McKay hitting while rehabbing left shoulder

February 20th, 2021

Rays prospect reported to Spring Training as a rehabbing pitcher and an active hitter.

McKay, the 25-year-old two-way player, is working his way back from the left shoulder surgery he underwent last August to repair a torn labrum, which will keep him from taking the mound in games this spring and likely from pitching in games early this season. But even as he goes through the rehabilitation process to return from that injury, the Rays are letting him get to work at the plate.

"He's going to get an opportunity to take the next four, five, six weeks to hit," manager Kevin Cash said Friday morning after the Rays' workout in Port Charlotte, Fla. "He's had some broken seasons because of injuries. And not too long ago he was rated as the best college hitter coming out of the Draft, so this might be a pretty good opportunity to get him back into the batter's box and let him work just on the hitting side."

Pitching is still the primary plan for McKay, MLB Pipeline's No. 72 overall prospect, Cash confirmed. McKay has been throwing, going through the ramp-up process of playing catch from 60, 90 and ultimately 120 feet. He’s tentatively scheduled to resume throwing off the mound in mid-March.

The Rays believe he looks strong and that his rehab is proceeding according to plan. The left-hander put together a 5.14 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 49 innings over 13 outings in 2019 after cruising through the Minors with a 1.78 ERA in 172 innings over 40 appearances.

Selected fourth overall in 2017, McKay slashed .328/.430/.536 over three seasons at the University of Louisville and was considered the best two-way Draft prospect in decades. He put together a .214/.342/.355 slash line over 559 plate appearances in the Minors, and he went 2-for-10 with a home run for the Rays in 2019. McKay could hit in Grapefruit League games this spring, likely around the same mid-March period when he’ll get back on the mound.

"We felt it was important to give him the opportunity to come in and focus on hitting and see how he feels, what we think," Cash added. "Not that we'll make that many judgments on Spring Training performance -- we try to avoid doing that -- but to give him a path to just really focus on getting in the cage, doing what the hitters do throughout a normal spring."

Intake issues
Cash said the Rays are "missing a handful of people" from camp, which began in earnest with Thursday's first workout for pitchers and catchers, following the club's COVID-19 intake screening and testing. The club did not confirm which players have been absent, and teams typically require direct consent from the players in question before doing so.

Related

Cash acknowledged that the team has "had intake issues," but it's worth noting that personnel held out of camp haven't necessarily all tested positive for COVID-19. Cash mentioned the alternate possibilities that include people being symptomatic without a positive test, producing tests with a false positive or being in close contact with someone who did test positive.

The latter example could be particularly prevalent throughout the league with players and staff traveling to Florida and Arizona from around the world and moving into shared residences.

"Talking with our group here -- and certainly Joe Benge and Mike Sandoval, our medical staff -- these next 10 days to 14, I think will be pretty telling," Cash said. "If we can get through that, I think we'll be in a good spot. But we're really focused on doing everything we can, to do as well as we can, in this first 14 days."

Reliever and catcher reported late due to a delayed arrival from the Dominican Republic and had to quarantine for five days, Cash said Thursday. If they clear the testing process, they'll join the team early next week for full-squad workouts.

Around the horn
• Left-hander said he was ready to "move on and understand it and own it" after losing his arbitration hearing against the Rays last week. It was considered an interesting case by many in the industry, given the potential implications of Yarbrough's role as a bulk-innings pitcher behind an opener for much of 2018-19, but Yarbrough -- who will earn $2.3 million this season -- said he was ready to move past it.

"It's kind of something I'm not trying to dwell on at this point," Yarbrough said. "Glad to be back at Spring Training. I'm just glad to be back out here, see everybody again, kind of get back to some semblance of a normal year. So, just trying to focus on that and getting ready for the season."

Cash said he didn't expect there to be any hard feelings resulting from the hearing and praised Yarbrough for the way he's handled "countless situations" in the past.

"Most importantly, I'm confident he knows how much we like him and how much we care about him," Cash said. "And I know sometimes those arbitration situations can become a little grueling."

• Yarbrough might be in better position than anyone on the Rays' staff to handle a somewhat normal workload coming off a shortened season, having thrown 147 1/3 innings in 2018 and 141 2/3 in '19 before working 70 1/3 innings (regular season and postseason combined) last year. With Tampa Bay likely getting creative in deploying pitchers this year, Yarbrough said he hasn't set any expectations for his workload this season.

"I know that our coaching staff, front office, everyone's going to do a really good job of not letting anybody get out of control or putting you in a situation to potentially get hurt," he said. "As far as my mindset, I'm just going to take the ball and just throw as much as I can until they come out and get it from me."

• Right-hander , who hasn't pitched in a game since 2017 due to injuries, threw a short bullpen session on Friday morning.

"We all know he's had a long road. He looks to be in a really good spot," Cash said. "The guys were very complimentary after his brief bullpen session."