Notes: A day of firsts; Wacha sharp

March 7th, 2021

Rays right-hander said he’s never happy about giving up runs, even if he’s pitching to his son in the backyard. So he wasn’t too pleased, obviously, about giving up a three-run homer to former American League MVP Award winner Josh Donaldson in the Rays’ 8-4 loss to the Twins on Sunday.

But the big picture was a little more important here: McHugh was back on the mound, pitching in a game for the first time in more than a year.

McHugh threw 25 pitches in the third inning Sunday, making his Tampa Bay debut at the CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers, Fla. He gave up three hits and a walk and struck out Alex Kirilloff, the first batter he’d faced in a game of any kind since Aug. 30, 2019, when he recorded one out during a relief appearance for the Astros in Toronto.

“I got a lot of firsts out of the way today,” the 33-year-old McHugh said. “First in a while. It felt good to be out there, man. Adrenaline pumping a little bit, being out there on the bump with the boys. … I don’t like giving up runs, so it’s a rough day from that perspective. But I think there’s a lot of good takeaways coming back from it.”

Rays manager Kevin Cash said he thought McHugh mixed his pitches well, throwing four different offerings. Cash hadn’t thought about McHugh’s long layoff -- he dealt with a flexor strain in his right arm, opted out of last season and signed with Tampa Bay last month -- until he was out of the game and said he felt “a little out of sync.” More important than anything at this stage, McHugh said he felt good physically.

Cash said the Rays are planning to get McHugh, who has pitched as a starter and a reliever, built up this spring to work three or four innings “and see where it goes from there.” Pitching line aside, Sunday was a welcome first step for the veteran.

“Having a little bit of familiarity, being back on a mound where it feels comfortable to me, it meant a lot today,” McHugh said. “I didn't like the results, but man, I love being out there. Physically, I felt great. From a feel standpoint, obviously, it's still getting there. Missed with some breaking pitches early that I'd like to have back, and then obviously, JD doing what he does. He's a good hitter. So hopefully, we'll get that out of the way now and then we'll revisit that during the season.”

Game notes

• Starter Michael Wacha put together an encouraging two-inning outing, allowing one hit and striking out Nelson Cruz on a high cutter. Wacha threw 15 of 21 pitches for strikes, averaged 94.4 mph with his fastball (his average velocity last year was 93.6 mph) and recorded outs with his fastball, cutter and changeup. Cash said pitching coach Kyle Snyder is excited about Wacha’s cutter, which he threw seven times on Sunday to get two called strikes and three outs on balls in play.

“Just keeping that in the back of their mind, you know, 'Hey, I don't have just that one put-away pitch, but I could be going to anything in any count,’” Wacha said. “Just kind of keeping the hitters off-balance and guessing.”

• Left-hander Cody Reed, fully recovered from the left pinkie finger issue that cut short his time with the Rays last season, worked a perfect fourth inning on 12 pitches with one strikeout. Cash said he was “impressed” with Reed’s stuff.

• Shane Baz, the No. 90 prospect in baseball, showcased his electric stuff in the fifth inning, with his fastball topping out at 99.8 mph and averaging 97.9 mph. Making his first Grapefruit League appearance for the Rays, Baz walked back-to-back Twins to begin the inning, then struck out two of the next three to end it.

“I actually don’t remember the first two guys. We won’t talk about them,” Baz said, laughing. “I liked the next three.”

• Austin Meadows provided what Cash called “the most exciting part of the day” in the fifth inning, effortlessly turning on a 97.4-mph fastball from Jorge Alcala and crushing it a projected 414 feet out to right field. According to Statcast, the ball had an exit velocity of 108.8 mph, one more sign that Meadows is healthy and ready for a return to form.

• The Rays led, 4-3, heading into the sixth before non-roster right-hander David Hess gave up four runs on a Kyle Garlick double and a three-run homer by Keon Broxton. Garlick drove in another run in the seventh against right-hander Chris Mazza.

Around the horn
• Chris Archer threw two innings in an intersquad game on Saturday, and Cash raved about his slider and overall performance. Archer said Sunday it was the result of a few mechanical adjustments, essentially getting back to what he used to do and moving more directly toward home plate rather than being “rotational” in his delivery. Those changes should allow Archer to get behind the ball better than he did while battling lower-body injuries in Pittsburgh, thus creating more life on his fastball and more consistency with his slider.

Archer, who’s tentatively scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut on Friday, said his sliders on Saturday were in “the elite range of my personal slider” based on his location and overall movement.

“I think a lot of it has to do with just my delivery, my legs being under me,” Archer said. “And not feeling any stress anywhere on my body, I can repeat very easily."

• Reliever Pete Fairbanks did not pitch as planned on Sunday due to what Cash called a food poisoning issue. It was not COVID-19 related, as Cash said all the team’s tests came back negative on Saturday night.

• The Rays set up an intersquad-style live batting practice session at their camp in Port Charlotte, Fla., on Sunday to get pitchers and hitters more game-like work. Among those who were scheduled to pitch: Stetson Allie, Kenny Rosenberg, Joey Krehbiel, Louis Head, Tyler Zombro, Brian Moran and Rich Hill. Cash said Sunday’s throwing sessions were “a lot more condensed,” more like a light bullpen than a full inning of work. It was a chance for Hill, for instance, to face three hitters between his 28-pitch start on Friday and his next Grapefruit League outing scheduled for Thursday.

Up next
The Rays will enjoy their first team off-day of Spring Training on Monday before returning to Charlotte Sports Park to host the Red Sox on Tuesday afternoon. Left-hander Josh Fleming is scheduled to start against Boston, and he’ll be followed on the mound by flame-throwing lefty Shane McClanahan, high-leverage relievers Nick Anderson and Diego Castillo, and right-hander Andrew Kittredge.

The game will air on FOX Sports Sun and MLB.TV, and a Rays radio call will be available on First pitch is set for 1:05 p.m. ET.