Local products square off as Rays host Mets


Saturday’s matinee between the New York Mets and Tampa Bay Rays will feel like a homecoming.

In the middle game of the series in St. Petersburg, Fla., the Rays will send out left-hander Shane McClanahan to make his fourth career start and first-ever appearance against the Mets and power-hitting first baseman Pete Alonso.

Both players rely on overpowering their opposition — McClanahan with a blazing arsenal of offerings, Alonso with sheer brute strength — but they also share deep roots in Florida’s Gulf Coast.

A graduate of Cape Coral High School and a 2018 first-round product (31st overall) out of the University of South Florida in Tampa, the hard-throwing McClanahan (0-0, 3.75 ERA) is still building his pitch count.

Possessing a fastball that can hit 100 mph and a nasty slider that routinely dives through the strike zone in the low 90s, McClanahan has put together four-inning outings in each of his three career starts — two against the Oakland A’s, one against the Los Angeles Angels.

McClanahan, 24, turned in his least effective performance last Sunday at Oakland, allowing three runs on four hits in his team’s 4-3 victory. However, as he did in the other starts, he fanned five.

While Alonso doesn’t have the luxury of playing for his hometown club, the weekend series with the Rays has special meaning to him.

Unlike McClanahan, who grew up two hours south of the Rays’ home, Alonso is a native of Tampa and Plant High School — just a short drive over the bay bridge from the ballpark.

Alonso, 26, spent many days and nights watching the Rays play inside the cavernous dome, and he even competed in a local all-star game there in 2013.

“I’m really excited,” Alonso said. “To actually sleep in my own bed at my own house and drive my car to my job, it’s crazy.”

After slugging a major-league-leading 53 home runs in 2019 during his rookie season, Alonso added 16 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. He has five long balls through 32 games this year.

Alonso struggled in front of many family members and friends Friday night, going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts as the Mets fell 3-2 to the Rays. The result ended New York’s seven-game winning streak.

The winning hit came from another Tampa Bay-area native, Rays center fielder Brett Phillips.

With two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, Phillips produced a walk-off single against Aaron Loup.

“Definitely something you dream of,” said Phillips, a Seminole, Fla., native who played travel ball with Alonso. “It’s a huge deal. Growing up 20 minutes from the Trop, going to Rays games as a kid, the nostalgia of just walking up to the dome brings back so many memories.”

On the injury front, Tampa Bay closer Diego Castillo (groin) was activated Friday. However, manager Kevin Cash said Thursday that starting pitcher Michael Wacha (hamstring) likely wouldn’t appear in the Mets series that concludes Sunday.

New York’s Brandon Nimmo (bruised left index finger) sustained a setback while rehabbing at Triple-A Syracuse. Mets manager Luis Rojas said J.D. Davis (sprained left hand), who hasn’t played since May 1, could be back over the weekend.

The Mets did not officially announce a Saturday starting pitcher, but Rojas hinted that Joey Lucchesi (1-2, 7.71 ERA) would pitch, perhaps preceded by an opener. In his lone career start against the Rays, the left-hander gave up three runs on five hits in 4 2/3 innings on Aug. 12, 2019.

–Field Level Media

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