Rays playing long game with Shane's workload

Decision to pull McClanahan after 81 pitches proves costly, but club says it's protecting ace

July 27th, 2022

BALTIMORE -- The Rays waited until Tuesday to unleash for his second-half debut, manipulating the schedule with an eye toward finding extra rest for their ace left-hander anywhere they can in a year he’s bound to shatter his previous career high in innings pitched. It was with similar workload concerns in mind that Kevin Cash pulled McClanahan from that debut at Oriole Park, after seven brilliant innings and just 81 pitches.

“Being totally honest, if his pitch count wasn’t so low, he would’ve been out after six,” Cash said afterward. “It was so low, we were comfortable going back out for the seventh.”

The Rays know that committing to that approach will mean sacrificing short-term results sometimes, and they can live with those knowing McClanahan is healthy to lead their rotation for years to come. But then there are the games when those short-term consequences occur. Take, for example, Tuesday night, when Tampa Bay watched a one-run lead evaporate two batters after McClanahan departed en route to its fourth straight loss, a gut-wrenching 5-3 defeat to the Orioles.

“No doubt, it’s a challenging decision and discussion,” Cash said. “But given the workload or lack of workload, where he was at, and the break we tried to build in, we felt that was plenty.”

Making his first regular-season start in 13 days and a full week removed from his one-inning All-Star Game start, McClanahan began his second half in the same dazzling fashion he spent the first. Surrendering only two solo homers, McClanahan left with a 3-2 lead after striking out seven over seven innings of two-run ball. He allowed only one other baserunner, and he retired 16 of his last 17 batters and his last 10 before Cash’s hook.

But Baltimore rallied for three runs off Colin Poche in the eighth, the big blow coming on Ramón Urías’ go-ahead two-run homer. Poche fell behind 3-0 to leadoff hitter Adley Rutschman before Rutschman singled on his sixth pitch. Urías, the next batter, homered on Poche’s ninth.

“It was a surprise, but it wasn't at the same time,” McClanahan said. “It was my first start back, and ultimately, they're gonna do what they think is best. You just have to trust it.”

Said O’s manager Brandon Hyde: “He started an All-Star Game for a reason. He’s got a great arm. One of the best pitchers in the American League.”

The seven innings bumped McClanahan to 117 2/3 on the year – 5 2/3 off his total from his 2021 rookie season. His 1.76 ERA and .505 opponent’s OPS lead Major League qualifiers.

“It's not my call,” McClanahan said. “I can only control what I do on my own. And you know, at the end of the day, it's not my call.”

McClanahan’s 81 pitches were the third fewest he has thrown in a start this season, though he has been held between 80-100 in 18 of 19 starts. The 13-day gap between starts, though (not counting the All-Star Game), was by far McClanahan’s longest layoff of the season. For the Rays, pushing McClanahan after that kind of layoff presented a risk they weren’t comfortable taking -- no matter how well he was pitching.

“The biggest factor was the break from the All-Star break -- the four or five days [leading into the break], then four more days over the break,” Cash said. “Other than [the two homers], I don't feel like there was really a threat of anything.

“He was really good. We’re encouraged that he had that layoff and then came back and gave us seven strong innings.”

Said Poche: “Shane's been great for us every time he takes the mound, and we expect to win every time he's out there, and he gave us a great chance tonight. We were in a big advantage situation there with the lead going into the eighth. And as a bullpen and me, particularly myself, I expect us to nail that down. It's really disappointing, especially with the skid we've been on. We really needed a win today.”