Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Matt Moore (55) talks with pitching coach Jim Hickey (48) in the dugout during the game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 9-2. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Who Will Fill the Last Two Spots in the Tampa Bay Rays' Rotation?

Hopefully, by the time this article is published, another Tampa Bay Rays Rays pitcher won’t have been injured. With Matt Moore undergoing Tommy John surgery, Alex Cobb’s oblique strain sidelining him for up to six weeks, and Jeremy Hellickson out until at least mid-May after elbow surgery, the Rays are left in a pickle. The thing you have to love about the Rays, though, is they have options where their pitching staff is concerned. Granted, depth is being strained at the moment, but it’s not time to pull the plug just yet. The Rays really aren’t circling the drain. All they need is for someone to step up.

Before one broods too deeply about the injuries and suspensions that have hit the Rays pitching staff this year, we must remember that the Rays’ pitching staff were beset by injury in 2013, losing David Price, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb. Figure in the fact Jeremy Hellickson was awful for the most part, the Rays still won 92 games.

The Rays still have their ace. David Price is still under contract and has one more arbitration year before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Although his velocity is down a tick, he is pitching well. Rays fans may worry about the decreased MPH but they should take heart in Price’s pitching acumen. Unlike fellow lefty C.C. Sabathia, who has also suffered from a loss of velocity, Price is still an ace. He has had two strong starts so far this year and the third one he was under the weather. As of this writing, he has 22 strike outs in 21.2 innings, so he is still missing bats at a good rate. The Rays don’t really “need” to trade Price. Granted, if this season goes down the drain, that could very well happen, but it is unlikely that it comes to that. Face it, the Rays aren’t signing all these players to extensions just because Andrew Friedman has a calligraphy fetish. They are trying to win and David Price gives them as great chance as anyone. Would it really be a surprise if he is the Rays’ Opening Day starter in 2015?

Injuries brought Chris Archer to the big leagues to stay last year and he hasn’t looked back since. Archer has matured very quickly and is poised to continue his ascension up the totem pole of stardom. A widely suspected candidate for injury because of his usage of the slider, the Rays cannot have Archer go down. But Archer has proved himself durable, not yet having any sort of arm injury. The Rays need this ascension to continue improving going forward and become the frontline pitcher his stuff says that he can be. In indirect ways, Moore’s injury puts a little bit more pressure on Archer. The Rays cannot have any more pitchers go down or have a bad season from Archer or Price if they expect to be competitive.

Isn’t funny how misfortune can open doors for others? The beneficiary of the Rays’ pitching staff rash of injuries is Jake Odorizzi. He started the season keeping Jeremy Hellickson’s spot for him, but now it looks more and more like he will remain in the starting staff for the entire season. This is Odorizzi’s first full year and it remains to be seen how he will fare. He looked very much like he belonged in his first start but had a rocky second one. The Rays don’t need Odorizzi to have the type of season that Chris Archer had in his rookie year, but they need a solid performance. An injury cemented Archer’s spot in the starting rotation and now is Odorizzi’s chance. If he can repeat any portion of the Archer magic, panic bells in St. Petersburg will be lessened.

Jeremy Hellickson will be getting a late start on his season. He will rejoin the staff in late May. Realistically, they will meter his innings out for a while and it will probably be June before he is pitching significant innings. Nevertheless, he will return to the Rays as a critical pitcher. Even after his rough 2013, they will be relying on him to pitch the way he is capable.

This is where the speculation part of the program begins. Lost to suspension, Alex Colome has to be kicking himself. He is needed but all he can do is sit and wonder what if. If the Rays don’t trade for a starter, they will fill the vacant spots with in-house options. Erik Bedard has the most experience of the potential candidates. He lost the spring training competition for the fifth starter and opted out of his minor contract to pursue a starting job. Only there wasn’t one. Bedard will get a chance to start and why not? The Rays have to exhaust all their options. His career trajectory has been in a nosedive for a while now. The Rays aren’t asking him to be great but they do need him to be good.

What does Durham hold? Mike Montgomery came from Kansas City in the Wil Myers trade. Through two starts this year, the lefty has given up six hits, one run, and struck out twelve in ten innings. Nate Karns, a pick-up from Washington has given up five home-runs in 12 innings. Enny Romero is 1-1. In 9.2 innings this year, he has walked five and struck out twelve, giving up seven runs in the process. Acquired from San Diego, Matt Andriese is also 1-1 in two starts. In ten innings, he has given up nine hits and six runs, walking five and striking out thirteen.

All told, Cobb, Moore and Hellickson won 40 a combined games last year. What we know for sure is Price, Archer and Odorizzi have the first three spots buttoned down. Erik Bedard will get a chance to show he still has something, though for how long remains to be seen. Is there an in-house candidate? Recent comments from Joe Maddon say it’s not Cesar Ramos. That leaves either Montgomery, Karns, Romero, Andriese or a trade. Cue the spotlight on Andrew Friedman as the Tampa Bay Rays figure out where they head from here.

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Tags: Alex Cobb Chris Archer Jake Odorizzi Jeremy Hellickson Matt Moore Tampa Bay Rays

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