Jake Odorizzi always seemed to be favorite in the Tampa Bay Rays’ fifth starter competition. After a strong year at Triple-A and solid results in the major leagues, Odorizzi entered camp looking everything like a big league-ready pitcher. The split-change he added only made the case stronger. At the end of the day, the questions were going to surround not Odorizzi himself, but external factors. Were the Rays worried about Erik Bedard opting out? Did the Rays want to keep Odorizzi at Triple-A to maintain depth? Did Cesar Ramos‘ great spring give the Rays enough confidence in him to give him 10 or 12 starts while Jeremy Hellickson is out? The uncertainty lingered, but the Rays did not let it affect them. The Rays have named Jake Odorizzi their fifth starter, selecting the best man for the job.
Odorizzi, who will turn 25 in five days, went 9-6 with a 3.33 ERA, a 9.0 K/9, a 2.9 BB/9, and a 0.9 HR/9 in 22 starts and 124.1 innings pitched at Triple-A Durham last season. Odorizzi also made his big league debut in May, but it was after returning for the second game of a doubleheader on June 18th that he truly put himself on the map, tossing 5.2 innings of one-run ball against the Boston Red Sox. The numbers were impressive, but the stories of the last year for Odorizzi have been the parts of his game that he has fixed. Odorizzi had been a top prospect for several years, but his propensity to pitch up in the zone and good but not great secondary pitches made it questionable how good he could be. Over the course of the 2013 season, however, he made a change in his mechanics that improved his fastball command and then started throwing his split-change, which is looking like the swing-and-miss secondary pitch he has been hoping for all along. Odorizzi enters the Rays’ rotation with the ability to be an impact starter from the onset, and as the fifth starter behind David Price, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, and Chris Archer, Odorizzi will not face too much pressure as he enters his first full year in the big leagues.
It will be interesting to see what happens with Bedard now that he has lost out on the spot. We have heard in the last few hours that he could be willing to head to Triple-A, but he also could opt out if an opportunity opens up elsewhere. In any event, Bedard looked unimpressive this spring and fits with the Rays moving forward only as depth. The Rays hope he comes back, but they decided that the difference in talent between him and Odorizzi was large enough to risk losing him.
For Ramos, he will return to the bullpen, but he can enter the year feeling good after how strong he performed. No one thought that Ramos had any chance, but after managing a 2.63 ERA and an 11-1 strikeout to walk ratio in 13.2 innings pitched, Ramos forced his way into the conversation. Ramos will hope his showing can spur a breakout season in relief, and if he keeps pitching like he did in spring training, he could certainly increase his role.
You would be hard-pressed to find a fifth starter competition anywhere in baseball featuring as many talented candidates as we saw from the Rays. At the end of the day, though, Jake Odorizzi will get the nod, and the Rays are excited to finally take the lengthy decision to its conclusion with the season rapidly approaching.