Tanner Rainey retired the first batter he faced this spring in 2021 Grapefruit League action via strikeout, then he walked the bases loaded, with three straight free passes in what was in the end a 22-pitch, seven-strike outing.
It was not the ideal start.
“Obviously timing wasn’t there,” Rainey told reporters when he spoke on a Zoom call shortly after Sunday’s game.
“Not making the pitches that I wanted to do. The best thing I can take from it was that it was healthy, pain free, so definitely something to build on.”
“The good news is after he came out of the game he had no issues health-wise,” as manager Davey Martinez put it. “I felt like he was — his timing was a little off.”
When they say his timing wasn’t there, or was off, what do they mean?
“For me, more so where my arm is at,” Rainey explained. “When my front foot lands, where my arm is at, what position it’s in, for me it’s always been a little later, a little further behind my body, and trying to clean that up to alleviate some of the stress on my shoulder.
“Now it’s actually in a better position, but it’s a different position for me.”
Rainey’s 2020 season ended after 20 appearances and 20 1⁄3 innings in which he had a 2.66 ERA, a 3.80 FIP, seven walks (3.10 BB/9), 32 Ks (14.16 K/9), and a .119/.213/.328 line against.
Forearm tightness landed him on the Injured List in mid-September, and the start of Spring Training 2021 was delayed as well after he felt soreness in his collar bone area as he started throwing upon arriving up at camp.
“It’s definitely something that I haven’t felt before,” Rainey said. “Didn’t really know how to explain when I started dealing with it, so it wasn’t really something I could pinpoint. I couldn’t put myself in a position to find the pain, I just know that at extension I felt a little bit, so we went through and all we really found was a small muscle strain, and how that happens, I’m not really sure, but there’s been a lot of strengthening and mobility stuff since then.”
The hope is the timing will come with more action, as he gets everything in sync, builds up his arm, and adjusts to an adjustment to his arm path.
“With the muscle issue, looking back on some things, I thought I could clean up my arm path a little bit,” Rainey said. “Which, after talking to a few guys, I think that will help me overall, but I think the biggest thing is first time getting on the mound in a live game, the timing is always a problem, sometimes worse than others, but I think for me just the two together caused maybe a little bit more of an issue today.”
Neither the reliever or his manager was concerned with the low readings on the radar gun, which is reliably unreliable in Grapefruit League games as a rule, but also something to be expected according to both Rainey and Martinez.
“I really wasn’t worried about the velo,” Rainey said. “For me today it was getting out there, being healthy, pain-free like I said.
“Still working on some things with timing and trying to get everything back in sync to progress on.”
“He was a little short on his follow-through,” Martinez said. “So, this is something that we can adjust and work on in the back fields.
“But he needs to get out there and pitch. Typically, I’ve seen this happen to him before, where he gets on the mound and he’s like a very high-energy guy, so he gets on that mound, he wants to fire bullets, so it’s just a matter of getting his timing and getting his rhythm back, and I think he’ll be fine.
“Like I said, the good news is I was just wanting him to go out there and make sure that his arm was okay. And he came out and he said his arm felt fine.
“We’ll see how he feels tomorrow and then we’ll get him back out there in a couple days.”
As for Martinez’s take on the velo, which was reportedly in the 92-93 MPH range for the pitcher who averaged 96.6 MPH last season?
“He’s done this before in the past early in spring,” Martinez said.
“So, as a matter of fact, last year during [Spring Training] 2.0, he was 89-90 when he came back, and then slowly but surely he was up in the upper 90s. So it doesn’t take him long to ramp up.
“My big thing with him right now is his mechanics and his timing. We’ll get that squared away. Hopefully he’ll be better with it in his next outing.”
After the late start, is there enough time to get Rainey ready for Opening Day?
“I don’t want to jump ahead of ourselves. We’ll see how he feels in his next outing and then we’ll go from there,” Martinez said.
Rainey thinks he’ll be ready.
“Should yeah,” he said. “Let’s see, today’s what, the 21st? So we’re looking at still ten days, eleven days, should be another three outings hopefully before I get out of here, so that would be four live game outings, and like I said, get everything back in sync and I think everything will start to play up from there.”