BRADENTON — Whenever the Rays get around to announcing their opening week rotation, there won't be any surprises.
The order of the starters has been set since the opening of the spring, with Chris Archer first and Erasmo Ramirez fifth and the most interesting decision being to split lefties Drew Smyly and Matt Moore, with Jake Odorizzi between them. The only question is whether they take advantage of abundant April off days and use the front four with Ramirez sliding to the pen.
But what is newsworthy is a plan to have the starters pitch deeper into games.
Last year, as you may have heard, the Rays got creative and somewhat controversial in the handling of their starters. With injuries forcing them to start several less experienced pitchers, such as Nathan Karns and Matt Andriese, they were quick with the hook, often pulling them after two trips through the batting order, usually in the five- or six-inning range.
But with an already less-experienced bullpen now missing closer Brad Boxberger at least into May, and the frontline starters (except for Alex Cobb) healthy, the pendulum will shift the other way.
Now the Rays will seek more out of their starters.
"That's kind of the thought," manager Kevin Cash said. "We know we're going to have to have some guys step up in the pen. It's a little bit of a reversal from last year. We were asking the pen to step up for some young starting pitchers. This year we're more mature in the rotation and maybe a little bit more unknown — but we like the guys — in the pen. Especially the way it's kind of shaking out right now."
The starters, obviously, like that plan. "It'd be great to go seven," Odorizzi said. "Everyone puts more emphasis on six innings nowadays. But six innings leaves you a lot of room in the back end of the bullpen for — I think we saw how it played out last year, only going five and six. Six sounds good, but you really need seven."
VIVA CUBA: Even in Havana, principal owner Stuart Sternberg found a way to poke the rival Red Sox. "I've been told it's a third-world country here, and the stadium, they've done the best with it, but the clubhouse is still in better shape than the visitors' clubhouse at Fenway." … Even with the epic delay on the way home, 3B Evan Longoria said the Cuba trip was a good one for several reasons, specifically team bonding. "We were talking about it, maybe we should do this every year, go somewhere where you can't use your cellphone and you're with the team pretty much 100 percent of the day just getting to bond," he said. "So in that respect I think it was very beneficial for us." (Some would say that applies to Port Charlotte, at least the cellphone part.) … Commissioner Rob Manfred raved about the Rays and the experience but told radio host Dan Patrick "a lot has to happen," in terms of the economy and infrastructure, before Cuba could be considered for its own team.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: The Rays were last among the 30 MLB teams in Forbes' annual franchise value rankings at $650 million, but up $25 million from the year before. … Nothing has been announced, but three postgame concerts are planned. Does the smaller number mean bigger names? … More than 100,000 tickets have been sold for the Friday-Saturday Jays-Red Sox exhibitions in Montreal, which likely will spark more Rays relocation chatter. Plus, Manfred was quoted in the Le Journal de Montreal as saying, "Another team in Canada might be beautiful." … The Rays, per Baseball America, signed 43 international prospects in 2015, fifth most in the majors. … Clubhouse/equipment manager Jose Fernandez got a warm greeting from the players in the clubhouse Thursday after having to stay over an extra day in Cuba. … Congrats to ex-Rays RHP Jeremy Hellickson for earning the Phillies' opening day start, but it will be interesting to see how his fly ball stuff plays in cozy Citizens Bank Park.