The Tampa Bay Rays are rolling. The Rays completed a three-game sweep over the Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Thursday (TB 10, NY 5), moving them into first place in the AL East. Tampa has won 11 of its last 12 games and looks every bit like the World Series contender the team was projected to be in 2020.
The Rays are in first place even though their pitching staff has not been as formidable as expected -- their team 105 ERA+ ranks firmly in the middle of the pack -- and they've lost several important pitchers to injury. The list of injured Rays grew longer Friday with the news righty Yonny Chirinos will have Tommy John surgery, manager Kevin Cash told reporters. Cash added that Chirinos is expected to miss all of the 2021 season as well.
"He threw a bullpen, a light (session), and just didn't feel right, like himself," Cash told Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday. "He complained of just a lack of power in his pitches."
Chirinos, 26, opened this season as Tampa's No. 5 starter. He's emerged as an effective swingman the last few seasons -- Chirinos has started and also pitched out of the bullpen following an opener -- throwing 234 1/3 innings with a 3.65 ERA and a 3.24 K.BB ratio since making his MLB debut in 2018. He made only three starts this season around elbow woes.
Assuming Chirinos does have Tommy John surgery -- the team has not yet confirmed the news -- he will be the third Rays pitcher to require season-ending surgery since Summer Camp opened, joining Brendan McKay (shoulder) and Colin Poche (Tommy John). Righty Andrew Kittredge has an elbow injury and may require Tommy John surgery as well.
Tampa's list of pitching injuries is lengthy at this point. They have seven hurlers on the injured list:
- LHP Jose Alvarado (shoulder inflammation): Shut down another 10-14 days.
- RHP Yonny Chirinos (elbow sprain): Tommy John surgery reportedly likely.
- RHP Oliver Drake (biceps tendinitis): Expected to begin throwing soon.
- RHP Andrew Kittredge (elbow sprain): Tommy John surgery possible.
- LHP Brendan McKay (shoulder): Recently had season-ending labrum surgery.
- RHP Charlie Morton (shoulder inflammation): Threw a bullpen session Tuesday.
- LHP Colin Poche (elbow sprain): Will miss season with Tommy John surgery.
The Rays are currently without two starters (Chirinos and Morton), three high-leverage relievers (Alvarado, Drake, Poche), and two important depth arms (Kittredge and McKay). Call-ups like John Curtiss and Aaron Slegers have helped pick up the slack, but Tampa's pitching depth has been severely compromised one month into the 60-game season.
Pitching injuries are up this season, likely as a result of the shutdown and quick ramp-up period, and few teams have been hit as hard as the Rays. The trade deadline is 10 days away and Tampa is typically very busy around the deadline. This year bolstering a pitching staff thinned by injuries figures to be their top priority.