A Look At The Race For The Rays Fifth Starter

With an off day today I figured it would be a good time to re-group and take a look at the performance of the fifth starter candidates so far. While spring training stats don't account for much, without the benefit of seeing the games from a scouts point of view, they are all we have. Of course we have yet to see David Price, but the growing consensus is he will be starting the season in Durham regardless.  This leaves us with five candidates who at least have been mentioned by Jim Hickey or Joe Maddon as being in the race.

Player

IP

H

ER

K

BB

Hammel

6

6

0

5

1

Davis

5.2

1

0

4

0

Talbot

8

14

8

3

0

Niemann

5

3

1

7

1

Hernandez

4.1

2

0

1

1

Realistically, both Hernandez and Davis are more likely headed to Durham than the Trop, but both have pitched well. Herndandez  was excellent in his first start, but was not as sharp in his second appearance. Two of his runners scored, but both were unearned. I don't have any numbers on his velocity, but he doesn't seem to be missing many bats with only one strikeout to his credit.

Davis has probably been the Rays best starter this spring. He has faced names like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Texieria and Albert Pujols and did not give up a hit to any of them. In fact, he's given up just one hit with no walks and four strikeouts. If this was 2010, he would be close to locking up a rotation spot, however, its not and he will likely be going back to Durham at least to start the season with an eye on a call up should an injury happen.

Mitch Talbot has been the least impressive of the candidates statistically. He has given up four home runs and eight earned runs overall(technically seven since last nights game "didn't count"). He seemed to settle down after his awful first inning against Philadelphia and his last six innings have looked much better on paper. He also held down a pretty potent Puerto Rican lineup last night. Unless something miraculous happens over the next few weeks, Talbot will probably slide into the Bulls rotation for a third straight season.

This leaves us with two pitchers, who regardless of their successes or failures this spring should find themselves on a Major League roster in one way or another. I know it's just spring and the stats don't really count, but you have to be pleased with the control Jason Hammel has shown to date. He has just one walk in six innings and has struck out five. Listening to his last start on the radio, he seemed to be getting a lot of swings and misses which is fantastic. He has pretty much put himself right there at the top of the competition.

The other pitcher is Jeff Niemann. While Davis has grabbed the most attention, Niemann has quietly been dominant. His K/9 right now is over 12 and he has walked only one batter. I'd say he is my favorite for the spot so far, but if you read into Joe Maddon comments last week, his role may already determined.

"You always think about the possibility, and then when you actually see it, it becomes even more of a possibility," Maddon said. "You put him in late in a game and see 96, 97 mph and the downhill look, and it's like, 'Holy (cow).'

"Now we're going to give him a chance, absolutely, to be the fifth starter. But there's a real possibility he could go to the bullpen and really help us. He's the kind of guy you'd have to nurture through, but he's got real potential."

That seem's to be ok with Niemann.

"I know a lot of guys want to say, 'I'm a starter, I'm this or I'm that.' I had experience starting and relieving last year — invaluable experience — and either way to me will be great," Niemann said. "I enjoyed working out of the bullpen a lot more than I thought I would. So whichever way it goes, I don't think it will bother me either way."

The best part is this all could change within a weeks time. It's only March 5th and if you look at the Rays plans, the real spring training doesn't begin until Saturday. It will be interesting to see who gets the most looks and how roles will be changed once the other Rays starters are intergrated into the mix.

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