TB 'pen troubles lead to one-of-a-kind debut

October 6th, 2020

Reflecting on the chain of events that brought rookie left-hander into their 9-3 loss to the Yankees in Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Monday night, Rays manager Kevin Cash admitted they “weren’t ideal.”

Not ideal circumstances for a pitcher to make his big league debut under, given that McClanahan, 23, became the first pitcher to do so in the postseason when he toed the Petco Park rubber in the top of the ninth. But that historical nugget signaled an unfortunate truth for the Rays: Game 1 had not gone to plan.

“They can hit. There is no secret in that,” Cash said. “We’re going to have to pitch a little bit better.”

The clearest example came during the nightmare five-run ninth inning in which McClanahan was called upon to clean up for , whom Cash stuck with while several of his top relievers watched from the bullpen as one-run game turned into a rout. Down 4-3 in the opener of this best-of-five series, Cash turned to Curtiss, who pitched to a 1.80 ERA in 17 games during the regular season, hoping he could save , , and others and still stay within striking distance.

The strategy backfired when Curtiss allowed six of eight batters to reach and a Giancarlo Stanton grand slam that blew the game open. That eliminated any real shot at a rally and let the Yankees capture Game 1 without using closer Aroldis Chapman. It was a decision that could change the entire calculus of this unique series, where bullpen management figures to be key with the potential for five games in five days.

“Game to game, depending on what took place the night before, maybe you adjust your thoughts,” Cash said. “But it wasn’t a situation where we wanted to go to Nick [Anderson], Pete [Fairbanks] or Diego [Castillo]. [Curtiss] was outstanding for us this year. He was a little uncharacteristic with the walks.”

Staring down the possibility of five games in five days, many of the Rays’ internal conversations heading into Monday focused on how best to deploy what Cash famously called their “stable of guys who throw 98 mph.” If there is an upside to their Game 1 loss, it’s that all those horses are now rested and raring to go. Blake Snell’s five-inning start forced Cash to go to the ‘pen earlier than he hoped, but by tabbing Ryan Thompson, Oliver Drake, Curtiss and McClanahan, he leaned on the “B” unit of a bullpen that ranked among baseball’s most productive and difficult to match up against.

The rest should help, too, if history is any guide:

RHP Nick Anderson
2020 overall:
1 ER, 16 1/3 IP (0.55 ERA), 26 SO
When pitching back-to-back days, 2020: 1 ER, 3 1/3 IP (2.70 ERA), 7 SO
On one day of rest of more, 2020: 0 ER, 13 IP (0.00 ERA), 19 SO

RHP Diego Castillo
2020 overall:
4 ER, 21 2/3 IP (1.66 ERA), 23 SO
When pitching back-to-back days, 2020: 0 ER, 3 2/3 IP (0.00 ERA), 5 SO
On one day of rest of more, 2020: 4 ER, 18 IP (2.00 ERA), 18 SO

RHP Aaron Slegers 2020 overall: 10 ER, 26 IP (3.46 ERA), 19 SO When pitching back-to-back days, 2020: Not applicable On 1-5 days of rest, 2020: 4 ER, 19 IP (1.89 ERA), 15 SO

RHP Pete Fairbanks
2020 overall:
8 ER, 26 2/3 IP (2.70 ERA), 39 SO
When pitching back-to-back days, 2020: 1 ER, 4 IP (2.25 ERA) 6 SO
On 1-3 days of rest, 2020: 6 ER, 22 IP (2.45 ERA), 31 SO

“After a loss, each game, the emphasis probably turns into how we have to find a way to get it done,” Cash said. “It’s a must-win scenario. It’s nice to have those guys available. “

Cash also didn’t discount the possibility of seeing more of McClanahan, whose fastball flirted with triple digits even as he allowed a hit and walked a batter before recording the final out of the ninth. The Rays’ supplemental first-round Draft pick in 2018 (No. 31 overall), the southpaw struck out nearly 12 batters per nine innings over his brief Minor League career.

“When we put guys on the roster, we foresee using them in any situation,” Cash said.