Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays need starting pitchers to lead turnaround

BALTIMORE — As the Rays enjoyed a day of not losing by not playing, they certainly had myriad problems to sort through.

You can start right with the A's, which can stand for ace or for Archer, though the two words aren't often used together anymore.

Chris Archer's inconsistency isn't necessarily the biggest issue the Rays face, especially since the rotation overall has underachieved and disappointed. Plus, they have four outfielders and their most consistent hitter on the disabled list, a bullpen that already looks worn down if not out, and are sitting 31-39 and on a seven-game losing streak heading into a four-games-in-45-hours stretch against the American League East-leading Orioles.

But because of who Archer is, and what he did last year, his failures are a popular topic.

In part because Archer, despite a major-league-most 10 losses and an ERA again pushing 5.00, does not think there is anything "wrong."

His take, essentially, is that he has not pitched well in small stretches, often the first inning, during most — but not all — games, but overall is throwing the ball well. He talks often about the process and how sticking to that, executing as many of his pitches that he can and giving the Rays a chance to win is more important to him than the actual result that he can't control.

That's a dose of the more modern way of thinking, espoused by some other Rays starters and around the game, and can rankle old-schoolers who still view a starting pitcher doing whatever it takes to win a game as a valid accomplishment.

"I'm concerned about the process as well," Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "And if you do the process properly and if you are successful with your process, you are going to have the results.

"But the process has not been good overall either. You may walk a guy leading off an inning you have no business walking and he ends up coming around and scoring, that is not a good process.

"I guess you have to identify what the process is and be a good, solid, honest evaluator of whether or not you actually executed what it is you set out to do. I think wins and losses, they count very much, especially at the end of the day."

Archer isn't the only one.

Add in Matt Moore, Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly and the core four starters of what was highly touted — including in this newspaper — as one of the AL's best rotations are a combined 12-24, 4.50.

"We all know what they are capable of doing, and you are absolutely right that so far, as a whole, we haven't pitched up to our capabilities," Hickey said.

"It's imperative that we end up getting on a little bit of a run in terms of the starters. And we talk about this all the time, it's contagious. Once it starts happening, nobody wants to be that weak link, and it seems like it just snowballs once it starts going good."

To this point, there have only been false starts.

Like Archer, each of the others have had games where they have looked good, like they had something figured out, but it doesn't last. It's hard to think of a turn, much less two, through the rotation where all have been sharp.

Why? That's the question that keeps staffers up and computers whirring.

The only major thing the Rays did differently this year was go without a fifth starter much of the first six weeks, and no one seems to think that was the cause since it kept them on regular rest given the abundance of off days.

The fifth spot has since been a job share, belonging now to hot prospect Blake Snell, with Matt Andriese (who is scheduled to start in Saturday's doubleheader) and Erasmo Ramirez both now in the shorthanded bullpen.

The starters seem to have a similar problem in that they are running up their pitch counts early, often the result of a long early inning, and pitching themselves out of games too early, averaging less than six innings an outing. That forces manager Kevin Cash to go to the bullpen early and often, which is why their key relievers had to be used so much early and are struggling now, which is why Cash had been trying to have the starters go deeper.

Beyond the oft-stated lack of fastball command, Hickey said there does not appear to be a common cause or a shared symptom of their inconsistency, which makes it harder to solve.

As shorthanded as the offense is, Cash, Hickey and the rest of them would like nothing more than the rotation to finally step up and dominate for a couple of weeks. Actually, they pretty much need it to happen.

"We can't afford to fall any further behind than we are right now," Hickey said. "It's already a very, very difficult spot and to get even a little bit further out, it is going to make it next to impossible.

"We can certainly turn it around and win that 10 out of 12 or 11 out of 14. But it's not going to happen unless the starting pitching does what they're capable of doing."

With the season already on the brink in June, maybe the starters need to get together and process that.

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

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