BALTIMORE — There are a number of reasons why Andy Sonnanstine is the starter most likely to be dropped from the Rays rotation with Scott Kazmir returning.
Sonnanstine is considered the most adaptable of the starters to a relief role. He has options remaining, so he can be sent to the minors without being exposed to waivers. And he has the least impressive stuff, and resume, of the current five.
But there is one pretty impressive number representing why they can't move him anywhere: 4 — as in the team-record April wins Sonnanstine has after eight more strong innings in Wednesday's 8-1 victory over the Orioles.
"There's nothing easy right now," manager Joe Maddon said. "I don't really want to get into it too deeply. We all know what's coming up in a couple more days and we have a tough decision to make. But he's making a strong case for himself."
The Rays finished April with a team-record 15 wins, and closer to first place (one game out) and more games above .500 (three) than they've ever been at this point. They also had — in excluding the season-opening win on March 31 — their first winning April (at 14-12) in 11 seasons.
"That's nice," Maddon said. "Something to build on. Let's have the best May now."
Since a poor April 14 performance against the Yankees, when he got away from the game plan of working primarily with his mid to high 80 mph fastball, Sonnanstine has won three straight.
And he has been impressive in doing so, with a three-hit shutout of the White Sox, six-plus innings with three runs against Toronto, then Wednesday's winner, scattering six singles over eight innings while throwing 66 strikes among his 102 pitches. He got out of his one real jam, two on, one out and one run in in the third, by striking out Melvin Mora and Luke Scott.
"I'd like to say almost typical," Maddon said. "He throws it where he wants to primarily, mixes speeds up a little bit."
Whereas Jason Hammel, who, like Edwin Jackson, is out of options, admitted Tuesday that the rotation reshuffling (and potential assignment to the bullpen) was in the back of his mind, Sonnanstine (4-1, 4.42) didn't let it affect him one bit. Or for one pitch.
"I try not to think about that," he said. "It's something that's completely out of my control."
Yet he admitted he may have used it to his advantage: "When you know there's an opportunity that you possibly won't be here, maybe that helps me strive to do a little better."
The focus shifts today to Matt Garza, who has been inconsistent in three starts and missed two weeks with an injury. He also has options remaining, though it would be a bold move to demote him since he was the centerpiece of the Delmon Young trade.
Aside from an eighth-inning flareup when O's reliever Dennis Sarfate yelled at Carlos Pena for supposedly peeking at the signs, which Pena said was "totally untrue," the game was a businesslike performance by the Rays.
Eric Hinske hit a two-run homer, tying Pena for the team lead with six; B.J. Upton extended his team-leading RBI total to 21; and Carl Crawford scored his AL-leading 25th run.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.