Updated following Brendan McKay’s start for the Durham Bulls on July 25
Earlier today, Josh Tolentino of The Athletic reported that Blake Snell will be undergoing arthroscopic surgery to remove loose bodies in his left elbow, and the Rays announced that Snell should return in September. Blake Snell’s next start would have been Friday, July 27 against the Toronto Blue Jays.
The initial reaction to this news is usually, “Oh no, we’re doomed! Sell, sell, sell!” or “Trade the farm for a starter,” but in this situation, the least attractive answer might be the best one: an internal solution. While there are a few different options that could be used, calling up Brendan McKay and slotting him into the rotation might be the option that makes the most sense.
McKay is currently in Triple-A Durham and pitched tonight for the Durham Bulls, striking out six batters in four shutout innings of work while walking two and allowing three hits. McKay last pitched for the Rays on Saturday, July 19 against the Chicago White Sox and will be eligible to be recalled no earlier than July 30, the day before his next probable start.
McKay has been working this season under a six-day pitching schedule, compared to a five-day schedule that most starters in the MLB follow. This additional day helps limit McKay’s innings over the span of a full season in the minor leagues. Following this schedule, McKay’s next start lines up for Wednesday, July 31. The Rays will be in Boston for a three-game series against the Red Sox, with the middle game of that series taking place on the 31st.
Following the series in Boston, the Rays do not play an opponent with a record over .500 until the end of the month, with a three-game series in Houston beginning on August 27. The 21-game span against weaker teams is where the timing of Snell’s injury arguably could not have been better, and leaves an opportunity for the rookie McKay to help the Rays down this stretch.
Now, the biggest concern with McKay is his innings, and the Rays are being very mindful and conservative on that front. McKay has yet to throw 90 pitches in an outing this season, although he has thrown six innings in four games this year between Double-A and the MLB level via efficiency. In total, McKay has thrown 90 innings this season between the Minors and Majors, and his career-high in a full professional season is 78.1 innings last year; however, McKay has thrown much more than that in each of his three seasons in college with Louisville.
As a 19-year-old in 2015, McKay threw 96.2 innings. In 2016, McKay threw 109.2 innings, and in 2017, he threw 109 innings in college before throwing an additional 20 with the Hudson Valley Renegades after being drafted by the Rays, bringing his 2017 total to 129 innings.
Realistically, the Rays do not want McKay to surpass his 2017 innings total by any margin, so let’s put a 130 innings limit on McKay for 2019. With 90 innings already thrown, McKay would need to throw 40 innings to reach 130, or basically eight starts with five innings thrown in each.
Because McKay started for the Durham Bulls tonight, he will throw approximately 120 innings by the end August, appearing in six games if he sticks to his six-day schedule. Here is a visual look at the Rays’ end of July and month of August, with the starts Snell would have been lined up to make in red and McKay’s six-day schedule shown in green.
With rosters expanding in September, the Rays will have more in-house options to work with to throw innings before Snell returns, and will reduce McKay’s workload to bullpen work most likely.
The Rays could use Snell’s absence to “acquire” a left-handed arm that’s Major League-ready and throws electric stuff. That acquisition would come from within, not requiring the team to give up assets, while also allowing a talented young pitcher get more reps in the Big Leagues against slightly-lesser competition.
Long story short: Now is the time to give Brendan McKay a permanent role in the rotation.