Thought processes and conversations started under the tilted cap of Tropicana Field. Someday everyone will know the Rays play in St. Petersburg, Florida, not TAMPA, or the fictitious city of TAMPA BAY.
Can You pick Potential over Experience Right Now?
During Spring Training this season the Tampa Bay Rays starters boasted about possibly having a 1,000 inning staff. One where each member of the five man rotation could possible toss 200 innings by themselves. Even in speech, this seemed like a far fetched adventure at best. But could their 1,000 inning goal actually have cost these starters some of their effectiveness and possibly one of them a solid spot on the Rays post season roster?
As of today (Saturday, October 2) the combined innings total of all five of the Rays original 2010 starters is 950.1 innings, a bit short of their proposed 1,000 inning adventure. Three of the Rays starters did post above 200+ innings this season, James Shields (207.2), Matt Garza (204.2) and David Price (203.2). Impressive numbers by execution, but at what cost would this bold pitching bravado cost the Rays?
Simply, it might have cost them a American League East title. Yesterday I wrote about 3 wins could have kept the drama and suspense out of this weekend, but in reality, if this Rays starting staff had won a single game each over the year, the celebration during the home stand would have been a two-night extravaganza. But that is hindsight, a lost opportunity to seal their deal before this final weekend.
But now, as the Rays starters have basically thrown their last pitches of the 2010 regular season, you have to wonder who might be either shut down or sent to a possible long reliever role in the Rays Bullpen for the post season. I have a guess on who might have thrown their last pitch this season, but I will keep you in your own suspense until the end. One thing is for sure, when the Rays shut down Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann for a brief time in 2010, it provided another interesting fold in the Rays pitching saga.
During that short period of time, one Rays pitcher seemed to gain some strength and control in the time off, while another simply seemed to go South in his location and command and is just now starting to recover. Davis, a solid A L Rookie of the Year candidate as a pitcher is currently leading the A L Rookie class in several categories and looks like the pitcher to beat. Davis will probably not win the award, but his solid year shows he was the right pitcher to hold onto while the Rays sent Mitch Talbot to Cleveland in 2009.
But then you have a sorted drama of Niemann over the last few months where you never knew what kind of pitching performance you were going to get on a given night. But the Tall Texan did finally find a level of consistency over the last few starts that might garner him a chance to pitch in the post season, but not sure if it is from the Bullpen or a fourth spot in the Rays condensed rotation yet. We already know three names that will be included as starters in the Rays post season package.
Instantly you know that Garza, Price and Davis have shown not only the goods to pitch in the post season, but the control and the ability together solid outs when needed. But from there it gets a bit tricky to me. Maybe it is because we have relied on this one pitcher for so long, and now I am not even sure he did not throw his last game ever as a Ray last night.
James Shields has gone in my mind from “Big Game James” to “What (a) Shame James” in his past three starts. Something is wrong here, not sure if it is three straight seasons of over 200+ innings finally got to his arm, or if the Rays oldest starter just finally ran out of tricks in his assorted pitching bag and has no more deviations in his pitching right now. And this is the guy you always counted on for the big wins or the great outing, and now I am not even sure I can count on him for a relief appearance.
Some have said that “Shields is just unlucky right now, and that hisstuff will come back in time“. There is a small phrase in there that gets me worried, “in Time“. I really think that right now the Rays do not have the “time” to play and hope that Shields will rebound and get his mojo back on the mound. We are down to a point where each start has to be a quality start, or a potential series and a early trip home is in the balance.
During the post season, the Rays can not send a question mark to the mound, they have to send an exclamation point to the hill this post season. The Rays can not shade their bets by banking on Shields past, they have to look at his present state and wonder if he has anything left in the tank to propel the Rays skywards instead of into the dark abyss. Last night’s dismal outing showed that team’s have figured Shields out. That they are sitting on that once silky smooth change-up and pounding it with all their might.
Sure Shields is still gambling and mixing up his pitches, but his fastball and curveball are all hittable recently, that leaves guys sitting on his bankable pitch, the change-up and they are driving it all over the ballpark right now. This doesn’t mean Shields is done as a Rays starter, but the Rays have to make a tough decision this off season as to a spot for Jeremy Hellickson, and right now Shields and his $ 4.25 million reasons makes him an odd man out if the team needs to find a tradable commodity to get “Hellboy” a rotation spot.
Even with Neimann hitting a rough patch late in the 2010 season, Niemann is still under team control for a bit while Shields is hitting the big money portion of his contract. In a time of fiscal response and lowering the payroll, Shields has a target directly on his wallet right now, and he can be considered the definite odd man out. But the bad news might not end there for Shields.
Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey might have to dialogue long and hard over the next few days to come to a concrete decision on if Shield has enough stuff to contribute in the American League Divisional Series. They Rays will need at least a 3-man, and possibly a 4-man rotation going into the ALDS. That could lead to a tough decision on if Niemann or Shields gives you the best possible chance to win and garner an advantage if either was sent to the Rays Bullpen.
If I had to make that decision right now, it would be Niemann. And it has nothing to do with the past accolades or even future potential. I just think Shields needs to take a step back and rest, relax and gain control of his pitching and himself right now. This doesn’t mean he can not be added to the American League Championship Series if the Rays advance, but right now, a rested Shields is a future asset for the Rays. The current Shields model just looks tired and run into the ground hard.
The past few weeks we have seen some horrendous and some fantastic pitching performances come from the Rays staff. It has me scratching my head a bit as to the extent of why we are failing right now. Every pitcher on the Rays staff from starter to bullpen is tired and have a few aches and pains, but could the bravado of the Rays wanting to post a 1,000 inning season by its top five starters actually have been their late season downfall?
A few of the Rays starters still have that zip to their pitches, another is finding his way back, and yet another has seen his stuff go from unpredictable to constantly looking backwards, then receiving a fresh ball from the Umpire. Garza and Price have been impressive and unyielding to the opposition at times this season. Davis has established his claim as a future solid member of this Rays rotation. Niemann is getting back into his groove while Shields might be fighting a more internal battle than an external one right now.
The time is now for the tough decisions on either Shields or Niemann. One was a member of the 2008 post season Rays Bullpen, and the other got his first MLB taste as a reliever against the Florida Marlins this Summer. The choice will be difficult, the choice could be costly, but most of all the choice could signal a change in the Rays pitching hierarchy. Do you go with the wily veteran currently having some issues, or do you rely on the young gun who has been consistent all year? Glad I am not a Rays staffer right now.
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