Blame Rays' pitching situation on injuries, not deals

Jake Odorizzi hasn’t been great for the Rays this season. But don’t consider him a disappointment, Tom Jones writes — he’s probably not even supposed to be facing major league hitters yet.
Jake Odorizzi hasn’t been great for the Rays this season. But don’t consider him a disappointment, Tom Jones writes — he’s probably not even supposed to be facing major league hitters yet.
Published May 21, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — Jake Odorizzi started for the Rays on Tuesday and got smacked around.

Couldn't get through the fifth inning. Threw 113 pitches. Gave up four hits. Walked five. Put the Rays in a 3-0 hole.

No surprise, really. He's a kid. Kids are up and down until they figure out this major-league business. All over the place is what you're going to get. It's not his fault.

And you know what? It's not the Rays' fault either. This is also what you get when you spend half your time counting pennies and the other half pinching them.

Odorizzi, poor guy, has been thrown into the deep end of the pool before he's ready. He should be in the minors. But this is what happens when you deal away starting pitching and then get pummeled with injury.

The cost of being a small-market club is showing up more than ever this season for the Rays. And it's showing up right in the middle of the diamond, exactly 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate. It's also showing up in the standings.

The rotation, for the most part this season, has been stitched together with up-and-coming youngsters and down-and-out journeymen to go along with staff ace David Price.

Suddenly this season, the Rays are poor in pitching. Who would've ever thought that would happen?

That, plus a punchless offense that has scored only two runs in the past three games, is the reason the Rays are looking up at the rest of the AL East. Their pitching hasn't been good enough to put together a winning streak longer than three games. They've won four out of five only once.

"When you're attempting to get on any kind of a roll, you normally sustain your starting pitching," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's starting pitching and defense. We have never really been able to sustain on offense only. So (pitching) is our DNA. We have to stay true to that."

But it has been difficult to do when Rays have to retool their lineup every year by dealing away the one thing they've always had: pitching.

Just think about how much pitching the Rays have let go the past few years.

James Shields is now the ace in Kansas City. Scott Kazmir has risen from the dead — well, an independent league in Texas — to once again become a top-of-the-rotation pitcher with the A's. Matt Garza is now with the first-place Brewers.

They all used to be here.

Those are three workhorse pitchers who are now chewing up innings for other teams instead of the Rays. All were dealt because the Rays were rich in minor-league pitching talent, but poor in the wallet. Dealing all that pitching was the only way the Rays could continue to survive and thrive in a division where every team shops in the swanky stores.

It would be great if those arms were still here, but here's the thing, it's not like the Rays would undo those trades if they could.

By trading Shields, the Rays acquired Odorizzi, pitching prospect Mike Montgomery and, best of all, 2013 rookie of the year Wil Myers.

By trading Kazmir, the Rays acquired Tuesday night's starting second baseman, Sean Rodriguez, and pitcher Alex Torres, who was, in turn, traded for Tuesday night's starting DH Logan Forsythe and reliever Brad Boxberger.

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By trading Garza, the Rays acquired starting pitcher Chris Archer, Tuesday's starting leftfielder, Brandon Guyer, and future starting shortstop Hak Ju-Lee. Plus, they had Super Sam Fuld for a spell.

So all of those deals were good deals then because they saved money and remain good deals now because they brought back valuable pieces.

Plus the Rays had to make room for the likes of young pitchers such as Alex Cobb, Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson.

But who could have predicted that ALL those pitchers would go down with injuries, including Moore who is out for a year with Tommy John surgery? And, oh, that doesn't count Jeff Niemann, another solid arm driven from the team because of injuries issues.

There was no way to predict it and no way to avoid it. And no one can be blamed for it. The Rays have simply run into rotten luck.

With a piecemeal staff, the Rays have gotten too little work from their starters and too much work from their bullpen. The result has been a mediocre staff that hasn't been good enough to overcome the always lethargic offense.

Maybe things will get better when Cobb returns Thursday and Hellickson returns, perhaps, next month.

Until then, there's this frustrating fact: there's really nothing the Rays can do.