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Tampa Bay Rays: Four Candidates Competing for Role as Fifth Starter

By David Egbert
Sep 30, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Matt Andriese (35) throws a pitch in the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 30, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Matt Andriese (35) throws a pitch in the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Tampa Bay Rays do not have that veteran journeyman to hold down the fifth spot in the rotation, but they do have a few candidates that are young, come cheaper and can handle the the role.

The fifth starter in a major league rotation is a little like the proverbial red headed stepchild. You don’t expect a lot from him but you also hope he doesn’t mess up too much. For big market teams that means a veteran journeyman pitcher who will be an innings eater and hopefully win as many games as he loses. Those pitchers usually cost between $5 and $10 million a year. The Tampa Bay Rays, don’t have that kind of money for a fifth starter but, fortunately, they do have organizational pitching depth.

So who will be the Tampa Bay Rays fifth starter? Here are four candidates and why or why not they make sense for the job.

The smart money is on Matt Andriese. In 2016, he had 19 starts, compiled an 8-8 record and posted a 3.37 ERA. That is more than good enough to be a fifth starter and he was paid a little over $500,000. However, he has also come out of the bullpen in his career and was equally effective as a reliever posting an era of under 3.00 for June and July of 2016.

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Erasmo Ramirez seems to be Andriese’s twin brother when it comes to pitching. He was an effective starter in 2015 with 27 starts, an 11-6 record and a 3.57 ERA.

In 2016 he was switched to the bullpen and posted a 3.77 ERA in 64 games as a setup man for closer Alex Colome. It would certainly seem that Ramirez and Andriese could switch jobs and still be an extremely effective pair of pitchers. However, the Rays seem to like Andriese as a starter and Ramirez as a reliever.

The Rays also have an interesting rotation candidate in Chase Whitley. Whitley is a former Yankee prospect who was released by the team after having Tommy John surgery. He was picked up by the Rays and made it back to the mound in the fall of 2016. He had a nice month of September with a 2.51 era and 15 strikeouts to 3 walks in 14 innings.

Career wise, he has a total of 17 starts, covering 109 innings, a 4.69 era and a strike to walk ration of 91 to 26. Again, these numbers are respectable for a fifth starter.

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Last but not least is high level prospect Jose De Leon. Obtained in the Logan Forsythe deal, he is a high ceiling starter and the number two prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Last year De Leon pitched at the AAA level for the Dodgers. An injury shortened his season but he pitched 86 innings with a 2.61 ERA and 111 strikeouts and 20 walks. He has a mid 90’s fastball, a quality changeup and a developing slider. He will most likely start the season at Durham but will probably be with the Rays sometime in the year.

As a sidebar, in the Rays March 8th exhibition game against Colombia’s World Baseball Classic team, Chase Whitley started for the Rays and pitched three innings and gave up two hits and one run. He was followed by De Leon who pitched two innings and gave up two hits and one run.

Finally, as we all know, the Rays need all the bullpen help they can get. Alex Colome, Brad Boxberger and Xavier Cedeno are locks but other jobs are more or less open. Therefore, I would suggest that having both Andriese and Ramirez in the bullpen as multi inning setup men.

Having those five pitchers as late inning setup men or closers would give the Rays one of the stronger bullpens in the American League.

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That would leave Chase Whitley as the team’s fifth starter. If he should not prove up the job after a couple of months, the Rays could turn to De Leon or one of the teams other talented minor league starters and keep the bullpen in tact. In the long run, this may to be the best use of the teams many pitching resources.

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