The last time we saw Alex Cobb, he was shutting down the Cincinnati Reds to deliver the Tampa Bay Rays to a series victory. The Rays hope he will be leading them to similar results before long. After a great bullpen session, Cobb has accelerated his timetable and could be ready to come back from his oblique strain the end of the month. When Cobb returns, though, there will be an additional side-effect: several tough decisions for the Rays regarding their roster. The next month will be spring training all over again as Rays starting pitchers battle it out to determine who will stick around.
In the spring, Jake Odorizzi beat out Cesar Ramos and Erik Bedard for the Rays’ fifth starter spot, with Ramos heading to the bullpen and Bedard going to Triple-A. Then, before we knew it, all three were in the Rays’ rotation and the way they were performing was much different than the spring. Odorizzi had a great first start and has flashed dominance since, but struggles the second time through the order have left him with a 6.83 ERA through six starts. Ramos has a 2.91 ERA, allowing no more than one run in his last three starts and even impressing when pressed in relief duty on his throw day in the bullpen. Finally, Bedard was hit hard early on but has rebounded in a big way his last two outings, becoming the first of the three pitchers to surpass five innings since that first start from Odorizzi. Combine Bedard’s strong results with Ramos’ experience in the bullpen and Odorizzi’s difficulties, and it looks like he has the best chance to stay in the rotation right now. By the time Cobb’s return comes, though, everything could be different.
Odorizzi may be struggling, but it could be only a matter of time until he finally clicks. The Rays appeared to find a successful formula the first time through the order in his last start with a fastball-heavy approach, but Odorizzi inexplicably did not throw more split-changeups after that. With that in mind, his next outing could be the one where he finally takes off. If Odorizzi can start pitching to his potential, neither of the other two starters can compare. It is worth noting that Odorizzi has a 26-14 strikeout to walk ratio while Ramos is at just 15-14 and Bedard is at 13-11. Odorizzi’s stuff gives him plenty of room to improve while Ramos and Bedard are only treading water. But that will mean nothing if Odorizzi does not start pitching deeper into games.
The Rays have to be excited about Ramos no matter what happens. As his relief outing showed, the breakthroughs he has made as a starter may make him into a more effective pitcher when he returns to the bullpen. Ramos faces an uphill battle to prevent the Rays from using him in that fashion, but if he keeps pitching effectively, he just may have a chance. Bedard, meanwhile, has been about as good as the Rays could have hoped lately and is making a bid to extend his time in the rotation and even his career. His stuff has deteriorated quite a bit from his peak, however, and after how badly he looked early on, we have to wonder whether Redard can make this last. This next month is going to be a key crossroads in Bedard’s career, and we will have to see what happens.
The Tampa Bay Rays will soon be in an enviable position again with a bevy of major league-quality starting pitchers at their disposal. Unlike other times, however, the choice the Rays will need to make when Alex Cobb returns will be a strenuous one. Among the issues to contend with are the future of their latest top pitching prospect, whether it is worthwhile to waste Ramos’ arm in long relief, and how much of a priority it will be to keep Bedard around. One pitcher will not be in the rotation at the end of this month, and there will inevitably be controversy involved.