Damage Control for Tampa Bay Rays’ Starting Pitching
By David Egbert
It just doesn’t seem fair. For the second year in a row, 60% of the starting pitching rotation, the Tampa Bay Rays’ greatest asset, is in the garage for repair. Last year seemed to hold a lot of promise for the Rays and then, just after the start of the season, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb all went down for extended periods of time.
The Rays tried to right the ship with journeyman Erik Bedard, long reliever Cesar Ramos and rookie Jake Odorizzi. Bedard and Ramos failed, and by the time Odorizzi found his sea legs, the season was already lost.
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This year, disaster struck even earlier. We already knew that Matt Moore wouldn’t be back until June or July and that was bad enough. Then, Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly suffered elbow and shoulder tendonitis respectively and the jury is out on when they will return. What we can say is that it looks like neither of them will be ready for Opening Day. To make things worse, Moore’s expected replacement, Alex Colome, was late to camp with visa problems and then developed pneumonia. Can anything else go wrong?
However, there is no crying in baseball, so it’s the Rays’ task to find replacements for their injured starters. Fortunately, they have a better overall group to choose from this year. It is also important that the injuries took place before or during spring training and the Rays have a chance to take a long look at their Triple-A talent.
Tops on that talented list is Nate Karns. Karns is a hard-throwing right hander who came to the Rays from the Nationals. He has pitched well in four spring training games, posting an ERA of 2.03. He seems to be a lock for one of the Opening Day rotation spot and has a chance to keep that job at least until Matt Moore returns.
After Karns, things are a bit iffy. Based on spring results, Matt Andriese seems to be the next logical candidate followed by newly acquired Burch Smith. Andriese has had a nice spring and has thrown 221 Triple-A innings. He’s a ground ball pitcher with a solid slider.
Smith is a bit of a mystery. He was injured most of last year and although he has had a nice spring, his last start was not great. He was highly regarded by the Padres and has thrown 36 major league innings. If the team decides to leave spring training with five starters, he could be number five. Non-roster invitee Everett Teaford is still in the mix, but I don’t see them creating a short-term roster spot for him.
Another option would be to go through April with four starters and eight pitchers in the bullpen. The Rays have three off-days in April and would need a fifth starter for only three games. That could open up an opportunity for Mike Montgomery, who was trying to make the team as a relief pitcher before all of the injuries.
Montgomery has over Triple-A 400 innings as a starter and could play the role of the 8th man in the bullpen and a spot-starter when needed. It would be a nice way to break him into the big leagues.
Of course, all of this means nothing if Cobb and Smyly recover and Colome gets back into shape and pitches well. Cobb is already saying he is feeling better and Smyly is beginning to pitch off the mound. Colume is further away and will probably start the season on the disabled list. There a decent chance, though, that the Rays will only need their rookies to step up for a time or two through the rotation.
It’s going to take a lot of magic and good luck for the Tampa Bay Rays to contend in the AL East. So far, fortune has not gone their way so let’s hope that a couple of speedy medical recoveries and/or sensational rookie pitching performances get the Rays off to a good start. I like the idea better than turning to the Erik Bedard’s of baseball.