After the first week of the season, the Tampa Bay Rays pitching looks worrisome. The starting five did adequate, but the bullpen looked frightening.
Pitching coach Jim Hickey got a scare on Thursday. In the second inning against the Orioles, a solid line drive slammed Jeff Niemann in the right shoulder, knocking him out of the game. After his Sunday workout, he appears to be fine and is scheduled to start Tuesday against the Orioles in Baltimore, but his absence took its toll on the bullpen.
Niemann’s injury forced 7 2/3 innings out of the ‘pen that day. They used five relievers in the 5-4 loss. Andy Sonnanstine pitched a respectable 3 1/3 innings, especially considering he came into the game cold. He walked one, struck out one, and gave up four hits and one homer. Unfortunately, Mike Ekstrom had a horrible sixth by loading the bases. His miscues included hitting Miguel Tejada and walking Luke Scott. Manager Joe Maddon had seen enough and brought in Grant Balfour, who didn’t do much better. Balfour allowed two singles and a wild pitch, resulting in four runs. Thankfully, Randy Choate and Dan Wheeler kept the Orioles from scoring any more.
But the real low point of the pitching this week came against the Yankees on Saturday. The Rays lost 10-0, and Wade Davis suffered a rough start. He pitched six innings but gave up seven hits and four runs including a homer. He also walked four batters and struck out three. Choate also gave up four runs and Ekstrom allowed two. Before the game, Davis stated that he was excited about facing the Yankees, and it was going to be fun. Not sure if he had a whole lot of fun.
Nor has it been fun for Ekstrom. The Rays picked him up off waivers from the Padres and in 2 1/3 innings has a 19.31 ERA (four hits, five runs, five walks). Ouch; let’s hope things improve.
But it’s not all bad news. Rafael Soriano pitched relief in two games against Baltimore, collecting a save and a win. In two innings, he has allowed four hits, a run, and walked one. And there’s not many bad things to say about starters Matt Garza and David Price.
Garza, with his arm on fire, went eight innings and simply burned the Orioles. He allowed four hits, walked two, hit one (Tejada, again), and allowed two runs (one unearned), but he also had nine strikeouts. Of his 114 pitches, 74 were strikes. Garza brings excitement to the mound, and fans are counting on him to be one of their leading pitchers this season, as he’s done in recent memory. The former Twins prospect won the ALCS MVP in 2008 for his fantastic pitching performance against the Red Sox. In 2009 he was ninth in the American League with 189 strikeouts.
On Friday night the Rays stomped the Yankees with a score of 9-3, thanks to David Price’s outstanding performance: 7 2/3 innings, seven hits, three runs, three walks, and seven strikeouts. A couple of his fastballs were clocked as high as 97 mph. Watch for Price to keep racking up the strikeouts.
Price was the Rays’ first overall draft pick in 2007, and they have used him sparingly over the last two years. He won his first major league game against the Red Sox in the 2008 ALCS, and his first save was against the Phillies in the subsequent World Series. Last year he only pitched in 23 games, spending some time in the minors. The Rays have been primarily interested in developing this young pitcher and improving his ball control. However this year look for him to be a key component of the pitching rotation.
So after one week, the Rays pitching looks fairly solid for the starting rotation, but their bullpen needs improvement. Shields, Garza, Niemann, and Price are strong pitchers and generally make it through most of the game. However, as seen in last Thursday’s game, if for any reason the Rays need a middle reliever, they could get in trouble. Hopefully J.P. Howell will be healthy soon.