Tampa Bay Rays: Matt Moore Set To Replace Karns in Rotation


It has just been confirmed that the Tampa Bay Rays will have Matt Moore replace Nate Karns in their rotation. However, Karns may be back to starting games before long–the switch isn’t nearly as simple as a starter-for-starter swap.

We knew that the Rays were going to bring back Moore in September and likely on September 1st, but it was quite interesting when they said that he was going to rejoin their rotation. We can say that Moore did everything he could to get back on track at Triple-A Durham, but was he good enough to warrant removing any of the Rays’ five strong starters from the rotation? A six-man rotation also seemed to make little sense as the Rays will want to start Chris Archer as much as possible in the season’s final month.

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Marc Topkin pointed out that the Rays could have started Moore tonight if they had wanted to. He last pitched on Friday, making today his scheduled fifth day. Instead, Erasmo Ramirez will take the ball, and it made little sense that he would be doing so if the Rays preferred Karns to him. The Rays are off tomorrow, setting Moore up to pitch either on Friday, Jake Odorizzi‘s scheduled day, or Saturday, when Karns is set to pitch. Then Archer will be ready for Sunday. Once the Rays said that Moore will start over the weekend with Odorizzi and Archer set to pitch as well, it looked quite clear that Karns would not be starting in the next turn through the rotation, and Topkin confirmed that.

Why would the Rays want to replace Karns? His last nine starts provide an explanation as he is 3-1 but with just a 4.70 ERA. The especially concerning thing is the number of home runs that he has allowed. He has given up nine in his last nine starts compared to nine in his 17 outings before that. Karns’ 0.8 HR/9 through July 4th was quite good, especially given all of the bats that he was missing, but his 1.8 HR/9 in the time since has been nothing short of a disaster.

Karns had a reputation at Triple-A for leaving far too many pitches right down the middle and unsurprisingly giving up a lot of hard contact because of that. Remember that just last season, Karns managed only a 5.08 ERA for Triple-A Durham, giving up 16 homers, 25 doubles, and 4 triples in 145.1 innings pitched. Clearly he has broken through to some extent this year–his improved changeup looks like one major reason why–but the Rays may be looking at his recent performance and thinking that his command is beginning to unravel again.

Erasmo Ramirez has also had his concerns, giving up four runs on four separate occasions in his last seven starts. Even in that span, though, he has a 3.95 ERA, which falls short of the pace he had been on but is also pretty good for a so-called stretch of struggles. Drew Smyly is another guy who comes with questions, but he looked dominant on Tuesday with his arsenal reaching its pre-injury form for the first time since he returned. He doesn’t look like he should be going anywhere after a game like that.

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Then we have Archer and Odorizzi, both of whom have also had their issues recently. Archer has a 3.86 ERA in his last 10 starts while Odorizzi is at 4.62 in his last nine. On the other hand, both are talented enough to warrant some faith, and their peripherals remain excellent. Archer still has a 2.64 FIP in that span as he has struck out 82 while walking just 18 and kept his homer rate reasonable. Even Odorizzi was at a 3.42 FIP in that span, and if we go back to his last eight starts, his numbers are just about identical to Archer–a 3.88 ERA and a 2.61 FIP. They haven’t been sharp, but unlike what we saw with Karns, their issues don’t demonstrate concerns for the future. There is no question that they should keep starting, and it still makes sense for them to pitch every fifth day whenever possible.

This quick analysis makes it clear that if the Tampa Bay Rays were going to remove a starter from the rotation to accommodate Moore, Karns was going to be the guy. The thing about Karns’ removal from the rotation, though–and maybe the reason why the Rays have been so tight-lipped–is that Karns may be back to starting relatively soon depending on how the other pitchers are doing.

Earlier in the season, the Rays were confident that Matt Moore would regain his pre-Tommy John form after a few starts, but as we know, they were wrong. Karns will be an insurance policy in case the situation repeats itself. He could relieve Moore in case he needs to leave his next start early, and if Moore continues to struggle, Karns could replace him in the rotation. If Moore does well, on the other hand, then Karns could be freed up to work behind and possibly take the place of Ramirez. Something similar could be said in the case of Smyly or in the scenario the Rays hope to avoid where a starter gets hurt.

Given that Ramirez is starting tonight, it seems clear that he will get a chance to keep his starting spot. He will be followed by Odorizzi on Friday against the Yankees, and then Moore on Saturday and Archer on Sunday. From there, Smyly will start against his former team, the Tigers, on Monday before Ramirez is lined up for Tuesday. Odorizzi will then wrap up the series on Wednesday the 9th before an off-day on the 10th gives the Rays options.

Archer will obviously pitch on the 11th or the 12th, but which day the Rays choose will likely depend on how Moore looks. If Moore pitches well, he will stay on turn and pitch on the 11th before Archer pitches on the 12th. Then the Rays will be able to to choose between Smyly, Ramirez, and maybe even Karns for the 13th and then, after Odorizzi pitches on the 14th, one of Smyly, Ramirez, and Karns will then take the ball on the 15th.

If Moore fails to impress, meanwhile, the Rays could start Archer on regular rest on the 11th then go with Smyly, Ramirez, Odorizzi, and then Karns. That would put them back in their old five-man rotation without too much of a hitch. Karns isn’t necessarily being removed from the rotation–there is certainly a scenario where he is just being given 15 days off before coming right back.

Regardless of who starts in the next week, the Rays have the ability to choose whichever three pitchers they want among Moore, Smyly, Ramirez, and Karns to be in their rotation in the middle of September and potentially the rest of the season. It doesn’t make sense for them to announce their five-man rotation for the month right now because their schedule will allow them to evaluate all of their starters before they decide who most deserves to pitch. Moore is replacing Karns for now, but the Rays won’t mess around–if Moore struggles again, Karns could easily reclaim his rotation spot before we know it. Or, depending on how things turn out, both Moore and Karns could be starting in a week-and-a-half with either Ramirez or Smyly heading to the bullpen.

The biggest takeaway here for Tampa Bay Rays fans is that their team is fortunate enough to have six talented starting pitchers, all of whom could figure heavily into the team’s playoff push. The Rays are confident that they will have a strong September rotation, and the only question is which five starters they will be relying upon as the season draws to a close.

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