ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays lost to the Yankees, 4-2, on Monday night at Tropicana Field. It was their eighth loss in the last 10 games, their 10th in the last 15 overall and their sixth defeat in eight meetings with the Yanks this season. They fell to fourth place in the American League East standings, the first time they’ve been so far back in the division race at least 50 games into the season since June 2018.
But their biggest losses of the night came in the outfield.
Manuel Margot and Kevin Kiermaier were placed on the 10-day injured list a day after exiting with injuries. Margot is expected to miss “significant” time due to a right knee sprain, manager Kevin Cash said. The outfielder was carted off the field in the ninth inning, when he tried to scale the right-field wall to snag Aaron Hicks’ tiebreaking RBI triple.
“Doesn't look good,” Cash said. “Manny's such a good player and such a good guy. It's unfortunate.”
Kiermaier’s left hip injury appears to be less severe, but Cash later revealed that Kiermaier’s hip had been “bothering him for a little while.” The veteran center fielder was in obvious discomfort hopping out of the batter’s box after a second-inning strikeout, and he was replaced by Brett Phillips in the third.
Losing Margot and Kiermaier is brutal for the Rays, as both are excellent defenders and central figures in their clubhouse culture. It would also further weaken a scuffling lineup that was no-hit by Gerrit Cole for seven innings on Monday and has struggled due in no small part to previous injuries affecting star shortstop Wander Franco, slugging second baseman Brandon Lowe and power-hitting catcher Mike Zunino.
“I think injuries are unfortunately a part of this game, but I don't think it's every day to this extent,” said starter Shane McClanahan, who lowered his ERA to an AL-best 1.81 by working six innings of one-run ball against the Yankees. “We've lost a lot of key guys. We're just going to have to keep doing what we've been doing, and that's coming to the field, putting our head down, trying to make the best of a bad situation.”
Losing Margot for an extended period could be a particularly tough blow for the Rays. Amid all their offensive inconsistency, he’s been one of their most reliable hitters, batting .302 with a .788 OPS and 27 RBIs. He’s a dependable defender at all three outfield positions. And he’s a key figure in the clubhouse, so respected that the Rays cited his leadership when they signed him to a contract extension.
With the game tied, a runner on first base and one out in the ninth, Hicks lined a Jason Adam changeup deep to right. Margot chased the ball and leaped up to attempt the difficult grab -- “That's what he does,” Adam said. “He sells out for his teammates.” -- then appeared to land awkwardly on his right leg. Margot immediately went down in pain, and he was carted off the field shortly afterward. He was being evaluated by a doctor after the game.
“It's awful. I was in the training room when we saw the play happen, and you could feel the air get sucked out of there. We're just praying,” McClanahan said. “Manny's a leader of this team. He's a key contributor. We love what he brings to the field each day. So we're all keeping him in our thoughts and prayers.”
To replace both players, the Rays called up outfielder/first baseman Luke Raley and infielder Jonathan Aranda on Tuesday. The left-handed-hitting Raley debuted for the Dodgers last season, and he’s caught fire for Triple-A Durham by producing a .352/.397/.690 slash line and seven homers over his last 18 games. There are some questions about Aranda’s ideal defensive fit in the infield, but the Rays’ No. 21 prospect is hitting .310 with an .898 OPS in Triple-A this season.
As far as how they might replace Margot and Kiermaier in the outfield, the Rays already have options on their roster.
They just promoted rookie Josh Lowe, who can play all three spots. Randy Arozarena was slated for additional DH at-bats with Lowe back in the mix, but perhaps he’ll slide back into left field on a more regular basis. That leaves one outfield spot for the mix of players including Phillips, Harold Ramirez, Vidal Bruján and whoever they call up.
“It’s unfortunate, because they're such key pieces to our club,” Cash said. “We'll just have to, I'm sure, put our heads together and figure a way to overcome it. But it's pretty frustrating right now.”
That sentiment extends beyond just the injuries. After being held hitless until the eighth, the Rays battled back to tie the game against Cole and untouchable reliever Clay Holmes. Then Adam, who hadn’t allowed a run since May 3, gave up two in the ninth.
That sent the Rays to their sixth loss in the last seven games, a stretch made all the more difficult by the injuries that seem to keep piling up.
“When it rains,” Phillips said, “it pours around here.”