It’s less than a week until Opening Day and the Tampa Bay Rays’ pitching staff is still in flux. For the second year in a row, multiple starters and down with injuries, and this year, we can add their closer into the mix. In 2014, it cost the team a shot at a fast start and, eventually, their season. Lots of jobs are open, but we know three things for certain and they are the following.
Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, Alex Colome, Jake McGee, and Matt Moore will begin the season on the disabled list. Cobb, Smyly, Colome, and McGee will ready sometime in April, but no firm date has been set. Moore is out until mid-summer. Even more disturbing is that since none of the starters aside from Cobb have seen much spring training action, they will need to make a series of rehab starts before they are ready.
Going into the start of the season, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Nate Karns, and the newly acquired Erasmo Ramirez will be the four starters. Although this is a better group than the Rays had in April of 2014 when they were depending on Erik Bedard and Cesar Ramos, it still is from a sure bet to succeed. Karns is a rookie coming off a 5.08 ERA at Triple-A while Ramirez didn’t exactly set the world on fire in his stint with Seattle.
The core of the bullpen looks strong even without McGee. A seemingly rejuvenated Grant Balfour along with Brad Boxberger, Kevin Jepsen, Jeff Beliveau, and reclamation project Ernesto Frieri should be able to hold the fort until McGee returns. All five have had good springs.
One question is how do the Rays fill in the last three pitching positions until the big boys come back. One move might be to choose two of three rookie relievers, C.J. Riefenhauser, Steve Geltz, and Kirby Yates, to fill out the bullpen. Riefenhauser, who’€™s a lefty, and Yates, who has better command than Geltz, seem to be the logical choices. All three have options remaining, and that’s important because someone will be sent down when McGee returns.
The fifth starter in the rotation is more complicated. Matt Andriese and Everett Teaford are the two sensible possibilities. Teaford is currently in minor league camp, but that could be as much about stretching him out as it is about his performance. In any event, the Rays’ decision is complicated by the fact that they don’t need a fifth starter until April 14th.
The Rays could have either pitcher start Opening Day for the Durham Bulls on April 9th in preparation for that start, but the Rays have an interesting opportunity on the major league roster before that. We mentioned seven relievers, which is how many the Rays will carry most of the season, but since they don’t need a fifth starter, they can actually carry eight to begin the year.
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The Tampa Bay Rays could just carry all three of Riefenhauser, Geltz, and Yates, but they have a chance to have an extra starting pitcher in their bullpen in case a starter has a bad outing in any of their first three games. It isn’t too often that a team can carry a pitcher in their bullpen who is capable of going five or six innings and is fresh after just recently being stretched out. It would be difficult for the Rays to find a use for an extra short reliever, but an additional long man would be more interesting.
It makes sense for the Rays to have either Andriese or Teaford with them on Opening Day. With the exception of one start, Andriese had a good spring, is on the 40-man roster, and has options left. Teaford, meanwhile, is on a minor league contract and not on the roster, but he has major league experience, is a lefty (which the Rays currently don’t have in their rotation), and can start or relieve. The Rays face a tough choice with those facts in mind.
My guess is that the season opens with Riefenhauser and Yates in the bullpen and Teaford as a long man/fifth starter. Putting Matt Moore on the 60 day disabled list will create a roster spot.* Andriese, meanwhile, can go to Durham to keep improving his arsenal at Triple-A. None of these moves create the pitching staff the Tampa Bay Rays had hoped for when spring training began, but it’€™s best they can hope for at the moment.
*I also don’t think that either Bobby Wilson or Jake Elmore will make the roster unless David DeJesus is traded to create another spot. Andriese’s biggest advantage over Teaford is the fact that he’s on the 40-man roster, but there’s a good chance that point will be moot.