With Jeff Niemann coming off the DL and appearing to be OK after leaving his first start with tightness in his pitching arm, the Rays have six starters to utilize how they please over the September stretch run. The way it works out, the Rays are going to have a ton of options.
Per the Rays’ official site, we know that their scheduled starter Sunday for the season finale against the Blue Jays is David Price, and James Shields, Alex Cobb, and Matt Moore will be their three starters in their series versus the Yankees at Tropicana Field from September 3rd through the 5th. After that, though, things get crazy. Here’s the Rays’ upcoming schedule following the Yankees series.
Thursday 9/6: Off-day
Friday 9/7 to Sunday 9/9: 3-game set vs. Rangers at Tropicana Field
Monday 9/10: Off-day
Tuesday 9/11 to Thursday 9/13: 3-game set vs. Orioles at Camden Yards
Friday 9/14 to Sunday 9/16: 3-game set vs. Yankees at Yankee Stadium
Here’s where things get crazy: starting with the 9/7 game, the Rays will have multiple starters available on four or more days rest for every single game. This gets crazy. Let’s go through every game and look at the available starting pitchers for the Rays.
9/7 vs. Rangers: David Price (4 days’ rest), Jeremy Hellickson (6), Jeff Niemann (5)
The Rays will have three starters available to pitch! Price will definitely get the nod here, but now we see that Hellickson’s number of days of rest is getting crazy. He’s going to need to throw at least an inning in a game during the Yankees series to stay fresh.
9/8 vs. Rangers: James Shields (4), Jeremy Hellickson (7), Jeff Niemann (6)
Shields is obviously the starter here, but we see that days’ rest for Hellickson and now Niemann getting up there. Even if he’s healthy, Niemann is going to have to be used in long relief at some point, but it’s going to be hard to figure out where he can start.
9/9 vs. Rangers: Jeremy Hellickson (8), Alex Cobb (4), Jeff Niemann (7)
I can’t imagine the Rays holding off Hellickson any more than this. 9 days’ rest is insane and Jeremy Hellickson is a good pitcher! Cobb is going to get lost in the shuffle a bit as well over the course of September, which isn’t so bad because he has already surpassed his career-high in innings pitched between the majors and minors and should receive a good amount of rest in September. Looking at this, Niemann will probably get into one of the first two games of the Rangers series and at least go an inning even if there’s no opportunity for him to pitch in long relief.
9/11 @ Orioles: Matt Moore (5), Alex Cobb (6), Jeff Niemann (9)
Moore is another candidate for some September rest, but he’s pitching so well that the Rays won’t put too much time between his starts. Cobb may also need a relief inning if not more at some point to keep him fresh, and Niemann, well, is stuck.
9/12 @ Orioles: David Price (4), Alex Cobb (7), Jeff Niemann (10)
Now we’re back to Price and Shields. Price definitely goes in this one as the Rays want to get him on the mound as much as possible. Cobb and Niemann? Well… sorry.
9/13 @ Orioles: James Shields (4), Alex Cobb (8), Jeff Niemann (11)
Jamie, you better pitch well… although if you struggle a little bit, Cobb and Niemann would be glad to get the innings in.
9/14 @ Yankees: Jeremy Hellickson (4), Alex Cobb (9), Jeff Niemann (12)
Who starts this one? Your guess is as good as mine. I guess it will depend on how Hellickson performs on 9/9 and whether Cobb and Niemann needed to be used in long relief. I think Niemann is going to have to start here assuming he’s healthy because 12 days between starts when you’re pitching fine and relatively healthy is something you never see.
9/15 @ Yankees: Jeremy Hellickson (5), Alex Cobb (10)
The Rays are finally down to two available starters for this one. They will only need to use 4 starters from 9/2 to 9/14 thanks to off days. I think Hellickson gets the nod here if he pitched well versus Texas. Cobb will likely have to work in long relief twice maybe three times between his start on 9/4 and his start after that whenever it will be.
9/16 @ Yankees: Matt Moore (4), Alex Cobb (11)
This one could be either pitcher depending on how Moore pitched in his previous start and when Cobb got into a game as a reliever. I think this one absolutely has to be Cobb, with Moore going on 5 days’ rest to open up the Rays’ 4-game set versus Boston from 9/17 to 9/20 followed by Price, Shields, and Hellickson.
You get the picture. Unless somebody implodes, Niemann and Cobb are going to be hung out to dry and are going to have to be used in long relief, maybe even multiple times. That is going to be annoying for both of them, but they’re just going to have to deal with it as the Rays will put out the starting pitchers that give them the best chance to win. The truth is that Niemann is completely superfluous on paper, but you never know when you’ll need someone for long relief and especially if Niemann’s pitching well, there’s nothing wrong with resting Cobb and possibly Moore by giving Niemann some starts. The Rays’ rotation situation is getting pretty crazy in the coming weeks, but it’s all positive. As they always say, you can never have too much pitching.