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Fewer games should mean more Morton, Snell and Glasnow for the Rays

John Romano | If there is a silver lining to losing more than half the baseball season, it's that the Rays no longer have to worry about innings limits for their top starters.
 
Blake Snell knows what he's doing. The Rays former Cy Young Award winner began spring workouts making sure his muscles are properly stretched at Tropicana Field. Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton have a chance to carry a larger load for Tampa Bay this season with a shortened schedule.
Blake Snell knows what he's doing. The Rays former Cy Young Award winner began spring workouts making sure his muscles are properly stretched at Tropicana Field. Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton have a chance to carry a larger load for Tampa Bay this season with a shortened schedule. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published July 5, 2020|Updated July 5, 2020

It is his nature to be optimistic, but it is his job to be worried.

About elbows and shoulders. Muscles and tendons. Pushing too hard, or resting too much. A pitcher’s arm is among the most precious commodities in baseball, and certainly its most fragile. And Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder is in charge of protecting an entire roster’s worth.

So why does he sound so calm today?

Baseball is gearing up for its most rushed season in history. A three-week boot camp before a 60-game regular-season sprint. There will be issues about pitchers getting enough time to build up arm strength in camp and facing enough hitters to work out the kinks before opening day.

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But for the Rays, there is also a freedom.

No more worrying about the workload of pitchers Charlie Morton, Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow. Each one is capable of being an ace, but each one also would have been limited in a normal 162-game season — Snell, 27, and Glasnow, 26, because of injuries last season and the limited number of innings they threw, Morton, 36, because of his age and the career-high burden he shouldered in 2019.

They won’t be throwing complete games this summer, but they also won’t be skipping starts or taking extra days of rest, if all goes according to plan.

“Back in spring training, that was a concern. It was certainly something that needed to be managed,” Snyder said. “I wasn’t going to put a dead-set number (of innings) on any of those guys, even considering their year-over-year workloads, but now it’s eliminated from being a concern.

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“The likelihood of those guys’ (starts) falling on Day 5 could be more frequent if we keep the workload down. There are a lot of things we’re still considering, but the nature of a 60-game season has alleviated some of those concerns we were expecting to manage in a full season.”

So what does that mean?

Last season, that trio accounted for 42 percent of Tampa Bay’s starts. And, even then, Snell and Glasnow combined for a half-dozen starts of three innings or less in September as they worked back from injuries. By comparison, it’s not inconceivable that they could get close to 60 percent of Tampa Bay’s starts in 2020.

Instead of worrying about their total number of innings, Snyder can focus on start-to-start workloads. That goes for Yonny Chirinos, Ryan Yarbrough and possibly Brendan McKay, too.

Related: Charlie Morton delivering advice, caution to Rays

With the condensed time frame of the summer version of spring training, it’s likely no Rays starter will go more than four or five innings for the first week or two of the regular season. Yarbrough and Morton are probably the furthest along because they have been working out at Tropicana Field for more than a month, but Snyder said all the pitchers began ramping up three weeks before this latest camp began Friday.

It has long been part of Tampa Bay’s philosophy to sacrifice today to protect tomorrow when it comes to a pitcher’s arm. That isn’t going to change just because it’s a short season and the Rays have a shot to play deep into October.

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With rosters expanded in the season’s first month, the Rays will not be shy about using multiple pitchers to avoid relievers going back-to-back days too often or to keep starters from going beyond 75 pitches.

“I’m not going to sit here and say these guys will be going six innings the first week. There’s no way. At this point and time, that would be foolish,” Snyder said. “You have to feel things out a little bit. I’m always on the conservative side, probably more than (manager) Kevin (Cash) would prefer. I just think when you don’t have a ton to lean on in the decision-making process given the lack of precedence, you really just have to trust your players. Trust your measurables that we have at our disposal through technology.”

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Cash pointed out that when the Korea Baseball Organization started up in May, there was an unusual number of injuries involving hamstrings and muscles rather than sore arms. That suggests teams need to be cognizant of rushing pitchers through a training camp.

Part of that is also making sure the pitchers don’t push themselves too hard with the season fast approaching. Reliever Nick Anderson, for instance, said Sunday that his arm is probably game-ready but that he recognizes he needs more work to be ready to pitch multiple times in a week.

“There’s a little nuance to it. Making sure you’re always checking in on them but not smothering them at the same time,” Snyder said. “I think we’re going to be conservative, we’re going to do right by every single one of our pitchers, there’s no doubt about that.”

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.