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Kevin Cash: Rays ace Shane McClanahan ‘highly unlikely’ to pitch again this year

Tampa has still not offered an official prognosis for its star lefty, but the outlook doesn’t seem great based on manager Kevin Cash’s comments on Tuesday afternoon.

Shane McClanahan of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches during a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field on July 22, 2023 in St Petersburg, Florida. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays have already lost Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen until next year due to arm trouble, and now it appears they’ll have to add a third name to that list: AL Cy Young candidate Shane McClanahan. Speaking ahead of the team’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night, manager Kevin Cash told reporters that his star lefty is “highly unlikely” to pitch again this season. Cash did note that this wasn’t an official prognosis, and that the team was still waiting to get final word from McClanahan’s doctor before making any declarations. Still, things don’t look good:

McClanahan has been sidelined since being forced to exit a start against the New York Yankees last week due to forearm discomfort. He was almost immediately sent back to Tampa for further testing, with the team putting him on the 15-day IL while they awaited further information and imaging results. On Monday, though, it was announced that McClanahan was set to visit Dr. Neil ElAttrache, one of the nation’s premier orthopedic surgeons and something of a harbinger of doom for injured pitchers. (What Dr. James Andrews is for ACL surgeries, ElAttrache is for Tommy John.)

That McClanahan’s injury was considered serious enough to fly him across the country sent up a major red flag, and sure enough, it appears that the lefty is dealing with more than inflammation or a strain. But the Rays have still yet to release any sort of official update, so it remains to be seen whether McClanahan might require surgery — and whether any part of his 2024 season might be in jeopardy.

This is just the latest and worst bit of bad news for a Rays team that’s been dealing with a seemingly constant stream of pitcher injuries over the past few months. Southpaw Jeffrey Springs underwent Tommy John surgery in April, and righty Drew Rasmussen was forced to go under the knife himself in May. (And that’s not even counting former top prospect Shane Baz, out for the year after requiring Tommy John last fall, or lefty Josh Fleming, who’s been out since early June with elbow inflammation.) Losing McClanahan, though, would be the hardest pill to swallow. The 26-year-old has emerged as one of the most electric arms in all of baseball, following up last year’s breakout performance with an 11-2 record, 3.29 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 115 innings so far this season — numbers that were even more pristine before he was derailed by first back and now arm issues.

As you might imagine, all these injuries have left the Rays’ rotation in a precarious position: Tyler Glasnow, Zach Eflin and the recently acquired Aaron Civale still form a potent top three, but Glasnow just missed his most recent turn due to back spasms while Zach Eflin and Aaron Civale have checked health histories themselves. Reliever turned starter Zack Littell will likely slide into the rotation full-time, while Fleming just began a rehab assignment and could be back before the end of the month. Still, that’s an awful lot of question marks for a team that entered the year boasting one of the deepest pitching staffs in the league. Tampa retains hold of the first AL Wild Card spot, but they’re just 11-18 since the start of July, and who knows what their rotation might look like by the time October rolls around.