CHICAGO -- The challenge the Rays will face in attempting to replace Tyler Glasnow is that, as catcher Mike Zunino put it Tuesday afternoon, “There’s no replacing a Tyler Glasnow.” Tampa Bay’s ace had been dominant nearly every time he took the mound this season, and he was emerging as somewhat of a workhorse before going down Monday night with a partially torn UCL and flexor strain.
But the Rays are deep, and they are creative. And they will need all their depth and ingenuity as they seek to fill the void left by Glasnow’s injury and rehabilitation.
“At the end of the day, we have a lot of depth here. We're going to continue to pitch well,” Zunino said. “And hopefully he can come back at some point this year and we can bridge that gap until he does.”
First, it’s worth noting that Glasnow is not the only starting pitcher having a good season for the Rays. He’s been their most valuable pitcher, without question, but the Rays have also received excellent performance from 41-year-old lefty Rich Hill since late April, from lefty Josh Fleming since he was called up last season and from Ryan Yarbrough for most of the season. They also have every reason to believe in electric young left-hander Shane McClanahan, who started Tuesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field.
They may not be aces, and some of them might occasionally pitch after openers rather than work like traditional starters, but they have been effective. In fact, they’ve already gone about the work of filling the void left by starters Blake Snell and Charlie Morton.
“We have a lot of depth, so we have guys that are going to step up and really help contribute. I think for the rest of the starters, you understand that, and everyone is willing to take on that challenge and help fill that gap,” Yarbrough said. “We have a ton of depth in the Minors and guys who can come up and help us, and guys that are already here are going to step up as well, so I think we have the people here to help us do that.”
In the short term, Rays manager Kevin Cash said, right-hander Michael Wacha will take the fifth spot in that group. Wacha is lined up to pitch this weekend in Seattle, at which point he will begin building up his workload to that of a more traditional starter.
Wacha began the season as part of the Rays’ rotation, posting a 3.86 ERA in 25 2/3 innings over five outings in April, then found himself without a spot due to the performance of Tampa Bay’s other options. The right-hander hasn’t thrown more than three innings or 42 pitches in an outing since returning from a right hamstring injury in late May, and he’s made his last two appearances as a multi-inning opener.
Now, he’s back where he started -- as a starter.
“Our opinions of Wach have not changed one bit since the day we acquired him. We've been fortunate here lately that we've just got a lot of pitchers that are throwing the ball really, really well. And he is, too,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He comes back from a hamstring injury, and there were guys that were really hot at the time. He's kind of waited here and played a role for us, but it looks like he'll probably play a little bit bigger role as far as getting a day and we'll insert him into the rotation.”
Wacha said he is looking forward to the opportunity to start again and fall back into more of a set routine, and he doesn’t think it will take “too long” to get stretched back out to work five or six innings.
“It’s been a little different with just not having the consistency that I've done in my past. But I mean, this game is challenging for everybody. It's something that I've had to learn,” Wacha said. “I've been throwing bullpens, and our catch play has been really good, so just staying on top of that to stay sharp is kind of what I've been doing.”
Additionally, the Rays hope to have a healthy Chris Archer back in the fold at some point this summer, as he began throwing bullpen sessions last weekend at Tropicana Field in his recovery from right lateral forearm tightness. Archer only made two appearances at the start of the season before going on the injured list, but like Wacha, he was signed this offseason to help bolster Tampa Bay’s starting staff.
Right-hander Luis Patiño also figures to help out the Rays’ rotation at some point after a monthlong cameo earlier this season. The 21-year-old put together a 3.60 ERA in five appearances from April 25-May 18, maxing out at four innings, before he was sent to Triple-A Durham to build up his workload. In his last two outings, Patiño has allowed just one run on four hits and a walk while striking out 12 over nine innings.
Combine those options with their other top pitching prospects in Durham – including Joe Ryan and, now, Shane Baz – plus a shutdown bullpen that only figures to get deeper and healthier as the season progresses, and the Rays will have depth. Time will tell how creative they get with it.