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)

Tampa Bay Rays riding young starting pitching to baseball's best record

ST. PETERSBURG — Right-hander Jeff Niemann says there's a friendly, albeit intense competition among members of the Rays' young starting rotation.

"We all don't want to be the weak link," he said. "Everybody wants to step up and top each other, and it turns into positive vibes all around."

While the shutout thrown by David Price on Sunday has set the bar very high, it was just another example of how the Rays starters have been setting the tone this season.

They entered Monday ranked second in the American League in ERA (2.81) and innings (121 2/3) and are a big reason why the Rays (14-5) boast the best record in baseball. And if they keep it up, not only is manager Joe Maddon's goal of all five throwing 200 innings not out of the question, the trickle-down effects on the bullpen could help them get back into the playoffs.

"I really think they are just doing exactly what they are capable of," pitching coach Jim Hickey said of the rotation. "I don't think there's anybody who is performing above and beyond what their capacity is."

Maddon: "I really pay attention to these five guys, because they can be very special as a group for many years to come."

They're all young, with Shields, at 28, the elder statesman on the staff. And as they mature together, their competitive natures push each other in workouts and on the mound.

"We're all bulldogs out there," Shields said. "We don't ever want to get taken out of the game, no matter what. That's one through five. The 200-inning thing, that's more of like the thing to throw out there in the beginning of the year. We're definitely capable of doing that."

Hickey said what also makes the rotation special is how close they are. "That can't be overstated," he said. "I think it's extremely important on a winning club."

They encourage each other, compare notes on pitches and scouting reports and deliver postgame shaving cream facials. And they pick each other up on the mound; when right-hander Matt Garza had his first rough outing of the season Friday, giving up five runs over five innings, Shields told the next day's starter, Niemann, "It's time to stop the bleeding." Niemann responded by giving up three runs over 6 2/3 innings in a win, and Price topped it with a four-hitter Sunday.

Niemann, Garza and Price all have three quality starts in their first four outings, with the Rays allowing three or fewer runs in 10 of their past 12 games.

"It's kind of been easy on us position players, we haven't had to do too much there so far," centerfielder B.J. Upton said, smiling. "Just sit back and watch these guys, especially watching them develop over the last couple years. They put a lot of work in and it's starting to show."

The Rays starters last season tied the White Sox for the most innings in the AL with 970, and if they can top that, it'll make for a more rested bullpen down the stretch. Tampa Bay relievers led the AL with a combined 510 appearances last season.

"There's definitely a trickle-down effect," executive VP Andrew Friedman said. "If our starters are able to go six, seven, eight innings, it keeps the bullpen more rested, puts them in better position to get big outs on certain nights as opposed to always having to get them in the fifth or sixth innings, which we saw some of last year. The benefits are plentiful."

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]

fast facts

Starting it off

The Rays starting rotation entered Monday ranked among the best in the American League in several categories.

ERA (2.81) Second

Wins (10) Tied first

Innings (121.2) Second

Strikeouts (100) Second

Opponent batting avg (.223) Second

Tampa Bay Rays riding young starting pitching to baseball's best record 04/26/10 [Last modified: Monday, April 26, 2010 10:35pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Lightning's Steve Yzerman enjoying Nikita Kucherov's scoring run

    Lightning Strikes

    NEWARK, N.J. — If anyone knows what it is like to be as hot as Nikita Kucherov is right now, it's Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.

    Lightning wing Nikita Kucherov celebrates his second-period goal against the Devils, his eighth overall, giving him goals in each of the first seven games.
  2. Bucs journal: Offense needs to get off to a faster start

    Bucs

    TAMPA — The past two games have seen the Bucs offense muster furious rallies in the fourth quarter of losses, with 229 yards against the Patriots and a franchise-record 27 points against the Cardinals.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field before an NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.
  3. NFL players, owners hold 'constructive' talks on issues

    Bucs

    NEW YORK — NFL players and owners met Tuesday to discuss social issues, a session Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross called "constructive" and Colts defensive back Darius Butler termed "positive."

    A coalition of advocacy groups 'take a knee' outside of a hotel where members the quarterly NFL league meetings are being held on Tuesday in New York City.  Owners, players and commissioner Roger Goodell are all expected to attend. The activists spoke of having solidarity with athletes and coaches around the country who have also kneeled in protest of racial injustice, especially in policing.
 [Getty Images]
  4. Lightning's Steve Yzerman: Nikita Kucherov 'wants to be great'

    Blogs

    If anyone knows what it is like to be as hot as Nikita Kucherov is right now, it's Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.

    Nikita Kucherov joined Steve Yzerman, Mario Lemieux and Keith Tkachuk as the only players in the last 30 years to score a goal in each of his team's first six games.
  5. Fennelly: Longtime Bucs fans, we want to hear from you

    Blogs

    Calling all Bucs fans! Calling all Bucs fans!

    Jameis Winston is pressured by Chandler Jones during the Bucs' loss to the Cardinals Sunday in Glendale, Ariz.