The easiest way for a team to kill its season prematurely is to overtax its bullpen. In today’s baseball where specialization is the norm, an overworked bullpen can sink your season faster than anything else. If Tampa Bay Rays’ starters do not come up and eat innings, it matters not what Evan Longoria and Wil Myers do offensively. David Price, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, and Jake Odorizzi, all have the potential to go out and throw complete a complete game in any given outing. However, if the Rays have any hope of making a serious run at the World Series, it would help if the starters went deeper into games more often. The Rays have one of the best staff in baseball but the only one with a history of going deep into games is their ace David Price. Can Moore, Cobb, Archer, and Odorizzi step up and be depended on to stay out there and pitch deeper into games?
David Price is the least of Tampa Bay’s worries, as long as he is healthy. Three times in his career, Price has pitched over 200 innings in a season. Last year, injuries curtailed his chances at a fourth consecutive 200-inning season. In spite of that, he still ended with 186 in 27 starts. For all the criticism thrown at Price for his loss of velocity last season, after coming off the disabled list, he pitched into the 7th in his next nine starts. In those nine starts, he threw 100 pitches only twice. Among his four complete games, he was under 100 pitches twice and at 105 a third time. Only four times in 2013 did the Rays’ ace fail to pitch into the sixth. If he stays healthy, it’s not a risky bet to think Price will achieve the 200-inning plateau once again.
Naturally, Price can’t do it by himself. The Rays need Matt Moore to also pitch 200 innings this year. For that matter, Moore needs to achieve that milestone f0r himself. Moore is a very good pitcher. You could overdose with superlatives about Moore. However, his control is problematic in the best of times. Make no mistake, sometimes it pays for a pitcher to be wild. But you have to make your offerings look enticing enough to swing at. When Moore is wild, hitters don’t really need to bring a bat up to home plate, because they’re probably not going to need it–a walk is forthcoming. In 13 of his 27 starts in 2013, Moore pitched fewer than six innings. The old adage is true: You can teach command. You can’t teach velocity. So far this spring, Matt Moore has regained his velocity, touching 97 MPH with his fastball. However, his command is still a work in progress. If Moore crosses the 200 inning marker this season, it is almost a guarantee the Rays are having a successful season.
This is Alex Cobb’s fourth season up with the big club and his third as a full-time starter. Last year, a line drive off the head curtailed Cobb’s season. But he came back and pitched well. Only seven times did Cobb pitch six innings or less last season. A groundball pitcher, Cobb can get outs quickly. With a strong infield defense behind him, Cobb is in a good position to succeed. Last season, Cobb threw his most innings, 143, so it might be a stretch to think Cobb will reach the 200 plateau. Right now, 180 or 190 innings might be more feasible for Cobb.
Chris Archer is kind of in the same boat as Cobb, but he actually tossed 178.2 innings between the minors and majors and could be primed for more. July gave Rays fans a glimpse of what he might bring to the future. Archer pitched six innings or more in all five starts. His most pitches, 112, came in a complete game five hit shut-out. Archer could be capable of more, but as a young pitcher dealing with the league adjusting to him, 175 to 180 innings again would seem most likely.
The fifth starter position is a wildcard. Jake Odorizzi has had a good spring and seems to be in line to win the job. His innings will be closely monitored. If he were to stay in that position the whole season, you realistically can expect about 150 innings. He did throw 153.2 innings between Triple-A and the big leagues, so he could be capable of more if he pitches well. Jeremy Hellickson is even harder to predict. He is due back in mid-to-late May, but how many innings he will pitch will depend on how quickly he can build up arm strength and how soon he regains his rotation spot.
When it comes down to it, the more Tampa Bay Rays starters outperform expectations, the better the Rays will do. The fifth starter combination of Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Hellickson is a wildcard. As it stands, the Rays bullpen is largely populated with one-inning relievers. Grant Balfour, Heath Bell, Jake McGee, and Joel Peralta are all mostly one-and-done pitchers. If they are forced to the mound too often, their effectiveness will wane and they will be unavailable too often when the Rays need them. The further Rays’ starters go into games this year, the better off for everybody involved.