Jim Prisching / AP
Recently I have been hearing more and more chatter about the Rays shutting down Rays starters Matt Garza and James Shields before the end of the 2009 season. There are several great reasons for this to happen, but the most compelling answer might be that if the Rays are not playing for anything in particular, like a playoff berth, maybe they should shut down their work horses before the Rays last home stand of the season.
This makes a lot of sense for several reasons, but the clear facts that the Rays have other pitchers in their Bullpen who could take some of the slack off both of the starters. over the Lance Cormier, Andy Sonnanstine and Jeff Bennett could throw some valuable innings right now to perserve both Shields and Garza for the 2010 season.
And there lies an interesting situation for the Rays Caoching staff. All three of these Bullpen pitchers have at one time or another been spot starters either in the minor or major leagues. And the possibility of each or all of them pitching at least 4-6 innings of work could take some of the pressure off the Rays staff. But real problem might be in convincing both the competitve Garza and Shields that they can take a rest because of what they have both done since the beginning of the 2008 season.
The reality of shutting both of them down does merit a great amount of thought since both guys will either be passing or nearing their innings pitched totals for 2008 in their next two starts. Neither pitcher has anything to prove to the Rays staff or fans. We know they have been the studs who have gone out there every 5 days and thrown their arms off for this team in both 2008 and 2009. And maybe a little more pitching information on both of them in the last two seasons might make this decision a whole lot easier for the fans to digest.
And a honest fact that might have eluded most of the Rays fan base is the odd fact that Shields will easily become the only Rays pitcher to ever throw three straight 200+ innings in a season with his next start. And Shields, os also the only Rays starter to ever throw 2 consecutive 200+ innings in a season. Shields has been a thoughbred during the last two years throwing 215 innings in both 2007 and 2008, and that mark was only 9 innings short during both seasons of the 2002 pitching record set by ex-Rays Tanyon Sturtze (224).
During the 2008 regular season, Shields went to the hill 33 times for the Rays and posted a 14-8 record with a 3.56 ERA. To further boast the reputation of Shields, only Toronto’s Roy Halladay (471.1) posted more innings than Shields (430) in the past two seasons in the American League. But in 2009, there have been times that it actually looked like maybe he was having a “Post Season Hangover” because of the extra 25 innings tossed in the 2008 playoffs.
But the same scenario can also apply for Garza. Even though in 2008 he did miss a few starts due to a radial nerve irritation situation in April and missed 16 games on the disabled list. But even with his missing a few starts in 2008, the Rays gunslinger threw 184.2 innings last season and also tossed an additional 25 innings in the post season. Garza took the mound for the Rays in 30 regular season starts, and like Shields also started 4 games in the Rays run to the 2008 World Series. That would push Garza’s 2008 total to 209.2 total innings, which is a lot for any pitchers first full-season in the Major Leagues.
And in 2008 he responded to the Rays challenge with a 11-9 record and a 3.70 ERA in those 30 regular season starts. But it was his two srats in the 2008 American League Championship Series that established Garza as a threat every time out on the mound. During that series he allowed only 2 earned runs in 13 innings and posted a 1.38 ERA during the ALCS 7-game series against the Red Sox. But it was his stellar performance in Game 7 held on October 19,2008 that has endeared him to Rays fans forever.
During that contest, Garza threw for 7-innings and produced a 2-hit, 1-run gem against the Red Sox while striking out 9 Boston hitters. It was a truly gutsy clutch performance, and a feat that eventually garnered him the 2008 ALCS Most Valuable Player award by allowing only 7 total hits in his 13 innings during the 7-game series. In doing so, Garza became the youngest pitcher ever to win the ALCS MVP award while holding Boston to a .226 batting average and gaining victories against, Red Sox starter Jon Lester in both their starts in the ALCS.
And in 2009, Garza also has push onward and upward and had classic Rays moments, but also had outings where it looked like the carry over post season innings might have given him a bit of arm fatigue. Garza has posted only a 7-10 record this season with a 3.84 ERA. Though todays game, Garza has already made 29 starts for the Rays,and has surpassed his 2008 inning pitched total by a 1/3 of an inning (185).
Over his last 10 starts this season, Garza has averaged 6 2/3rds innings of work, with only one outing against the Los Angeles Angels did he throw less than 5 innings. In that contest on August 10, 2009, Garza lasted 3.1 innings and surrendered 4-runs on 6-hits while also being tagged for 2 homers in the outing. And Garza has gone at least seven i
Coming into tonight’s game against the Orioles, it is possible for Shields to have a total of three more starts in 2009, he should be going to the hill in the Rays last road trip of 2009 to Texas (Sept. 25) and could have possibly two more starts at home against the Orioles ( Sept. 30) and the season finale against the New York Yankees on Sunday,October 4th. Garza himself could be in line for at least two trips to the mound to conclude 2009, starting with a possible start against the Rangers (Sept. 26) and take the mound again in his last home appearance on October 1st against the Yankees.
To decide to place either player on the bench for the rest of the season will be a difficult decision by the Rays. But the great fact that the Rays have three long relievers right now on their roster, and could even bring up an additional long reliever or starter after the Durham Bulls finish their playoff run, this give the team realistic options to shutting the pair down soon. Either way, the Rays could possibly shut down both of their top pitchers by the time the team returns from Texas on September 27th.
The Rays Coaching staffs decision has to be based on the total number of innings thrown by the young pair, with an eye towards the 2010 season. I actually see them maybe sitting down Garza after his start in Texas since he already has peaked out at around his 2008 innings totals. Shields might get two more starts at the most before they should shut him down.
Both pitcher should be proud of this seasons efforts and the level of stability they have established in both of their pitching in the last two seasons. Subtle adjustments and pitching grip changes might be in order for both in the off season, but their collective 2009 seasons have given the Rays a chance to strive towards their post season goals all season long.
Both pitchers have also established themselves among the best young arms in the AL East, and should develop more in 2010. I just hope both pitchers take the possible “shut downs” as a career positive and not a demotion or negative at all. Both have produced countless memories for the Rays in 2009, and I give both of them a standing ovation and a huge round of applaud for their efforts. If the season has no possible merits for the post season again, and the honest fact that the additional innings could increase their chances of injury, then they should be shut down to conserve a pair of the Rays best resources.
The Rays starting pitching did not set the league on fire in 2009, but it did raise a few eyebrows to the competitive nature of this team, and the Rays should again be fighting for the division league for many years to come. Shields And Garza are two valuable member of the Rays future plans for success, and everything should be done in the team’s power to conserve and eliminate any possible injury situations in the last couple of weeks of the season. For we all want to again see both of them celebrating and having the time of their lives in the post season. And if that means sitting them right now, then that is the right decison.