The Rays announced Thursday that right-hander Shane Baz has been placed on the 15-day injured list after being diagnosed with a sprained right elbow. Baz felt discomfort while playing catch this week. He was evaluated by Dr. Keith Meister, received an injection, and will be shut down from throwing for at least four weeks. Righty Luke Bard is up from Triple-A Durham in his place.
It’s the second unfortunate bit of pitching news the Rays have gotten in the past 24 hours, as Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweets that lefty Josh Fleming could be out as long as six weeks due to an oblique strain. It’s a Grade 1 strain, which is the least-severe, but it Topkin notes that it was bad enough that doctors nearly termed it a Grade 2. Fleming won’t throw for the next two to three weeks and will need to build back up after that point.
It’s a brutal day of news for an already injury-ravaged Rays roster. Baz missed the first two months of the season following an arthroscopic procedure on his right elbow back in Spring Training. The righty, who was recently ranked as the game’s No. 2 overall prospect on Baseball America’s latest Top 100 list, returned from that injury and made five starts with a 2.92 ERA before being shelled for seven runs in a July 10 start in Cincinnati.
In addition to Baz and Fleming, the Rays are without Tyler Glasnow (2021 Tommy John surgery), Yonny Chirinos (2021 elbow fracture), Brendan McKay (2021 thoracic outlet surgery), Luis Patino (strained oblique) and Jeffrey Springs (leg injury). That septet would make up a potentially strong big league rotation on its own, were they healthy.
With those seven sidelined, however, Tampa Bay will lean heavily on ace and American League Cy Young favorite Shane McClanahan, veteran righty Corey Kluber and up-and-coming right-hander Drew Rasmussen for the foreseeable future. Lefty Ryan Yarbrough will likely be recalled from Durham this weekend to help cover some innings, and the Rays have already recalled right-hander Tommy Romero, who could also step into the big league rotation.
The Rays, in addition to that litany of rotation injuries, are also without catcher Mike Zunino, second baseman Brandon Lowe, shortstop Wander Franco, outfielders Kevin Kiermaier and Manuel Margot, and five relievers (Nick Anderson, J.P. Feyereisen, Andrew Kittredge, Pete Fairbanks, JT Chargois). It’s a mammoth spate of injuries, with several of the team’s best players sidelined for the foreseeable future.
Even with the miserable luck on the health front this year, however, Tampa Bay is eight games above .500 and squarely in possession of the top Wild Card spot in the American League. There’s little to no hope that they’ll run down the Yankees, who boast a massive 14-game lead over the second-place Rays, but Tampa Bay’s current standing makes them a candidate to tap into the trade market for some reinforcements, be they on the pitching front or at any number of suddenly thin spots in the lineup.
As for Baz, the hope will be that a four-week shutdown provides sufficient healing. That said, a sprain — by definition — involves some degree of stretching or tearing in an elbow ligament, which obviously brings about concern of a more grim long-term outlook. Since we’re already midway through July, there’s little harm in Baz taking a rest-and-rehab approach for the time being. Even in a worst-case scenario that saw him require Tommy John surgery, he’d likely be out for the entire 2023 season at this point. The Rays, to be clear, have not indicated that such an outcome is on the table, but elbow sprains are often an unfortunate portent for surgery of some degree.
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