Rays Pitching still has Question Marks

 
 
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The only thing right now keeping Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Wade Davis as a question mark entering the final weeks of the Spring is Davis himself. Davis could have made some movement towards silencing his critics, and possibly securing his fifth spot in the rotation with a good outing, but instead Davis stubbed his toes. And that lackluster outing has added fuel to the fire that Davis might not be with the Rays on April 6th for the Home Opener and might be headed down to Durham for a month or so to regroup.

 

And before his last outing, the idea of the Rays sending Davis down to stop his Major League service clock seemed to be the only logical reason to ship Davis back to the minors until at least the middle of May and sticking with Mr “Plug In”, Andy Sonnanstine on the Rays roster. The versatility of Sonnanstine right now might lay heavily on their upcoming fifth rotation decision as Sonnanstine could effectively switch from Bullpen or staring positions as needed until either Davis or J P Howell are again shown to be a positive move for the club.
 

And it was only last Spring that Davis also took himself out of the thought process for the battle for the Rays fifth spot in the rotation in 2009 with another similar bad outing at the wrong time. But this year, after a great late season campaign up starting games for the Rays, it seems that Davis had his future with the Rays in 2010 firmly in his pitching hands. And with Sonnanstine not flinching at all, but showing his resourceful nature and rebounding effectively from a bad 2009, it seems that the Rays could, should and might send Davis back for a month to push his service clock back a season.
 

And this move is totally reminiscent of the way the Rays pushed Third Base prospect Evan Longoria back to Durham in 2008 for a small period of time before Longoria was then brought up weeks later due to an injury to Willy Aybar. But with the Rays recent injury bug there is speculation that both could make the Rays roster without incident this Spring and push away the competition for the fifth spot. Which poses a few questions to me. If both starters make the roster, with one pitcher doing spot duty as a long reliever, will that reorganize the overall chemistry and roles of the Rays Bullpen, with the exceptions being closer Rafael Soriano and Dan Wheeler?
 

And if Sonnanstine is given the additional slot on the Rays 25-man roster, does that mean that Joaquin Benoit doesn’t have a realistic chance to make the Rays roster? There have been moments where Benoit has looked like his former Rangers heydays, and others where he has looked like he is still seeking the answers. But Benoit has done exactly what the Rays have asked of him, and is currently tied with several relievers in total game appearances this Spring, plus Benoit has looked extremely good over the last week. Could Benoit be peaking at the right moment to get in the mindset of the Rays Coaches as the clock winds down this Spring?
 

And with Howell out for at least a month, could fellow lefties Heath Phillips or even Carlos Hernandez get a chance again at the Major League level to occupy Howell’s spot in the Rays Bullpen, then bring about some major decisions by the Rays when Howell returns. Or could the Rays take their chances and try to sneak either pitcher through waivers and back to the minors upon Howell’s return?
 

Howell’s injury brings up the new thought of both Davis and Sonnanstine staying up with the big club, but could the move compromise the Rays Bullpen’s overall integrity a bit. With Sonnanstine joining the motley crew, could the move force former long reliever Lance Cormier into Howell’s old role on the short term, or do the Rays hope that Benoit can assume Howell’s role of facing hitters from both sides of the plate, and leave Cormier to mostly specialized rightie roles, or as a second possible long reliever?
 

 
Gail Burton/AP

But then there is another Bullpen question that some people have been mumbling about since late in 2009. Could Rays reliever Grant Balfour be a problem or could he be hiding something? Balfour has been decreasing his overall pitch velocity and looking pretty vulnerable to hitters over the last several months of 2009. Could he just of had a weak arm also towards the end of 2009 from his overuse in 2008 and 2009, or could he just have run out of tricks and the hitters are wise to him now? And again this Spring, Balfour has not had the best Spring again here in 2010 showing either he is a slow starter, or maybe the 2008 season’s magic might have finally left his fingers.

 

There are still many pitching questions left to be answered, but the Rays have said that a definite decision on their 2010 rotation will be coming soon. One highly probable suggestion is to flip-flop current the 3 and 4 starters Jeff Neimann and David Price to break up the right-handed heavy Rays front of the rotation. Something that was unique for the Rays in 2009 was their addition of the second leftie when Price finally joined the Rays mid-season rotation so the Rays could break up the righty-lefty batting order match-ups during every series, but with Scott Kazmir now gone, only David Price remains in the Rays rotation.

The move would effectively eliminate a lefty dominant line-up for an entire Rays opponent’s series, and break up any chance of another teams getting into a hitting rhythm against the Rays by possibly facing three right-handers in a row. Big decisions, hard decisions. But then again, that is why the Rays brass get paid the big money.

 

My personal hopes are that the team uses Benoit effectively in the Rays Bullpen to begin the season, with Sonnanstine as the fifth starter for about a month. That would give Benoit a chance to show he still has the stuff to compete at the Major League level. When Benoit is on the ball, he is simply magical on the mound. And this move could also effectively buy the Rays an added year of Davis’s services, plus give the team more time to showcase Sonnanstine’s talents if they decide they might want to seek a trade, or they could simply send Sonnanstine back to the minors as a insurance policy against further pitching injuries.
 

Whatever the Rays decide, the team has to effectively decide what the roles Rays player’s like Benoit, Cormier and leftie Randy Choate will perform before they can streamline their thought process and make an adequate and concise decision. This might be the final season the Rays have this much offensive firepower for awhile, so the team needs to make the right adjustments and the right moves to counter that offense with a great pitching staff and effective Bullpen in 2010.

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

Rays Manager Joe Maddon is famous for using the quote, ” Starting pitching sets the tone of the game.” If the team doesn’t find the right solutions to shore up their back-end of the rotation, it will just fester into a situation every 5 days for the Rays. Davis and Sonnastine have to provide that comfort and confidence level over the next few days for the Rays to begin their final decision process. But with a swift decision, it also sets up the Rays pitchers to get into a rhythm now, even before the season begins and adjust accordingly to their rotation slots.

The Rays had a few setbacks recently on their pitching front, with Howell going down this weekend and question marks still surrounding several Bullpen 2010 roles and abilities. But in the end, the Rays have to do what is right for the team to fulfill their quest to again play deep into October. With both sides of the ball clicking for the Rays, the sky could be the limit in 2010, but quickly even that scenario can falter if an injury bug decides to hit the team, or a starter falters early….but then again, that is why we play 162 games before crowning a Division Champion.

6 Comments

Ginny,
Our boys are the Triple-A Champions. I am honestly thinking the game in April when Durham and the Rays play might be their best game all Spring based on the talen on both line-ups.
Sonny has adjusted his game well, but only time will tell if the adjustments can get him through even April.
We forget he was on solid ground before he imploded in Cleveland (May 30th) or in the first series at Baltimore with the Orioles.
1-4 needs a little tweaking with Price maybe going between Garza and Neimann, but besides that, all is gravy right now.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Hi Cliff,
At least we have the 1-4 guys in place. It’s actually a nicve place to be at – having options. Options that work. After last year, Sonny seems to be getting his confidence back.

Also gotta say, every so often I get a chance to see a game, and I’m really impressed with some of these Triple A guys. Makes me wish we still had a triple a teram up here.

Ginny
http://watercooler.mlblogs.com

Cliff,
Not too many days left to make final cuts! Dodgers still have not named a Starting pitcher for Opening
Emma
http://crzblue.mlblogs.com/
http://DodgersBlueBlog.com/

Emma,
In the daily grind of the Major League camps, there is plenty of time. But to us layman’s outside the process it sometimes looks convoluted and complex.
But there are also things like minor league options, contract restrictions and player opt out dates that we are not always priviledged to know.
I think the Dodgers will make Kershaw the Opening Day starter since he might have the best chance to send the fans home happy the first day.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Cliff,
There are still a lot of decisions to be made by the Dodgers. Pitchers are still battling for the 5th spot.
I agree with you that I think Torre will give the start to our young Kershaw. We open in Pittsburgh.
.
Hey! I don’t know everyone that is playing in the MLBBLog fantasy team. How do I associate them with their blog?
Emma
http://crzblue.mlblogs.com/
http://DodgersBlueBlog.com/

Emma,
Our Commissioner (Chris Powers) writes on the
http://cobf.mlblogs.com
Julia: http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com
Elizabeth: http://redsoxgirl46.mlblogs.com
Steve: http://kingofcali.mlblogs.com
John: http://adriangonzalez23.mlblogs.com
Jenn: http://ajroxmywhitesox.mlblogs.com
Rich: http://metsmainman.mlblogs.com
Bailey: Not sure.
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Darion: http://darion.mlblogs.com
Gregg: Not sure.
Ken K: http://brooksrobinsonrules.mlblogs.com
Spencer: Not sure.
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Matt: http://pittpeas.mlblogs.com
Cinn. Reds: Not sure.
Holly: Not sure.

This is the only ones I know by heart, or have gotten to recently.
Hope this helps a bit.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

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