Rays Game 5 Preview: Jake Odorizzi’s Opportunity Starts Now

By Robbie Knopf

When the Tampa Bay Rays did not end up trading David Price, it seemed like Jake Odorizzi was going to be out of luck. Despite Odorizzi proving himself big league ready in 2013, the Rays did not have a rotation spot to give him and it appeared that he would start 2014 back at Triple-A Durham. Then, in the blink of an eye, everything changed. We heard that Jeremy Hellickson would be sidelined until at least late May after elbow surgery, and a rotation spot was Odorizzi’s for the taking. Odorizzi did not let his chance slip away, beating out Erik Bedard and Cesar Ramos in spring training to break camp as the Rays’ fifth starter. Now we can begin to get an answer to the real question: how good of a starting pitcher can Jake Odorizzi be?

How much time Odorizzi spends in the major leagues is very much up in the air. A few bad starts, and he could be back at Durham before we know it. Decent but unspectacular performance, and he will return to Triple-A when Hellickson is ready. If Odorizzi pitches the way he is capable, however, the Rays will face a difficult decision. Odorizzi has the ability to make the third outcome a reality. His fastball command has made major strides in the past year, and the split-change he developed with the help of Alex Cobb finally gives him a potential strikeout pitch. His curveball that helped him impress in his big league debut features that same big break, and his slider gives him a fourth reliable offering. Odorizzi does not look like a potential frontline starter, but after the way he has improved in the past year, nothing is out of the realm of possibility. Odorizzi has the talent to be a rotation mainstay for the Rays and this extended audition gives him the chance to prove that his time is now. Let’s see what he can do.

Here is the Rays’ lineup behind Odorizzi.

1. Desmond Jennings, CF
2. Wil Myers, RF
3. Ben Zobrist, 2B
4. Evan Longoria, 3B
5. Logan Forsythe, DH
6. Sean Rodriguez, 1B
7. Brandon Guyer, LF
8. Ryan Hanigan, C
9. Yunel Escobar, SS

A bunch of interesting things are happening in this lineup, beginning with Brandon Guyer making his first start of the season. Even at 28 years old, Guyer’s talent stands out, and now it’s time for him to start turning his potential into results. With James Loney taking a day off, the Rays’ other two bench players, Logan Forsythe and Sean Rodriguez, are also in the lineup. After being almost the entire Rays offense against Mark Buehrle, Forsythe’s ability to hit lefties looks real, and in this game, the Rays have him protecting Longoria. With Zobrist batting right-handed against lefty Joe Saunders, all nine batters in the Rays lineup will be batting from the right side to begin the game–but Loney, Matt Joyce, and David DeJesus give the Rays three excellent lefty pinch-hitters. It should be a fun a game as the Rays begin their series with the Texas Rangers and hope to improve to 3-2 on the year.