It’s the middle of the season and the Tampa Bay Rays are trying to stay in postseason contention in the American League East. But they literally are hurting right up the gut.
From catcher Mike Zunino (shoulder) to phenom/shortstop Wander Franco (fractured hamate bone) to center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (hip), the Rays are about as banged up as a team can be at those key positions.
But somehow, the Rays are getting by.
They have won the first two games of a four-game series against the Boston Red Sox. When the teams meet again Wednesday night in St. Petersburg, Fla., the Rays hope to get a lift from a usual suspect and an unexpected player who has been a career journeyman.
At the same time, the Red Sox hope to get back on track after a weekend in which they won the last two games of a series with the New York Yankees.
But Boston also has been hit by injuries. Two came in Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss to Tampa Bay. Second baseman Trevor Story suffered a hand contusion, getting hit by a pitch he swung at, and relief pitcher Matt Strahm took a shot to his left arm by a batted ball.
The usual suspect for the Rays is ace pitcher Shane McClanahan, who will get the start on Wednesday. McClanahan (9-3, 1.73 ERA) is in the hottest stretch of his career. The left-hander is carrying a string of six straight starts in which he has held opponents to one earned run or less.
Although he is only in his second season, McClanahan has some impressive history against the Red Sox. He was 2-1 with a 2.74 ERA against Boston last year and is 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA this year.
But the Rays are without their biggest-named hitters. So where do they turn? Journeyman outfielder Harold Ramirez is as hot as any hitter in the league now. Over the past four games, he has reached base in 10 of 15 plate appearances (nine hits and a walk).
“The injuries are the toughest thing, no doubt. They always are. They always will be. But you’ve got to overcome them,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “When you’re missing everyday players, you’re going to see the effects of it. Saying that, it’s an opportunity for these guys, and hopefully they can make the most of it.”
The Red Sox will try to counter by starting a pitcher the Rays never have seen.
That’s rookie starter Josh Winckowski. The right-hander is 3-3 with a 4.35 ERA, and this will be his debut against Tampa Bay.
With the Rays already securing a split, the Red Sox haven’t won a series in their last 11 tries. Boston manager Alex Cora didn’t know the extent of Tuesday night’s injuries, but he tried to put a positive spin on a tough situation.
“I’ve been saying all along we have a good team, but it has to keep working to get better,” Cora said. “We feel like we can play with anybody.”
–Field Level Media