ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays’ pitching injuries continue to pile up, as left-handed reliever Jeffrey Springs became the latest Tampa Bay player to hit the injured list.
The Rays now have 15 players, all pitchers, on the injured list -- a franchise record. Twelve of those players are relievers. Yet Tampa Bay’s bullpen has continued to get the job done, entering Sunday’s series finale against the Red Sox with an American League-best 3.05 ERA.
“It's just like next guy up, right?” said reliever Collin McHugh, who threw a bullpen session Sunday as part of his progression back from a stint on the 10-day IL due to right arm fatigue. “The front office has done a great job of bringing guys in all year that are able to come in and help right away. … Everybody just takes the reins when the ball is given to them and throws up as many zeros as we can throw up.”
The Rays are hoping to get some of their injured pitchers back down the stretch. McHugh is making progress. Ryan Thompson (shoulder) and J.P. Feyereisen (shoulder) are playing catch. The news on Pete Fairbanks (shoulder) has been relatively encouraging, and Springs expects to pitch again this season after being shut down for the next 10-14 days.
Nick Anderson (elbow) was ready to move his Minor League rehab assignment to Triple-A Durham before being sidelined due to what manager Kevin Cash called a COVID-19 related issue. And Chris Archer (forearm) is a rehab start or two away from rejoining the Rays, although he exited his scheduled five-inning outing for Durham on Sunday after just one inning as a precaution due to left hip soreness.
Maybe it’s just bad luck. Maybe it’s a product of the 162-game season following last year’s shortened campaign. Maybe there’s something more to it. Regardless, the number of injuries affecting some of the Rays’ most important pitchers is hard to ignore.
“It stings when it's guys that have been such big parts of us getting to where we're at right now,” Cash said. “Injuries occur, and you’ve just kind of got to be prepared for it, but individually you really feel for those guys.”
Springs’ injury was more of a freak accident, the result of him planting his right foot while chasing after Rafael Devers' bunt, reaching back to grab the ball and his knee buckling underneath him as his momentum carried the rest of his body toward the third-base line. The lefty reliever, who has put together a 3.43 ERA in 43 appearances, said he was relieved the injury wasn’t any worse than what it is.
“Obviously, always [the] worst-case scenario kind of goes through your head at first,” Springs said. “But they're pretty confident that can get it taken care of, hopefully, in two, three, four weeks, whatever, and try to get back and help us win and go into the playoffs.”
The Rays acquired Johnson from Cleveland alongside outfielder Jordan Luplow before Friday’s Trade Deadline and assigned him to Triple-A Durham on Saturday. Cash said he spoke to Johnson on Saturday and said, “The way things are going, I’ll see you soon.”
“I saw him soon,” Cash deadpanned Sunday afternoon.
The big-bearded right-hander’s arrival brought his career full circle. In 2010, Johnson signed with the Rays -- for $1,000 and a plane ticket, he said -- and pitched for their Rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliate before being released the following year.
A decade later, Johnson reported to Tropicana Field, wearing No. 55 and joining the Rays' bullpen.
“It feels awesome. I mean, 10 years ago, this is where I dreamed of playing. This is the team that I wanted to play for,” Johnson said. “Baseball has a funny way of working things out. And for this to come full circle like this, it's unbelievable. To join this team and the race that they're in right now, I couldn't be happier.”
• Rays prospect Shane Baz will make his Olympics debut on Monday, starting for Team USA against Japan at 6 a.m. ET. The 22-year-old Baz, MLB Pipeline’s No. 70 overall prospect and No. 5 in the Rays’ system, was pitching for Triple-A Durham after an excellent start to the season with Double-A Montgomery. He’s set for quite a matchup, too, as Japan’s scheduled starter is former Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka.
• Infield prospect Austin Shenton, acquired with reliever JT Chargois from Seattle in the Diego Castillo trade last Thursday, reported to Double-A Montgomery on Friday and started at third base in each of his first three games.
• The Rays’ series finale against the Red Sox at Tropicana Field was the 10th time in franchise history they appeared on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. It was their first Sunday night game since playing the Tigers on July 6, 2014, in Detroit, and their first such game at home since hosting Boston on July 17, 2011.