Rays weekend pitching plans vs. Blue Jays look like a puzzle

Rays weekend pitching plans vs. Blue Jays look like a puzzle

The Rays were already on their way to Buffalo, N.Y., on Thursday night for the weekend series against the relocated Blue Jays when they sent word that Trevor Richards would be their starter for tonight’s game.

That was the first of what are likely to be many decisions as they try to piece together plans to cover 27 innings this weekend, given the number of pitchers missing. Two starters and one potential replacement are among six on the injured list; others have to be handled cautiously due to excessive workloads.

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“I think there’s a chance we have some openers involved in there,’’ manager Kevin Cash said from Boston before Thursday’s game.

Cash said Ryan Yarbrough and Richards “are going to be key players’’ in their plans. There is also a possibility the Rays could use Yonny Chirinos, who “felt fine” in a Thursday bullpen session that was a big test of the triceps issue that landed him on the injured list last week.

Yarbrough’s past two starts were not as good as his first two, and though he is lined up to start Saturday, it is possible he could be used behind an opener.

Another option for Sunday could be lefty Anthony Banda, who was called up and worked the final three innings in Thursday’s 17-8 win over the Red Sox. He replaced Aaron Slegers, who was sent down after working two-plus innings Wednesday.

Top starter Charlie Morton tested his sore shoulder playing catch at a distance of 120 feet Thursday in Port Charlotte and likely will do so again today, with the potential to advance soon to the mound.

“He’s encouraged by the way he feels,’’ said Cash.

Cash had no update on Brendan McKay, who remains shut down with a concerning shoulder issue.

Don’t forget to order wings

The Rays will have a new experience this weekend as they shuffle off to Buffalo to play at Sahlen Field, the longtime Triple-A stadium now serving as the temporary home of the Blue Jays.

The Jays finally got to open their “home” schedule Tuesday, splitting a pair of games with the Marlins. The renovations made to get the stadium up to major-league standards (especially the lights) and coronavirus protocols are getting good reviews.

“From what I understand … they just did a tremendous job,’’ Cash said. “It just looks really nice. … When you hear the Blue Jays players and the comments that they made publicly raving about it, that’s encouraging.‘’

Some Rays personnel have reached out to Marlins and Jays people to get a sense of what to expect; Cash said he’d wait to see it because he likes surprises.

Many Rays (including Cash) played Triple-A games in Buffalo, which has been affiliated with the Jays since 2013, and the Mets, Indians and Pirates before that.

“It’s a pretty fair straight-up ballpark; the alleys are fairly deep for major-league standards,” pitcher Aaron Slegers said. “It’s an interesting ballpark; it’s an interesting city.‘’

Slegers said one quirk is the large video board just above the batter’s eye in centerfield, which can help tall pitchers — he is 6 feet 10 — because it’s tough for hitters to see them. Rays radio broadcaster Andy Freed remembers another quirk from his Triple-A days: Seagulls would flock to the stadium, and players in the home bullpen would sprinkle sunflower seeds to attract the birds and distract the opposing outfielder.

Honeywell update

Prospect Brent Honeywell isn’t expected to make it back from his latest setback to pitch in the majors this season, but he is making progress. On Tuesday he threw 15 pitches in live batting practice in Port Charlotte, his first time facing hitters since April 2019. Honeywell last pitched in a game in September 2017, having had Tommy John surgery in spring 2018. He had several small setbacks with nerve-related issues, then fractured a bone in his elbow while throwing in June 2019. He was working his way back during the original spring training this year but had additional issues and had a nerve decompression procedure in May, all of which made Tuesday’s session a big deal. “We’re encouraged. Brett is special to all of us,’’ Cash said. “There’s a lot to be excited for. None of us can really put in perspective what he has gone through mentally and physically over the last couple seasons. This is another step in the right direction. We just want to continue to support him.‘’

Miscellany

Anthony Banda, who spent most of 2019 rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery, earned his first career save Thursday. … Thursday’s was the second game this season that all nine starting Rays hitters scored at least a run; the other was July 27 versus Atlanta. The Elias Sports Bureau said all other teams combined have done it only twice: Boston (versus Baltimore, July 24) and Arizona (versus Houston, Aug. 5). … Hunter Renfroe said homering Thursday for the first time at Fenway was “pretty cool” and because of the history “meant a lot.‘‘… The 42 runs the Rays scored in the four games at Boston matched the most against the Red Sox in a four-game series, done previously by the 1978 Bucky Dent Yankees.

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