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Rays Piecing Together Starting Rotation Puzzle

Jamal has been a writer for Bleacher Report since 2010 focused strictly on the Rays. He has had his work featured on websites such as Forbes, USA Today, CBS Sports, Houston Chronicle and the LA Times. Jamal is a special correspondent for 620wdae.com covering the Tampa Bay Rays.

 

The battle for the Tampa Bay Rays fifth starter position is puzzling. 

Jake Odorizzi, Erik Bedard, Cesar Ramos and Nate Karns are each trying to show they are the best option to fill the temporary void created by Jeremy Hellickson’s injury. 

If you look at the players as assets, Bedard is the best choice. Unfortunately for him, his play on the field suggests otherwise.

Bedard offers a unique opportunity for the Rays. He can fill the void created by injury and then, should the Rays choose so, can be traded for a future asset to help the team down the line.

His performance so far this spring, by the numbers, a lot to be desired.

In three games, including one start, he has a 7.71 ERA after allowing six earned runs in only seven innings pitched. He has a 2.29 whip and opponents have a .355 batting average against him.

In other words, he is not doing so well. 

The good news for Bedard is manager Joe Maddon has said the team is not evaluating the pitchers based on their performances in the games, but rather the process instead.

It is the process that reduces Odorizzi as the best candidate.

Part of the process has included Odorizzi working on adding a changeup to his arsenal of pitches. In his last outing against the Boston Red Sox, he had some glimpses of hope with the pitch but also had moments where he struggled and got behind in the count.

If the Rays are serious about Odorizzi incorporating a changeup in his game, then it would make the most sense to have him start the season in Triple-A to continue to refine the pitch. That would make him a greater asset long term when he can be called up throwing a larger variety of pitches.

Ramos presents an interesting dynamic to the solution but not an effective answer.

Since he is already on the 40-man roster, in theory he can take about 10 starts to begin the year and the Rays can keep an additional reliever on the roster to backfill him. This scenario would allow Odorizzi to keep developing and compensate for any possible performance concerns with Bedard.

What it does not answer is who would backfill Ramos as the long reliever. 

Trading away Alex Torres means the Rays do not have another asset that can step in if a starter struggles early and eat multiple innings from the bullpen, with quality. 

The Rays relief pitchers are mostly comprised of pitchers (Juan Carlos Oviedo, Heath Bell, Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and Grant Balfour) that handle high leverage situations and minimal innings. The remaining options that are major league ready including Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes and Brad Boxberger would not make great choices as they do not have experience pitching over three innings of relief.

Basically, if Ramos was the selection for the fifth starter, the Rays would be left with a round hole and a plethora of square pegs.

That leaves Nate Karns as another potential option, though, he is the largest wild card of all since he has never pitched at the Triple-A level.  

Karns was acquired by the Rays just before spring training from the Washington Nationals in the deal for Jose Lobaton. In 2013, he started three games for the Nationals before the All-Star break, replacing injured pitcher Ross Detwiler. He pitched in only 12 innings allowing five home runs and 10 runs total. He finished with an 0-1 record and a 7.50 ERA.

The remainder of 2013 was spent in Double-A Harrisburg where Karns had a 10-6 record with a 3.26 ERA in 23 starts.

Joe Maddon and the Rays have made some interesting decisions over the years, starting the season with a pitcher that has never pitched in Triple-A in the rotation would be another to add to the list.

This is why all roads seem to point to Bedard as the most likely option as the final starter in the rotation. He provides the organization with roster flexibility for future moves, including what to do in the event another starter gets hurt.

The Rays will have to piece the starting rotation puzzle together in the next 12 days since Bedard can opt-out of his deal on March 23. 

 

 

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