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Odorizzi puts speculation about future in past

Former prospect succeeding for Rays in Majors after years of hype

SEATTLE -- Rays right-hander Jake Odorizzi gets it. He's 24 years old and in his seventh pro season.

This top prospect stuff was nice, but it has gotten old.

Odorizzi knows it's time to stop everybody from talking about his future and become a part of the present.

"It's not something you want to be forever," said Odorizzi. "You want to be in a spot where you can contribute. Now is the time I'm getting my opportunity. I want to make the most of it."

Lately, Odorizzi has done just that.

With Tampa Bay's rotation hit with injuries to Jeremy Hellickson to open the season, Matt Moore a week into the season and Alex Cobb two weeks into the season, Odorizzi has been given his first extended opportunity to pitch at the big league level.

And Odorizzi is finally showing signs of living up to the advanced billing. He followed up five shutout innings on Friday against Cleveland with six more scoreless innings in a 2-0 victory against the Mariners in Seattle on Wednesday afternoon.

"He has a better game plan," said manager Joe Maddon. "He knows what he wants to do before he goes out there, and [the key is] he follows it well once he does go out there."

There were initial struggles this season. After pitching six shutout innings against Texas in his first start of the year, Odorizzi went 0-3 in his next five starts, allowing 21 earned runs in 21 2/3 innings, and the Rays lost all five games.

That's not what is expected from a prospect who was the 32nd player taken in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, a key part of the package Milwaukee had to give up to acquire Zack Greinke from Kansas City, and the pitcher Tampa Bay was adamant had to be included in the deal when it shipped James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals.

Odorizzi knows it.

And while nobody is talking about it, what Odorizzi is aware of is that there's a rotation decision looming in St. Petersburg. Alex Cobb is about to begin a rehab assignment, which means in another week or two, a spot in the rotation is going to be created.

It's not going to be David Price, whose second complete game of the season produced a 2-1 victory against the Mariners on Tuesday night. Price struck out 12 without issuing a walk, the fourth time in franchise history (including twice by Price) a pitcher has struck out at least 12 without a free pass.

Odorizzi and Chris Archer were in the season-opening rotation, which might give them an edge, but in-season additions Erik Bedard (2-1, 3.38 ERA) and Cesar Ramos (1-2, 3.71 ERA) have made a case for themselves in their starting opportunities.

That's why the last two starts have been significant for Odorizzi.

"It is encouraging to see the results starting to come," he said.

Odorizzi has started to show that he fits now. He's shedding the label of being someone who can help in the future.

"When you are a prospect, you have not done anything yet," he said. "It's nice to have some results and get things going, and become an everyday Major League pitcher."

Maddon couldn't agree more. He was as impressed as anyone with the potential of Odorizzi when the Rays swung the deal at the Winter Meetings in December 2012. Odorizzi was, after all, ranked among the top 50 prospects in baseball in 2011, '12 and '13.

But Maddon knows results, not the potential, are what counts. And he knows the tag of being a prospect can be counterproductive.

"Part of my philosophy as a Minor League coordinator was I never wanted a player to think of himself as a prospect," said Maddon, who himself was an undrafted player whose playing career consisted of four seasons at the Class A level. "It insinuates a guy is going to have a little bit of leeway. Maybe it comes from being a grunt and having never even been drafted myself."

There's no maybe about Odorizzi reaching a point of realization that he needed to step his game up. He and pitching coach Jim Hickey had some "get serious" talks prior to his start in Cleveland last Friday, and the last two starts have given a strong indication that Odorizzi was listening.

It was evident on Wednesday when despite not having command of his curveball to throw strikes, Odorizzi continued to throw the pitch on occasion.

"Even when I am not throwing strikes with it, hitters have to track the pitch," he said. "It's slow and breaks. It's a different look. I have to use all four pitches. I can't abandon one because it's not working."

That's all a part of the evolution of a prospect into a big leaguer.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for
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