Tanner Rainey’s 2020 campaign ended when the then-27, now-28-year-old right-hander was shut down with forearm tightness, and his build-up this spring was slowed by a minor strain of a muscle around his collar bone, so the fact that he doesn’t quite have the stuff he did in previous seasons right now shouldn’t be too surprising.
Rainey talked after giving up a two-run home run by Pablo Sandoval in a 2-0 loss in the first game of a doubleheader in D.C. on April 7th, about working with what he has now, while he waits to get back to full strength.
“Honestly, physically I feel good,” Rainey explained. “Feel normal. Everything feels like it’s back in sync, working in the right direction. It’s still, obviously, not where I would like it to be, but it’s definitely what I’ve got, so I’ve got to work with it, and compete with it.”
In four appearances to start the season, heading into last night’s series opener with Arizona in D.C., Rainey gave up six hits (two, two-run home runs), two walks, and four earned runs in 3 1⁄3 IP.
His four-seam fastball velocity, which sat at 97.7 MPH in each of his first two seasons in the majors (2018-19), and fell to 96.6 MPH average in 2020’s 60-game campaign, is now sitting at 94.8 MPH, and his slider velo has dipped as well, so, as his manager said before the first of four with the D-backs on Thursday, he is going to have to adjust to what he has to work with right now.
“Yeah, you know the biggest thing,” Davey Martinez said, “... and I talked to him yesterday before the game, is you can get away with a lot of stuff when you’re throwing 100 MPH or 99 MPH, now that his velo is down, I said, you got to start pitching a little bit differently.
“You can’t get away with throwing balls down the middle.”
“Pretty good hitters in this league, so I said, hey, your stuff still plays, your stuff is still good, but you’re going to have to start pitching. You got to go in and out, up and down, certain hitters, and probably use your slider a little more than you normally do. But he’s getting used to that, yesterday he had a big out for us in the game, and we need him and he knows that and he’s working his way back, I know he’s thrown a couple balls at 96 [MPH].
“The velo is going to come back, but right now while it’s still an average of 93-94, he needs to pitch, he needs to become a pitcher, and like I said, try to stay out of the middle of the zone.”
While seeing Rainey throw in the low 90s after he’d been a high-90s guy who occasionally hit triple digits, is alarming, Martinez said he thought the reliever would get back up there.
“I think it will come back, I really do,” he said. “In the meantime, like I said, he’s getting big outs for us. If you notice the home runs that he’s given up, those balls are right down the middle to some pretty good hitters, so he’s just got to be careful and locate his fastball a little better.”
Obviously, however, while he’s building back up, he’s got to make some adjustments.
“You’re throwing 98-100,” Martinez said, “... and you miss your spots, a lot of times you’ll get a good swing, but it might be a foul ball, now all of a sudden you’re throwing 93-94 and you miss you’re spot, you got good hitters that can hit 93-94-95, so you’ve got to locate your fastball.”