From the couch to the mound: McClanahan earns first Opening Day start

March 29th, 2022

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- A year ago, left-hander Shane McClanahan watched from the Airbnb rental he shared with David Hess in Venice, Fla., as Tyler Glasnow scaled the mound at loanDepot Park and pitched for the Rays on Opening Day. McClanahan didn’t break camp with the Rays last season. He began the year at their alternate training site here at Charlotte Sports Park, working out and waiting his turn.

He didn’t have to wait long.

McClanahan will be the Rays’ Opening Day starter, manager Kevin Cash announced Tuesday morning. It will be the 24-year-old left-hander’s first time on an Opening Day roster, much less starting the first game of the season, when he gets the ball on April 8 to face the Orioles at Tropicana Field.

“It means a lot,” McClanahan said. “With how talented this clubhouse and this locker room is, it really is a big honor.”

McClanahan will be the Rays’ 15th different Opening Day starting pitcher and the fourth in as many years. He will be Tampa Bay’s youngest season-opening starter (24 years, 345 days) since Scott Kazmir (23 years, 68 days) in 2007. He will also become the fifth pitcher drafted by the Rays to make an Opening Day start for the club, joining Dewon Brazelton (2005), James Shields (‘08-’10, 2012), David Price (2011, ’13-14) and Blake Snell (2019).

The Rays have not yet set their rotation beyond the season opener, but the most likely candidates to round out the group in April are veteran Corey Kluber, left-hander Ryan Yarbrough and right-handers Drew Rasmussen and Luis Patiño.

Cash announced McClanahan’s assignment in response to a question during his pregame session with reporters on Tuesday morning, which meant the lefty found out about it while looking at his phone before getting a massage. The news itself was hardly surprising, as his Spring Training schedule was mapped out with April 8 in mind. But that the news was expected, considering McClanahan watched Opening Day on TV last year, is a testament to his remarkably rapid ascent.

A first-round pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, McClanahan debuted as a reliever in the 2020 postseason. He remade himself as a pitcher by altering his pitch mix after those outings in the playoffs, then committed to a more aggressive approach in the middle of his rookie season. He became the Rays’ most effective and reliable starter after Glasnow sustained a season-ending elbow injury in mid-June, posting a 3.01 ERA with 99 strikeouts in 89 2/3 innings over his final 17 starts.

“I think you get what you work for,” McClanahan said. “I've had this mindset my entire life of I want to do what I think I'm capable of, and I think I'm just starting to find out what I'm capable of. So there's a lot more to go.”

Overall, McClanahan went 10-6 with a 3.43 ERA and 141 strikeouts in 123 1/3 innings over 25 starts last year, flashing a high-octane fastball along with two swing-and-miss breaking balls and a developing changeup. He’s hoping for a bigger workload this season after the Rays eased him into action early last year, and getting the ball on Opening Day is certainly an indication that the club believes he’s ready to take another step forward.

McClanahan’s status as Tampa Bay’s next young ace was already evident when he was named the club’s starter in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against Boston. Tuesday’s announcement only further solidified that designation.

“It is a big deal. You look at the Opening Day starters in this organization for many years, it should be an honor,” Cash said. “I know he appreciates it. His body of work last year -- very, very deserving. We don’t get where we got and finish the way we finished if it wasn’t for him really stepping up after Glas’ injury and fulfilling just a major role on our team and providing high-quality innings every five days.”

The Opening Day assignment is a little extra meaningful for McClanahan because he grew up as a fan of the Orioles -- specifically Cal Ripken Jr. -- and his family lived in Baltimore until he was 6 years old. He said he called his mother to share the news, which made her “very happy,” and his father called to quickly say little more than, “Hey, proud of you.”

“Short and sweet,” McClanahan said, smiling.