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Rays' pitching depth looking strong for 2016

ST. PETERSBURG

Alex Cobb was hanging out in the Rays' clubhouse before Tuesday's game, Drew Smyly was talking about going out strong tonight, Matt Moore was prepping for what would be a solid seven-inning start in the 4-2 win over the Marlins.

For a moment, it was easy to envision what's ahead for the Rays.

Though Cobb's return from Tommy John surgery won't come until next August or September, Moore and Smyly have done enough, and done well enough, in their comebacks from injury that the Rays can count heavily on them for the start of 2016.

Moore, who had Tommy John surgery in April 2014, showed so again Tuesday, allowing only a first-inning run while working impressively into the seventh for a third straight start.

"It's very exciting for all of us in this building," manager Kevin Cash said. "You can lump him in with Drew Smyly getting back and showing that they're healthy and then also pitching really well on top of that. A lot of bright spots to look forward to next year."

Moore, aiming to make a final start Sunday, certainly feels he is headed that way: "It's not like I have to re-convince myself of what I'm capable of, but it does feel good to roll out a few. … Absolutely, it adds to the overall vibe of how things are going."

With those two lefties, Jake Odorizzi and All-Star ace Chris Archer, the Rays are positioned to have a formidable front four in a rotation that once again will look to be among the game's best — and has to be for the Rays to return to playoff contention.

No matter the re-philosophizing of the offense, restructuring of the bullpen or re-emphasizing of fundamentals such as baserunning, bunting and defense, the Rays need dominant starting pitching to win.

Add in Erasmo Ramirez, who won 11 games with a respectable 3.65 ERA after a miserable start following his late spring acquisition from Seattle; rookie Nathan Karns, who went 7-5, 3.67 in an unexpectedly extended opportunity before being shut down with forearm tightness; and prospect Blake Snell, the consensus best pitcher in the minors after a stunning 15-1, 1.41 performance over three levels, and the Rays have solid options to fill out the rotation.

Beyond that, they have depth with Matt Andriese, who showed promise in going 2-2, 3.57 in eight starts, and the option to move Alex Colome back from the bullpen if they need another arm.

Cash laughed Tuesday, since they had already done enough fretting, when bringing up the old saying about never having enough starting pitching, saying that "we found that out this year for sure."

But he also acknowledged at least the possibility of an arms stockpile — noting the youth and drive to improve of the group — and the ensuing potential for some difficult calls.

"We're going to have some tough decisions to make in the offseason on who's starting, who we plan to see in the rotation," he said. "Then obviously you get to spring and see how guys come out, hopefully everybody's healthy, and those decisions aren't made for us, that we have to make them."

Archer, whose emergence as a team leader parallels his success on the mound, said he hopes the Rays make them for the right reasons — specifically being willing to promote Snell on merit, leaving unsaid the obvious alternative of holding him back for financial reasons such as arbitration and free agent eligibility.

"I think having Blake Snell is going to be very important," he said. "If it's going to be our strength, there is no reason to delay his promotion for any longer than it needs to be delayed for whatever reason that may be.

"As far as how it transpires, I don't know. Somebody is probably not going to be happy. … People have had to go back to the minor leagues after being very successful. Or there may have to be a trade, just because we have a surplus of not only starting pitching but we have a surplus of outfielders, too. So there's possibilities everywhere."

Even better, really good ones.

"Our starting pitching is going to be very strong next year," Archer said. "It's going to be fun."

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays

Rays' pitching depth looking strong for 2016 09/29/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 30, 2015 11:16am]
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