McKay, bullpen lead the Rays to another victory

by Gary Shelton on September 7, 2019 · 0 comments

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Zunino had a two-run homer for the Rays./CHUCK MULLER

Saturday, 4 a.m.

Help is on its way. But for the Tampa Bay Rays, there are times they look as if they have enough to pull off this planned trip to the post-season.

Forget Blake Snell.

Forget Tyler Glasnow.

Forget Yonny Chirinos.

For now, the Rays look as if they have enough weight to reach the post-season through the wild-card competition. Granted, there are nights the hitting disappears, and the bullpen implodes. But there aren’t as many as there once was.

For instance, Friday night’s 5-0 victory over Toronto was the team’s eighth win in its last nine games. It was the 25th win in the last 36 games. Going back to the all-star game, it was the 32nd win in 52 games.

The Rays are now 25 games over .500.

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McKay was sharp in the early innings./JEFFREY S. KING

Consider their latest victory, in which their pitchers pieced together a two-hit shutout victory. It was the team’s 11th shutout of the year, and this one was led by Branden McKay, who allowed only a triple to Randal Grichuk in his 3 2/3 innings of work. The Jays’ only other hit came in the ninth, when Emilio Pagan came on to work his way out of a bases loaded, no one out situation for his 19th save.

“Good win,” Rays’ manager Kevin Cash said. “I’m really encouraged by Brendan McKay and how he looked. An impressive performance by him. The fastball came out of his hand good, threw strikes like we wanted to see. From there, the bullpen followed suit. (Pete) Fairbanks was outstanding, (Andrew) Kittredge may have been the best and (Cole) Sulser had a really good first inning and then he probably had time to sit there and think about what was actually taking place for where his career had taken him, sitting in a big league dugout and coming off the mound. He lost the zone a little bit but a good performance by him. Emilio (Pagan) comes in and shuts the door. Offensively, Z (Mike Zunino) came up with the big 2-run homer which was really good to see. We added some more runs but I thought Z’s home run really set the tone.”

McKay’s performance to help the team as far as its long-range goals.

“We’re still optimistic that we’re going to get a couple of these guys back, but in the meantime we got to have somebody pitch,” Cash said. “We got to have somebody get us deep into games or that five-inning mark into games. If he’s pitching like he’s capable of, he certainly can do that. We’re a long way from having those other guys back.”

Maybe not. Snell has a rehab assignment today, and Glasnow will start Sunday in a brief outing.

“There were times where I was getting a little excited and some balls got away from me,” McKay said. “Overall, I think it was encouraging. You are getting back into (what) your normal outings and repertoire would be. Out in the zone and getting ahead and obviously getting a lot of strikeouts and being competitive a lot more is a good sign too.”

McKay said it would be good to have Snell and Glasnow back.

“Absolutely,” he said. “To have those two guys back in the mix with the guys who we already have and everything going on, it’s only going to make us better. You have two great arms. The guy won a Cy Young last year. I know he’s had some struggles this year, but same thing that I had said, he obviously had something going on that led to the rollercoaster effect in some of his outings, which hopefully that’s all gone and he gets back to being the Blake Snell he has been the last year.”

The big blow of the night was a two-run homer by Mike Zunino, who was hitting just .170 coming into the game.

“It’s not been the results I’ve wanted this year,” Zunino said. “At this point, the numbers are the numbers, but if I can continue to feel good and help this team any way I can and try to have good at-bats during this playoff push and hopefully into October, that’s what it’s about.”

Zunino praised McKay, too.

“I would say that he attacked guys,” Zunino said. “He pitched right after guys, you saw the velo of the fastball early and that led to good finish on all of his pitches and he filled the strike zone up. Whatever little tweaks and adjustments, whether it was mental or physical, I think that’s the guy in this organization that everyone has seen. There’s a little of a learning curve here in the big leagues and you have to get your feet wet a little bit. I think he came in with his game plan and wanted to attack guys. You can really see what he is all about.

“I think what you saw McKay do for us was set the tone. I think everybody knows what our bullpen can do. They have done it all year for us. When you see him come back up here after being down for a little bit and really set the tone, I think it was seven strikeouts in 12 batters, that sets the tone itself. He attacked guys, the guys that came in after him continued to attack guys and we put them on the defensive. No matter how good that lineup is, if we fill that strike zone up and make pitches we’re going to be in a good spot.”

The Rays try to keep winning today, when Charlie Morton (14-6) starts for the Rays at Tropicana Field at 6:10 p.m. Toronto will start Anthony Kay in his major league debut.

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