Wishing happy trails to Andy Sonnanstine
By Robbie Knopf
Long-time Rays pitcher Andy Sonnanstine has signed with the Chicago Cubs, ending his 5-year run in St. Petersburg. Sonnanstine has mixed results during his time with the Rays, posting a 5.26 ERA. But let’s look at back on the positives from these past five years.
In his second major league start on June 10th, 2007, Sonnanstine was outstanding. He went 7 two-run innings, allowing 2 runs on 7 hits, and impressively striking out 10 compared to 0 walks as he threw 71 of his 99 pitches for strikes. As a rookie, Sonnanstine never really got into a groove, never getting his ERA below 5.00. But his second start was one of the flashes of potential that he showed that season, and the next season, the Rays could depend on him.
The 2008 season did not start off well at all for Sonnanstine as he posted a execrable 8.80 ERA in his first 3 starts. But he turned everything around with a nearly-flawless effort, 3-hitting the Chicago White Sox, striking out 4 while walking 1. And from then on, he was one of the Rays’ dependable starters as they went on their improbable run all the way to the World Series. He posted a 3.99 ERA and a 3.73 FIP in his final 29 starts of the season as he ended up with a 13-9 record, a 4.38 FIP, and 193.1 innings pitched overall on the season. He was especially good in September, posting a 3.16 ERA. And in the playoffs, Sonnanstine contributed a nice 2 runs in 5.2 innings performance in Game 4 of the ALDS in the series clinching game before tossing 7.1 four-run innings (3 ER) in ALCS Game 4 as the Rays won the game 13-4. Sonnanstine finally had a bad start in World Series Game 4, allowing 5 runs (3 ER) in 4 innings, but it was forgivable because of everything else he did down the stretch. Sonnanstine was by no means dominant in 2008, but he was dependable starter who got hot down the stretch and he was a valuable piece of the Rays’ AL-winning roster.
2009 was a disaster season for Sonnanstine as he fought through a hamstring strain and posted just a 6.77 ERA and a 5.45 FIP (4.78 xFIP) in 18 starts and 4 relief appearances. But he still had a moment that Rays fans and even many non-Rays fans will remember for a very long time. On Sunday May 17th, the Rays accidentally filled out their lineup card incorrectly, putting both Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria at 3rd base (Longoria was supposed to be the DH), and that made them lose the DH and have their starting pitcher, Andy Sonnanstine, bat in the game. The results were shocking. Sonnanstine didn’t pitch a very good game, allowing 5 runs in 5.2 innings, but in his 3rd at-bat, he shockingly laced an RBI double off of Indians starter David Huff. Nobody in the stadium could believe that Sonnanstine had gotten that hit, a double to the left field wall, and it actually represented a key insurance run in the game. Sonnanstine is the last AL pitcher to get a hit in an AL-only game. He ended up with the win in the game as the Rays won 7-5.
In 2010 and in early 2011, Sonnanstine pitched solidly in relief, posting a 4.15 ERA in 43 relief appearances and 4 starts. Sonnanstine flopped in 2011 after being moved to the rotation after Jeff Niemann injured his back, posting a 7.33 ERA in 9 appearances including 4 starts, and in the middle of that, he was sent down to Triple-A Durham. He did finish his Rays career strongly, striking out 2 in a scoreless relief appearance against the Yankees on September 20th.
Someday Andy Sonnanstine will be just a footnote in the Rays history. That time is not for a while since the Rays haven’t been around very long. Sonnanstine was one of the first players in Rays history to win 13 games in a season (he accomplished the feat along with James Shields and Scott Kazmir in 2008), and he was a key part of the Rays’ 2008 World Series runs. Thanks Andy for nice moments and good luck in Chicago.