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What Will the Rays Do If Drew Smyly Starts 2015 on DL?

By Robbie Knopf
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There is a reason that the Tampa Bay Rays have accumulated so much starting pitching depth–they will need it from the first day of the regular season. The Rays’ depth allowed them to trade Jeremy Hellickson and still have Alex Colome and Nate Karns as candidate for their fifth starter spot until Matt Moore returns from Tommy John Surgery. However, they may actually need to replace another starter when the season begins.

The Rays told Marc Topkin that left-hander Drew Smyly is questionable for the start of the regular season because of tendinitis in his left shoulder. Kevin Cash downplayed the injury in several different ways.

"“He’s basically going through a little bit of shoulder tendinitis right now,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Everything we’re doing right now is precautionary. It’s kind of on him and how he feels from this point forward.”…“From the standpoint of where he’s at now, it’s just more or less we’re going to kind of wait and see,” Cash said. “He’s a big part of what we’re doing so we want to make sure he’s good to go before he ramps it up. If you look back, it’s pretty normal with a lot of pitchers – throw a couple bullpens and get a little tendinitis.”…“We just don’t know yet. I think it’s fair to say there’s a concern, but it’s so early we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. The shoulder, he’s improving daily. So, he’s a big part of what we’re doing so we want to be precautionary and cautious with how we get him ramped up here.”"

Cash did his best to elucidate that Smyly’s injury is not serious, and unless he faces another injury, his worst-case scenario is simply missing two or three starts at the beginning of the season. Any injury concerns for Smyly may be outweighed by the other news Cash talked about: Alex Colome’s visa issues are close to resolution and he is expected to get right onto his intended spring schedule when he does arrive.

It is great that Colome’s situation is becoming clearer, but the Rays still face uncertainty regarding the beginning of the 2015 season. Right now, their only guarantees are that Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, and Jake Odorizzi will be ready for Opening Day, and while Nate Karns is not necessarily big league-ready, he will be available as well.

Either Karns or Colome could potentially fill Smyly’s rotation spot if the Rays so desire. Karns’ timetable could be moved up one day and into Smyly’s spot with a short outing on March 15th while Colome could simply enter Smyly’s rotation slot on the 14th. The Rays likely want to pitch Colome before the 14th, so it makes more sense for Karns to start the third game of the season for the Rays.

However, that doesn’t mean that Karns’ outing will be anything more than a spot-start. The Rays’ third starter will make his second appearance on April 13th, and the Rays don’t need a fifth starter until April 14th. Karns could just be biding time until Smyly and Colome are ready to start in some order on the 13th and 14th.

The most interesting scenario–although probably not the best one for the Rays–would be to have Karns and Colome appear back-to-back on April 13th and 14th, the 18th and 19th, and potentially the 24th and 25th. The rotation competition could continue into the regular season, and Smyly would only replace one of them after they had a few starts to show what they can do at the major league level.

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If neither Smyly nor Colome is ready to start in the big leagues by April 14th, that would make things more complicated. Then the Rays might need someone like Matt Andriese or Enny Romero to make a spot-start before someone would hopefully be ready be the 19th. If they did need to make a second fill-in appearance, then at least they could be sent down on the 19th and give Smyly and Colome until the 25th to be ready.

It will not be easy for the Tampa Bay Rays to work out their rotation schedule without Drew Smyly, at least until we know more about Alex Colome’s readiness. The good news, though, is that they have several options for temporary replacements and should not need any less-than-ideal candidate to fill in for more than one start or two at the maximum.

There is a scenario coming into view where the Rays use two or three of Nate Karns, Alex Colome, Matt Andriese, and Enny Romero before Drew Smyly returns, and it says something that having that many of them pitch would not be a terrible situation. Having Karns and Colome start would certainly be their preference, but even Andriese and Romero would be getting longer looks for a rotation spot in another organization.

The Rays had to start Erik Bedard and Cesar Ramos far too often last year, but a year later, their Triple-A options are better prepared to contribute. Everything changed for Chris Archer when he looked electric filling in for Jeremy Hellickson for two starts in 2012, and that scenario could happen again. The Rays are hoping that Drew Smyly comes back soon, but they will be excited to see what their prospects can do in the meantime.

Next: Why Rays Are Best Off With Desmond Jennings in Left Field

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