Even though it had already been announced that the Tampa Bay Rays would turn to a four-man rotation over the first six weeks of the season, manager Kevin Cash explained on Wednesday that the team may lean on that rotation indefinitely.
The rotation would likely be comprised of Chris Archer, Blake Snell, Nathan Eovaldi, and Jake Faria, while the pool of multi-inning relievers initially will include Matt Andriese, Austin Pruitt, Andrew Kittredge, Anthony Banda, Yonny Chirinos, Chih-Wei Hu, Hunter Wood and Ryan Yarbrough.
In his morning media session, Cash said when a fifth starting spot comes up, the team will be using a bullpen day, or multiple multi-inning pitchers — something the Rays plan to test drive over in the first month-and-a-half of the season.
We’re going to try to stay at four, Cash said. We’re going to have some ‘bullpen day’ in there. We’re going to try and do that for a long period of time. We’re going to learn a lot in the first six weeks.
In short, the Rays plan to use four starters in standard order, and on normal rest, and when they do need a fifth, they will pick whichever two or three multi-inning relievers are available, or call up a fresh arm to cover the “start.”
Manager Kevin Cash says with the four-man rotation to start the year, he plans on having “multiple” guys that can go a time through the order in the bullpen. #Rays
— Steve Carney (@stevecarney) March 6, 2018
That follows what the Rays skipper had said on Tuesday, that the bullpen would have 3-4 pitchers in an eight-man bullpen that could go once through the order. On the fifth day, a pair of relievers could each go three innings, and then set up the rest of bullpen to be used in regular order.
Cash said deciding on which pitchers are starters, and which are used in the ‘pen may be hard to assess, although it will be determined, in part, by how well their arms bounce back from outing to outing.
As Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) wrote, the team has its reasons even if they are a bit convoluted:
First, it’s not that they don’t have anyone to be a fifth starter, but rather they have several candidates — though none they necessarily are confident can get them regularly deep into games.
So rather than designate a No. 5, and use him — at most — once every five days, they would rather add that arm to the pool of multi-inning relievers in their eight-man pen. That way, they have the potential to use him two or three times in that five-day stretch. And when that fifth day comes up, they’ll use
Second, that having a “bullpen day” can be an advantage, allowing them to use pitchers who present different looks and have shown to be more effective when only going through the opposing order once or twice, which is now a core part of their philosophy.
To put it another way, Cash views it as playing to the pitchers strengths:
It’s a reflection of who we have available, Cash said. We feel like we have a lot of good young pitchers, and we want to get them all their reps and not limit somebody.
Eovaldi, who is expected to play a crucial role in the starting rotation — whatever that is — reiterated Cash’s comments:
We have a lot of young, talented arms down there, guys who are ready to go, Eovaldi said. And we’ve got a lot of guys that can go multiple innings as well. It’s going to be a unique situation, but I think it will be able to work out.
The plan could work, or it could be a miserable failure resulting in a standard five-man rotation. Topkin rattled off a couple of caveats that, if navigated properly, could result in a successful and innovative plan.
- It’s going to take a tremendous amount of time and effort in the coordination, with a red flag warning of overuse, and some good fortune after what has been a horrible spring.
- Besides having the four starters stay healthy, the team’s going to need a few breaks, with a couple of these young arms handling the conversion to the new role — physically and mentally — well.
You can hear all of Cash’s comments below, courtesy of Rays Radio.
Jose De Leon headed for Tommy John surgery
The Rays lost another top pitching prospect on Wednesday with RHP Jose De Leon headed for Tommy John surgery after tearing his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL).
De Leon was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Logan Forsythe in January 2017, yet he had a rough first season with Tampa Bay. After joining the team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, the right-hander spent much of his campaign on the minor-league disabled list, pitching in just one big-league game.
He, however, earned praise this spring for entering camp in great physical shape, and for throwing better, only to sustain the injury in his last bullpen session. His last game appearance was on Saturday, March 2.
De Leon, 25, was in the Rays’ plans in 2018, even though he was slated to open the season with Triple-A Durham. Down two pitchers, Tampa Bay still has hurlers Anthony Banda, Ryan Yarbrough and Yonny Chirinos waiting in the wings in Durham, or potentially in the Rays’ bullpen. Still, the Rays are now less equipped to handle a major injury (or injuries) in the rotation than they were at the start of Spring Training.
The possibility of promoting Double-A arms to fill the Triple-A vacancies, or pursuing additional veteran depth from outside the organization, remains.
De Leon will see noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews for another opinion, with surgery expected.