At the beginning of spring training, you would never have thought that starting pitching was going to be a problem for the Tampa Bay Rays. The only issue seemed to be whether Nate Karns or Alex Colome would hold down the number five spot until Matt Moore was ready to pitch. Then the injuries set in, and at one time, only Karns and Chris Archer were healthy enough to take the mound among the Rays’ top six starters. Thankfully, that is about to change.
Chris Archer started today, and he will be followed by Karns, Erasmo Ramirez, and Alex Colome. Ramirez comes back after missing a start with a groin injury. His return is key as he has been pitching very well and without him, the Rays would likely have to resort to using a multitude of bullpen pitchers to cover the start.
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Starting on July 2nd against the Cleveland Indians, things will really pick up as Matt Moore returns after an absence of over a year due to Tommy John Surgery. The groundwork has already been laid for his return as Matt Andriese was optioned to Triple-A in favor of outfielder Grady Sizemore prior to today’s game (Sizemore proceeded to perform very well against the Red Sox). Moore got up to 94 pitches in his last rehab start at Durham, so there should be few restrictions as he makes his way back into the rotation.
Archer, Karns and Ramirez, and Colome would follow Moore as the Rays head to New York and then Kansas City for three-game series. For at least one time through the rotation, that would be the Rays’ starting five. However, that won’t last for long as the Rays have another high-caliber pitcher returning soon after Moore.
Jake Odorizzi can be penciled in to join the Rays’ rotation just before the All-Star Break. His oblique injury was not as serious as some we have seen, and he will make his first rehab start this Thursday. Odorizzi’s return will leave the Rays with the tough decision of whether to move Colome or Ramirez to the bullpen. Colome has more upside but Ramirez has been very consistent as of late. Colome’s stuff may also translate better to shorter stints. In the end, with the way Kevin Cash uses his bullpen, you can’t have enough good relievers.
It wouldn’t be fair to end the article without mentioning the Rays’ last two wounded warriors, Drew Smyly and Alex Cobb. Cobb is done for the season after his own Tommy John Surgery. We don’t have a good idea as to how long it will take Smyly to get his damaged shoulder back to normal. I don’t think he will be back until September, but others are more optimistic. His return has more variability involved than anyone else–the outcomes are as diverse as Smyly requiring surgery that will cost him all of 2016 and him coming back in August.
Despite all of these injuries, the Tampa Bay Rays have somehow managed to compile the third-best record in the American League and remain a game and a half ahead of Yankees and Orioles in the division. A return to a solid, dependable starting rotation and another strong arm in the bullpen will only help the cause. However, the problem it won’t solve is how many well-pitched games the Rays lose because of a lack of offense. Maybe the return of James Loney and John Jaso in July will be the last pieces of the puzzle.