Two pitches spoil Shane's masterpiece

Adjustment has Arozarena feeling better; COVID issues sidelining staff

May 1st, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays’ three-game winning streak came to an end Saturday afternoon with a 9-1 loss to the Twins at Tropicana Field.

Left-hander flashed dominant stuff but allowed two costly homers, Twins starter Chris Archer held his former team to one run over four innings, and Minnesota pulled away late as the Rays’ bats went quiet.

Here are three storylines that emerged from Saturday’s game.

Two swings derail a dominant McClanahan
In some ways, McClanahan couldn’t have performed much better. He struck out a career-high 11 batters, forced the Twins to whiff on 16 of their 29 swings against his offspeed and breaking pitches and allowed only four hits and two walks over five-plus innings.

But one Twins hitter was responsible for McClanahan taking the loss: outfielder Kyle Garlick. Bumped up to No. 3 in the order when Byron Buxton was scratched before the game, Garlick crushed a first-pitch fastball out to center field in the first inning, then launched a 2-0 slider out to left for a tiebreaking two-run homer in the sixth.

“Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many strikeouts I had. We want to win the ballgame. We were in a spot to win, and I’ve got to do better,” McClanahan said. “That’s the frustrating thing about baseball. You feel so good out there, making 99 percent of the pitches you want to make, but sometimes there’s one pitch you wish you had back.”

Cash said he was encouraged overall by McClanahan’s performance, and it’s hard to be discouraged with anything the left-hander has done -- final score aside -- considering McClanahan has a 3.00 ERA after five starts and leads the Majors with 42 strikeouts. He might want those two pitches back, but the stuff he showcased indicates he’s bound for better outcomes.

“Sometimes, I feel like the guys don't even have a chance to put it in play. I'm like, 'Why do I even need my glove?'” said third baseman Taylor Walls, who homered in the second inning. “He was unbelievable today, and it's unfortunate we couldn't put some more runs up there for him.”

Will ’s slump end soon?
With one out in the ninth inning and the Rays trailing by eight runs, Arozarena smashed a single to left field off Twins lefty Caleb Thielbar. The ball came off his bat at 113.4 mph, the hardest-hit batted ball of his Major League career.

The Rays are hoping that will be a turning point, as they could certainly use more from the reigning American League Rookie of the Year.

Arozarena stranded four runners Saturday on a pair of early groundouts induced by Archer, then made an adjustment to his setup at the plate before his final two at-bats. Arozarena struck out in the sixth inning but made his best contact of the season in the ninth to snap an 0-for-15 skid, a glimmer of hope for the struggling slugger.

“Hopefully, that's something he can build off,” Cash said. “We've just got a lot of key components right now that are not doing what they typically do, but they'll get out of it.”

Arozarena is hitting just .195 with a .508 OPS and 24 strikeouts in 81 plate appearances, and he has gone a career-high 24 games without a home run. His lack of production has been noticeable in a Rays lineup that has scored three runs or fewer in eight of their nine losses.

“I feel much better,” Arozarena said, with assistant hitting coach Brady North translating. “Those last two turns, I just made a little adjustment in my setup and I feel much better now. … We're 20 games in. I'm working, and we're just going to keep going and keep working toward the goal.”

COVID issues are a growing frustration
During a mound visit in the third inning, assistant pitching and rehab coach Rick Knapp -- not pitching coach Kyle Snyder, like usual -- came out to speak with McClanahan. It was a sign that things were not quite right with the Rays’ coaching staff.

The Rays later announced that four coaches -- Snyder, bench coach Matt Quatraro, bullpen coach Stan Boroski and Major League field coordinator Paul Hoover -- were out due to “COVID-related issues.” They did not specify whether they were away from the team because they tested positive, were close contacts or felt symptoms. They were replaced in the dugout by Knapp, North and fellow assistant hitting coach Dan DeMent, while bullpen catchers Misha Dworken and Charlie Valerio assumed greater roles in the ‘pen.

The Rays have been dealing with COVID-19 concerns since returning from a weeklong trip to Chicago last week. Cash said the affected coaches are “feeling OK,” but he acknowledged the team’s frustration after a week of trying to contain its cases.

Tampa Bay has had only one player test positive, catcher Francisco Mejía. But the club has kept several staffers -- and now four prominent coaches -- away from the team to avoid spreading the virus. The timing is particularly inconvenient, as they won’t be able to fly with the team as it departs Sunday night for a 10-game West Coast trip.

Rays manager Kevin Cash said the Rays were still considering whether to call up coaches to fill out the staff, as it’s unclear when the coaches who are sidelined will be able to return.

“No doubt, it's very frustrating. It's frustrating for the staff that is here. It's frustrating for our players,” Cash said. “They're right in the thick of everything, and when something like this kind of snowballs like it did today -- I mean, we've been dealing, dealing, dealing, trying to contain, and then the last day or two, it's kind of hit us pretty hard.”