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Rays focus is on keeping starters fresh in '20

@juanctoribio
February 24, 2020

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Rays know that, in order to make a run at the American League East, they’re going to have to find a way to keep their top starters healthy and as fresh as possible over the course of the season. Last season, the Rays entered the

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Rays know that, in order to make a run at the American League East, they’re going to have to find a way to keep their top starters healthy and as fresh as possible over the course of the season.

Last season, the Rays entered the year aiming to limit some of the workload during the season. That included giving pitchers a sixth day of rest whenever the schedule allowed it to. This season, however, the Rays will have to monitor Charlie Morton's workload, as well as trying to keep Tyler Glasnow, Blake Snell and Yonny Chirinos healthy and fresh.

Morton started a career-high 33 games in ‘19. But despite the heavy workload last season, the 36-year-old wants to try and approach this Spring Training as normal as possible.

“Ideally, I don’t throw a single ball until Opening Day. I just save my bullets and I don’t pitch any more than I have to. It would be innovative,” Morton joked. “The balance of getting my arm in shape, my body in shape, to go out there and compete in April. The way I do that is going to have to be a buildup.”

While Morton pitched more than ever last season, Snell, Glasnow and Chirinos (who struck out three in an inning of work during Monday's 2-2 tie against the Red Sox) are looking to return to a more normal workload. All three pitchers missed significant time due to injuries, and as they look to pitch more in 2020, the Rays will be cautious.

“There’s always concern with all of our guys,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “We have some unique workload thoughts and discussions that we’re going to have to have because Charlie pitched a lot. Blake, Tyler and Yonny did not pitch a lot and their workload was cut short.

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“How we manage that and the discussions that we’ll have, it will be individualized, but we’ll take it start-to-start. … We’ll build them up accordingly and when they start hitting some of those milestone marks from last year, there’s going to be a lot more conversations on how to keep these guys as fresh as possible.”

A way the Rays kept pitchers, especially Morton, fresh last season was giving them an extra day of rest whenever the schedule allowed. Morton, Snell and Glasnow would often start on a day that would assure them to have five full days off before their next outing.

This season, however, things could get a bit trickier. At least at the start. The Rays have just three off days in the first 39 days of the season, creating some natural discussions. Tampa Bay relies on its versatility and could choose to start the year with a six-man rotation or have an Opener start the sixth game.

Those decisions will ultimately affect what the Rays do with their Opening Day roster. If the Rays decide to go with a six-man rotation or have a bullpen day every sixth game to start the season, that could improve the chances of Trevor Richards, Jalen Beeks, Anthony Banda or Brendan McKay making the roster.

“We have to get through the schedule and that’s where you lean on your depth and a lot of quality options to have to be able to get extra rest here and there,” Cash said. “Charlie’s workload was really big last year because he was so good and we didn’t want to take him out of games. He also benefited from extra days in-between starts.

“We’ll still try and find ways to do that and we’ll pick the right spots with the off days, we just don’t have many off days early on in the first three weeks.”

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.