BOSTON -- Reliever Matt Wisler may have been struggling with more than his command Friday night at Tropicana Field.
After Wisler gave up a single and a three-run homer in the fifth inning of the Rays’ 14-6 loss to the Red Sox in Game 2 of the American League Division Series on Friday night, manager Kevin Cash confirmed Saturday that Wisler again felt the right middle finger inflammation that sidelined him from Aug. 16-Sept. 8 and led to another injured list stint from Sept. 10-30.
Wisler threw off the mound in the bullpen during the Rays’ light, optional workout at Fenway Park on Saturday afternoon. Tampa Bay needs as many healthy bullpen arms as possible with Drew Rasmussen likely limited to five innings in Game 3 and a bullpen game looming Monday in Game 4. After reevaluating Wisler on Sunday, the Rays elected to keep him on the roster, believing he’ll be able to manage the issue moving forward.
“As we stand right now, he’s just too valuable to go away [from],” Cash said before Game 3. “I know the outing didn’t turn [out] the way we wanted, but he’s really good when he’s right.”
If the Rays remove Wisler from their roster due to the injury at any point in this series, they could replace him with another player -- perhaps right-hander Nick Anderson or Louis Head -- for the rest of the series. Should they advance past the Red Sox, however, they would not be able to put Wisler on their AL Championship Series roster. He could return for the World Series if the Rays advanced to that point, however.
When healthy, Wisler has been a highly effective high-leverage arm for the Rays. Acquired via trade on June 11 after being designated for assignment by the Giants, the 29-year-old slider specialist put together a 2.15 ERA with 36 strikeouts, one save and seven holds in 29 1/3 innings over 27 appearances for Tampa Bay.
The problem is that Wisler has not been fully healthy for quite some time. He faced only one batter in a big league game -- on Sept. 8, at Fenway Park -- over a 6 1/2-week stretch. On Sept. 30, he explained that the issue became manageable, and easier to recover from, if he avoided throwing sliders except in games or on his scheduled off-days. Wisler believed then that such a plan, combined with the postseason schedule’s built in off-days, would allow him to keep pitching down the stretch.
“It’s been an injury he’s been dealing with for six to seven weeks now,” Cash said. “Felt it, but not going to go any deeper than that. He’s here getting a workout in, and we’ll take it day to day.”
Around the horn
• Second baseman Brandon Lowe is off to an 0-for-8 start in the ALDS, but he’s come to the right place to snap out of it. In 16 career games in Boston, Lowe is 24-for-54 with six homers, five doubles, 16 RBIs and 11 walks with only 16 strikeouts in 69 plate appearances. That’s a .444/.551/.870 slash line, Lowe’s best at any ballpark where he’s played more than four games.
“Every time we go there, I don't know whether it's the fans that they have that it makes such a good atmosphere or what it is, but I feel comfortable at the plate,” Lowe said Friday. “There's a good box there. There's a good batter's eye. I see the ball well, and when there's a wall [the Green Monster] 300 feet away, it makes it a little bit easier on a lefty. I can get jammed or I can get beat and still kind of filet one the other way and hopefully it bangs off that wall.”
• With a bullpen day on tap for Game 4, it’s worth noting that hard-throwing right-hander Luis Patiño -- a starter who pitched in shorter bursts out of the bullpen down the stretch -- has yet to appear in this series and could be a factor in the next two games.
Patiño faced the Red Sox twice this season, most recently holding them to one run on five hits with five strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings on Aug. 30 at Tropicana Field. He was quite effective in three shorter stints to end the season, pitching seven scoreless innings with two hits and a walk allowed over his final three outings.
• The Rays’ Game 2 attendance of 37,616 was the largest at Tropicana Field since Pride Night (40,135) on June 17, 2016, and the largest at The Trop in the postseason since Game 5 of the 2010 ALDS (41,845) against the Rangers.