Phillips likely IL bound; young arms dominate
Outfielder Brett Phillips, the Rays' unlikely hero in Game 4 of the World Series, will likely start the season on the injured list after being diagnosed on Monday with a Grade 1 strain in his left hamstring.
Phillips sustained the injury while running the bases during Sunday's game against the Braves at CoolToday Park in North Port, Fla. He doubled and scored on a Kevan Smith single in the second inning, and manager Kevin Cash said Phillips tweaked his hamstring while scoring from second base. He was sent for an MRI exam on Monday, which revealed a strained hamstring.
Cash said Monday that Phillips will be sidelined for three to four weeks. Even a recovery on the speedy side of that projection wouldn't have Phillips ready to go in time for Opening Day on April 1.
"Unfortunate," Cash said.
The Rays take pride in their depth, and they entered Spring Training well-equipped to handle an injury in the outfield. They still have Kevin Kiermaier in center, Austin Meadows and Randy Arozarena in the corners, Manuel Margot capable of playing all three spots and Yoshi Tsutsugo bouncing around the infield corners and left field.
In a way, this answers the question of how Tampa Bay could carry all of the above outfielders plus the out-of-options Phillips on the Opening Day roster. It's just not the answer the Rays were hoping for.
"You don't want to see it resolved that way," Cash said. "He'll be back, and he'll play a big role for us. He's swinging the bat pretty well. Just a good guy to have on a winning team. He does a lot of things that can help you win. He plays great defense. We know he can come up with some timely hits. So we'll rehab him and get him back as quick as possible."
Phillips is not the Rays' only banged-up player, however. First baseman Ji-Man Choi will be limited to rest, recovery and treatment for the next week after being shut down to right knee inflammation. Any more time on the shelf could draw Choi's Opening Day availability into question, although there's been no indication in either direction yet on that front.
"I think it's too early to tell," Choi said Monday morning through interpreter Steve Nam. "I don't think it's the right time to kind of think ahead of the start of the season. I think what I can focus on is right now getting the treatment and reassess [the injury] after 10 days."
Choi said he has never dealt with any knee injuries before, and he couldn't point to one specific action or issue that led to his current inflammation. But his knee tightened up a few days into Spring Training, forcing him to sit out of one workout, and he said the Rays are being more cautious the second time around.
"It's time to get my body ready for the season, and it does suck that I can't be out there for the team and get my body ready for the season," Choi said. "So yeah, it is kind of frustrating a little bit, but right now, I've just got to focus on rehabbing or just getting treatment."
Not having both Choi and Phillips would test the Rays' position player depth right away. They believe they're covered in the outfield, and they have other options at first base as well. Yandy Díaz and Mike Brosseau are right-handed hitters with experience at first base, and the club has been pleased with the lefty-hitting Tsutsugo's work at first as well.
• The Rays' young pitching stole the show in their 3-2 win over the Red Sox on Monday in Port Charlotte, Fla. Prospect Joe Ryan began the game with a scoreless inning and one strikeout, left-hander Shane McClanahan struck out the side in the third inning and lefty Josh Fleming quickly recorded six outs in the fourth and fifth.
Ryan, McClanahan and Fleming have been brought along slowly, with McClanahan only working one inning in each of his three appearances and Fleming only stretched out to two innings so far, but they are all set to serve as valuable rotation/bulk-innings options for the Rays this season.
"They're all really in a good spot right now. They all get there [in] a little different ways, but they've got a chance to be pretty special," Cash said. "It's good to see those guys get out there, and we'll see. We talk about the depth that we have and the amount of quality arms, and those are three that are really quality."
• McClanahan was particularly dominant, touching 100 mph and using a four-pitch mix as he struck out J.D. Martinez, Hunter Renfroe and Michael Chavis. McClanahan has now struck out the last seven batters he's faced this spring.
"I just want to be more consistent. I wanted to kind of come into camp a new person," McClanahan said. "I changed a lot of stuff about my mechanics, the way I throw, my arm slot. So I put in a lot of work, and I think it's starting to show now."
• Kiermaier led Tampa Bay's lineup with two hits, both doubles and one of which led to a run in the fifth after subsequent walks by Mike Zunino, Willy Adames and Díaz. Arozarena doubled and scored in the first inning on a single by Brandon Lowe, who started the game in left field.
• Two-way prospect Brendan McKay made his Spring Training debut as a hitter, seeing five pitches and drawing a walk in the seventh inning.
The Rays will return to Charlotte Sports Park on Tuesday to host the Orioles at 1:05 p.m. ET. Left-hander Ryan Yarbrough is scheduled to start against the Orioles' Félix Hernández, and righty Collin McHugh is also slated to pitch for Tampa Bay. The game will air on MLB.TV and FOX Sports Sun, with a Rays radio call available on MLB.com.