Rays hoping Brendan McKay rediscovers strike zone in minors

Sending McKay down now was a move to make him better when he returns. Meanwhile, Hoby Milner was happy to be back.
Brendan McKay is headed back to Triple-A, but probably won't be gone long. DIRK SHADD   |   Times DIRK SHADD   |   Times  |  Tampa Bay Times
Brendan McKay is headed back to Triple-A, but probably won't be gone long. DIRK SHADD | Times DIRK SHADD | Times | Tampa Bay Times
Published August 20

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays don’t feel there is that much wrong with Brendan McKay. Nor that he needs to be in Triple-A very long to get straightened out.

But results and circumstances being what they were, they felt it best after Monday’s latest rough outing to send their prized two-way player back to Triple-A.

“Hopefully he just kind of gets back into the strike zone with his pitches,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. “Ultimately, we’ve got a lot of confidence in Brendan. He’s going to be really good for us. He just hit a little bit of a speed bump where he lost his way with his command. And a couple of offenses made him pay for it.’’

MORE RAYS: The bullpen that once look like a disaster may carry the Rays

McKay lasting only two innings Monday, and four the previous start, were contributing causes, but Cash said had the bullpen not needed a fresh arm, with Hoby Milner called up, they would not have sent him down. As it is, he won’t be gone long, probably making one start, returning around Sept. 1.

“Given that we’ve asked a lot of those guys here as of late, felt like it made the most sense to make a move,’’ Cash said.

McKay’s sudden inability to throw strikes, walking nine over his last six innings, is what created the problem.

But the Rays may deserve some of the blame in how they handled McKay, shuttling him between the majors and minors, and disrupting his schedule of hitting in three games between his once-every-six-day starts.

“For Brendan, this is the first time in his professional career that he’s struggled,’’ Cash said. “So he’s got a lot on his plate. Talking to him, really, really mature thought process from him. … (General manager Erik Neander) and I asked him, What’s different?

“The hitting thing that maybe we don’t value that much, that was a routine that he’s had his entire pro season and he didn’t have that routine up here. He wasn’t getting the reps. He’s going to eventually, but at this stage of this season they’re not going to come. And we’ve got to do a better job going forward of making sure that we’re helping them on those down days where there’s not a lot going on.’’

Funky lefty Milner joins pen

Milner, 28, welcomed the chance to get back to the majors after a solid showing at Durham, going 3-3, 3.32 with 87 strikeouts in 57 innings. A lefty with a funky sidearm delivery who specializes in getting out lefties, Milner can also be used to cover multiple innings, which makes him appealing. He said getting ahead and staying in the strike zone with all his pitches has been key, throwing a fastball, slider and changeup “that some days may be a closer to a screwball.’’

Milner, who debuted with the Phillies in 2017 and was traded to Rays in July 2018, threw “semi-conventionally” until 2015, when the Phillies made it clear he had to change results or styles. He initially modeled himself after former Orioles right-hander Darren O’Day, then adjusted to release the ball at a higher point to get more strikeouts than ground balls.

Rays third baseman Michael Brosseau (43) gets all three Seattle Mariners hitters out as he pitches during the ninth inning Monday. DIRK SHADD   |   Times DIRK SHADD   |   Times  |  Tampa Bay Times
Rays third baseman Michael Brosseau (43) gets all three Seattle Mariners hitters out as he pitches during the ninth inning Monday. DIRK SHADD | Times DIRK SHADD | Times | Tampa Bay Times

Brosseau made his pitch

All 13 pitches rookie infielder Mike Brosseau threw in his 1-2-3 ninth inning Monday were classified as curveballs by MLB’s Statcast system, clocked between 55.2 and 78.8 mph. Actually, none were. “They probably just have it programed for 70-80 (mph) to say curveball,’’ Brosseau said, “and that’s my fastball.’’ Under strict orders from pitching coach Kyle Snyder to not “do anything stupid” nor throw any curves, Brosseau relied on mixing his timing in his second pitching performance this season. He tried to gear up on one fastball, only to see it posted on the stadium board as a 77 mph curve. “I was like, That’s depressing, and that’s embarrassing,’’ he said.

Medical matters: Garcia, Brandon Lowe, Wendle

Outfielder Avisail Garcia took batting practice and, barring an unexpected setback with his oblique, is on track to rejoin the Rays when eligible on Saturday, Cash said. … Brandon Lowe (bruised leg) started at second base and Joey Wendle (sore wrist) at third base for Triple-A Durham Tuesday as they began the next phase of their rehab assignments. No timetables are set, but both hope to rejoin the Rays within a week.

Miscellany

* Former Rays outfield prospect Jake Fraley was called up from Triple-A by the Mariners. Fraley, a 2016 second-round pick, was traded with Mallex Smith in the November deal for Mike Zunino and Guillermo Heredia. Domingo Santana was placed on the injured list.

* Monday’s announced crowd of 9,152 was the Rays 15th of less than 10,000 in the first 63 homes games of the season.

* Mike Zunino took some pretty much live batting practice Tuesday off Brett Ebers, a former college pitcher who works in baseball operations.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays

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