It was a big pitching matchup at Tropicana Field on Monday night: Kansas City Royals right-hander James Shields against one of the players he was traded for, Jake Odorizzi. As we heard from Marc Topkin, Shields couldn’t wait for his debut at the Trop as a visiting player. For Odorizzi, though, he could care less about the hyped-up duel with Shields.
“It doesn’t do anything for me, I’m not facing him,” Odorizzi said. “So it is what it is. I guess it will be a good story line.”
As any fan who has been following for baseball for a few years can tell you, players will say a comment like what Jake Odorizzi said a high percentage of the time. The question is always going to be whether the statement true. We can’t know what was going on in Odorizzi’s head as he pitched last night, but we can look at how he did. Odorizzi delivered yet another strong outing, going 6 innings allowing 2 runs on 6 hits, striking out 8 while walking 2. In his last 12 starts, he is now 3-5 but with a 2.97 ERA, managing an 11.2 K/9, a 3.0 BB/9, and a 0.7 HR/9 in 66.2 innings pitched. Someone can look at Odorizzi’s numbers on the season and see that he is inconsistent, but that hasn’t been true at all in recent weeks. Since May 8th, Jake Odorizzi has the same ERA as David Price and a better FIP (2.81 to 3.07). That does not mean that Odorizzi is as good of a pitcher as Price–the Rays ace does have 24.1 more innings pitched–but he has turned the corner and is emerging as the latest high-upside Rays starting pitcher.
The comment that Odorizzi made before his start against the Royals exemplifies who he is as a pitcher quite well. He got off to a disastrous start to 2014, having severe issues the second time through opposing batting orders, but he kept battling until he found a way to adjust. The Tampa Bay Rays gave Odorizzi with faith despite his struggles, and Odorizzi did the rest. The bad starts he was having were just a “story line” and he knew what he was capable of as a pitcher. Then, on a micro level, Odorizzi is the same way from pitch to pitch. He has a fastball that has averaged 91.81 MPH this season, but he doesn’t care that it doesn’t hit the mid-90’s too often. He attacks the strike zone and trusts his command and the pitch’s movement to blow hitters away. Nothing, even a less-than-premium fastball, fazes Jake Odorizzi one bit. Combine that mentality with his ability as a pitcher, and the AL East should be shaking in their boots thinking about what Odorizzi can become.