Thanks to a doubleheader, a 14-inning game, and a trio of starters that did not last five innings, the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen has now tossed 20.2 innings over the last three days. That is confounding number, and it is not just a recent trend. With Rays starting pitchers tossing five or less innings in 14 out of the 19 games since Alex Cobb got hurt, the bullpen has endured the heaviest workload in baseball with no signs of slowing down. The Tampa Bay Rays have to do something to add additional arms to the relief mix, and that needs to start happening now.
The clearest candidates to go from the Rays’ pitching staff are Josh Lueke and Jake Odorizzi. Lueke was a disaster once again on Saturday, allowing three runs in his two innings of work. Rays fans cannot wrap their heads around the fact that he has lasted this long, believing that another reliever could easily do better. Odorizzi, meanwhile, has failed to reach five innings in his last three starts and could use a demotion to Triple-A to clear his head and work on his arsenal. Sending down Odorizzi is not as foregone of a conclusion–his start on Saturday may have finally revealed the game plan he should follow to find big league success. However, if the Rays were to send him down right now, they could have an extra reliever until his spot comes up again and could recall him after ten days. It will be extremely difficult to understand if the Rays do not designate Lueke for assignment, but would it make sense for the Rays to demote Odorizzi as well?
As it stands for tomorrow, the Rays will have every reliever available but Heath Bell and Lueke. By designating Lueke for assignment, they would be up to six relievers available again and would have an easier time resting players like Bell and Brandon Gomes. If the Rays were going to call a reliever, they have multiple players to choose from on the Durham Bulls’ roster: Brad Boxberger, Nate Karns, Jeff Beliveau, and Kirby Yates. Mike Montgomery, Enny Romero, and C.J. Riefenhauser are also on the 40-man roster, but the former two are not available after starting and Riefenhauser is currently out with an oblique injury. Boxberger has pitched very well for the Rays in his limited time and would provide an immediate impact arm. Karns has struggled this season, but is a starting pitcher who could provide length. Finally, Beliveau and Yates would each give the bullpen a solid middle reliever. If the Rays were going to call up one, it would clearly be Boxberger. If they had another spot, though, they could also promote Karns and be protected from a short appearance by one of their starters. Karns could then be exchanged for another pitcher if he does need to throw three or four innings in a game, and the Rays could keep the exchange of players going as needed.
Making this arrangement more feasible is that the Rays could pull it off without needing a starting pitcher to replace Odorizzi. If the Rays sent down Odorizzi right now, he could not return until Monday the 13th. Erik Bedard starts today, but then the Rays have an off-day tomorrow, so they could have a four-man rotation one time through. Right now, their probable starters are Chris Archer and Cesar Ramos on Wednesday and Thursday before David Price will likely take the hill on Friday. But after starting tomorrow, Bedard will actually be available to pitch again on Friday. With that in mind, the Rays could easily skip Odorizzi the next time through, with Bedard going on Saturday the 10th, Archer on the 11th, and Ramos on the 12th. Then Odorizzi can return for the 13th with Price going on the 14th and Bedard available again for the 15th and so forth. The Rays could accommodate losing Odorizzi for one start without any long-term ramifications to their rotation. The stars have aligned for the Rays to have an eight-man bullpen for an entire nine-day stretch if they pull off this maneuver.
It could make a lot of sense for the Rays to not only get rid of Josh Lueke, but also demote Jake Odorizzi to give their bullpen maximum flexibility for the next nine days. However, they have to weigh the benefits of having that extra reliever with the mental toll Odorizzi will have to endure when the Rays send him down. If the Rays are going to do this, the last thing they would want is for Odorizzi to think that they are giving up on him. Is the benefit of having an addition reliever worth the possible strain on Odorizzi? As long as the Rays are capable of explaining the situation clearly to Odorizzi, how could the answer be no? Demoting Jake Odorizzi for ten days would be a gutsy move for the Rays, but also the right one. Let’s see if they decide to make it happen.