The Tampa Bay Rays, who pioneered the pitching strategy of using relievers as openers, are trying another experiment on the mound in the minors — they’re stacking two-way players to start games.
The focus Saturday night at Triple-A Durham was on two-way prospect Brendan McKay pitching against rehabbing New York Yankees sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
McKay entered in the second inning. He followed Jake Cronenworth, an infielder who’s also getting regular work as a pitcher.
“That’s where the game is evolving,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said before Sunday’s game with the Los Angeles Angels. “I know we’re going to continue to explore those options.”
With most major league teams having only three or four position players on the bench, the two-way players could offer greater flexibility.
“It can really help your roster,” Cash said. “What we’re finding out there’s a way to manage it. We’re probably going to talk a lot more about it in the offseason. But if you got these versatile players there’s a lot of good that can be done with managing the roster.”
After Cronenworth worked a scoreless first, McKay allowed one hit in five shutout frames as the pair held Judge and Stanton hitless in six combined at-bats, including four strikeouts.
McKay fanned Stanton twice and Judge once in four plate appearances.
Cash got a big smile when asked if he enjoyed reading the report on the outing by McKay, who is a candidate to be called up to the majors later this year.
“He’s just been outstanding,” Cash said. “Seems like he does the same thing every time, five or six innings, 75, 80 pitches, seven, eight strikeouts, one walk, limits damage. Hope to see continued progress and maybe we’ll be talking about those outings up here soon.”
McKay is 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA in four games with Durham. The fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft was hitting just .219 through his first 32 at-bats as a designated hitter but had three homers.
Cronenworth has been impressive, too, allowing two hits over four scoreless innings in four opener outings. He entered Sunday hitting .357 with seven homers and 33 RBIs.
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