Finger numbness spurs Fairbanks' early exit

October 8th, 2022

CLEVELAND -- From the moment Pete Fairbanks threw his first pitch in the sixth inning of Game 2 of the American League Wild Card Series on Saturday afternoon, he knew something was wrong.

After not feeling anything wrong during his warmup in the bullpen, Fairbanks opened his outing with a wild 96.2 mph fastball that flew past Guardians center fielder Myles Straw and hit the backstop. As Straw’s at-bat continued, Fairbanks realized he had less and less feeling in the pointer and middle fingers on his pitching hand.

By the time Fairbanks had allowed a six-pitch walk to Steven Kwan in the next at-bat, he felt as if he was throwing the ball with his wrist.

Kwan was the last batter Fairbanks faced, as manager Kevin Cash and assistant athletic trainer Mike Sandoval visited him on the mound before he left the Rays’ eventual 1-0 loss to the Guardians with right index finger numbness.

“I couldn’t feel my fingers,” Fairbanks said after the game. “Not like ‘couldn’t feel it because it was cold,’ it was ‘pins and needles’ couldn’t feel it, which is probably dangerous to that guy standing with the stick in the box.”

After the game, Fairbanks said his hand was feeling better, and that he should know more about the injury in the coming days.

“I’ve never had anything like that when it’s been a pretty nice 50-degree day,” Fairbanks said. “So we’re hopefully going to figure out what it is, but my best guess is that it's a circulation issue.”

Along with not having his command, Fairbanks’ fastball was down four miles per hour from its average velocity of 99 mph, which immediately let Cash know that something could be wrong.

“There was reason to be concerned right away,” Cash said. “For a guy that sits 99 to 100 miles an hour, he's throwing 94, 95, that's somewhat telling.”

Saturday’s outing was Fairbanks’ first game action in nine days, though he did throw an extended bullpen session on Tuesday in Boston.

The injury meant that Fairbanks was able to leave the game despite not fulfilling the three-batter minimum as laid out in Rule 5.10(g), which states:

“The starting pitcher or any substitute pitcher is required to pitch to a minimum of three consecutive batters, including the batter then at bat (or any substitute batter), until such batters are put out or reach first base, or until the offensive team is put out, unless the starting pitcher or substitute pitcher sustains injury or illness which, in the umpire-in-chief’s judgment, incapacitates him from further play as a pitcher.”

With Fairbanks putting two runners on without recording an out, Cash called upon relief ace Jason Adam, who had a 1.56 ERA over 67 appearances in the regular season. After making the situation worse by plunking Amed Rosario to load the bases with no outs, Adam put together one of the best sequences of his career by striking out AL MVP candidate José Ramírez and getting Josh Naylor to ground into a 6-3 double play to end the inning.

“Highlight of the day for us, for him to get through that,” Cash said. “I would have lost a lot of money if I would have thought we were going to get through that inning with them not scoring a run.”

Fairbanks was the first reliever Cash called upon after Tyler Glasnow started the game with five dazzling innings in his third start of the year. Glasnow's fastball -- which boasted an average velocity of 97.1 mph -- was nearly unhittable. His slider was marvelous. His curveball looked like something out of a cartoon.

On a day where he entered with a pitch count of 75 and an innings limit of five, Glasnow only needed 63 pitches to get through five innings -- the fewest he’s needed to get through five frames in his career.

“I thought Glasnow was awesome,” Cash said. “Looking forward to having him get a normal offseason and then pitching him in the opening series [next year].”

After Adam’s day was done, starter Drew Rasmussen tossed 1 2/3 innings in his first relief appearance of the season, before Garrett Cleavinger and Shawn Armstrong both tossed 1 1/3 scoreless innings. In total, the Rays’ bullpen tallied 14 strikeouts over nine frames prior to Oscar Gonzalez’s walk-off home run against Corey Kluber to lead off the bottom of the 15th.

“I felt good with all the matchups, and how can you not,” Cash said. “We didn't give up any runs [until the end].”