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RAYS (16-15) at Toronto (16-17)

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RAYS at Toronto

7:07; RAYS TV/ION
RAYS RADIO/1250 AM

Pitching Matchup:

IP ERA + K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 OPS WHIP G/F P/IP
RAYS RH A. Sonnanst. 38.2 4.42 93 4.89 1.86 2.63 1.16 .715 1.16 1.19 14.25
TOR RH A.J. Burnett 37.1 4.82 85 5.79 4.82 1.20 0.48 .774 1.61 1.44 17.41

RH Andy Sonnanstine-Sonny will make his first start as a solidified member of the rotation this evening in Toronto, and it will be interesting to see how he pitches given that tacit job security. He pitched well enough through last week for the Rays to give him the nod over Jason Hammel for the final rotation spot, but he still needs to prove that he can put up at least these numbers with some degree of consistency.

He powered his way into a guaranteed rotation spot by posting a 1.54 ERA over his last three starts. Rays Index had an excellent post up today in which they suggested that Sonnanstine is no longer making gratuitous use of the multiple arm angles for which he was so widely-known. Instead, he is using a more repeatable motion and using his fastball less, while using it more aggressively when he does throw it.

But if Sonnanstine wants to remain successful, he will have to improve upon his K:BB. His current rate of 2.63 is unacceptable by his standards, and he is striking out almost two fewer batters per nine innings so far this year. The good news for Sonny is that his HR/9 is bound to come down a bit from its current point. Despite the fact that his G:F has improved drastically up to 1.19 this year, his HR/9 is only .08 improved.

But the fact of the matter is, ultimately, that Sonnanstine will get roughed up every once in awhile pitching to contact. He simply doesn't have the fastball velocity or offspeed pitches to consistently win those types of contests against major league hitters. So it would do him quite a bit of good to start moving in advance of a regression in luck, and increase his strikeout rate or decrease his walk rate further. The 12:5 K/BB ratio he has put up over his last three starts will not continue to beget a 1.54 ERA, or anything like it, for a pitcher like Sonny.

RH A.J. Burnett-Former Florida Marlin A.J. Burnett faces off against the Rays tonight amidst a poor start to the year. Burnett, in the third year of a five year, $55 million contract, has walked 20 batters in just over 31 innings, while striking out just 24. You have to expect those numbers to improve over the course of the season, given the great year Burnett had last year in which he struck out 176 over 165.2 innings.

Perhaps something Burnett would like to stay the same is his luck. Despite his groundball rate falling to the lowest point it has been in his career since 2002, he has only surrendered two home runs thus far in the season. That's a HR/FB rate of 5.1%. That is bound not to continue, although I suppose it's just reimbursement for the 1.25 HR/9 over a full season last year despite a 1.84 G:F.

So essentially, with the line he's keeping now, Burnett will be terrible. He should consider himself lucky that his ERA is under 5 given how he has pitched. The obvious caveat is that his numbers shouldn't continue at this rate, since Burnett is far too talented. He did throw a shutout of the Red Sox over 7.2 innings last week, although he walked five in the process.

The fact of the matter is that Burnett will most likely rebound from how he has pitched thus far. He's a better pitcher than he was in April of 2008, and Toronto will need his arm to keep up in the AL East race. Let's just hope that the rebound doesn't start tonight against the Rays.

GO RAYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!