Two-way McKay to focus on pitching this spring

February 14th, 2020

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- will continue to operate as a two-way player heading into the 2020 season, but the Rays plan to put a bit more emphasis on McKay’s pitching during Spring Training.

“He’s going to pitch; he’s going to get ready to pitch for us,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We’re going to certainly look at the bat, look at the hitting, but we’ve informed him that his priority in this camp will be getting ready to pitch.”

Tampa Bay won’t make any radical changes to the way it develops McKay, but the one difference heading into this season will be having the young left-hander throw on a five-day schedule as opposed to throwing every six days, which was the plan in 2019 as McKay reached a career high in innings.

McKay, who made 13 appearances (11 starts) with the Rays last season, is receptive to the change in the schedule and said he doesn’t believe it’ll be an issue, especially if it expedites the process of getting to the Majors.

“We’re going to try and hit those marks early in Spring Training, just to be prepared for it, and just see how the body reacts to it and if we have to make any adjustments,” McKay said. “But I’ve felt good so far throwing, and I don’t think there’s any reason for that to change.”

As far as the hitting goes, McKay said the plan will be similar to last year. He won’t hit on days that he’s scheduled to pitch, and he likely won’t take batting practice on days he throws a heavy bullpen session. McKay does, however, want more opportunities to play first base instead of being used strictly as a designated hitter.

“I think it’s possible,” Cash said, when asked about McKay’s chances to play first base. “But I think we have to prioritize the pitching, getting the swings underneath him and see how our roster shakes out and what’s good for him.”

With the pitching depth on the roster, it’s unclear what McKay’s role will be. He could earn a spot in the Major League rotation or be a piece in the bullpen. McKay could also start the season with Triple-A Durham, which would allow him to continue to develop as a hitter and as a pitcher.

“If you’re ready and they see you’re going to benefit the team, put the pressure on them to make that call,” McKay said. “If it doesn’t, just sit there and keep putting more pressure on them until something happens and you’re a candidate for it. If it happens, it happens; if not, just stay ready for it.”

Around the horn
• Following Friday’s workout, Cash said the most exciting part of the day was watching throw his first bullpen session of the spring. Alvarado struggled with command and injuries in 2019 but is expected to be a big part of Tampa Bay's bullpen, if everything goes well.

“We know how electric he can be,” Cash said. “It looks like it’s going in the right direction.”

• Cash also said pitching prospect impressed during his bullpen session, and added that , who is fully healthy this spring, “looked awesome.”

“You hear a lot of people in player development talk really high of [Ryan] and watching him throw his bullpen. He pitches with a lot of poise, a lot of confidence, and he showed that today,” Cash said. “He had about 15 different executives watching and that can be intimidating for a young kid, but it certainly didn’t appear that way for him.”

• After being delayed for a couple of days, is expected to report to camp on Saturday. Cash said he FaceTimed with Tsutsugo on Thursday and they talked about the Japanese slugger's new, all-white Range Rover.

Roster moves
The Rays agreed to terms with right-handers and on Minor League deals with invites to camp, pushing their roster to 67 players. Pounders made seven appearances with the Mets last season and posted a 6.14 ERA. McGuire spent 2019 with the Samsung Lions in Korea, and he has made 27 Major League appearances with the Reds, Blue Jays and Angels.