Fleming will round out Rays rotation to start '23

March 26th, 2023

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Rays expect to call upon Yonny Chirinos and Luis Patiño at some point this season because they know as well as anyone that it takes more than five starters to get through the year. But they officially ended one of their few Spring Training roster battles on Sunday by naming left-hander  their fifth starter.

Patiño was optioned to Triple-A Durham on Saturday, and Chirinos was optioned on Sunday morning. That left Fleming as Tampa Bay’s choice to fill the spot in the rotation created when Tyler Glasnow went down with a left oblique strain.

Fleming will join a Rays rotation that includes Opening Day starter Shane McClanahan, free-agent signing Zach Eflin, lefty Jeffrey Springs and right-hander Drew Rasmussen. Glasnow was playing catch from 75 feet as of Sunday and won't likely make his season debut until May. Manager Kevin Cash previously said the fifth spot could be “fluid,” but the job belongs to Fleming to start the season.

“When Glas got hurt, we kind of expressed to all of them [that] we had what we thought [were] three good options, good candidates. They all did some good things this spring,” Cash said Sunday morning. “Really tough decision. Fleming, I think, is very deserving of it. Yonny, on the flip side, you could make the case that he's also deserving. He put together a tremendous spring.”

Tampa Bay will likely have to manage Chirinos’ workload throughout the season. The right-hander has only pitched 44 2/3 innings since 2019, as he underwent Tommy John surgery in August 2020 and then fractured his elbow near the end of his rehabilitation in September 2021. Chirinos and the Rays have been pleased with his health this spring, though, and he was proud to complete five innings Saturday at Tropicana Field.

“Yonny is such a pro. Certainly, he was frustrated and disappointed, somewhat sad, because of the work you put in, but just proud of him,” Cash said. “I don't know if many guys in that clubhouse could have withstood what he did for two years.”

Fleming, meanwhile, impressed the Rays in Spring Training after a couple of up-and-down years in the Majors. The 26-year-old lefty debuted with a 2.78 ERA over seven outings in 2020 then posted a 5.43 ERA in 36 outings over the past two seasons.

His first Grapefruit League outing couldn’t have gone much worse, as he allowed six runs on six hits in an inning of work on Feb. 25. After that, he allowed two runs on six hits and four walks while striking out 12 in 13 2/3 innings over five outings.

“He competes really, really well, so good for him. He worked really hard to get to that spot, that's for sure,” Cash said. “We've got a talented group, there's no doubt. Josh can certainly play his role with that group of starters.”

Fleming had been slated to start Monday’s Spring Training finale against the Yankees in Tampa. Instead, he and Rasmussen will pitch Wednesday in Minor League camp at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.