Sunday, July 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

That new Rays pitching plan? There’s lots to talk (and wonder) about

FORT MYERS — Revelation of the Rays' preferred plan to run their pitching staff with only four starters and multiple multi-inning relievers sparked plenty of follow-up conversation Thursday — in and outside the game.

"I had a couple neighbors call me," manager Kevin Cash relayed, "and tell me that they had a fifth starter if we needed one."

But seriously … the Rays are quite serious about this. Confident — but not convinced — this plan can work. Acknowledging they'll be figuring much of it out as they go through the first month-plus with a more conducive off-day heavy schedule.

"On paper, it looks like it can be managed," Cash said. "Now we'll find out. … We're going to learn a lot in six weeks."

Here are a half-dozen of many points to consider:

Duty calls: Keeping track of who is available, and making sure to not over-use anyone, will be a massive task for Cash, new pitching coach Kyle Snyder and the data team, even with the benefit of the extra eighth reliever. "It is going to be a lot on our plate to manage," Snyder said, "and I think we're excited about the challenge."

The plan is to have four capable of working two to four innings, roughly up to 50 to 60 pitches, then getting two or three days to recover (and also to have options to be sent down and replaced by a fresh arm). Then three of their other four — from a group led by Sergio Romo, out-of-options Chaz Roe and maybe either Jose Alvarado or Dan Jennings — will be available to be used for one-plus inning work and expected to be available on shorter rest. Closer Alex Colome primarily will work one inning, but occasionally extended.

And when they do have that fifth game to cover, to plan ahead to make sure they have enough innings available, or to adjust to make a call up.
It's not all that different from how Snyder operated last year at Triple-A due to all the pitchers going up and down.

Scheduling: The plan seems workable during the first six weeks of the season, when the Rays have eight open dates in a 38-day span and play as many as five straight days only four times. But not so much over the next six weeks, as they have stretches of 10, 13 and 16 straight games, 39 total in 41 days, making more acute the need for an actual fifth starter.

Warming up: Snyder makes a point in discussing the plan for the "bullpen days" to refer to the pitcher who "begins" the game rather than "starts." That seems a subtle way to change not just the verbiage but the mindset of the relievers who will get those assignments but still will be limited to working the first two-four innings.

"You'll begin the game, but you'll begin the game in the same role you've been in," Snyder said. "The mentality has to remain the same whether they're beginning the game or pitching in the middle of the game or ultimately the end."

Plus, there is a practical application, as the pitchers have to show they are just as comfortable warming up in the bullpen on short notice as when they get 40 minutes to prepare on the field pre-game.

Innings reallocation: Getting beyond the base explanation of wanting to take advantage of having so many good young pitchers and not leave them to languish in Triple-A, the real reason the Rays are doing this is to maximize the efficiency of the innings pitched.

Simply, to have more pitchers throw more innings facing lineups one or two times when they are better positioned to have success, and fewer innings against a lineup for a third or fourth time when they are likely to struggle.

Also, to force some teams to make pinch-hitting decisions earlier in games if the Rays switch handedness.

Money ball: Getting young starters to buy into relief duty, especially those who might not otherwise be in the majors, should be easy. But it may be more of a challenge with more veteran pitchers who know that historically starters get paid. Matt Andriese, for example, could have an interesting first-time arbitration case explaining how vital the team told him those middle innings appearances were.

A matter of trust: Determining who is best suited for the multi-inning duty is top priority with less than three weeks until the March 29 opener. Cash said a key factor will be resiliency, how many days a pitcher — who is used to starting — needs to be ready to go again. That said, it's easy to see a young guy, with a chance to make it to the majors, pushing himself now.

The Rays have to trust that they're being honest, and not risking future injury for short-term gain.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

Comments
‘Man, I feel good’: Rays’ Daniel Robertson describes his pinch-hit walkoff grand slam

‘Man, I feel good’: Rays’ Daniel Robertson describes his pinch-hit walkoff grand slam

ST. PETERSBURG — This is why you stay until the end.You hope to see something you've never seen before.And that's what happened Sunday at Tropicana Field. The Rays, who entered the ninth trailing the Marlins by three runs, weren't supposed to w...
Updated: 14 minutes ago
Rays journal: Whoever you are, please put down the Matt Duffy voodoo doll

Rays journal: Whoever you are, please put down the Matt Duffy voodoo doll

Third baseman Matt Duffy returned to the lineup Sunday after sitting out Friday and Saturday because of back spasms. He went 0-for-3.The cause of those spasms? His drive to the ballpark."Just shifting my weight and turning the steering wheel," he sai...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Thomas Bassinger’s takeaways from Sunday’s Rays-Marlins game

Thomas Bassinger’s takeaways from Sunday’s Rays-Marlins game

ST. PETERSBURG — Takeaways from the Rays' 6-4 walkoff win Sunday over the Marlins at Tropicana Field:1. In six innings, Chris Archer had a season-high 13 strikeouts, but I wouldn't call his outing dominant. The Marlins scored four runs in the s...
Updated: 1 hour ago
For starters: Amid trade rumors, Chris Archer will start in Rays-Marlins finale

For starters: Amid trade rumors, Chris Archer will start in Rays-Marlins finale

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays (49-49), losers of three straight and five of their last six, will look to avoid a sweep today against the Marlins (43-57) at Tropicana Field. First pitch is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. In what might be a trade audition, r...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Rays journal: New faces, same old loss

Rays journal: New faces, same old loss

ST. PETERSBURG — To get a sense of how things are going for the Rays right now, consider that opening day starter Chris Archer was wearing a promotional DJ Kitty head in the dugout and veteran OF Carlos Gomez was playing second base during Satu...
Published: 07/21/18
Kevin Kiermaier frustrated as injuries continue

Kevin Kiermaier frustrated as injuries continue

ST. PETERSBURG — This season has been quite a pain for Rays centerfielder and centerpiece Kevin Kiermaier.A cold bat, a nagging illness, a searing foul ball we'll come back to shortly and a torn thumb ligament that required surgery, all in the ...
Published: 07/21/18
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Saturday’s Rays-Marlins game

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Saturday’s Rays-Marlins game

Joey Wendle continues to impress, playing anywhere asked and hitting everywhere. Friday he joined the play-of-the-year race with an amazing glove flip to first. Saturday he was the first Ray with a decent swing off Pablo Lopez, homering in the fourth...
Published: 07/21/18
Rays Tales: Sure is a lot to talk about

Rays Tales: Sure is a lot to talk about

WASHINGTON — There was a lot of talk specific to the Rays at the All-Star Game last week, from commissioner Rob Manfred's strong endorsement of the Ybor stadium plan to Wilson Ramos' rousing ovation from the Washington fans to Blake Snell's imp...
Published: 07/21/18
Another bad look for Rays in 3-2 loss

Another bad look for Rays in 3-2 loss

ST. PETERSBURG – To get a sense of how shorthanded the Rays were by the final innings of Saturday night's game, all you had to do was look at the field and see Carlos Gomez playing second base.It was that kind of night for the Rays, who lost an...
Published: 07/21/18
For starters: Rays vs. Marlins, with Justin Williams called up

For starters: Rays vs. Marlins, with Justin Williams called up

UPDATE, 3:52: 3B Matt Duffy (back) is feeling better but Cash said they would stay away from using him except in an emergency. That's not that unlikely, however, as the Rays wull have a short bench, with only C Adam Moore and Williams, assuming he ge...
Published: 07/21/18