Rays Notes: The Ben Zobrist Decision, Triple-A No-Hitter, Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb Getting Lucky?


When Ben Zobrist‘s grandmother passed away, Zobrist left the team and the Rays were immediately forced to make a decision: place Zobrist on the bereavement list or play with a 23-man roster with Zobrist gone and Yunel Escobar out for a few days with a hand injury? The decision seems obvious–why would you play down a man if you didn’t have to?–except for the fact that placing a player on the bereavement list means that they have to be off the roster for at least three days, and Zobrist was only going to be gone for two. Because of that, Joe Maddon and the Rays decided on the latter option.

"“We’d rather him back one day sooner on the back side,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I think we have enough guys.”"

Does the Rays’ decision really make sense? When you think about it, the answer is yes. Whichever player you’re calling up, are you really going to start him in those two games? Unless the Rays had made a shocking decision and called up Wil Myers, they were more than likely going to get a bench player, and the impact that a bench player can make in two games is probably less than what Zobrist can make in one. That made the Rays’ choice relatively easy. But Joe Maddon was upset that the Rays even had to make such a choice, not understanding the logic of the three-day minimum on the bereavement list.

"Maddon questioned the minimum three-day stay on the bereavement list in that it punishes a team for the player not staying away longer.“That makes no sense,” he said. “I think that thinking is actually reversed.”"

As we discussed in our Rays minor league recap, the Rays’ Triple-A affiliate, the Durham Bulls, tossed a no-hitter against the Pawtucket Red Sox, with Jake Odorizzi, acquired along with Wil Myers in the James Shields trade, tossing 7 no-hit innings to start it off. Odorizzi was amazed by how well the outing went and thankful to Rich Thompson for making a game-saving catch with 1 out in the 9th.

"“Just kind of one of those days where everything goes your way,” Odorizzi said from the Providence, R.I., airport. Included was a ninth-inning catch at the wall by CF Rich Thompson. “That was that play you see in every no-hitter,” Odorizzi said."

So far in 2013, Jeremy Hellickson has done an excellent job with strikeouts and walks, striking out 31 while walking just 11 in 36.1 innings pitched. His 7.7 strikeouts per 9 innings are well above his 6.3 career mark and his 2.7 walks per 9 are better than his career average as well. However, the uptick in strikeout has not helped Hellickson’s performance so far as his ERA stands at 4.71 as he has allowed 6 home runs, 1.5 per 9 innings. His curveball has come on as an effective third pitch, but his fastball command has been iffy and the results have been disastrous overall. Hellickson will look for more consistency on Monday night against a Blue Jays lineupready to break out at any moment.

"I haven’t been as consistent as I want,” Hellickson said. “There was a three-game stretch there where I felt as good as I ever have, and then those last two games have been awful, pretty terrible.”Hellickson said he knows what he is up against Monday.“They have a lot of the same guys,” he said. “A lot of really good hitters. I know they’re not playing to their potential right now, but on any given day the offense can get started, and with the offense they have it could be any day, so I’m going to have to go out and be a little better.”"

Alex Cobb has been great for the Rays to begin 2012, going 4-2 with a 2.79 ERA including a gutsy 6.2 inning, 3-run performance to lead the Rays to a series win versus the Colorado Rockies on Sunday. But has Cobb been fortunate to be anywhere near as good as he has been? Glenn DuPaul of ESPN Insider discussed the luckiest pitchers in baseball so far this season, and Cobb ranked second. DuPaul used batted ball data to estimate pitchers’ ERAs based on the expected run value of each batted ball they have allowed, and the result was that Cobb’s ERA entering his start on Sunday should have been 4.58 as opposed to the 2.55 mark that it was. That seems a little extreme, but Cobb does have some reason for concern. His 50.8% groundball rate so far this season would represent a career low and his 1.1 HR/9 is well above his 0.7 career mark. Like Hellickson, Cobb’s strikeout to walk ratio is excellent at 33-8 in 42 innings pitched, but he’s allowing too much hard contact and he has to change that or he will get into trouble. Cobb certainly won’t allow 3 home runs in every start like he did on Sunday, but he’s playing with fire when he leaves the ball up too often, and hopefully he can rectify that to keep his performance at a level not too far from the way he has started 2013.