Rays’ latest pitching issue: Josh Fleming headed to injured list

The lefty felt soreness in his elbow playing catch before Friday’s game was postponed by rain.
Rays relief pitcher Josh Fleming (19) works in the third inning against the Dodgers at Tropicana Field on Sunday. Fleming has been placed on the injured list with left elbow soreness.
Rays relief pitcher Josh Fleming (19) works in the third inning against the Dodgers at Tropicana Field on Sunday. Fleming has been placed on the injured list with left elbow soreness. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published June 3|Updated June 3

BOSTON — The Rays have another pitcher injury to deal with.

Josh Fleming felt soreness on the outside of his left elbow playing catch Friday afternoon and is headed to the injured list some time in the next few days.

The Rays were scrambling after Friday’s game against the Red Sox was rained out to arrange an MRI exam on Saturday to better evaluate the extent of Fleming’s injury and determine how much of an additional hole it will create in their rotation.

Fleming was slated to start or work bulk innings in one of the games in Saturday’s scheduled day-night doubleheader.

That duty now likely falls to Cooper Criswell, who is being called up from Triple-A to serve as the 27th man. He would follow opener Trevor Kelley in the 1:10 p.m. opening game.

Because Friday’s game was postponed (until 4:05 p.m. Monday), scheduled starter Tyler Glasnow will work Saturday’s 6:10 p.m. nightcap.

The Rays were already planning to further shuffle their bullpen staff over the weekend, adding right-hander Robert Stephenson, who was acquired in a Friday trade with Pittsburgh; and activating right-hander Shawn Armstrong, who had been on the injured list all season with a neck injury. Both of those moves could happen at some point Saturday.

Fleming’s injury seemed somewhat surprising.

Though he didn’t pitch well in his last outing Sunday against the Dodgers, allowing 10 runs (eight earned) and 12 hits over six innings, there was no indication anything was amiss. And he had no significant issues on Wednesday in his standard between-starts bullpen session.

“He had been dealing with it a little bit. He threw a full bullpen at 90 miles an hour (Wednesday) and felt totally fine,” manager Kevin Cash said. “It was sore to the point where it affected his throwing (Friday).”

Fleming also gave no indication of any concern during a Friday afternoon media session, dismissing Sunday’s outing as an outlier and remaining confident he would do better.

He even joked about how on the flight to Chicago Sunday his wife, Katie, opened a Dove chocolate with a message inside the wrapper that said “Laugh it off,” and how he thought that was fitting.

The Rays are already missing two key starters in Jeffrey Springs, who is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery; and Drew Rasmussen, sidelined at least into August with a strain of the flexor muscle near his elbow. Additionally, Glasnow is making just his second start after being sidelined since spring training with a left oblique strain.

Criswell, 1-1 with a 6.46 ERA in four games, could be a candidate to take Fleming’s place over a short absence, as could Yonny Chirinos, who was 2-1, 2.79 in seven games before being sent down. That spot is likely to come up again Wednesday.

If Fleming is going to be out for an extended time, the Rays could be pressed to be aggressive in seeking outside help well in advance of the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

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Stephenson, 30, brings what manager Kevin Cash called “big power” with a fastball/slider mix that should add a needed swing-and-miss element and strikeouts to the bullpen. The Rays sent shortstop prospect Alika Williams, a 2020 first-round pick, to Pittsburgh.

Stephenson is 0-3 with a 5.14 ERA in 18 games this season, striking out 17 in 14 innings. Cash said the base numbers don’t tell the full story.

“I think he’s putting together a pretty good season,” Cash said. " I know because maybe the ERA elevated;’ he gave up a couple homers, but it’s good stuff.”

Stephenson has spent parts of eight seasons in the majors, pitching for the Reds, Rockies and Pirates. Over 229 career games (including 22 starts), he has a 14-19 record and 4.91 ERA, averaging just over a strikeout an inning. The Rays seem likely to keep him around since they gave up Williams to get him.

“Robert will help thicken up the group and bring a different look,” general manager Peter Bendix said. “He’s a veteran, good velocity, good slider, can get both righties and lefties out. He should be able to help in whatever role we need.”

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