Brendan McKay — yes, that one — has solid spring debut for Rays

PORT CHARLOTTE — The nervous feeling started to wash over Brendan McKay as he warmed up in the bullpen and continued as he sat in the dugout waiting to start Saturday’s game, his first in nearly 18 months.

“Obviously, it’s been a while and you want to be out there as a competitor and compete,” McKay said. “So they were happy nerves. Just getting out there playing again and having fun.”

McKay, 28, hasn’t had a lot of fun of late. After making his big-league debut in 2019 and finishing the season in the playoffs, the 2017 first-round pick has sustained a series of injuries leading to three arm-related surgeries: labrum (August 2020), thoracic outlet syndrome (November 2021) and Tommy John (September 2022).

All of which made Saturday’s 16-pitch inning, in which he struck out two and walked one in a 3-2 loss to Boston, that much more rewarding.

“Everything felt good, and I was happy with the results,” McKay said.

He was pleased with the quality of his stuff, especially considering the layoff, clocking consistently at 90 mph (hitting 91 once) and snapping off a few curveballs.

“It’s starting to come back,” he said. “Curveball is getting better. Fastball, the carry is there, the velocity is starting to come along a little bit. So, I think we’re in a good spot to carry on from here and hopefully gain a little bit more velocity or just get stuff a little bit tighter.”

McKay said the long line of teammates waiting in the dugout to congratulate him also felt good.

“A lot of them may have seen me pitch and some haven’t, but they know what I’ve been through,” he said. “That means a lot to me that guys want to stick around and watch and see that happen.”

Manager Kevin Cash said McKay had reason to be happy and will continue to pitch on a regular basis.

“Pretty cool,” Cash said. “Hopefully, he appreciates the moment. I think he did, just realizing how hard he’s worked to get back to this point.”

Cleavinger returns to action

After the Rays’ standard slow early spring build-up, the primary relievers are starting to see action.

Lefty Garrett Cleavinger made his debut Saturday, with Shawn Armstrong set for Monday, Jason Adam on Tuesday, and Phil Maton, Colin Poche and Pete Fairbanks to follow.

“Looking forward to seeing some more of our guys pitch,” Cash said.

Cleavinger hadn’t pitched in a game since May 7, when he tore a ligament in his right knee and later underwent season-ending surgery. Saturday, after the first batter showed bunt then grounded out, Cleavinger allowed a one-out homer and a walk, then got an inning-ending double play.

“It’s a good feeling to be back out there for the first time in almost a year,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that went into that, and a lot of people in here that helped me get to that point. So, that was a nice feeling.”

Maton, who signed a $6.25 million contract just before camp opened, threw his second live batting practice Saturday morning and said he was ready to go. As if to show it, he broke Harold Ramirez’s bat with his first pitch.

“I’m already at 88-90 (mph), so I’m already at game speed,” Maton said. “My build-up is pretty much 90% done at this point. A lot of it is just fine tuning.”

Game details: Red Sox (ss) 3, Rays 2

The Rays (2-5-1) got a Greg Jones single and Jake Mangum double to open the ninth but couldn’t get a run home. ... New shortstop Jose Caballero turned two double plays, earning praise from Cash: “Encouraged the way Cabby’s manning shortstop for us. He’s done a really nice job.” ... Reliever Manuel Rodriguez posted his third scoreless outing.


No. 2 or 3 starter Aaron Civale is set to make his spring debut Monday, with Naoyuki Uwasawa starting Tuesday (with Ryan Pepiot in relief) and Taj Bradley Wednesday (in Tampa). … Cash said Friday that infielder Yu Chang’s left oblique strain was severe and he could miss as much as six-eight weeks. … With the addition of catcher Francisco Mejia on a minor-league deal, the Rays have 77 players in camp. A first round of cuts seems likely by week’s end. … Minor-league camp opened Thursday.

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