There are some answers we do have about the Rays plan to use four starters and mix in "bullpen days" when needed during at least the first six weeks.
They are not doing it because they don't have a capable fifth. Nor — for the Twitterverse smart alecks — that they can't afford one. And they didn't plan the "bullpen day" for Game 3 vs. Boston as a surrender, but actually a strategic move to ensure having fresh arms that day and providing extra rest going forward for No. 3 starter Nathan Eovaldi.
But the more important questions, starting with if it will work, and some of the specific hows, truly can't be answered yet.
The Rays actually premised the plan based on having too much pitching, a product of the high number of off days (eight in a 38-day stretch) and stack of young starters they feel have a better chance to succeed working shorter stints where they only face lineups once or twice. (That list is a bit shorter with Tommy John surgeries for Brent Honeywell and Jose De Leon following the trade of Jake Odorizzi.)
On days when RHP Chris Archer and LHP Blake Snell start, they will hope like heck they go deep and plan to use their bullpen normally. They'd hope for the same with Eovaldi, recovering from a second Tommy John, and No. 4 starter Jake Faria, but will be prepared for shorter outings and covering more innings.
The trickier part will be in those "bullpen days" — four in the first six weeks, barring rainouts — as they need to have at least two and preferably three of those multi-inning relievers available for 40-60 pitches each, providing at least three innings. Which means decisions the two days before could be impacted as those pitchers need to be rested.
So how does this work?
On those bullpen days, the Rays will designate a pitcher to "begin" the game — semantically not "start" — but won't have the rest scripted. Instead they say they'll react to the game situation, seeing an advantage in switching to a pitcher who provides a different look, plus from right to left or left to right.
It also could mean using a short reliever, such as RHP Chaz Roe or LHPs Jose Alvarado/Dan Jennings, to finish the fourth and work the fifth, then go back to another long guy. And that could mean they are less likely to use relievers in match-up or one-batter situations since they need to have as much coverage as possible. Conversely, they could at times use a long guy to finish for Archer or Snell.
Though the off-days also keep the relievers fresh, if the innings start to pile up, they may have to shuttle in fresh arms from Triple-A. But that can get tricky as optioned players have to stay down for 10 days, so the inventory quickly could get thin, and the options less appealing.
One other thing we do know is that this will be an ongoing challenge for manager Kevin Cash and pitching coach Kyle Snyder as they hope it works out. Another is that former pitching coach Jim Hickey used to say hope is a bad strategy.
The four-starter plan has fans asking about the return of still-unsigned free agent RHP Alex Cobb, but that's not happening – not unless he goes Andre Dawson-Cubs 1987 and shows up with a blank contract anyway. … Archer has been doing Chris Archer things, buying fancy suits for four young pitchers. … Baseball Prospectus' updated PECOTA projections still have the Rays as a wild-card contender at 83-79. … After making $17 million with the Phillies last year, former Rays RHP Jeremy Hellickson just took a minor-league contract with the Nats. … Odorizzi may be the Twins' opening day starter. … The Orioles got a lot of national pub for their plan to provide two free upper-deck tickets for kids with a full-price adult ticket for April games. The Rays have a similar program for all Tuesday games, with $2 kids tickets in six seating areas. Plus they provide free Monday tickers to teachers, first responders and military. .. Video of Roe's wiffle-ball like slider got 1.5 million views on ESPN's Instagram account and nearly 500,000 on the Rays twitter account. … Prospect Jake Bauers tweeted, and then deleted, his displeasure over the new minor-league rules, headlined by putting a runner on second in extra innings: "Can players refuse? This ain't weekend travel ball." … Odds on Archer winning the AL Cy Young award are 40-1 per the Bovada online site; with Boston's Chris Sale the 9-4 favorite. … Not sure what to read into this, but uber agent Scott Boras stayed away from his past criticisms when asked about the Rays' spending habits, instead referencing the site for a potential new stadium: "I'm a big fan of Ybor City." … Rays personnel rave about the young pitchers who were at short-season Hudson Valley, including Austin Franklin, Tobias Myers (acquired for Tim Beckham), Resly Linares, Drew Strotman, Jhonleider Salinas (acquired for Brandon Guyer), and top pick Brendan McKay.
Fifth of our weekly semi-educated guesses at the makeup of the 25-man opening day roster:
Pitchers (12): Jose Alvarado, Matt Andriese, Chris Archer, Alex Colome, Yonny Chirinos, Nathan Eovaldi, Jake Faria, Austin Pruitt, Chaz Roe, Sergio Romo, Blake Snell, Ryan Yarbrough.
Catchers (2): Wilson Ramos, Jesus Sucre
Infielders (6): C.J. Cron, Matt Duffy, Adeiny Hechavarria, Brad Miller, Daniel Robertson, Joey Wendle.
Outfielders (5): Carlos Gomez, Kevin Kiermaier, Mallex Smith, Denard Span, Johnny Field-x
x- has to be added to 40-man roster