Josh Fleming made his 2021 debut on the mound for the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday against the Texas Rangers.
He was solid, giving up one run on four hits over 5+ innings of work, and his return to the big league club was desperately needed.
The recent injury of Chris Archer has not only brought concern to an already depleted Rays pitching staff, but also new opportunities for the arms currently at the team’s alternate site in Port Charlotte.
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In his place, Rays fans have gotten the pleasure of seeing two young arms come up to the big league club. The first being Brent Honeywell Jr., who made his MLB debut on Sunday against the Yankees.
The second of those arms is the aforementioned Josh Fleming, someone who was a welcomed sight in the 2020 rotation, going 5-0 with a 2.78 ERA, 150 ERA+ and 0.8 WAR in seven appearances, five starts, in his rookie season.
Josh Fleming: The next Ryan Yarbrough?
One thing of note about last season is that despite Josh Fleming’s 2.78 ERA, his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) was 4.40, a difference of 1.62, which is concerning.
For those that don’t know how FIP works, it focuses on the events during a game that a pitcher can control most: strikeouts, walks, hit-by-pitches and home runs.
Josh Fleming pitches to contact, and induces weak contact at that, and he doesn’t strike out hitters at an exorbitant rate. Consider him a younger version of Ryan Yarbrough to make this comparison easier.
However, like Yarbrough, manager Kevin Cash can pencil Josh Fleming in for five to seven innings a start, and just like Wednesday, he’ll work with efficiency and speed on the mound. Putting the Rays in the driver’s seat to win each time he takes the mound.
Unfortunately, the offense was silent except for a solo home run from Brandon Lowe in the ninth, his first home run of the season.
Who will follow Josh Fleming from the minors?
Josh Fleming’s start is a big sign for the pitchers that the Rays are holding onto at the alternate site. Guys like Shane McClanahan, Luis Patiño, Brendan McKay and the aforementioned Honeywell Jr. to name a few. McKay is recovering from injury, but once healthy, he should slot back into the rotation.
The more injuries and hardships that the Rays have to go through this season, the quicker they will be forced to use the talent that currently resides at the alternate site or that will be in Durham come May.
Overall, the biggest positive from last night is that the 2020 regular season does not seem like a fluke. Josh Fleming has back-end starter potential, and if someone like Michael Wacha doesn’t perform, or Archer doesn’t stay healthy, there is an empty rotation spot for him to shine.