ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays made history Thursday afternoon at Tropicana Field, setting a franchise record for the longest overall winning streak and tying the modern-era MLB record for most consecutive wins to begin a season. But one moment put a slight damper on all the celebrating inside the home clubhouse at Tropicana Field after their 9-3 win over the Red Sox.
Starter Jeffrey Springs exited Thursday’s game in the fourth inning with left arm ulnar neuritis, the team announced. Springs will undergo imaging and be re-evaluated on Friday morning. While the Rays won’t have any further information until then, it seems likely he will land on the injured list.
“Just hoping for the best. Hopefully it's just a nerve thing that kind of flared up,” Springs said afterward. “I've been very fortunate I've never had any elbow issues or anything like that, so this is all kind of new. So we'll see. Right now, I feel fine and everything, so hopefully that's all it was.”
Springs allowed a solo homer to Rob Refsnyder in the first inning, the first run he’d given up all season, but otherwise cruised through three innings in the series finale against Boston. The left-hander got ahead of Justin Turner, 0-2, to begin the fourth inning, then fired a pair of fastballs that Turner fouled off.
After the fourth pitch of the at-bat, which clocked in at 92.2 mph, Springs was met on the mound by catcher Francisco Mejía. He initially tried to wave away manager Kevin Cash and head athletic trainer Joe Benge, but they soon made their way onto the field as Springs flexed his left forearm and looked at his hand.
According to the Florida Orthopaedic Institute, ulnar neuritis occurs when the ulnar nerve -- which travels down the arm to the pinkie finger -- becomes compressed or irritated, most commonly in the section that travels through the elbow. It can result in numbness and tingling in the fingers, specifically when the elbow bends, as well as a weakened grip.
Springs described the feeling as “kind of a funny bone, kind of a shock, zinger kind of thing down the forearm” and down his hand. He noted that he felt no pain, no pop in his elbow or anything that would be cause for concern on that front. But he couldn’t properly grip the ball, and stretching out his forearm didn’t alleviate the issue.
Springs threw one warmup pitch, which sailed high, then walked into the dugout alongside Benge. He was replaced by lefty reliever Garrett Cleavinger, who gave up a double to Turner and two walks before the Red Sox pulled ahead on a run-scoring grounder off right-hander Kevin Kelly.
“There was nothing super like, 'Oh, that popped,' or anything,” Springs said. “I want to pitch. The warmup throw, obviously, it was probably smart just to figure out, make sure it's nothing before trying to continue on.”
Losing Springs for any amount of time would be tough for Tampa Bay, as injuries have begun to pile up amid an undefeated start to the season. The Rays are already without ace Tyler Glasnow (strained left oblique) until mid-to-late May, and young starter Shane Baz (Tommy John recovery) will be out all season.
Springs was off to an outstanding start, having pitched 13 scoreless innings with 19 strikeouts and only three hits allowed in his first two outings of the season.
“It’s unfortunate, there’s no doubt. That’s the only damper that was put on today,” Cash said. “Certainly he's going to be frustrated, just because he's started out so hot for us, but we'll just see what the doctors say.”