Cash: Rays' fifth starter will be 'a bullpen day'
Manager will attempt to stick to four-man rotation past six-week mark
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- At first glance, Kevin Cash's news appeared old school: The Rays will continue to use a four-man rotation deep into the season, or perhaps for the entire season.
However, upon further review, the news appeared to be new school, as Tampa Bay's manager is talking about creating a hybrid rotation where four starters are in place, followed by a bullpen day when needed.
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"I think it is different, but we're also a different kind of team," said Nathan Eovaldi, who is a member of the Rays' four-man rotation. "We have a lot of guys in the bullpen who can be starters. So, we have a lot of guys who can go multiple innings out of the bullpen."
Cash surprised reporters Wednesday morning when he began to peel away the layers regarding the team's starting rotation.
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"We're going to try to stay at four," Cash said. "We're going to have some bullpen days in there. We're going to try and do that for a long period of time. We're going to learn a lot in the first six weeks.
"We're going to schedule in a bullpen day as our fifth starter. That's kind of our hope -- going past six weeks."
Cash had been saying that the Rays would use a four-man rotation until May before expanding to a five-man rotation. Now he is saying they will use a four-man rotation indefinitely, allowing with a chuckle that Wednesday's news was not a change of their original plan.
"No, we just haven't said it until today," Cash said.
The four-man rotation will be occupied by Chris Archer, Eovaldi, Blake Snell and Jake Faria.
Surprisingly, even though there are two additional days off this season, the number of times the Rays would need to utilize a bullpen day if they stick to the four-man approach all season is the same as it would have been last year -- 22.
"We want to see what [the four-man plan is] capable of," Cash said. "Not to blow it out of proportion, it's going to be a rotation to where you're going to have the consistency with the starters. But when we can plug in extra days with the bullpen to see where the off-day is in the schedule, and get those guys an extra day."
Cash said their plan is "a reflection of who we have available."
"We feel like we have a lot of good pitchers," Cash said. "And we want to get them all of their reps and not limit somebody, not get use of that guy [who turns into the] odd man out by not being in the rotation."
Pitchers in the mix who could be used to pitch two or three innings of relief include Matt Andriese, Anthony Banda, Yonny Chirinos, Austin Pruitt, Chih-Wei Hu and Ryan Yarbrough. All of the pitchers mentioned above have options, which would allow the Rays to shuttle fresh arms between Triple-A Durham and Tampa Bay. Jose De Leon, who was diagnosed with a right ulnar collateral tear and looks as though he will have Tommy John surgery, would have been in the mix as well.
"I think with the caliber of arms we have, we're in a fortunate situation right now where we have guys like Austin Pruitt, Andriese, Chirinos, Yarbrough, and Banda, [who have] graduated from Triple-A," Archer said. "And in order for us to maximize our 12 or 13 pitchers, I think we're going to use them as opposed to a traditional one-inning reliever. And even Hu is in that situation."
It should be stressed that the four starters in the rotation will continue to pitch on four days' rest rather than three, which would be the case if it were a true four-man rotation without the bullpen day.
Andriese admitted that Wednesday's revelation was news to him, but he saluted his employers.
"[The Rays are] ahead of the game in a lot of the stuff," Andriese said. "We have a lot of quality pitchers who can fill that role. I guess in a sense, it's just using our depth wisely. And instead of having someone in Triple-A, let them be on the big league roster helping the squad."
Archer pointed out that the plan creates flexibility, too.
"If one of us needs to take a day, or [an injury], we'll still be covered," Archer said.
Cash said the coaching staff is confident that if they execute the plan properly, they have the depth to make it work. During the remaining weeks of Spring Training, the Rays will evaluate their pitching candidates.
"We have to find out ... who bounces back," Cash said. "Who can get on the mound, throw two or three innings and bounce back three days later and pitch."
When a reporter suggested that their plan was innovative, Cash again chuckled.
"Only if it works," Cash said. "If it doesn't, it's dumb."