ST. PETERSBURG — After pulling Seth Brown down on a nasty slider to end round three, Shane McClanahan walked off the mound, mumbling to himself and shaking his head slightly. For as well as the Rays’ opening day starter thrown Wednesday night, the only streak that went wrong would stay with him.
McClanahan wasn’t solely responsible for the Rays’ 4-2 loss to the A’s at Tropicana Field, although he struggled with the loss. Tampa Bay had plenty of chances to rally, but the Rays struggled against A’s ace Frankie Montas and went 1 for 11 with runners in scoring position. They left nine runners on base, including two each in the second, seventh, eighth and ninth innings.
“I just don’t think we were able to produce with runners on base today,” catcher Francisco Mejía said.
And McClanahan has been excellent for most of his outing, with manager Kevin Cash calling his work “remarkable” and his overall performance a “light out”. But it was that two-out streak in the third inning — walk, walk, Sean Murphy home run — that left the southpaw shaking his head.
“I felt good today. I felt really good. I think I made a lot of good pitches,” McClanahan said afterwards. is baseball. Sometimes it happens.”
That streak aside, McClanahan appeared to be in control all night. He struck out eight of the 19 batters he faced and allowed just two hits in 4 2/3 innings. He forced the A’s to swing and miss 16 of his 85 pitches, generating at least three puffs on each of his four deals: the fastball which hit 99.7 mph, the curveball which produced five swing strikes, a change that caught three puffs on four swings and its typically sharp slider.
“It’s unfortunate, because that outing didn’t represent how good he was, I think,” Cash said. “But you have to give credit: Oakland pressured him to get both walks, then they came and hit the three-run homer. When you face a guy like Montas, [that] can get you in the hole pretty quickly.
The Rays were desperate for an effective start after burning their bullpen for 16 2/3 innings the previous two nights, and McClanahan delivered a promising start in that regard. He went through a 12-pitch first inning and struck out three while working around two base runners in a scoreless second. Round three initially brought more of the same as he quickly took out Cristian Pache before freezing Chad Pinder with a curveball.
After that, however, Jed Lowrie and Stephen Piscotty combined to take 11 consecutive pitches without even a single swing. Lowrie watched four out-of-speed throws around the edges of the strike zone, took a low fastball, and headed for first base. McClanahan also fell behind Stephen Piscotty, 2-0, before throwing a curveball and a fastball deep in the area. The first was called a strike, the second was not, and then McClanahan landed another curve ball in the area before dropping one down and inside for ball four.
McClanahan felt he lost the rhythm after releasing the second, saying he just “lost it to those two guys.” But Mejía said he thought McClanahan was throwing quality shots during that streak, instead attributing to the A’s their selective approach.
“Back-to-back walks, I don’t know what it was,” McClanahan said. “I haven’t done this in a while. Hopefully we won’t see much of that again.
Murphy, too, thought the tide had turned with the back-to-back marches. After a visit to the mound from pitching coach Kyle Snyder, the A’s catcher took the lead in the count, 2-1. McClanahan tried to locate a curve ball in the area, but he left it in the middle and Murphy smashed it to the right center.
“He’s got some great stuff, so you’re just looking for something to do. He returned a curve ball more towards the middle of the area, and I was able to get the barrel there,” Murphy said. “When you face him, you just look for something in the middle and do your best.”
“It’s baseball. It’s like that. Sometimes that ball pops up, sometimes it gets swung, and sometimes it gets put over the fence,” McClanahan added. “Just roll with it and keep going.”
McClanahan knocked out Brown and then retired each of his last five batters. With his pitch count at 85 and Lowrie coming home with two outs in the fifth, Cash took the ball from McClanahan. That McClanahan came out earlier than he’d hoped after back-to-back strikeouts on poor pitches was a fitting end to his evening: impressive, but still frustrating.
“I kind of put myself in this situation so I couldn’t give my team the number of innings I wanted to give them, so it was the right call,” McClanahan said. “It was just kind of a frustrating day. I thought I had thrown the ball well and the results were not there.