Notes: McHugh's versatility on pitching staff

May 8th, 2021

Things might be starting to click for

The veteran had the best outing of his Rays tenure on Thursday night, pitching two perfect innings with five strikeouts in an opener role against the Angels. With the bullpen having taken some hits so far this season, McHugh’s versatility has become all the more valuable. 

“To be able to come back and immediately come out there and help the team and be able to get a couple of things under my belt against some good hitters, it felt really good,” McHugh said. “So hopefully I can keep rolling with that.” 

As good as McHugh's line against the Angels was, it doesn't quite do justice to just how dominant McHugh was for his two innings.

McHugh generated some ugly looking flails in the first inning en route to striking out the side against the Angels’ top bats. David Fletcher desperately flailed at a low and outside slider. Shohei Ohtani couldn’t connect on one of his characteristic big hacks. Mike Trout, of course, stayed balanced, but was nowhere near connecting with a slider low and away.

“His slider was wipeout,” said catcher Mike Zunino. “I mean, great sweep to it. Was able to move his cutter around. And I think he's getting to a spot where he feels more comfortable. I know he's had a little bit of time off and bouncing back, but he looked great. That's the Collin I faced too many times, and I'm happy he's on this team.”

It was exactly the outing McHugh needed after a rocky start to the season. In his first four outings, McHugh allowed six earned across 5 1/3 innings before heading to the injured list with a back strain.

Considering McHugh didn't play the 2020 season and had a relatively low workload in Spring Training, his early struggles weren’t too surprising. But with a couple appearances under his belt, the most effective version of McHugh might be on the horizon.

“I think everything was just a little sharper,” McHugh said. “Uptick in velocity just a little bit which, you know, I’m not a big velocity guy so it doesn’t play a ton into what I do. But having that little bit of extra arm speed, hand speed, whatever you want to call it, it makes everything a little bit more crisp.”

Similar to most of the Rays’ pitching staff, McHugh hasn't been, and will not be, pigeonholed into a specific role.

In his brief stint with Tampa Bay thus far, McHugh has been responsible for nearly every responsibility a reliever can take on. He’s been an opener, a middle-inning long man and a high-leverage, one-inning arm. With Michael Wacha and Diego Castillo currently on the injured list, McHugh’s ability to fulfill multiple tasks is all the more important.

“Everybody would like to have a role,” McHugh said. “You’d like to know exactly when you’re pitching every night and have an exact script of how it’s going to be, which guys you’re going to face and all that, but at this level, we’re pitchers. It is our jobs as pitchers to get outs whenever it’s called on us.

Yarbrough to COVID-19 IL
The Rays placed LHP Ryan Yarbrough on the COVID-19 IL due to side effects of the vaccine and selected C Kevan Smith from the taxi squad, the team announced Friday.

The COVID-19 IL does not have a minimum duration and Yarbrough can rejoin the active roster when healthy.

In seven games this season, Yarbrough has a 4.58 ERA across 37 1/3 innings.

Smith has yet to appear for the Rays this season. In 17 games for Tampa Bay last season, Smith slashed .258/.378/.452.

Mejía scratched
Catcher Francisco Mejía was originally slated to bat fifth and catch in Friday's series opener in Oakland, but was scratched due to left intercostal discomfort.

"It kind of came out of nowhere,” said manager Kevin Cash. “I don’t think it’s a big deal. He’d be available to play tonight if we need him.”

Mejía has been one of Tampa Bay’s better bats to open up the season, slashing .300/.348/.450 with a 131 wRC+.

Zunino, who homered in the Rays’ 8-3 win over the Angels on Thursday, started in Mejía’s place and hit seventh.