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Tampa Bay Rays choose rotation order with eye toward bullpen

PORT CHARLOTTE — When the Rays set their starting rotation, it looked primarily like a decision between RHP James Shields and LHP Scott Kazmir for the opening day assignment.

But there actually was a lot more to it.

Manager Joe Maddon explained that part of the appeal of this rotation is the effect on usage of the bullpen.

Their thinking was to start with Shields, who tends to pitch deep into games, then go to Kazmir, who doesn't and often requires more innings from the bullpen, then go to RHP Matt Garza, who also pitches deep into games, so the bullpen can get caught up.

No. 4 starter Andy Sonnanstine can be a bit unpredictable, followed by a fifth starter who the Rays assume won't work too deeply and may need bullpen help, then back to Shields, so the cycle can start over.

"We like the idea of the way the rotation flowed by having Kaz sit between Shields and Garza; that was a big part of the decision-making process," Maddon said. "It's just like a batting order. Sometimes you move a guy around in a batting order because you feel as though it suits the team better offensively. We felt this suited the team better pitching-wise as of right now."

Kazmir, who would have made a third straight opening day start last year if he hadn't been hurt, got plenty of consideration.

"We talked about it a lot and we could have set it up the other way based on history, but we didn't think that was the right thing to do," Maddon said. "We wanted to set it based on what we thought was the best way for us to get off to a good start, and what made the most sense to us in regard to how to manipulate all five starters."

FOUL PLAY: There's something to the talk about Kazmir having so many of his pitches fouled off. According to Stats Inc., Kazmir had the highest percentage of pitches fouled off last season — 44.1 — of any of the 109 major-leaguers who threw 1,000 pitches that were swung at.

In essence, nearly half of Kazmir's pitches that were swung at were fouled off.

Garza ranked fourth, at 41.6 percent. At the other end, Sonnanstine was 72nd at 36.5 percent and Shields 103rd at 33.4 percent.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Among other potential improvements, the Rays have asked HOK to look at the possibility of a retractable roof at Tropicana Field, with a report, and cost estimate, due by late April. … Add Baseball America to the folks picking the Rays for third in the AL East. … Looks like the Rays will reach their goal of 1 million tickets sold by opening day, a "good start," team president Matt Silverman said, to where they hope to be, which likely is above 2 million. … Recent headline in the Detroit Free Press: "Edwin Jackson drawing comparisons to Bob Gibson." … The Rays plan to keep the design of the actual AL Championship ring under wraps until the April 14 pregame ceremony. … If the Rays do want to trade pitching, the Padres may be a good partner. … When Maddon treated his coaches to dinner last week, he really treated them — with a limo taking them from Port Charlotte to the Salt Rock Grill in Indian Rocks. … One noticeable difference this spring: the expanded presence of Rays gear at road games.

MISCELLANY: St. Petersburg's Ray Negron on Tuesday releases his third children's book: One Last Time: Goodbye to Yankee Stadium. … Ex-Ray Doug Creek is organizing the Good Shepherd Day School Celebrity fishing tournament on March 24 from Placida, near Englewood; entry, including a dinner, is $2,000 for two. Call (727) 644-0022.

FAST FACTS

Roster report

The third of our weekly guesses on the makeup of the 25-man opening day roster:

Pitchers (12): Grant Balfour, Matt Garza, Jason Hammel, J.P. Howell, Scott Kazmir, Jeff Niemann, Joe Nelson, Troy Percival, James Shields, Brian Shouse, Andy Sonnanstine, Dan Wheeler.

Catchers (2): Dioner Navarro, Shawn Riggans

Infielders (6): Willy Aybar, Jason Bartlett, Akinori Iwamura, Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, Ben Zobrist

Outfielders (5): Pat Burrell, Carl Crawford, Gabe Gross, Gabe Kapler, Justin Ruggiano

Disabled list (2): OF Fernando Perez, CF B.J. Upton

Tampa Bay Rays choose rotation order with eye toward bullpen 03/14/09 [Last modified: Sunday, March 15, 2009 7:19am]

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