Since the Tampa Bay Rays’ spring training game today was cancelled due to weather, we need something to talk about. With that in mind, there is nothing better to discuss than the Tampa Bay Rays’ fifth starter battle. We heard this week Cesar Ramos is now a part of the competition alongside Erik Bedard and Jake Odorizzi, Alex Colome, and Nate Karns. I have personally seen each of the former three throw this spring and the results have been mostly positive. There are a lot of spring training games left to be played, but it is never too early to start drawing up possible conclusions on who might be the front-runner in the competition. Here’s what I saw from Bedard, Odorizzi, and Ramos in their first two spring training outings.
Bedard started the Rays’ first Spring Training game and had a rough outing, allowing three runs on three hits and two walks in just an inning of work. He consistently left his 90 MPH fastball up in the zone and it was hit hard. Bedard’s second outing yesterday, though, went much better. He threw a trio of scoreless innings allowing three hits, striking out two while walking one. His success was largely based on him keeping his fastball down in the zone, which will be crucial for him as he hopes to keep his career giong. One other thing I noticed was that his fastball seemed to have much more late tailing action than it did in first outing. Since he doesn’t have an overpowering fastball, he needs all the late action he can get on it. Bedard seemed to have good command of his curveball, which remains his out-pitch. He used his changeup sparingly, but it did appear to keep hitters off balance.
Odorizzi has thrown a pair of innings this spring and has looked pretty sharp. In his first outing he allowed a double on a ball lost in the sun and walked a batter, but was able to pitch out of trouble with the help of a strikeout, and he did not allow a run. His second outing was very similar. He allowed two hits in the inning but didn’t allow a run and struck out a batter to close out yesterday’s game. The takeaway from his two outings this spring is his focus on his newfound changeup. He threw it quite a bit in both outings and it has been very effective thanks to good drop and deception out of his hand. He struck out the last batter in the game yesterday on a nice changeup that darted below the hitter’s swing. If he can continue to develop the offering into that above-average secondary pitch he has been lacking his entire career, it will be extremely hard to send him back to Durham. His fastball velocity was around 90-91 MPH and he seems to have good command of it so far. He also showed some good sliders, although his ability to locate it was inconsistent. Nevertheless, it could be fine as Odorizzi’s third pitch if his changeup keeps progressing. We haven’t seen much of his slow curveball this spring as it appears he’s working specifically to improve his changeup, but he shows decent command of it and we should see it more as the spring progresses.
Ramos was slated to start the spring opener at one point, but he ended up throwing a 1-2-3 inning in relief with a strikeout. He then got the nod to start yesterday’s game and had a rough start. After striking out Brett Gardner to begin the game, he allowed three straight hits and two runs. The next 1.2 innings, though, went more smoothly and he didn’t allow another run the rest of the game. His fastball velocity sat around 88-90 MPH and he used his curve efficiently to keep hitters off balance. It showed that typical nice long breaking action that he can get on his curve and he generated some awkward swings from it. His changeup, though, has always been a work in progress and he barely used it at all.
Overall, I think the fifth starter spot is Odorizzi’s to lose. He has showed a big improvement to his changeup so far and if he continues honing it, he should become an above-average major league pitcher. Bedard still has some command issues to deal with and could opt out of his deal if he doesn’t win the fifth starter spot, but he could be best suited being a swing man in the Rays’ bullpen with the ability to go multiple innings. The same goes for Ramos. He has the least amount of experience as a starter among the three candidates and would be best served to be back in the Rays’ relief corps as the long man. Colome and Karns, meanwhile, will likely begin the season at Triple-A. There is still a lot of time left to determine the victor of Rays’ fifth starter battle, but at this point in time I believe that Jake Odorizzi has the clear upper hand.