ST. PETERSBURG – Tuesday night was extremely frustrating for the Rays, but apparently it could have been worse.
They lost to the Astros 5-0 and fell two games behind the Blue Jays in the American League Wild Card race. Their lineup was no-hit in the fifth inning and was eliminated for the second straight night at Tropicana Field, their first back-to-back shutouts since August 11-12, 2017. And ace Shane McClanahan walked off the mound with a trainer off during an at bat in the fifth inning of his second start, back from the 15-day injured list.
The last point seems to be the biggest concern, but McClanahan took away some potential concerns afterward. The All-Star southpaw was removed due to a tight feeling/spasm in the left side of his neck, not a recurrence of the left shoulder injury that sent him to the IL, and he believes he will be ready for his next scheduled start.
“I’ve been fighting to stay in the game. I feel good now. Five seconds later I felt fine,” said McClanahan. [in the] mid-September I respect the precaution. … I am ready to go out again and help this team win.”
McClanahan walked Jose Altuve to start the fifth, then threw three straights under the strike zone to Astros short stop Jeremy Peña. McClanahan appeared to be grinning and turning his neck after throwing a substitution during that streak that dragged manager Kevin Cash and first assistant track and field coach Mike Sandoval from the dugout to the mound.
McClanahan appeared on the mound to say to Cash, “I’m fine,” but he left next to Sandoval after a brief chat. As Cash noted afterwards, “I’d rather be proactive than not.” McClanahan was replaced by righthander Shawn Armstrong, who then walked Peña.
“He was pretty adamant that he didn’t want to come out. He wasn’t happy about that. But we’re trying to make the best decision,” Cash said. “It’s the second start back from missing some time on the IL. I think we all understand how important he is to our club.”
And, in light of recent events, why the Rays would be so cautious.
McClanahan was scratched by his August 30 start in Miami just minutes before he was scheduled to pitch and ended up on the injured list the following day due to a collision with his left shoulder. He served the minimum 15-day stint, returned to the mound in Toronto last Thursday, threw like he was at full strength and said Monday he felt “normal”.
After leaving Tuesday’s game, McClanahan did not immediately return to the Rays clubhouse for treatment, a clear indication that he was not overly concerned about the progress of his status. Instead, he stood next to pitching coach Kyle Snyder as the inning went on.
“A small adjustment, whatever you want to call it. I tried to stretch it, felt good,” McClanahan said. “They saw it and [exercised] the abundance of caution, but I think it was the right move.”
Before that, catcher Francisco Mejía noted that McClanahan was “trying to find his command”, as he gave up four runs in his first three innings against the Astros. The All-Star starter has made 67 percent of his pitches for strikes this season, but only 45 of his 80 pitches on Tuesday were strikes. and he walked in his career. He was charged with a career-high-tying five runs overall, including one Armstrong was allowed to score in the fifth.
McClanahan racked up just two swinging strikes on 19 swings during his first trip through Houston’s lineup and five sniffs on 52 pitches during his first three innings. He appeared to bounce back in the fourth and struckout three batters around a walk with one out, then left after throwing 10 pitches in the fifth.
“Of course I am frustrated. We’re in the playoffs in mid-September, I have to be better than that,” said McClanahan. “I could have done a much better job tonight putting out pitches, throwing quality strikes and limiting the damage.”
McClanahan should be close to perfect, however, given the way Houston has suppressed the Tampa Bay lineup. The Rays’ first hit was Christian Bethancourt’s single with two outs in the fifth, and they didn’t get a runner to third base until they got the bases loaded with one out in the ninth. Ryan Pressly closed that rally, however, extending the Rays scoreless series to 20 innings.
“We just couldn’t get the last goal. Those are things that will happen in baseball,” Bethancourt said. “We are dealing with a great pitching staff. We have to make some adjustments.”