On September 24th of the 2011 season the Rays were matched up against the Toronto Blue Jays in a crucial game in their quest to remain in the wild card race. With 5 games to play the Rays had cut the wild card deficit from 7.5 games on September 1st to 2.5 games entering the contest. The Red Sox played the Yankees earlier in the day so the evenings game offered hope that the Rays could cut the lead to 1.5 games.
Jeff Niemann was the evenings starting pitcher but he had his scheduled start pushed back by two days due to a stiff upper back and now was being called upon to shut the Blue Jays down. Unfortunately, he was not sharp and gave up a first inning home run to Jose Bautista which put the Blue Jays up 2-0 and silenced the 27,773 in attendance. It took him 38 pitches to get through the first inning and Rays manager Joe Maddon has seen enough. Some thought that the move was forced because of his back issue but after the game Maddon said "I didn't see the normal snap in the breaking ball and I didn't see the normal velocity. ... So I thought, 'Why wait?'"
The Rays season seemed to be circling the drain but the gods of baseball were smiling on them and a series of odd events allowed them to tie the game at 2-2. With 1-out BJ Upton's at bat was extended when David Cooper couldn't corral a foul ball and with new life he singled and stole second. Jays starter Ricky Romero struck out Evan Longoria for the second out and coaxed an inning ending ground ball off the bat of Ben Zobrist but shortstop Mike McCoy threw wildly to first allowing Upton to score and Zobrist to move into scoring position. Just when Romero thought it couldn't get any worse for him it did. Johnny Damon sent a lazy fly ball that second baseman Kelly Johnson was camped under but must have heard footsteps from center fielder Colby Rasmus and move out of the way allowing the ball to fall in for a RBI double and suddenly the score was tied at 2-2 and the crowd was back into the game.
In typical Joe Maddon fashion he went bold with his move as he summoned 24 year old Alex Torres into this crucial game. The 5'10" Torres had been acquired by the Rays as part of the trade that sent Scott Kazmir to the Los Angeles Angels on August 31, 2009. He had worked his way through the Rays minor league system as a starting pitcher and in 2011 he had made 27 starts (146.1 IP) with the AAA Durham Bulls and posted a 9-7 record, an ERA of 3.08, 9.6 K/9 and 5.1 BB/9. His major league experience was limited to 3 previous relief appearances where he faced 21 batters of which he walked 6 and gave up hits to 5 others in yielding 4R/3ER.
The pressure on him was immense as he took the mound with the Rays season hanging in the balance. The first couple of hitters made solid contact against him but after that he settled down and held the Blue Jays scoreless for the next five innings allowing only 3 hits while striking out 5 and walking only 1.
Only one Jays runner moved into scoring position and he threw 43 of his 71 pitches for strikes. Ben Zobrist gave the Rays a 3-2 lead with a homer in the bottom of the 4th and the Rays offense added 3 more runs in the bottom of the eighth to push their lead to 6-2. Brandon Gomes, Joel Peralta, and Kyle Farnsworth each worked a scoreless inning to secure Torres first career major league victory. After the game Joe Maddon had nothing but praise for his young lefty saying "he's a tough guy. He's got the right kind of makeup to play here. He's got AL East makeup, that's fantastic."
He reported to Port Charlotte the following spring with the hopes of building off that tremendous outing against the Blue Jays and possibly earning a spot in the Rays bullpen or at the very least climbing up the ladder in the pecking order of starters to be called upon if needed. Jason Collette may have said it best in his article detailing the Hidden Value of Alex Torres when he concluded that "Alex Torres could be the swiss army knife for the Rays this season whenever the opportunity presents itself."
With a number of spring battles taking place surrounding the Rays pitching staff innings in Port Charlotte would be hard to come by and on March 12th after just 2 appearances (3IP, 1R/ER, 1H, 3BB, 3K) the Rays demoted him to the minor league facility. He was set to begin the season as a member of the Durham Bulls rotation with eyes on being the first man up when either the rotation or the bullpen was in need of help.
From the very beginning of the season he was unable to find the strike zone and after walking 21 batters in 17.1 innings was removed from the rotation and sent to the bullpen. His control improved slightly in the pen and after 11 appearances he returned to the rotation. Nothing was working and after a few starts the Rays sent him to Port Charlotte for 4 starts to simply work on repeating his delivery. He returned to the Bulls and made 2 starts to finish the season. In his last 13 starts, including the 4 in Port Charlotte, he worked 43 innings and walked 29 batters.
Sometimes a player just needs a bad season to end to clear their mind and start over. Hopefully, this will be the case with Alex Torres and the dreadful 2012 season. He didn't wait until spring training to restart his engine and reported to Aguilas de Zulia of the Venezuelan Winter League. The results in the VWL have been more encouraging as he has posted a record of 1-3 with an ERA of 3.99. He has worked 47.1 innings and walked only 22 batters (4.2 BB/9) while striking out 65 (12.35).
The dilemma the Rays organization now faces is what to do with him? He is out of options which means he can not be sent out to the minors without first passing through waivers. Do the Rays try and trade him now or take a wait and see approach in the spring?
What type of trade value does he have right now? Well, last year this question was posed to Keith Law and he responded that he had "talked to a lot of scouts about him this winter and the strong consensus was that he was more likely a pen guy than a starter. That doesn't help his trade value." A year later coming off a disastrous season and out of options I don't see that outlook being any rosier.
I think the world of Andrew Friedman but I don't believe he will be able to sell any other GM on Alex Torres as a starting pitcher and based on past performance and the scouts estimation of his future a season ago I don't believe the Rays would get much for him on the trade market. Barring a trade where Torres is included as a secondary piece it would seem to make the most sense to bring him to Port Charlotte and let him pitch.
The Rays could then move any direction they want. If he pitches well they win and can add him to the bullpen mix to start the year or he could possibly catch the eye of another organization more sold on his future then they were over the winter. If he pitches only mediocre or poor they can pass him through waivers and outright him to Durham where he'd have to accept the assignment and they could control him for an additional season. It isn't like the Rays to give up on a pitcher and for me that night against the Blue Jays will always be a constant reminder of what could be....someday.