The last two days has been a reversal of fortunes that no one could have anticipated for the Tampa Bay Rays. After Wednesday’s rainout, the Rays had no interest in playing a doubleheader, but the Boston Red Sox invoked a clause in the collective bargaining agreement to stage the twin bill nevertheless. The Red Sox paid dearly for that as the unwanted doubleheader wound up being a key motivating factor for the Rays as they won both games. Then they kept their streak of inspired play going against the New York Yankees on Friday night, using a five-man infield to survive in the 13th before delivering 5 runs in the 14th to win 10-5. The Rays have now won three games in a row for the first time since April 3rd to 5th and pulled within 2 games of .500 and 2.5 of the division lead. They find themselves on a nice, little run–but it will mean nothing if they fail to sustain it. Hoping to do just that is rookie right-hander Jake Odorizzi.
The Rays’ rotation has dealt with some major bumps in the road since Alex Cobb‘s injury, but many of them have worked themselves out for the time being. David Price returned to form on Friday night with 7 strong innings, and Cesar Ramos and Erik Bedard have proven to be passable in the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. Bizarrely, though, two pitchers the Rays thought they could rely on, Odorizzi and Chris Archer, have dealt with unremitting inconsistency right when the Rays need them the most. Archer has delivered three good starts among his six on the season, but Odorizzi has reeled off four straight sub-par outings since a strong season debut. Is this the start where that finally changes?
Odorizzi continued to show signs for optimism. The pitch that was the key to his victory in the fifth starter competition, the split-change he learned from Alex Cobb, has lived up to the hype and become his out-pitch. It has missed bats and forced groundballs, and the only issue has been the occasional mistake up in the zone. Odorizzi’s fastball command, another point of emphasis in his career, has also been fine in most of his starts. Instead, Odorizzi has found himself in trouble because he is relying too heavily on those two pitches and has not gotten a consistent feel for his slider and curveball. The fastball-splitter combination has been effective early in games, but since Odorizzi has been unable to give hitters different looks, they have hit him hard the second and third times through the order. The Rays have tried different approaches early in games and have yet to find success. However, Odorizzi is too talented of a pitcher not to adjust and now he finally heads into a start with his team feeling confident.
If there is any game for Odorizzi to break out, it is this one right here. It is baffling that his slider and curveball have not been factors after they were major parts of his repertoire in previous seasons, and this could be the start he finally gets them back. With the Rays’ bullpen burnt out and Masahiro Tanaka opposing him, the pressure is on Jake Odorizzi to finally deliver a strong outing. He is capable of doing just that, and if he can, it will be the latest step of the Rays turning their entire season around before our very eyes.