Best birthday ever? McClanahan to join Rays

April 29th, 2021

Last October, made history by becoming the first pitcher to make his Major League debut in the postseason. On Thursday, the Rays left-hander will finally make his regular-season debut.

The Rays added McClanahan, their No. 5 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, to their taxi squad on Wednesday and plan to activate him to start Thursday’s series finale against the A’s at Tropicana Field. He’ll take the mound as a starter, not an opener, and manager Kevin Cash said the Rays view him as a starter who will pitch “fairly consistently going forward.”

“I want to be here and help this team,” said McClanahan, MLB Pipeline’s No. 75 overall prospect. “So to get that opportunity, it's a good feeling for me.”

The Rays will officially activate McClanahan before Thursday's game. To make room for him on Wednesday night, they optioned right-hander Louis Head -- who pitched well in his long-awaited Major League debut -- to the alternate training site in Port Charlotte, Fla.

The hard-throwing lefty, who turned 24 on Wednesday, has taken an unusual path to this point. Selected 31st overall out of the University of South Florida in the 2018 Draft, McClanahan jumped from Class A to Double-A in his first full professional season in 2019. He spent much of last year at the Rays’ alternate training site in Port Charlotte, Fla., before joining Tampa Bay’s postseason roster and making his big league debut against the Yankees in the ninth inning of Game 1 of the American League Division Series.

After making his debut in an empty ballpark, McClanahan said his parents, sister and USF baseball coach Billy Mohl will be in attendance on Thursday. He said he was excited to pitch in front of them -- and to do so in a slightly more normal environment than last October.

“You don't go up there and expect to make your Major League debut in the playoffs, so I think last year was more of a shock,” McClanahan said. “This year, it's more of an excitement that I get to go out there and do my job. … But I'm excited, and I was last year as well.”

McClanahan took the mound three more times in the postseason, even making one appearance in Game 3 of the World Series. That made him the second player and first pitcher in Major League history to appear in a World Series game before a regular-season contest, joining Kansas City’s Adalberto Mondesi in 2015.

He came back in Spring Training, dominating opposing hitters with a triple-digit fastball and a new slider along with his curveball and changeup. But he began the season at the alternate training site, where Tampa Bay slowly built up his workload. McClanahan said he last pitched on Saturday, the day after he found out he’d be called up. He’s been stretched out to pitch four or five innings, he said, and Cash noted that the Rays will be mindful of his workload, perhaps only adding an inning every other start.

“He's excited to be here. We're really excited to have him,” Cash said. “We will continue to manage his workload going forward. He's going to be a big part of what we're doing this year and for many to come.”

With their pitching staff beset by injuries, the Rays have turned to their high-ceiling young arms. They used Brent Honeywell Jr. twice as an opener and once in relief. Luis Patiño made his electric Rays debut as an opener on Sunday and remains in Tampa Bay’s bullpen, at least for now. Josh Fleming has again pitched well as a starting/bulk-inning option.

Now, it’s McClanahan’s turn.

“I view it as an opportunity to go out there and do my job. I'm excited to go out there and pitch,” McClanahan said. “There's no better feeling than being on that mound, so I'm excited for whatever happens. Whatever they need me to do, I'm ready to do it.”

Around the horn
• Randy Arozarena said there was “no problem between” himself and center fielder Kevin Kiermaier as a result of Kiermaier jumping in front of Arozarena on a sixth-inning sacrifice fly in the Rays’ 4-3 win over the A’s on Tuesday night. Arozarena didn’t look happy after that play, but he said he spoke with Kiermaier and noted that the two outfielders “are great together.”

“I felt like I was under it. I was camped under it, ready to make the play,” Arozarena said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “But he's the center fielder and he came in, and I think it could have happened to anybody. … That’s just the situation in the game that it happens, and first and foremost, I'm glad that we won the game.”

• With McClanahan joining their rotation, the Rays will push their other starters/bulk-inning pitchers back a day. So Ryan Yarbrough will pitch in Friday’s series opener against the Astros, either as a starter or after an opener. The rest comes at a good time, as Tampa Bay is in the midst of a 17-game stretch with no off-days as well as a run of 30 games in 31 days.

“It's a heavy workload, might be our thickest workload as far as no off-days throughout the entire season, so it's a lot to ask guys to pitch on turn every single time right out of the gate,” Cash said. “So we're going to welcome him coming up, providing an extra day of rest for our other guys and watch him go.”

• Reliever Pete Fairbanks (right rotator cuff strain) threw a “really crisp” bullpen session Wednesday afternoon, Cash said. Fairbanks is scheduled to face hitters this weekend at The Trop, and if that goes well, he could join the Rays -- along with rehabbing relievers Cody Reed and Collin McHugh -- on the West Coast road trip that begins Monday.