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Drew Smyly injury a blow to Rays' pitching depth

It isn’t known when projected No. 3 starter Drew Smyly, sidelined by shoulder tendinitis, will even begin throwing again.
It isn’t known when projected No. 3 starter Drew Smyly, sidelined by shoulder tendinitis, will even begin throwing again.
Published Mar. 9, 2015

PORT CHARLOTTE

Having No. 3 starter Drew Smyly sidelined indefinitely, with his availability to start the season in question due to shoulder tendinitis, is bad enough news for the Rays.

"I think it's fair to say there is a concern," manager Kevin Cash said Sunday.

Worse is that the depth after their top four starters was already one of the biggest questions, and potential flaws, of several on their roster anyway.

In the best case, the Rays were looking at some sort of compromised solution, picking between Alex Colome or Nathan Karns — who between them have 11 big-league starts and four wins — or maybe newcomer Burch Smith (seven big-league starts, one win) to take the fifth until Matt Moore makes a "Juneish" return from elbow surgery that may drag into July.

And now, with opening day four weeks from today, it is looking worse.

Colome is expected to finally arrive in camp today, having been stuck more than two weeks in the Dominican Republic due to visa delays presumably related to his past PEDs suspension. He is supposedly on schedule in workouts but certainly not up to game speed.

And Smyly won't even throw a ball for at least a couple of days, maybe more, waiting for his shoulder to feel better before he starts again working toward game form. He mentioned tightness, "lots of knots" and inflammation but insists it's "nothing serious." That's probably better listed as still to be determined.

Smyly, 25, admitted Sunday that the issue stemmed from trying to do too much too fast after an odd December finger injury put him more than a month behind in his throwing program. "I think I ramped my throwing program up a little too quick to try to catch up with everybody," Smyly said.

The rotation is considered — by far — the strength of the Rays team, led by Alex Cobb and Chris Archer, though with an assumption in there that Jake Odorizzi will be more how he finished last year than started it.

But if that rotation were to include Karns and Smith to start the season, and with a depth chart that would next list the likes of unproven Matt Andriese and Enny Romero and Mike Montgomery (who is transitioning to relief) and journeyman Everett Teaford, well, that wouldn't be very strong.

After all the happy talk about the welcomed makeover of the roster by new baseball operations head Matt Silverman, and the impressive impression Cash has made, the reality is that the Rays have some serious issues to at least ponder and perhaps address if they are indeed to be contenders.

Most glaring is the hole at shortstop, with a plan to sort through multiple possibilities, none of which may be ideal. Veteran Asdrubal Cabrera, whose range has diminished, may end up there, though the Rays would prefer him at second. They'll hope — which is never a good word in this context — that either Tim Beckham or Nick Franklin makes a convincing case, though a trade for someone like glove-friendly Pete Kozma might be worth considering.

They say the bullpen is loaded with high-leverage relievers, but it is also stacked with questions. How close to the planned late April date will Jake McGee return from elbow surgery, and how effective will he be? Can Brad Boxberger — who may be the closest thing they have to a regular closer, at least early on — repeat last year's breakout success? And Jeff Beliveau? Can Kevin Jepsen match a career-best year of setup work? How much good can they truly expect from Grant Balfour — out of camp for nearly two weeks attending to his ailing father in Australia — and Ernesto Frieri given how bad they were last year?

Their lineup is supposedly deeper and more balanced, but there is still — hardly breaking news here — the glaring need for the big bat to put behind Evan Longoria. At least unless Steven Souza Jr. convinces them he can handle it, and any associated pressure, enough so they wouldn't be worried about him failing.

Somehow, the outfield is both overstocked, with no room for likely-to-be-traded David DeJesus, yet also thin, with former catcher John Jaso being considered for at least occasional duty. The inflexibility of not having that super-U guy, a la Ben Zobrist or even Sean Rodriguez, who can play the middle infield and the outfield is problematic, though Jake Elmore may get that shot.

But their concerns should start with the rotation depth. Think how much better they felt about themselves last year then saw Moore and Cobb both land on the DL in the same week.

Smyly's problems started in December when in what he said was a routine session of playing catch he strained a tendon in his left middle finger. He had to stop throwing for more than a month, resuming in late January. And between trying to catch up and preferring his own throwing schedule than the Rays use (with much success, it should be noted), he found himself in discomfort during a Friday bullpen session.

For now, Smyly, acquired last year in the David Price trade, will be monitored on a daily basis under the watchful eye of head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield then, when he feels better, start building back up. A planned exhibition debut for Saturday is off, and it's unclear when even in the best case he would pitch in a game and if there would be enough time for him to get ready to make his April 9 start vs. Baltimore. The Rays are sure to be cautious. Remember September, when they shut him down over concern of his career-high 153 innings.

"It's kind of on him and how he feels from this point forward," Cash said.

And until Smyly is deemed fit to go, it's one more thing for the Rays to not feel too good about.