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Tyler Glasnow Injury: What It Means for the Rays

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For the Tampa Bay Rays, they have entered the nightmare scenario. A Tyler Glasnow injury has thrown their rotation into turmoil. The severity, while not fully clear, is sufficient to question whether Glasnow will return this season. Tampa Bay currently sits atop the AL East at an impressive 43-26, but in a competitive division where four of the five teams are at .500 or above, the loss of their ace is a brutal blow.

Tyler Glasnow Injury: The Most Valuable Ray

It’s hard to argue that any player on Tampa Bay is as important to the team’s success as Tyler Glasnow. He’s been the very model of a consistent ace, leading the team in innings pitched, ERA, and practically any other metric you can find. Glasnow racked up a whopping 123 strikeouts in just 88.0 IP while compiling a 2.66 ERA. He averaged more than six innings per game, failing to hit the mark in just four of his 14 starts (one of which was cut short by injury) while allowing three or fewer runs in all but two. He’s accumulated 2.5 fWAR—no other Rays pitcher has even hit 1.0.

Indeed, no other player on the Rays—pitchers or position players alike—has a higher fWAR than Glasnow. He had forced himself into the AL Cy Young conversation even with the dominance of New York’s Gerrit Cole and Cleveland’s Shane Bieber. And after losing Blake Snell and Charlie Morton in the offseason, the Rays desperately needed the consistency of their ace. Their rotation has settled in nicely but nobody has the shutdown dominance of Tyler Glasnow.

The Rays were 4th in the division at .500 on May 13th before pulling off a double-digit win streak that made it to 11 games and pushed them to the top of the division. In the 31 games since their winning streak started, the Rays have won 24 while dropping just seven. In his six starts during that run, Glasnow had one bad outing against the hard-hitting Toronto Blue Jays (giving up five ER while not making it out of the fifth inning), one injured outing (pulled after four IP against the White Sox on Monday), and four absolutely dominant outings, pitching seven or eight innings in each while giving up only a combined six earned runs between all four starts.

The Tyler Glasnow Injury: A Sticky Situation

But on Monday, everything changed. Glasnow felt “a little tug in his elbow” in the fourth inning and was pulled upon completing the inning. While the initial reasoning given was “right elbow inflammation,” the Rays placed Glasnow on the IL Tuesday with the official diagnosis of “a partially torn UCL and a flexor strain in his throwing arm.”

It’s a rough diagnosis and one that might end up requiring Tommy John surgery, a brutal outcome that would likely sideline the hard-throwing right-hander for at least a year of recovery. For now, the plan is to rehab in hopes that surgery can be avoided, but even in the best-case scenario, Glasnow won’t be pitching for a while.

A frustrated Glasnow sounded off on MLB’s recent crackdown on sticky substances, stating unequivocally that he “100% believes that contributed to [him] getting hurt.”

His first “cold turkey” substance-free start was June 8th against the Nationals, a start where Glasnow struck out 11 batters and allowed just one run over a dominant seven innings, but the problems were already materializing. Glasnow described how he had to alter his grip to ensure he was holding the balls hard enough. He mentioned being “sore in places [he] didn’t even know [he] had muscles in.” His second substance-free start on Monday resulted in the Tyler Glasnow injury that threatens to derail the Rays’ season.

Glasnow’s comments reflect the blowback from MLB pitchers who argue substances are necessary to properly grip the baseballs which can be inconsistent from ball to ball. The implementation from MLB—haphazard and only truly cracking down in June, requiring pitchers to make a mid-season adjustment—when pitchers are already at a heightened injury risk due to the shortened 2020 season is nothing short of irresponsible. The Tyler Glasnow injury is unlikely to be the last high-profile injury as pitchers scramble to adjust.

What’s Next after the Tyler Glasnow Injury?

Even looking towards the best-case scenario, the Rays have to assume the Tyler Glasnow injury will be keeping him out of their rotation for most of the season. Their offense is finally clicking but losing one or two starts from an ace per week is a devastating blow. The new responsibility will be shifted to the current stalwarts of the rotation—the age-defying veteran Rich Hill, the solid Ryan Yarbrough, and the young but consistent Josh Fleming—while Tampa Bay will need some of their young guns to make the leap and deliver. Rookie Shane McClanahan, who has looked unhittable at times but struggled in other appearances, will need to improve his consistency game-to-game.

The Rays will likely need to look to the minors to find some options to replace Glasnow. Luis Patiño—who has played some games at the MLB level over the past two seasons—will likely be making his way back to Tampa Bay from AAA-Durham in the coming weeks. And 25-year-old Joe Ryan could be facing down his MLB debut sooner rather than later.

Ryan has a dominant fastball, averaging in the… low-to-mid 90s. While Ryan doesn’t have the heat, he makes up for it with impeccable command. He’s posted a 4.21 ERA through five starts in AAA-Durham, but has also struck out 36 batters over 25.2 IP. While he may not have the staying power to remain in the Rays rotation through the rest of the season, they’ll likely want to give him a shot against major league hitting to see what he can do. He’ll need to prove his slider can sufficiently support his fastball in the big leagues if he wants to stick around.

The Tyler Glasnow injury is disappointing to Rays and non-Rays baseball fans alike. It takes the Rays from one of the best teams in baseball to good but not necessarily great. It may be enough to keep them in contention, but without a reliable ace and facing one of the toughest divisions in baseball, it’s a steep, uphill climb for the defending AL champions.

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Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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Dylan Burris has been a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan since 2015, but covers the Rays on Overtime Heroics. A graduate of the University of North Carolina, he directs most of his non-baseball attention towards college basketball.