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Starting Pitching Depth & Replacing Matt Garza

One of the toughest challenges the Rays will have in 2011 will be replacing Matt Garza's workload. In the last three seasons Garza has made 30+ starts and averaged 197 IP. Additionally, he has over 200 IP in each of the last two seasons. The Rays were able to trade Garza because they believe they have an adequate replacement in Jeremy Hellickson. I have no doubt that Hellickson has the ability to be an upgrade over Matt Garza in 2011, but through no fault of his own, I do not see him replacing Garza's innings pitched.

The Rays have been either quite lucky or masterful in the art of keeping pitchers healthy. As a matter of personal opinion I prefer the latter but it's most likely a combination of both. In 2008 the Rays starting five accounted for 153 of their starts, 138 games in 2009, and 154 in 2010. And even more remarkably, the Rays only used 9, 7, and 7 starting pitchers in each year respectively. Joe Maddon is well aware of the Rays reliance on the starting pitchers:

"I'm all for young starters going late into the game within certain parameters,'' Maddon says. "If I mess up our starting pitching and these guys go down, my goodness, we have nothing. So I'm cognizant of taking care of our starters.''

Heading into 2011, the Rays returning starters accounted for 780.2 innings pitched in 2010 and Joe Maddon likes to increase the workload of pitchers by no more than 20% from the previous season. David Price will most likely have his innings monitored more closely since his IP jumped from 162.2 innings pitched in 2009 to 221.2 innings pitched (including post-season) in 2010. James Shields should not be under any inning restrictions and his workload will be more of a function of performance rather than Maddon's watchful eye. Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann both spent time on the disabled list in 2010 which limited their inning in 2010, but each should be targeting the 20% increase. In 2010, Hellickson threw a combined 153.2 innings between a brief stint in Charlotte, Durham, and with the Rays. Joe Maddon will probably target 175 to 185 IP for Hellickson in 2011. Under this best case scenario, the Rays should not have an innings deficit from the 2010 rotation and they will have 150 or more of their 162 games started by these five individuals, and the Rays will never be scrambling to find a starter.

In the event that the Rays do have to find an additional starter for a prolonged period of time during the 2011 season due to injury, is Andy Sonnanstine still the #6? Remember, there is no Jeremy Hellickson (who had 9 AAA starts prior to 2010 season beginning) waiting in Durham. This question is not meant to be disparaging toward Sonnanstine as I like his role in the bullpen and spot starter more than I do his taking the ball every fifth day in the rotation.

Certainly, if the injury occurred early in the season and was short term in nature, Sonny would take the ball. But if the injury occurred in mid-May or shortly thereafter and is a long term injury, what would Joe Maddon and the Rays do?