The Rays’ scheduled starter for Sunday’s game against the Oakland A’s was right-hander Roberto Hernandez. But he will not get the ball. Instead, the Rasy’ starting pitcher will be the veteran with the most starts of anyone on the staff: Jamey Wright. One problem: while Wright has started 246 games in his career, none of them have come since 2007. What are the Rays doing?
Asked about his reasons for the move, Joe Maddon responded that he didn’t feel good about Hernandez against Oakland’s left-handed hitters. And if there was ever a day to skip Roberto Hernandez, it was today. Today is September 1st, not just the start of a new month but the first day of rosters expanding. The Rays added RHP Josh Lueke to the active roster on Sunday to provide reinforcements to the bullpen, and more pitchers are on the way as minor league seasons end. Today is even more perfect because Alex Cobb threw a complete game in the loss on Saturday, saving the Rays’ bullpen and leaving everyone fully rested for Sunday and beyond. But will it work?
This season, Wright has tossed just 57.2 innings pitched in 54 appearances, certainly not numbers that would tell you that he’s capable of providing length. But Wright has actually gone 3 innings twice this season, including 3 innings and 40 pitches on no days’ rest back on May 31st. If Wright can do that on no days’ rest, could he be able to throw 65 or 70 pitches on two days’ rest? Maybe, but at the end of the day, the Rays don’t need him to do that. If Wright can throw at least the first three or four innings of the game, Alex Torres could hopefully throw the next two or three and the Rays can go from there. Best-case scenario, the Rays get seven strong innings and can go straight to Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney for the 8th and 9th if need be. But even if the Rays just get five innings of two-run ball, all hands will be on deck in the bullpen and they will be able to mix and match their way through the rest of the game.
Wait a second–we said that Jamey Wright is the Rays’ most experienced starter, but what we didn’t say was that he was never very good. For his career, Wright has just a 5.13 ERA in one of the biggest sample sizes you’ll ever see: 246 starts and 1472 innings pitched. He was basically never effective, and now he’s a 38 year old who hasn’t started in years. Won’t he just get shelled, especially the second time through the order? But while anything can happen in one game, there’s a very big difference between Wright today and the starting pitcher he was for years: his curveball. As a starter, Wright walked basically as many batters as he struck out, managing just a 1.06-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio. But this year out of the bullpen, his strikeout to walk ratio has been 2.50-to-1, and his curveball has been the big reason why. Wright was basically all sinker as a starter, but now he has a real plus pitch that he can use to put hitters away. Wright has the capability to put lineups away multiple times now–from a pure stuff standpoint (if not durability), he may actually be better suited to start now than he was his entire career. Wright has been great for the Rays all season and he has started games in the past. We can’t be sure what will happen this afternoon, but the Rays have every reason to trust Wright for three or four innings in this start.
The Rays are slumping and it has reached the time where Joe Maddon is shaking everything up.Yunel Escobar is batting second, Jamey Wright is starting, and who knows what will happen next. Jamey Wright starting should remind Roberto Hernandez and everyone else that the Rays are going to stop believing in their guys and do whatever it takes to win games. There will be no stunts, no desperate maneuvers, just the Rays dedicating all their energy to making their team as good as it can be in the season’s final month. Let’s see if this Jamey Wright move can prove to be just that.