To be certain, there is a measure of concern surrounding the Tampa Bay Rays starting rotation, and rightly so; Alex Colome has finally been released from the hospital after contracting pneumonia, Drew Smyly is starting to throw after battling shoulder tendinitis, and Alex Cobb is coping with his own bout of tendinitis. The challenge for Matt Silverman and Kevin Cash will be to cobble together a handful of pitchers plug the hole in the rotation until Smyly and Cobb return.
More nerve wracking, none of the players tapped to fill the void — Nathan Karns, Burch Smith, Matt Andriese, Everett Teaford, Mike Montgomery — are projected by Steamer to be anything more than replacement level players (as it relates to WAR). Does that mean any of the presumed replacements couldn’t outperform their projections? Absolutely not. However, it speaks to the challenge set before them considering Cobb, Smyly and Matt Moore are projected for a combined 5.7 WAR.
Matt Silverman spoke on the subject Wednesday,
Our focus is on getting our rotation set for the month of April and making sure that we match up properly given the personnel that we have. That’s something we’re focused on, and hopefully we’ll figure out over the next couple days.
During the broadcast of the game Thursday afternoon, Silverman once again reiterated if any deals for a starter were to be made, Tampa Bay would seek depth Triple-A Durham. The team is confident in their in-house options.
On the bright side, Smyly and Cobb are expected to return shortly after the start of the season, and the Rays will have two off-days within the first 15 days of the season.
We have an off-day after the first series, Silverman told the media. That helps. We’re going to be utilizing a number of arms, and trying to put our guys in the position to succeed and weather this storm.
Karns, a pitcher battling for one of those spots, took the hill against the Minnesota Twins in his fourth start of the spring. And while he wasn’t his sharpest — something Karns partly attributed to the heat — he battled through a couple of heavy lifting situations to give the Rays a solid start. The 27 year-old righty put together a 4-1/3 IP outing in which he allowed two runs on six hits and a walk, while striking out four on 62 pitches (39 Strikes, 63% K/BB).
Karns put down the first five batters of the game to give him a streak 22 consecutive hitters sent down, but a two-out single by Jose Martinez starting a rally for Minnesota. Eric Fryer followed Martinez with a two-run double, giving the Twins an early 2-0 lead. Nathan got into another jam in the fourth after he loaded the bases with no outs on a couple of singles and a walk, yet Karns coaxed an infield popper for the first out (the infield fly rule was in play), and a double play to get out of the inning.
What Karns lacked with spotty fastball command, he made up for by pitching to contact. He forced the Twins to pound the ball into the ground four times and popping them up twice. Dependence upon the defenders behind him will go a long way in keeping him efficient, among other things. The outcome of any given Spring Training game is ultimately pointless. However, one thing that can be evaluated is how a pitcher handles himself in a tough situation. Karns did an excellent job maintaining his cool and limiting the damage to only two runs. In Karns, Cash sees a pitcher with the ability to help the team stay afloat to start the season if he can prevent any self inflicted wounds from being too costly — like he did Thursday.
From the fifth inning on Kirby Yates, Kevin Jepsen, Brad Boxberger and Jordan Norberto retired 13 consecutive batters before Norberto allowed a ninth inning base runner. The four relievers combined for six strikeouts, giving Tampa Bay a grand total of 10 punch outs on the day.
As for the offense, Steven Souza provided all the runs the Rays would need with a second inning RBI on a groundout to third, and a fourth inning, two-run blast to left:
The New What Next
Burch Smith will take the hill for Tampa Bay when it takes on the Blue Jays in Port Charlotte. Matt Andriese is also expected to see action, along with Ernesto Frieri.
Rays 3/19/15 Starting Lineup
- Kevin Cash made another round of cuts Thursday, optioning Enny Romero and Mikie Mahtook, and reassigning Vince Belnome. The option of Romero cuts the field to fill out the season-opening rotation to Burch Smith, Matt Andriese, Mike Montgomery and Everett Teaford (also listed above).
- Drew Smyly played catch at a distance of 100 feet and is scheduled, if all is well, to throw off the mound Saturday.
- August Fagerstrom (FanGraphs) offered a preview of team defenses. Spoiler alert, the Rays are tied for eighth with the Athletics in the coming season. Of note, the middle infield is projected to relinquish 10 runs, however Fagerstrom didn’t note who — Asdrubal Cabrera or Nick Franklin — would play where. On the whole, the Rays defense is projected to save 14 runs.
- Rays’ owner Stu Sternberg offered up some thoughts on the Stadium Saga in Port Charlotte, Thursday. Both Roger Mooney (Tampa Tribune) and Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) covered Sternberg’s media blitz, however both left out a significant acknowledgement made by the Rays owner — he seems to be pivoting from an earlier stance, that baseball isn’t sustainable in downtown St. Petersburg. Sternberg told Bill Chastain (MLB.com),
We might find out that it’s impossible and it can’t be done, and there’s no place that works. I personally believe it can. I personally believe that there’s a location that works dramatically better than where we are, whether it’s 10 feet away or 12 miles away.
Sternberg allowed that a new location and stadium might not prove to be the answer for making the club a bigger draw and more financially competitive. But it’s clear that he hopes to have the chance to make the Rays work in the Tampa Bay area.
- Speaking of Sternberg, the Rays owner spoke with the media on a variety of subjects before Thursday’s game. The audio from the session (courtesy of Rays Radio) follows. You can read a few bulleted highlights further down in this piece:
— Sternberg was excited to at the beginning of the interview, saying, “Change is good! We embrace change, and change is good,” though also mentioning, “I’m as frightened as anybody.” The acknowledgement that he, like the fans, enters things with a measure of trepidation is equally consoling and disconcerting.
— On the subject of Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman, Sternberg dismissively said “not a good” taste was left in his mouth from Maddon leaving, but wishes him “nothing but success” with the Cubs, and there are “no hard feelings.” As for the former President of Baseball Operations, Friedman had been approached by many teams but the job with the Dodgers was “clearly the biggest enchilada out there, so to speak.”
— On the subject of the new manager, Sternberg seemed thoroughly excited to have Kevin Cash in the dugout, saying, “The first thing I like about him, is that we got a guy here we expect to be here for a very long time. That’s a good thing, we can put that to bed.” The Rays owner was complimentary of Cash’s approach, his want to learn as much as he can, and his tireless work ethic.