By Adam Berry
TORONTO — Rays manager Kevin Cash was hesitant to set any expectations before Shane McClanahan took the mound Thursday afternoon at Rogers Centre, but he was hopeful that the Rays’ top starter would look like himself in his return from the 15-day injured list.
“If his stuff is right in line [with where it was] before the injury, that’s going to help us all feel a little bit better,” Cash said two hours prior to first pitch.
In that case, the Rays had to feel great as they headed home Thursday night. McClanahan pitched like a healthy ace in the series finale, allowing only three hits and one walk while striking out five over five scoreless innings in Tampa Bay’s 11-0 win over the Blue Jays.
The Rays still own the third American League Wild Card spot with the victory, but they are only a half-game out of the top spot with a 4 1/2-game cushion over the Orioles for the final postseason bid. The Rays would hold the tiebreaker over the Mariners, as they won their season series, and they are 8-7 against the Blue Jays this season with four games between them remaining.
McClanahan grinded through a 23-pitch first inning against Toronto’s tough lineup, but he made the most of his limited workload the rest of the way. Coming back from a left shoulder impingement that forced him to miss his scheduled start in Miami on Aug. 30, McClanahan cruised through his final four innings and threw only 69 pitches on the day.
As for his stuff? McClanahan’s fastball maxed out at 100.1 mph in the first inning and clocked in at 99 mph or higher seven other times, and he generated 14 whiffs on the 35 swings the Jays took against him. Yes, he was back in All-Star form.
After scuffling through consecutive losses, the Rays’ historic all-Latino lineup put on their No. 21 jerseys and provided McClanahan with some early run support. Catcher René Pinto drove in their first run on a second-inning single to right field, then Yandy Díaz swatted a three-run homer to left field off Toronto starter Kevin Gausman. Isaac Paredes padded their lead in the seventh with his 19th home run, tied with Randy Arozarena for the team lead, then the Rays blew the game open with a six-run ninth.