Wacha (hamstring) lands on IL; McHugh back

May 5th, 2021

Once again, injuries are forcing the Rays to get creative with their already-complicated pitching plans.

On Tuesday, the Rays placed right-hander Michael Wacha on the 10-day injured list due to right hamstring tightness and reinstated right-hander Collin McHugh from the 10-day IL. McHugh had been out since April 18 due to a low back strain.

The Rays were planning to have McHugh, the 33-year-old swingman, pitch another two-inning simulated game Wednesday afternoon before activating him. But Wacha’s injury forced the issue and caused them to shuffle their evolving pitching strategy.

Rays manager Kevin Cash said that Wacha’s hamstring “kind of grabbed him” while he was running at Angel Stadium before Monday night’s game. During the game, Cash said, Wacha’s hamstring tightened up enough that he sought treatment for it. When Wacha played catch Tuesday afternoon, his leg still didn’t feel right.

The Rays are hoping that they caught Wacha’s injury early enough that he’ll only miss one turn through the rotation. Wacha has made four starts this season and two appearances as a bulk-innings pitcher, working behind Brent Honeywell Jr. on April 11 and following left-hander Rich Hill on Sunday, and he was slated to pitch again Friday night.

Tampa Bay intended to utilize Hill in a non-traditional role moving forward, slotting him in before or after other starters as part of what Cash referred to Monday as "floating sequencing." Hill could’ve worked as a multi-inning opener, as he did in front of Wacha on Sunday, and the Rays could’ve capitalized on the elasticity of Hill’s arm by using him in shorter bursts on short rest.

Now, Hill will likely start Friday’s series opener in Oakland, although Cash said that plan is not finalized. Ryan Yarbrough and Josh Fleming are scheduled to handle the bulk of the innings, either as starters or working after openers, on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, in Anaheim.

Meanwhile, McHugh will return to the bullpen as a versatile veteran capable of working in short stints or multiple innings. The right-hander made only four appearances last month before going on the 10-day IL, giving up six earned runs on 12 hits in 5 1/3 innings. The Rays will be careful with his usage as he returns to game action.

“We had in mind the potential of him pitching maybe in a sim game [on Wednesday], but Collin was totally fine. He was good with either way,” Cash said. “We'll be responsible knowing that we’ve worked hard to get him back.”

Around the horn

• The Rays are expected to reinstate high-leverage reliever Pete Fairbanks (strained right rotator cuff) from the 10-day IL before Wednesday’s game. Fairbanks said that he felt good after facing hitters for the second time Monday afternoon at Angel Stadium, adding that he’ll be ready to go whenever he’s activated and that Cash “can call my name as much as he pleases.”

“I think we were able to nip it, kind of. It was at the threshold of pain where I couldn't throw through it in Boston, and I think that we were able to catch it early and get to a place where I feel healthy and ready to go,” said Fairbanks, who has been on the injured list since April 9. “Whenever that day comes -- if it's tomorrow, day after, whenever it is -- we'll be ready to go.”

• First baseman Ji-Man Choi (right knee) joined the Triple-A Durham roster Tuesday to officially begin a rehab assignment. If Choi feels good at the plate with Durham and rediscovers his timing after injuries essentially wiped out his entire Spring Training, the Rays could activate him when they return to Tropicana Field to face the Yankees and Mets next week.

• The Rays will face Shohei Ohtani the pitcher this series, after all. The Angels scratched the two-way star from his scheduled start Monday after he was hit in the right elbow by a pitch Sunday, erasing the possibility of a pitchers' duel between Ohtani and Tyler Glasnow. But manager Joe Maddon said Tuesday that Ohtani will start Wednesday’s game on the mound.

“He's super talented,” Cash said. “We’ll see how it goes.”