Despite a couple of losses to the Rockies it looks like the Rays are slowly righting their ship. Some of the walking wounded are coming back (Jason Bartlett looks like he hasn’t missed a beat), so is it time that they make their move? When last I wrote I mentioned that there was plenty of season left, and there still is, but Tampa Bay needs to make sure they keep the pressure on.
While they have managed to bring their record over .500 on the season they haven’t managed to gain any ground on the leaders. They are 6-4 in their last 10 games and have dropped a game to Boston. They now stand 6 games back. It’s not an insurmountable lead, but it would be nice to see them whittle that down to 2 or 3 bay the all star break.
One of the key components in helping them make a run returns soon when Scott Kazmir comes off of the DL. I would imagine he has one start in Durham before joining the big league roster. It’s not likely that he’ll be used out of the bullpen so one of the starters is going to have to go. Matt Garza and James Shields are secure. An argument can be made that Jeff Niemann has been their most effective starter over the last month or so.
So that leaves two candidates, the young phenom David Price or everyone’s favorite double jointed right hander, Andy Sonnanstine. When Price was called up all indications were that he was being called up for good. Many a young pitcher have been ruined by constant shuffling between the majors and minors Given the maturity he’s displayed so far that is unlikely, but no one can tell how players will react to demotions. He may be struggling (23 hits and 18 walks in 26 innings), but there have been flashes of improvement.
Sonnanstine is a bit more of an enigma. He has a bloated ERA of 6.65, but he is tied for second among starters in wins with 5. He’s been knocked out of games in the second inning (Baltimore) and the third (Cleveland), but he’s also pitched seven innings against the Yankees twice. His propensity to give up the long ball may be his undoing. He has given up 14 in just over 70 innings pitched. As the summer heats up the balls are going to keep flying out in visiting parks. Baltimore, Boston and New York aren’t friendly parks when it comes to pitchers keeping it on the right side of the fence.
So he loses his spot in the rotation. Does that mean he also loses his spot on the roster? How effective will he be coming out of the bullpen, and what role will he have? Lance Cormier has done a fine job as the long reliever and Andy doesn’t have the fastball that teams look for in a set up role. Which reliever is demoted. Chad Bradford isn’t far from returning either, that’s another roster spot. Joe Maddon certainly has a plan even if it’s not one that everyone agrees with. The joy of Maddon is that he always has plenty for the afternoon radio guys to discuss.
Kazmir needs to make sure he has everything straightened out as well. The team can’t afford for him to struggle coming out of the gate, having him only able to go 4 or 5 innings will put too much stress on an already beleaguered bullpen. Last year he was nothing short of amazing following his return from the DL, getting off to a 5-1 start. The Rays could use that type of performance if they want to claw back into this race.