For the past few years, one of the strengths of the Tampa Bay Rays has been the pitching staff; in particular, the starting rotation. Fronted by pitchers such as David Price and James Shields, the Rays have been able to remain competitive at times solely on the strength of their starters. A major key to that has been the general effectiveness and the health of those starters, as they Rays typically have not needed to go beyond the original rotation to start games over the course of the year.
However, this season, that has not been the case. Shields was traded for Wil Myers, who appears to be on the cusp of becoming that sorely needed second power source behind Evan Longoria. Price, who become even more indispensable to the rotation after the trade, started off slowly and then was injured. Jeremy Hellickson, who was counted on to take Shields spot as the second ace on the staff, and Roberto Hernandez have started off slowly.
With the injuries to Price and Alex Cobb, the Rays imagined rotation of tomorrow has had to come up earlier than expected. Jake Odorizzi, Chris Archer and Alex Colome have all made starts this season, in order to try to fill out the rotation. While Odorizzi struggled, Archer and Colome have been solid in their outings, giving hope that they can be ready sooner rather than later.
Some of the unsettled nature of the Rays rotation should be ending soon, as Price is due back on Tuesday. Should he get back to the form he displayed over the past three years, it would certainly help the Rays get back to having the type of pitching staff they envisioned. However, there are still some concerns. Hernandez has not been able to be anything other than an inning eater, and has typically not put the Rays in a good position to win. Hellickson has shown flashes of being the same pitcher he was over 2011 and 2012, but has been wholely inconsistent this year.
While it is more likely that Hellickson, and Price for that matter, rediscover their form, that still leaves the question of what to do with the fifth starter once Price returns. Even though it seems likely that the Rays stick with Hernandez, would that really be the best option? Even though Archer and Colome have had their hiccups, both have far more upside, and possibly more to offer this year, than Hernandez.
Since Price, and later Cobb, went down with injuries, the Rays rotation has been a bit of a carousel. Price coming back should help to solidify the rotation, but the Rays rotation may still have a bit more flux than they are accustomed to. The carousel may be slowing down, but it does not yet appear to be ready to stop.