Starter Nathan Eovaldi’s elbow injury alters Rays’ pitching plan

Rays right-hander Nate Eovaldi is expected to miss at least 6-8 weeks with an elbow injury. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
Rays right-hander Nate Eovaldi is expected to miss at least 6-8 weeks with an elbow injury. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published March 28 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — If you considered the Rays' plan to open the season with a four-man/five-day rotation a bad idea, hold that thought.
Because now they're going to try it with three starters.

Kind of, anyway.

The Rays didn't even make it to Thursday's opener with their four-starter setup after news that Nathan Eovaldi is headed for arthroscopic surgery this week to remove "loose bodies" from his right elbow.

While there was some good in that Eovaldi's ligament remains attached and he isn't headed for a third Tommy John surgery, the bad is he will be sidelined at least 6-8 weeks, likely into June.

"Obviously a blow," senior vice president Chaim Bloom said. "Our depth has been tested."

As it was, the Rays were being different, going into the season planning to deploy Chris Archer, Blake Snell, Eovaldi and Jake Faria as starters. And, when needed, to be fifth-day adventurists, using a combination of relievers working two-three innings apiece on an aptly named "bullpen day."

They could make a convincing case how it was the right thing to do over the first six weeks when they have eight open dates in a 38-day window and only four stretches of five straight games. But it still seemed problematic, to put it politely, especially if a starter got knocked out early or the innings piled up on the long guys.

And now?

Archer, Snell, Faria, and …

See ya? Mamma Mia? Onomatopoeia?

Well, good luck finding a rhyme for that.

The Rays' initial reaction to the Eovaldi loss is to stick with their plan, at least initially, not naming a replacement and seeing how it goes.

They're not moving Matt Andriese back to the rotation, where he would prefer to be; not pulling rookies Yonny Chirinos or Ryan Yarbrough — or just recalled Austin Pruitt — out of what is now a nine-man pen and pop them into the rotation; not calling up Anthony Banda or Chih-Wei Hu from Triple A; and not going outside to find a starter via trade or in the bargain bin of recent releases.

Nope.

Not yet anyway.

As odd as it looked to list TBA — or as they seem to prefer semantically, TBD, for to be determined rather than announced — for Saturday's third game of the season, they're now going to do it again Monday in New York for the Yankees' home opener.

And then again two more times by the end of an eight-game, 10-day road trip that takes them to Boston and Chicago.

"I think we go into this with a great deal of humility that when you try something a little bit different, there are no guarantees," Bloom said. "We also think that, looking at the guys in the organization, this makes the most sense for us.

"We have to remain flexible. But we still feel going into this that this approach is going to give us the best chance for all these guys to contribute to us winning."

Ah, winning. That is still the plan, right?

This season was already going to be challenging enough for the Rays, the combination of players they lost via injury, trades and free agency and the level of competition they face, leaving them clearly in the minority thinking they could win a majority of their games. Consider that before news of Eovaldi's injury got out, the online Bovada gambling folks reported that its projected total of 77½ wins for the Rays had the heaviest "under" action on their site.

Losing a starter literally on the eve of the season opener is terribly bad, even more so when he was one of four. Doing so after having your top pitching prospect, Brent Honeywell, and another who was once of great promise, Jose De Leon, undergo Tommy John surgeries during spring training is exponentially worse.

And, to pile on, all that after the decision to trade Jake Odorizzi a week into spring training even though they couldn't create more of a market yield than an unheralded low-level infield prospect Jermaine Palacios rather than hang on to the veteran pitcher — hope he avoids injury — and try to get more later. That would be the same Jake Odorizzi getting the opening day start Thursday for the Twins.

Are the Rays being stubborn by doubling down and sticking with the plan to rely on the multi-inning relievers? Or are they being smart, even if it means sacrificing a bit this season to find out? We'll see starting Thursday. Play ball?

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

FOR STARTERS
The projected opening day lineups:
Red Sox
1. Mookie Betts RF
2. Andrew Benintendi LF
3. Hanley Ramirez 1B
4. J.D. Martinez DH
5. Xander Bogaerts SS
6. Rafael Devers 3B
7. Eduardo Nunez 2B
8. Christian Vazquez C
9. Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
LHP Chris Sale

Rays
1. Carlos Gomez rf
2. Kevin Kiermaier cf
3. Matt Duffy 3b
4. C.J. Cron 1b
5. Wilson Ramos c
6. Denard Span lf
7. Adeiny Hechavarria ss
8. Daniel Robertson 2b
9. Rob Refsnyder DH
RHP Chris Archer

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