The Rays will soon make it official that RHP Chris Archer is going to start the season opener two weeks from Monday, with RHP Jake Odorizzi and RHP Nathan Karns most likely to follow.
But after that, it's going to take some creative scheduling, roster manipulation and flexibility in pitching roles to cobble together the rest of the rotation that gets them through the two or three weeks they expect to be without injured Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly and ill Alex Colome.
"It's going to be tricky," manager Kevin Cash said Saturday. "We're going to have to really communicate with some guys because … there are going to be moving parts.
"The best thing is the guys understand what's going on. They know with Cobb's situation, with Drew Smyly's situation and Colome's situation we're going to be good, we're going to do well, but we are going to piece some stuff together."
One decision, for example, is whether to take advantage of the April 9 off day to skip the fifth spot, by bringing Archer back on regular rest, and delay the need for a fifth starter until April 14, which makes sense to do.
One idea, for example, is to have their No. 4 starter, which looks to be RHP Matt Andriese, and the No. 5, if there is one initially, available in relief the first series, with a backup plan if used. Another, related, is to make sure there is always a fresh long reliever.
One complication, for example, is that once the season starts, MLB rules prevent any player optioned to the minors from being called up before April 15 unless he is replacing a player going to the DL. (So RHP Burch Smith, sent down Friday, couldn't simply be swapped onto the staff, but non-roster LHP Everett Teaford could be, though someone would have to be dropped from the 40-man roster.)
One strategy, for example, is to start putting injured players on the DL as soon as March 27 (making them eligible to return April 11) then before opening day recalling optioned players, such as Smith, who will have had the benefit of more work, and more controlled work, in minor-league camp. Plus, doing so gives the Rays time to explore external possibilities, such as picking up a pitcher squeezed out elsewhere (Erik Bedard?).
Against this backdrop, the Rays also have to weigh how many non-roster players they can add overall: C Bobby Wilson seems likely, with INF Jake Elmore, RHP Brandon Gomes and/or Teaford possibilities. They'll get one spot when they put LHP Matt Moore on the 60-day DL, a second if they trade OF David DeJesus, but any others require a move.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: Having not-so-subtle fun over reports of interest in Montreal to acquire the team, Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg opened his Thursday session with reporters by saying, "Bonjour." … A Rays' discussion among Andy Freed, Dewayne Staats and yours truly is part of the Pitch Talks speaker series 7 p.m. Monday in Clearwater; see rutheckerdhall.com. … The DeJesus showcasing continues, but scouts say with a glut of outfielders available elsewhere, the Rays may be faced with eating most, or all, of his $5 million salary (and $1 million 2016 buyout). … Odds on Cobb winning the Cy Young are 20-1 per the online Bovada site; Seattle's Felix Hernandez is a 13-5 favorite. … Fox Sport's Ken Rosenthal has the Rays pegged at only 75 wins, and that was before Cobb's injury.
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The fifth of our weekly guesses at the makeup of the opening day roster:
Pitchers (12): Matt Andriese, Chris Archer, Grant Balfour, Jeff Beliveau, Brad Boxberger, Ernesto Frieri, Kevin Jepsen, Nathan Karns, Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi, Burch Smith, Kirby Yates
Catchers (2): Rene Rivera, x-Bobby Wilson
Infielders (6): Asdrubal Cabrera, x-Jake Elmore, Logan Forsythe, Nick Franklin, James Loney, Evan Longoria
Outfielders/DH (5): Brandon Guyer, John Jaso, Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier, Steven Souza Jr.
DL (5): RHP Alex Cobb, RHP Alex Colome, LHP Jake McGee, LHP Matt Moore, LHP Drew Smyly