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Tampa Bay Rays: Get Ready for Drew Smyly and the Backup Plans

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Drew Smyly is not long from returning to the Tampa Bay Rays, but the timing could have worked out better. After starting yesterday, Smyly is in line to start again on August 16th, but the Rays don’t need a fifth starter again until the 18th of the month. Even if Smyly was ready for that game (which he likely is not), it would be crazy to have his routine disrupted right as he returns to the major leagues after a serious shoulder injury. The Rays could hypothetically have Smyly start in the majors on the 16th and push every other starter back a day, but that would mean messing everyone up to make room for a pitcher who comes with serious questions.

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With that in mind, Smyly is most likely to return either on August 23rd or on August 26th. It wouldn’t be as big of a deal to push back his next minor league rehab outing to the 18th and then have him pitch five days later in the majors. If he needs two more starts rather than just one, meanwhile, then he could stay on regular rest and pitch for the Durham Bulls on the 16th and 21st before slotting back into the Rays’ rotation on the 26th. The Rays will need to decide which day to start Smyly, although the good news is that the Rays could move Smyly’s start on the 21st to the majors if he looks good enough to warrant the inconvenience for the other starters.

If the Rays stick with the plan of having Smyly return on the 26th, that would give them the chance to do two interesting things. By having a pitcher, likely Matt Andriese, make a spot-start on August 18th, they could avoid starting Nate Karns from his start on the 19th all the way to the 29th. Karns is currently on pace to surpass his current career-high in innings by 21.1 frames, and giving him additional rest would help insure that the increase is more manageable. Beyond that, though, the Rays could get as good of a feel as possible for who should compose their rotation down the stretch.

Andriese is lined up perfectly to start on the 18th, so it makes a lot of sense for him to be called up for that game over Matt Moore. However, Moore looked great in his last Triple-A outing, and if he pitches well again in his start tonight, it would also be nice for the Rays to see him one more time in the major leagues and assess would he could give them the remainder of the year. By giving Moore one extra day of rest before starting again for Durham on the 18th, he could start for the Rays on the 23rd. Andriese could also be demoted between his spot-start and Moore’s, giving the Rays an extra bullpen arm for that time.

The Rays are set to have a starting five of Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Erasmo Ramirez, Karns, and Smyly once Smyly returns, but the uncertainty for Smyly as he returns from the DL puts a premium on the team’s starting depth. The Rays have a chance in the coming weeks to give auditions to both Andriese and Moore for the sixth starter job (in case Smyly isn’t ready) while giving Karns the extra rest that he needs anyway and keeping Archer on turn. After seeing Andriese, Moore, and Smyly pitch, they could make as informed of a decision as possible about who should join their rotation to stay.

Drew Smyly has looked outstanding when healthy since joining the Rays, and if the Rays are confident that he has regained that form, they can bring him back on the 16th, the 21st, or the 23rd and reenter a conventional five-man rotation. On the other hand, if they have any reason for concern, they can push Smyly back to the 26th to give him as much time as possible to be ready while getting a look at Andriese and Moore as possible backup plans. The Rays are well aware of the variability that comes with pitchers recovering from injuries after how badly Moore pitched after Tommy John Surgery, and their current schedule gives them the ability to hedge their risk.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Recap: Signs of Life From Smyly, Jennings

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