The Tampa Bay Rays rotation issues keep on coming. Not only have Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, and Jeremy Hellickson gone down with injuries, but David Price, Jake Odorizzi, and fill-in Erik Bedard have all struggled with performance so far this season. The problem is, the Rays don’t want to make a rash move yet by releasing Bedard or demoting Odorizzi to try to fix these issues. One way they could try to alleviate these issues is by using a piggyback system in their rotation.
A piggyback system is one in which a team effectively has two pitchers assigned to pitch a certain game. The first pitcher will throw around 75 pitches before being removed in favor of the second pitcher, who will also throw 75 pitches. A couple of advantages come with this system. First, it takes stress off of a pitcher’s arm because he is not forced to throw the 100+ pitches that usually come with a start. Second, it gives the pitchers a performance advantage. Major league hitters are apt at adjusting to pitchers, and thus it is commonly accepted that the third time through an order is when a lineup really locks into a pitcher. But, with a tandem system, you do not have to face the entire lineup three times, rather you are removed after going through the lineup twice or maybe one or two batters into the third time. Therefore, it is much harder for batters to make adjustments to you. This would be the biggest benefit to the Rays, as it would maximize the performance of their starters that are currently struggling. But how exactly would they use this system?
They would not need a tandem for every spot in the rotation, as Price is a workhorse and will bounce back, Chris Archer has pitched well in four of his five starts, and Cesar Ramos has put together a nice last couple of starts. Where they would use this would be with Bedard and Odorizzi. Bedard has struggled mightily so far in his first three Rays appearances, giving up 8 runs in 9.2 innings. But, having another starter would help him out. He could focus on dialing up his stuff a bit earlier because he would not need to go as deep into the game. The Rays could also have a much shorter leash on him if they had another pitcher ready to throw 75 pitches behind him. Odorizzi has struggled as well, but with the exception of last night he has been stellar early on in games. Like Bedard, he could dial up his stuff and have a more effective mix of pitches if he only needed to get through the opposing team’s order twice. These pitchers are both struggling, but if the Rays use a piggyback system for the time being they can help alleviate these struggles.
So who would be the players that piggyback Bedard and Odorizzi? Mike Montgomery and Matt Andriese seem like the most logical candidates. Montgomery has been stellar this season in Triple-A, throwing to a 2.81 ERA with a 9.8 K/9. His stuff has been at its best, and he is pushing hard for a big league call-up in some capacity. Andriese’s 3.81 ERA isn’t as good as Montgomery’s, but his 3.1 BB/9 and 8.3 K/9 are solid. He has above-average command, which always plays in the big leagues. His groundball tendencies would also play nicely given the Rays’ strong infield defense. The right-handed Andriese could pair with the lefty Bedard while southpaw Montgomery would pair with the righty Odorizzi. This gives even more of an advantage, as teams would not be able to stack their lineups in preparation of facing a right-hander or a left-hander for the majority of the game. Andriese and Montgomery make plenty of sense in a piggyback with Odorizzi and Bedard, and they should be capable of handling the job.
The last question becomes how to accommodate Andriese and Montgomery on the roster. The logical choice for the first spot is to designate Josh Lueke for assignment. Lueke has looked poor so far this year, and has not been able to come into any kind of situation and lock down a lead. His time may be almost up with the Rays even if they don’t use a piggyback system. The second spot would be harder to pick out, as the Rays are going to want to keep the other six members of the bullpen intact. So, the best option would be to send down Logan Forsythe. He has put up just a .502 OPS this season and has looked last at the plate, and he could use going back to the minor leagues to try to iron out his issues. Yes it leaves the Rays’ bench short-handed, but thanks to their overall team versatility it is a loss they can handle for the short-term. The piggyback system would only need to be in place for a short period of time, either until Odorizzi and Bedard get going, another pitcher/pitchers are acquired, or at the very latest when Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson return from their injuries in a month or so. Then, Forsythe could return. Their relief corps has also been overused as of late, so they could use an extra arm for the time being anyways. Overall, it seems fairly easy to make roster space.
A piggyback system is the best way for the Tampa Bay Rays rotation issues to be solved. They would kill two birds with one stone if they did so- Odorizzi and Bedard’s arms would be more protected from injury and their performance would get better because they do not have to face a team’s lineup for the third time around. Andriese and Montgomery are capable of handling the assignment of pitching behind Odorizzi and Bedard. The Rays are usually a creative team, and this is a creative way to alleviate their pitching issues for the time being.