Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Sonnanstine has right stuff for Rays

Andy Sonnanstine leads the Rays’ starting staff in winning percentage and is tied for first in victories.

Associated Press

Andy Sonnanstine leads the Rays’ starting staff in winning percentage and is tied for first in victories.

ST. PETERSBURG — By now, he was supposed to have been replaced.

Wasn't Andy Sonnanstine the guy holding down a spot in the Rays rotation until David Price was ready? Wasn't he the starter most likely to wind up on a seat somewhere in the corner of the bullpen?

Yet here we are in mid September, and look at where Sonnanstine is standing:

In between the Rays and second place.

With Tampa Bay teetering on the edge of the American League East lead, all Sonnanstine did was match Red Sox star Josh Beckett pitch for pitch. Better still, he did it for the second time in a week.

The Rays avoided falling into second place Tuesday night, and they have their No. 5 starter to thank for it. The No. 5 starter who, by the way, is tied for the team lead with 13 victories.

"With Andy, everybody is always expecting him to not do well because he doesn't throw 92 mph," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Andy has always been a winner. It speaks to his inner confidence. He knows that he belongs here, and that he can pitch well on a consistent basis.

"He's proven the critics wrong for many years, and he's doing it again."

If you have not yet come around to Sonnanstine's way of pitching, consider these numbers. In consecutive starts against the Red Sox, Sonnanstine has thrown 13 innings with zero earned runs, seven hits and 12 strikeouts. In the same two games, Beckett has gone 14 innings and given up two runs, with nine hits and 14 strikeouts.

One of those guys is a former World Series MVP who is making $9.5-million. The other was once named most improved player in the New England Collegiate Baseball League and is now making $395,000. The thing is, in the heat of the pennant race, you couldn't tell one from the other.

"The guy knows how to pitch," Rays All-Star Scott Kazmir said. "You watch the hitters, and they get so frustrated against him. So frustrated. They're sitting, waiting, thinking off-speed, and, boom, fastball. They think, 'Okay, he won't do that two in a row.' Boom, right there. He just knows the game.

"We wouldn't be here right now if it hadn't been for him this year."

Think about Tampa Bay's 2004 draft. That was the summer the Rays got Jeff Niemann in the first round, Wade Davis in the third and Jacob McGee in the fifth. All, at one time or another, have been anointed future fixtures in the rotation.

Yet it is Sonnanstine, taken in the 13th round, who has zoomed past the bunch of them. He went 40-18 in four minor-league seasons, working with different speeds, pinpoint control and a bellyful of nerve.

"I have to be a little bit finer than some guys because I don't have that 97 mph fastball, exploding slider and stuff like that," Sonnanstine said. "This is something I can hang my hat on. That's a world championship team I've faced in my last two starts, and I feel like I've done very well with — you could say — subpar or average stuff. I'm very proud of what I've done."

And this, folks, is the life preserver to which a drowning team clings.

When all else is failing, starting pitching is what gets you through the night.

It absolves the third baseman and his rare error. It makes up for the offense going missing. It gives a team hope in a pennant race that was threatening to turn sour.

This is the only answer the Rays have in the season's final days. Tampa Bay was barely capable of scoring in bunches when the lineup was healthy, so it's ridiculous to think the Rays can win many slugfests with Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton out of the picture.

The defense can help and the bullpen can save, but if the starting pitching does not do its part, the Rays will not win the East. And they will head to the wild card with a noticeable limp.

In case you hadn't noticed, starting pitching has been a large part of the team's recent swoon. After posting a 3.80 ERA in July and 3.58 in August, Rays starters came into Tuesday with a 5.03 ERA in September.

Kazmir was hammered Monday night. Edwin Jackson was just as bad on Sunday and Matt Garza was not at his best the day before that.

That means the ball, and the division lead, was put in Sonnanstine's hand Tuesday night.

And, all these months later, who would ever imagined that was the best thing the Rays could have done.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Sonnanstine has right stuff for Rays 09/16/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 22, 2008 2:23pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. DeSean Jackson's 'Ferrari engine' brings him to first Bucs camp

    Bucs

    TAMPA — When the Bucs signed Pro Bowl WR DeSean Jackson in the offseason, QB Jameis Winston said his new target was "a Bentley with a Ferrari engine," a nod to Jackson's 5-foot-10 frame but elite speed.

     Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson sits for an interview while on camera with NFL Films.   HBO's NFL Films production of "Hard Knocks" documented a day in the life of Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson with his family at their home in Tampa on Wednesday, July 26, 2017.
  2. What you should know about new Rays slugger Lucas Duda

    Blogs

    The MLB trade deadline is a few days away, but the Rays aren't procrastinating. Earlier today, they swung a deal for the Mets' Lucas Duda, sending minor league right-hander Drew Smith

    Slugger Lucas Duda will add some (more) power to the Rays lineup.
  3. Rays add a bat, too, acquiring Lucas Duda from Mets

    Blogs

    The Rays made another big move today, acquiring 1B/DH Lucas Duda from the Mets.

    Duda, 31, is a lefty slugger who will take over as the Rays primary DH against right-handers, with Corey Dickerson now playing most of the time in the outfield.

    To get Duda, the Rays gave up minor-league RHP Drew Smith, …

    The Rays acquired 1B/DH Lucas Duda from the Mets.
  4. Bucs do their best to stiff-arm the expectations

    Bucs

    TAMPA — If you want to see a team giving the Heisman trophy stiff-arm to expectations, check out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    As always, the key to the Bucs success will be Jameis Winston. He still is only 23, but a charismatic leader that this team and this town believes deeply in. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  5. A trip down memory lane of Bucs' preseason expectations

    Bucs

    With HBO's Hard Knocks in town and the Bucs opening training camp Friday with their highest expectations in a decade, here's a look back at Tampa Bay's preseason expectations since their last playoff appearance in 2007 — and the results.

    2008

    Jameis Winston and running back Peyton Barber celebrate a touchdown last season against the 49ers. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]