ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – Opening Day has finally arrived for the Tampa Bay Rays who, like the rest of Major League Baseball, worked-through a shortened spring training in a quick ramp-up to the 2022 season.
Former University of South Florida pitcher and Cape Coral High School alum Shane McClanahan will get his first Opening Day start of his career.
“I think I’m ready, yes,” McClanahan said about his Opening Day start coming-off a shortened spring training. “No, I don’t think it had an impact. I think a lot of the guys came into camp kind of ready to go – including myself – and I think the team as a whole is in a good spot.”
“It was an obvious choice,” Rays Manager Kevin Cash said about deciding to go with McClanahan as their Opening Day starter. “He’s very deserving. But he’s going to get better too. As good as he was, I think what we saw last year — the experiences that he had — (he had) way more ups than downs. But the minimal downs that he had, he seemed to recover from them very, very quickly making adjustments. Even if it was in the game — a rough inning, a high pitch inning — he had the ability to shorten that next inning up, be efficient. And that’s challenging for a young pitcher.”
“Young pitchers can easily have a long inning and chase themselves to try to just get through the next or get through the game,” Cash added. “Shane seems to have the ability to kind of nip it right there and get his pitch count in order with dominating stuff.”
Cash also agreed that McClanahan is ready to go, despite not having the same build-up that they’re accustomed to in the spring. With that though, Cash said they will err on the side of caution and “be very mindful throughout the first couple times through the rotation of what their workload is.”
“We will always prioritize taking care of our starting pitchers,” he said.
McClanahan, 24, is the Rays youngest Opening Day starting pitcher since 2007. But don’t let the age make you think he’s not ready for this moment. McClanahan is used to this — going back to when he made his MLB debut in the 2020 postseason — the biggest stage in the big leagues.
“It’s exciting,” McClanahan said. “It’s a big game. I don’t know if it’s the biggest game I’ve ever pitched in but I’m definitely excited. I think the Rays have done a good job of getting me acclimated to the pressures of Major League Baseball and everything like that over the last two years and I think I’m in a good spot because of it today.”
Even Cash has noticed that the bright lights and big moments don’t seem to faze him.
“You’d like to think that, yeah,” Cash said. “He did his first live action in the big leagues in the postseason of 2020 and then this past year he didn’t start with us but (we) got him built up and (I’m) really thankful that we had him. We needed him as pitchers went down. So no, I think this moment he’ll embrace as much as anything. He has had the reps, whether it was Sunday night baseball in 2021 against the Red Sox when he pitched so good — that was a pretty loud environment here — and then the postseason as well.”
McClanahan is expecting to have a good amount of family and friends on-hand for the game, saying he wasn’t sure how many tickets he got for everyone but it was between 10 and 20. He said of everyone coming, there’s one person who it may be most special for.
“Probably my dad,” McClanahan said. “I played catch with that guy all growing-up and he turns 70 this year so I know this is going to mean a lot to him.”
The Orioles and Rays are set for a 3:10 p.m. first pitch at Tropicana Field. It’s the first of a three-game series through Sunday.