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Rays’ Shane McClanahan looks to provide answers, not questions

The All-Star starter says his up-and-down second half taught him a lot. Meanwhile, Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez raises a red flag about potential injury.
Rays Game 1 starter Shane McClanahan smiles during a news conference Thursday in Cleveland on the even of the American League Wild Card Series.
Rays Game 1 starter Shane McClanahan smiles during a news conference Thursday in Cleveland on the even of the American League Wild Card Series. [ SUE OGROCKI | AP ]
Published Oct. 6|Updated Oct. 7

CLEVELAND — Shane McClanahan’s last time in the postseason spotlight didn’t end well — not for him, the Rays or the chair he tossed in frustration down the tunnel behind their Fenway Park dugout.

McClanahan threw five scoreless innings in Game 1 of last year’s American League Division Series. But he failed miserably when asked to pitch in relief — and on short rest — in Game 4, allowing five runs while getting only two outs as the Rays’ season ended with a stinging 6-5 loss.

As McClanahan takes the mound for Friday’s opener of the best-of-three Wild Card Series against the Guardians (12:07 p.m.), he says he is better for last year’s experience.

“It really motivated me,” he said Thursday. “It fueled me during the offseason to keep working hard and try and develop more as a pitcher, as a player and as person. I think I’ve made those adjustments.”

Manager Kevin Cash took the blame for putting McClanahan in that position, saying it was “a big order” to ask him to change his routine. But he, too, thinks it may have done McClanahan good.

“I think that Shane, the way he handles it and the way he cares so much, that he spent a lot of time probably analyzing and processing from that Game 4,” Cash said. “I actually think that all that stuff made him a better pitcher going into this year.”

McClanahan had more learning material this year.

A spectacular first half in which he went 10-3 with a majors-best 1.71 ERA and 147 strikeouts in 110-2/3 innings over 18 starts earned him the All-Star start and a place in the Cy Young Award discussion.

But his disappointing performance since — 2-5, 4.20 with 47 strikeouts in 55-2/3 innings over 10 starts — plus a stint on the injured list for a left shoulder impingement and an early exit due to a neck spasm — has changed the narrative and raised questions.

Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, a studio analyst for TBS’ playoff coverage, thinks McClanahan might be hurt or at least at risk of injury.

“Ooh, I really love this kid,” Martinez said on a media Zoom call. “I’m just hoping that he’s healthy. … There was a little red flag. After watching him in the first half and watching him the second half, if I am the Rays I’ll be really, really cautious how I handle McClanahan.

" … I’m a little bit afraid of how he’s feeling, because the last two or three outings that I saw when he had to come out of the game were not very good indications.”

McClanahan and the Rays say he is healthy — “100 percent, and no indication otherwise,” pitching coach Kyle Snyder said, noting McClanahan’s 97 mph-plus average fastball in Saturday’s start. Cash said he is confident McClanahan will have a good outing — the key being throwing strikes as the Guardians put the ball in play a lot and don’t strike out much — and is hoping he can go deep, with a 100-110 pitch limit.

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Shane McClanahan (62) walks off the field during the third inning of Game 4 of last season's American League Division Series against the Red Sox in Boston.
Shane McClanahan (62) walks off the field during the third inning of Game 4 of last season's American League Division Series against the Red Sox in Boston. [ CHARLES KRUPA | AP ]

Teammate Wander Franco also has high expectations.

“He definitely has got a lot of talent, and he’s got a great mentality,” Franco said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “I think he’s going to come out here and really control the game, and I think he’s going to do a really good job of helping us. We have a lot of confidence in his ability to work out there.”

McClanahan said his up-and-down 2022 performance has left him in a good spot and he is “honored” to be starting the playoff opener again.

“I learned a lot about myself this season,” he said. “I’ve learned what it takes to have success. And I learned what failure feels like, too.

“Obviously, I wanted to have many more successes than I do failures. But it’s inevitable, it’s gonna happen. And I think it’s all about how you respond. I got a couple of strings of bad luck. And I kept working and bounced back I thought pretty good. I think it just taught me to just be consistent, be the same guy day in and day out and keep it simple.”

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