Following his second place finish in the AL Cy Young voting in 2010, David Price made his first career Opening Day start in 2011. It did not go well as he allowed 4 runs in 7 innings on his way to a loss versus the Baltimore Orioles, and it set the tone for an up-and-down season that saw Price go 12-13 with a 3.49 ERA. But in 2012, Price did one better than 2010, winning the Cy Young Award, and while success can be fleeting in baseball, Price believes that he’s good enough to follow up his huge season with something just as good and maybe even better. Price gets the ball on Opening Day once again for the Rays as they open their season against those same Orioles at Tropicana Field. It’s deja vu for Price, but given a second chance, he looks to turn everything around. Congratulations to Price and while the Cy Young is nice, Rays fans are hoping Price can help the Rays deliver something else next season, and that’s a return to the Postseason and beyond.
On the same day that the Rays officially locked Price in as their Opening Day started, they also continued working setting the remainder of their rotation. All spring, there have been four pitchers competing for the Rays’ fifth starter spot: Roberto Hernandez, Jeff Niemann, Chris Archer, and Jake Odorizzi. Now that group has been cut in half as Archer and Odorizzi have been optioned to Triple-A Durham, as has left-hander Alexander Torres. Those three had to upset that they’re getting sent down to the minor leagues- but at the same time, they don’t have to be too down on themselves knowing that if things go well at Triple-A, a place on the Rays’ pitching staff will come soon after.
Archer getting sent down is especially surprising. Archer has been dominant this spring, allowing just 1 hit in 7 innings, although his strikeout to walk ratio has been just 5-3, and he’s coming off a strong 2012 that finished with 6 promising big league appearances including an 11-strikeout outing versus the Texas Rangers. However, despite his success Archer still has things to work on. He struck out 9.8 batters per 9 innings in 2012 but also walking 4.4 BB/9. Here’s a graph that’s a little scary: Archer’s BB/9 in each of his appearances.
Archer’s stuff is electric, but hitters were gradually able to adjust to him and lay off his slider out of the zone. Archer needs to work on developing his changeup as a consistent third pitch to go with his fastball and slider. On another team, Archer would probably learn things on the fly in the major leagues, but the Rays have the luxury of letting him fine-tune himself in the minors and be ready success as soon he arrives in the big leagues to stay.
Odorizzi struggled quite a bit more in his 3 appearances, managing just a 9.00 ERA in 5 innings pitched, although he did strike out 6 while walking 3. Odorizzi also appeared in the major leagues at the end of last year, in his case for the Kansas City Royals, but the key for him is going to be working on his fastball command and attempting to improve one of his three secondary pitches to the point where it can be a swing-and-miss pitch. Odorizzi was very good while pitching primarily Triple-A in 2012, going 15-5 with a 3.03 ERA, an 8.4 K/9, a 3.1 BB/9, and a 0.9 HR/9 in 25 starts and 145.1 innings pitched, but he also managed a groundball rate of just 29.4% according to Minor League Central and forcing more groundballs will be a key for him as he hope to crack the Rays’ roster by the end of 2013.
Torres wasn’t in serious competition for a Rays roster spot, but he impressed this spring quite a bit, managing a 1.93 ERA and a ridiculous 6-0 strikeout to walk ratio in 3 appearances and 4.2 innings pitched. Torres was a good prospect not too long ago, but he was a disaster in 2012, managing just a 7.30 ERA in 69 Triple-A innings pitched as he walked 8.2 batters per 9 innings, but he struck out 10 while walking 1 in his final start of the season and something must have clicked right then as he has taken off. He managed just a 4.48 ERA but an incredible 86-27 strikeout to walk ratio in 60.1 IP in the Venezuelan Winter League, and he carried that level of performance right into spring training. Torres has featured electric stuff for a long time, a fastball touching the mid-90’s, a sharp slider, and a good changeup, but the question has always been throwing strikes. If Torres can continue to prove that he can do just that at Triple-A, he’ll be in the majors before we know it, and whether in the back of the rotation or more likely in a relief role, Torres has the ability to make an impact for the Rays very soon.