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Rays have had aces before. This is exactly what they look like.

John Romano | Seven starts into the season, Tyler Glasnow leads the American League in innings pitched and wins.
In the Triple Crown of pitching categories, Tyler Glasnow is tied for first in wins (four), is fourth in ERA (2.06) and second in strikeouts (64) for the Rays in 2021.
In the Triple Crown of pitching categories, Tyler Glasnow is tied for first in wins (four), is fourth in ERA (2.06) and second in strikeouts (64) for the Rays in 2021. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published May 4
Updated May 4

ST. PETERSBURG — It is time for the forward thinkers to roll their eyes. I am about to show my age, my prejudices, my fuddy duddy-ness.

This is a baseball column that does not involve spin rates, horizontal movement or whiff percentages. Not that I don’t enjoy a deep dive into advanced metrics, but I’m feeling particularly old-fashioned this morning.

I just watched Tyler Glasnow throw an efficient, if not overpowering, six innings against the Angels late Monday night. By the time the game was over, he led the American League in innings pitched, was tied for the lead in wins and was second in quality starts.

And I thought: That’s what an ace does.

Now those particular stats are no longer in vogue and, in some ways, the idea of an ace isn’t either. But there’s something to be said for a starting pitcher who allows a manager and a fan base to feel unerringly confident every fifth day.

And Glasnow has been that guy, for the most part, the past three seasons, despite an injury that interrupted 2019 and the pandemic that shortened 2020. The Rays are 24-6 in games started by Glasnow since the start of 2019, and that kind of success will put him in the Cy Young Award conversation if he can stay healthy.

“He’s been outstanding,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s been doing it so efficiently, which is what’s impressive. The strikeouts are there, and a lot of times the strikeouts lead to a heavy pitch count, but he’s doing it pretty quickly and it allows him to get deep in ballgames.”

It's early, but Tyler Glasnow is positioning himself for Cy Young consideration thanks to his solid start.
It's early, but Tyler Glasnow is positioning himself for Cy Young consideration thanks to his solid start. [ MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ | Associated Press ]

That’s more important for the Rays than most teams. When payroll limitations hamper the kind of pitchers you can afford, you often end up with a staff that, while talented, might be younger and more injury-prone than ideal.

It’s not a coincidence that Tampa Bay leads the AL in the number of pitchers used this season and is second in the number of starters. And that makes it critical that Glasnow can give the bullpen an easier night every time through the rotation.

The Rays have had a starter throw six or more innings in 12 of their first 30 games. Glasnow has been responsible for exactly half of those starts.

“It’s huge, having starters that are capable of consistently getting deep in the game like Glas has done,” Cash said. “You never say it’s a night off for the bullpen, but you shave one inning or one guy from pitching and that goes a long way over the course of a long road trip, a homestand, a month, or whatever it is.”

The beauty of Glasnow, 27, is that he can still get better. He has added a slider to his fastball/curveball/changeup repertoire this year and is now throwing it almost one-third of the time.

The slider is still in its infancy and he’s actually had less success with it as a put-away pitch, but it has made his fastball and curveball far more effective. Throwing the fastball nearly 61 percent of the time last season, opponents hit .246 with a .460 slugging percentage off the pitch. This year, he’s throwing fastballs around 53 percent of the time and has an opponents’ batting average of .151 with a .288 slugging percentage.

Glasnow has cut the number of curveballs he throws in half, but it’s almost unhittable at this point. Opponents have a .068 batting average and .091 slugging percentage on curveballs.

“It definitely makes my job a lot easier when I have three pitches or four pitches I can throw for strikes,” Glasnow said after Monday night’s 7-3 win. “So many guys were going up there guessing (fastball) because I was throwing it so much. (The slider) is just another pitch I can throw for a strike, so it opens up the plate for me.”

We’ve seen this kind of season around here before. Blake Snell was dominating down the stretch in 2018 on his way to a Cy Young Award, and Charlie Morton was remarkably consistent in 2019.

But those guys are gone now and Glasnow has been a godsend for a staff that is in desperate need of stability. Glasnow is 4-1 with a 2.06 ERA this season, while the rest of Tampa Bay’s starters have combined to go 3-7 with a 4.79 ERA heading into Tuesday night’s game.

It’s a quaint notion in these days of openers and high-leverage relievers, but Glasnow sure looks like an ace.

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

Coming up aces

Since the beginning of 2019, the Rays have won 80 percent of Tyler Glasnow’s starts. Here’s a breakdown of Tampa Bay’s winning percentage with different starters during that time:

Tyler Glasnow: 24-6, .800

Charlie Morton: 27-15, .643

Blake Snell: 19-15, .559

Rest of staff: 81-65, .555

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