Rays opt for young talent atop ALDS rotation

October 6th, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- Throughout the final weeks of the regular season, the Rays said they’d bet on talent over experience in the postseason. Their American League Division Series rotation proves it.

Before Tampa Bay worked out at Tropicana Field on Tuesday afternoon, manager Kevin Cash revealed that rookie left-hander will start Game 1 of the ALDS against the Red Sox, top prospect will start Game 2 and 26-year-old righty is “highly likely” to start Game 3.

Not counting Rasmussen’s appearances as an opener, that trio has combined to make 36 starts in the Majors. Entering this season, they’d made none. The entirety of their big league experience before this year consisted of Rasmussen’s 13 games out of Milwaukee’s bullpen last year and McClanahan’s four relief appearances during the 2020 postseason.

Now, the Rays are trusting them to handle the bulk of their innings in the postseason. And they have reason to be confident in all three.

McClanahan was Tampa Bay’s most consistent starter this season, posting a 3.43 ERA with 141 strikeouts in 123 1/3 innings over 25 starts. He took a big step forward after the Rays lost injured ace Tyler Glasnow in mid-June by finishing the season with a 17-start stretch in which he logged a 3.01 ERA, worked at least five innings in all but two starts (one of which was a planned three-inning outing) and allowed more than three runs only once.

Baz, 22, impressed the Rays in a big way after making his Major League debut on Sept. 20. The Rays’ No. 1-ranked prospect held the Blue Jays to two runs over five innings, shut out the Marlins for 5 2/3 innings on Sept. 26, then bounced back from a tough first inning in his final tuneup Saturday against the Yankees. Beyond the elite stuff and strike-throwing Baz showed, it was that last regular season start that stood out to Cash.

Pitching at Yankee Stadium with his opponent’s season on the line, Baz needed 11 pitches to strike out leadoff man Gleyber Torres. He then gave up a home run to Anthony Rizzo and walked Aaron Judge on four pitches before retiring Giancarlo Stanton, despite falling behind in the count. Baz finished a 30-pitch inning by striking out Joey Gallo, then rebounded with a nine-pitch second frame.

Rasmussen’s results since joining the rotation speak for themselves. The right-hander, acquired alongside reliever J.P. Feyereisen in the May 21 trade that sent Willy Adames to the Brewers, started off in Triple-A Durham’s bullpen, had a couple stints as a reliever with Tampa Bay then moved into a full-time starting role on Aug. 12 at Fenway Park.

In eight starts since then, Rasmussen went 3-0 with a 1.46 ERA while holding opponents to a .171/.207/.256 slash line over 37 innings. Efficiency was a strength, as he averaged only 13 pitches per inning. And he pitched in tough environments -- five of his starts came in either Boston (twice), Philadelphia, Toronto or Houston -- which might explain why the Rays have him lined up for their first road game, which will once again find Rasmussen on the mound at Fenway Park.

Rasmussen will be available out of the bullpen behind McClanahan and Baz in Games 1-2. If everything goes according to plan, though, he’ll get the nod in Game 3.

“I think Shane McClanahan has certainly earned it with his overall body of work. And for me personally, I think that pitching a young pitcher in a hometown environment is probably a little bit better,” Cash said. “Baz experienced Yankee Stadium for three innings, but Ras has kind of been there, done that a little bit more. Whether it's in Fenway Park, whether it's in Toronto, he's done all that. That's how we landed.”

Around the horn

• The Rays worked out at Tropicana Field for approximately two hours on Tuesday afternoon. Near the end of the workout, they held live batting practice for four pitchers to face hitters: Feyereisen, Pete Fairbanks, Matt Wisler and Nick Anderson. Wisler, who’s recently dealt with a right middle finger injury, and Anderson, who finished the season on the 10-day IL with a back issue, both came out of their throwing sessions feeling good.

• First baseman/outfielder Jordan Luplow, who was optioned to Triple-A Durham near the end of the season, was back with the team Tuesday. The Rays won’t set their roster until the deadline to do so Thursday morning, but Luplow -- acquired at the Trade Deadline to hit left-handed pitching -- stands to make the team if it chooses to carry 14 position players and only 12 pitchers.

• Catcher Rene Pinto also joined the Rays for Tuesday’s workout, and he’ll likely be with the team -- albeit not on the roster -- in the postseason. Clubs are permitted to carry extra players (essentially a taxi squad), including at least one catcher. Pinto hit .274 with a .825 OPS in the Minors this season and finished the year at Triple-A Durham.

• The Rays removed the tarps previously rolled over the 300-level seats at Tropicana Field, as expected, expanding their seating capacity for postseason games at home.

“It’s going to be deafening,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said. “It’ll be loud. It’ll be hard to talk. Hopefully it makes the other team a little bit uncomfortable. … They’ve got the whole place open. There’s going to be 30,000-plus here, and they’re all going to be cheering for us. That’s going to be a huge boost for us, and we’re not going to want to let those fans down.”