Make us your home page

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

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

  1. For starters: Rays at Twins, looking for another with Odorizzi starting


    UPDATE, 12:45: Cash said Robertson was taking better swings Friday and so he wanted to move him up today, liking the idea of having three straight right-handers vs. a LHP they don't know much about. ... Souza was still smiling this morning about his failed dive attempt last night, and the reaction it got. .. The …

  2. Why the Lightning would consider trading Jonathan Drouin

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — This summer, the Lightning could trade one of its most dynamic young players ever.

    Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) celebrates with his team on the bench after beating Chicago Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling (33) to score his second goal of the period and to tie the score at 4 to 4 during second period action at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Monday evening (03/27/17).
  3. Why the Lightning should keep Jonathan Drouin

    Lightning Strikes

    Keep him.

    Jonathan Drouin is live bait. The Lightning is ready to run the hook through him and cast him out there again. Drouin has enough talent for the Lightning to meet some defensive needs in a deal.

    Keep him.

    Lightning wing Jonathan Drouin celebrates after beating Los Angeles Kings goalie Peter Budaj during the first period of Tuesday's win in Tampa. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  4. This Tampa Bay Lightning wing rides the newest wave of fan interaction

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — There are photos of Lightning fan Shaun Egger as a toddler at center ice at the then-Thunderome, aka Tropicana Field. He's played in the Lightning's high school hockey league for Palm Harbor University. But his closest personal encounter with players had been waving through a crowd after a training camp …

    Tampa Bay Lightning player J.T. Brown wears his anti UV glasses as he talks over the headset with a hockey fan while they play against each other on line in an XBOX NHL video game in Brown's game room at his home in south Tampa. The fan chose to be the Washington Capitals and Brown, of course, was the Tampa Bay Lightning. Brown interacts with fans through video game systems as he streams the games live on Twitch with plans for the proceeds to go to charity.
  5. ‘Biggest fight' behind her, Petra Kvitova returns ahead of schedule


    PARIS — Five months after a home invader's knife sliced into her left hand, Petra Kvitova will return to competitive tennis at the French Open, a last-minute decision to make her comeback earlier than expected.

    Petra Kvitova adjusts her hair during a news conference at Roland Garros Stadium, where she will make her tennis return at the French Open. Kvitova's left hand was badly injured by a knife-wielding intruder in December; she has recovered ahead of schedule. [Associated Press]