Every year since the Rays have started contending, the same storyline has always come into play: they have a big league-ready starting pitcher who they didn’t have room for and then that pitcher comes up at the end of the season and delivers electrifying performances to help the Rays down the stretch and solidify his rotation spot for the next season. In 2008, it was David Price getting the call late in September before emerging as a bullpen weapon. 2009 saw Wade Davis show Rays fans that everything would be just fine even after a season that fell far short of expectations. After Jeremy Hellickson dominated in his four starts for the Rays in August of 2010, everyone marveled at how good the Rays’ rotation depth was that such a talented pitcher was stuck on the outside looking on. Then 2011 came and Matt Moore delivered two of the most exciting moments in Rays history: his 11 strikeouts against the New York Yankees in his debut and 7 shutout innings against the eventual AL-champion Texas Rangers in Game 1 of the ALDS. Finally in 2012, Chris Archer couldn’t help the Rays’ to the postseason but gave them his best effort, striking out 11 Rangers in 7 dominant innings in his third start after making two in June and improbably getting out of a bases-loaded, no out jam in what may have been the Rays’ most exciting game of the season, their 3-2 loss to the Orioles in 14 innings. After all these pitchers came up for the Rays late in the season and made such a major impact, the Rays would love to have another pitcher come up and do the exact same thing. Could that pitcher be Jake Odorizzi?
This season for the Rays, Jake Odorizzi has made four starts and a relief appearance, and the results have not been that great: he has gone 0-0 with a 6.00 ERA in 18 innings pitched. He has struck out 14 while walking just 4 but also allowed 3 home runs (1.5 HR/9) with a puny 24.6% groundball rate. But in his final start, he tossed 5.2 innings of one-run ball against the Red Sox, and his Triple-A numbers show plenty of reason for optimism. In 21 starts, Odorizzi has gone 8-6 with a 3.56 ERA, striking out 8.7 batters per 9 innings, walking just 3.0 per 9, and allowed a 0.9 HR/9 in 116.1 innings pitched. His groundball rate has been just 31.8% as his fastball command hasn’t been good enough for him to be anything more than a back-end major league starter. However, Odorizzi has already been working to counteract that, making the same change in his delivery that helped Matt Moore improve his command. In his most recent start, Odorizzi finally got the type of results he has been hoping for, going 7 one-run innings allowing just 4 hits, striking out 7 while walking none and forcing a solid 8-9 groundball to flyball ratio. In terms of his overall profile, Odorizzi may be more like Wade Davis than any of those other pitchers, but he’s still improving and still has a chance to be a very good pitcher if his fastball command and other pitches keep developing. He throws a low-90′s fastball that touches 94 MPH, a low-70′s curveball with tremendous late break, a changeup with major fade, and a solid slider, and it seems like his entire repertoire is finally starting to come together. If the Rays need a spot-starter the rest of the season, it’s going to be Odorizzi, and in fact, he may get called up to replace Roberto Hernandez for a start if Matt Moore isn’t ready yet. Odorizzi isn’t that super-prospect coming up like a Price or a Moore, but he’s a talented pitcher with the ability to make an impact for the Rays the rest of the season. If there’s any rookie pitcher that is going to make an impact for the Rays in September, it’s Jake Odorizzi.
Alex Colome has been shelved with an elbow injury, but aside from him, the Rays will be at just about full strength entering September. Not only will Odorizzi come up, but they just got Alex Cobb back and Moore and Jesse Crain will soon follow. The Rays will keep up their streak of having an impact rookie emerge down the stretch, but more importantly, they’ll have several players coming back with the ability to significant enhance their chances to make the postseason and maybe even win the AL East crown. For the fifth time in the last six years, the Rays will enter September with a highly-touted pitcher coming up and more importantly, a spot in the postseason theirs for the taking if they finish strong. Between all the players coming back and the rookies like Odorizzi bursting onto the scene, an exciting September is ahead for the Tampa Bay Rays.