Roberto Hernandez Could be the Linchpin to Several Rays Spring Decisions
So we can already guess upon the top 2 slots in the Tampa Bay Rays rotation without much debate. But number 3 through 5 will definitely bring about a few thoughts, opinions and possible destinations for the one hurler who loses out a slot with the team. It truly seems that SP/RP Roberto Hernandez will have a say on who might take the third slot, then the rest will hopefully fall into place with possibly one odd man out, and he might just find himself in an ironic footnote.
When the Rays first signed Roberto Hernandez I was not sure which pitcher we might see this Spring. We could have seen the guy who was “lights out” as the Opening Day starter for the Indians, or the pitcher who seemed in a daze last season putting up sub-par numbers and maybe battling a bit of a confidence issue due to his “name game”. Instead we have seen Hernandez throwing some interesting innings, and he could possibly push his way up to number 3 if SP Matt Moore has some more control and questionable decision while on the hill.
And I do not mean this as a demotion to Moore, but the Rays could have a guy in Hernandez who could be throwing at a #2 level right now and with Moore fighting a few issues, pushing him back to the 4th slot could give him extra time with Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey or to work on his mechanics and be ready to start off the Rays second home series of the season against the Cleveland Indians. This short reversal in the rotation order could be beneficial to Moore in fixing his small flaws and also get him going against a foe that seems to hate left-handers.
Moore could in all likelihood after a few good starts reclaim his 3rd position, possibly as soon as April 16th in Baltimore due to a Rays off-day on April 11th in the middle of the Rays first road trip of the season. Of course that would push SP Alex Cobb into the final slot for the rotation baring an injury or the Rays decided SP Jeff Niemann would be a better fifth starter. But that is the biggest question mark of the Spring, and that decision might be delayed all the way into the Rays final contest in Tropicana Field against the Detroit Tigers on March 30th.
It seems more than likely at this moment even with a stellar Spring Niemann might be the odd man out and ironically, the Tall Texan could be possibly headed to the MLB team the last guy who fought him for a fifth slot found himself on Opening Day. You might remember the Spring 2008 battle between fellow right-hander and hurler out of options Jason Hammel and Niemann came down to the last possible inning before Hammel got shipped off to Colorado.
Ironically, Niemann could also be heading to Coors Field because just as that moment, he is still out of options and would never pass through the waiver wire without someone hitching his name to their roster. The Rockies have checked in on Niemann already this Spring, and with a trade that might include a few prospects and maybe a fringe MLB player at best, Niemann could be staring at the Centerfield waterfall on the Rockies Opening Day.
So a few things seem to hinge in where the Rays truly see Hernandez in their rotation, either as high as third until Moore clears out a few cobwebs, or possibly as far down as fifth if the team think Cobb has the goods to secure that spot for the season. But with Moore having a few hiccups, using a proven MLB starter at the third slot until he clears his hurdle would be beneficial to him and the Rays especially since they have Hernandez on their roster.
Some might say put Cobb in the 3-slot and let him learn on the job, but with an early seasonal tilt with a playoff and American League East divisional rivals slant, not putting the extra pressure on Cobb could turn out to be a blessing especially if it means he gets to mature at his pace and might get some extremely favorable match ups in the fifth slot that would favor the Rays right-hander.
Niemann seems to be the odd man out, but if the Rays see him as a long reliever, then he might not have to worry about any trade rumors and could find himself seated down where his old teammate Wade Davis sat in 2012…the Rays Bullpen.
This is where another decision might have to be made. If the Rays think long time journeyman Jamey Wright might push Niemann firmly towards the door. If the Rays think Wright could be a right-handed option out of the Bullpen and stay healthy throughout the season, he could find himself taking Niemann’s slot in the Rays 25-man roster.
So it might be a bit of trickle-down right now with the Rays as they decide where to position Hernandez, and if Wright is a viable option for the Bullpen. Either way you seem to slice it right now, Niemann is firmly on the razor’s edge, and any slight wavering by the Rays in the coming week could either bring him back to safety, or mark his trail onward and outside the Rays roster.