PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays finally decided on their fifth starter Saturday, tabbing rookie RHP Jake Odorizzi for their rotation.
LHP Cesar Ramos will go back to the bullpen. The team hops veteran LHP Erik Bedard will stay with the organization at Triple-A Durham, but he'll first explore other big-league opportunities prior to the March 31 opt-out date of his minor-league deal.
Manager Joe Maddon said it was a "very difficult" choice after a great competition, but what put Odorizzi over the top was his "body of work," from his performance in September to his new pitch, a split/changeup, which "has been spectacular."
Odorizzi, 23, who had trouble sleeping Friday night and didn't find out until after Saturday's game, was emotional over the news.
"It's incredible. It's kind of indescribable right now," Odorizzi said. "I feel honored to be picked out of the three, because any one of us could've gotten it."
Odorizzi is replacing RHP Jeremy Hellickson, who will likely miss the first two months after January elbow surgery. Maddon said Ramos, a late-developing candidate, made it "very, very hard" on them with an impressive spring. Maddon said Ramos might pitch in higher-leverage moments in the bullpen and still could start if need be.
"He opened our eyes," Maddon said. "He showed us a different Cesar in camp."
Maddon said Odorizzi, considered by many to be the organization's top prospect, showed a lot in the last of his five big-league stints last year, with a 1.04 ERA in his final four appearances (two starts). This spring, the team wanted him to develop his split/change, taught to him by RHP Alex Cobb, a pitch Odorizzi believes can be a "huge weapon."
"It's taken me to a different level in a short amount of time," he said.
Maddon told Bedard before the game that he wasn't getting picked but that the club thought he fit into its culture and would like to keep him. Bedard seemed open to it after Friday's start but will check out his options. "He's still a Ray as of right now," Maddon said.
Odorizzi and Ramos didn't find out their fates until around 6 p.m., both anxiously waiting in the clubhouse until the postgame meetings.
"It was a prolonged day," Odorizzi said. "But it was worth it in the end."
GAME DETAILS: Cobb was sharp Saturday, striking out 12 in a seven-inning start of a 3-3 tie with the Orioles. "Outstanding," Maddon said. Cobb allowed three runs on six hits (including a homer by former Ray Delmon Young) in his first big-league exhibition since March 7. Cobb, who had pitched in minor-league games since, said all three pitches were working in an 88-pitch outing. "Today as a whole was exactly what I needed," he said. The Rays are 14-5-3.
MEDICAL MATTERS: SS prospect Hak-Ju Lee "tweaked" his surgically repaired left knee sliding into third, but Maddon said it's not considered a "long-term" or serious issue.
MISCELLANY: OF Matt Joyce, sidelined since Wednesday with a stiff neck, is expected to play today against the Twins. … Though RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo's spot in the bullpen is open, the Rays consider it a short-term absence; he'll likely stick to pitching in minor-league games this spring so his disabled list stint can be backdated. … Maddon said one issue left to sort out with the lineup is whether to hit 3B Evan Longoria third or fourth.