,” McClanahan said. “I think I fell behind, like, 2-0 eight or nine times. I can’t have that. I’ve got to be better. It’s frustrating, obviously, and I’ve just got to keep working.”
Cash said the eye test and the analytical data show that McClanahan is healthy, as he looked in his Sept. 15 return from the injured list, when he worked five shutout innings at Toronto.
The Rays are confident the left shoulder impingement that sidelined him for two-plus weeks this month is not an issue, nor is the left-side neck spasm that led to an early departure from his last start.
But they did acknowledge that the time off could be a factor in his back-to-back bad outings, in which he allowed nine runs (including four homers) and struck out just five.
“He’s off. His command’s off,” Cash said. “He’s healthy. Stuff tells us that. Velocity tells us that. … He’s just not as sharp. And I think it’s fair to expect that you missed 15 days, he comes back — yes, he was lights out for five innings, but the command his last two (games) has been a little different.
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“But I’m very confident, we’re all very confident, that he’s going to get that back. He’s got another outing (in the regular season, likely Saturday in Houston) to continue to work towards that.”
McClanahan set the high bar with a spectacular start to the season that led to him starting the All-Star Game. In his first 18 games, he went 10-3 with a 1.71 ERA, with 147 strikeouts in 110 innings. In nine starts since, he is 2-4 with a 4.26 ERA, with 45 strikeouts in 50⅔ innings.
“I feel like I’ve been making adjustments all year,” McClanahan said. “I feel like I’ve had a lot of success this year, and recently I’ve had a lot of unfortunate outcomes that just have a way of bringing you back down and making you realize you’ve got to keep working hard.
“The game’s very humbling. But ultimately, all I can do is just keep working hard and make adjustments.”
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.
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