The guy we all want to call Fausto has earned the No.5 slot in the starting rotation, the Rays announced this morning:
#Rays have named Hernandez their fifth starter. Niemann will pitch out of the bullpen. Starters: Price, Hellickson, Moore, Cobb, Hernandez.— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) March 29, 2013
Joe Maddon had confirmed Alex Cobb would pitch from the fourth slot early in Spring Training, which left the oft-injured Jeff NIemann and Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona) in competition for the fifth start.
The last few weeks has raised concern over Niemann's velocity, unable to reach 90 mph on his fastball does not bode well for a pitcher in the starting rotation.
Advantages for Hernandez include a career groundball rate above 58%, a fastball that sits around 92 mph, and pitching over 180 innings in 2010 and 2011 (satisfying all those looking for the Rays to "replace James Shields). He's missed plenty of playing time serving a suspension for identity fraud, so recent numbers are not available, but it seems the Rays trust Hernandez can return to form. Hernandez posted a 3.77 ERA and 4.11 FIP in 210 innings during 2010, only two seasons ago.
Niemann will take his turn in the bullpen, hopefully harnessing his recent improvements. Niemann trended positively in terms of strikeouts, walks, and home runs last season, and has seen consistent increases in groundballs (and decreases in flyballs) over the last three years.
The point is somewhat moot, however, as both players are merely stopgaps for the arrival of Chris Archer.
We'll start the season with a rotation of Price, Helly, Hernandez, Moore & Cobb. Tough decision to move Niemann to pen. Great competition.— Joe Maddon (@RaysJoeMaddon) March 29, 2013
#Rays rotation is Price, Hellickson, Hernandez, Moore, Cobb. Maddon said that's based on match ups thru April.— RMooneyTBO (@RMooneyTBO) March 29, 2013
#Rays Maddon said they also wanted to split Hellickson and Moore so a short outing won't wear out bullpen on consecutive days.— RMooneyTBO (@RMooneyTBO) March 29, 2013
#Rays Maddon Said Hernandez looks similar to 2007 when he was Cy young finalist. Hernandez: "I feel very close."— RMooneyTBO (@RMooneyTBO) March 29, 2013
2007: 32 GS, 215 IP, 3.06 ERA, 3.94 FIP
5.73 K/9, 2.55 BB/9, 0.67 HR/9
64.3 GB%, Fastball avg 93.5 mph
Love the hand-wringing over Fausto vs. Niemann. As if either of them are going to hold off Archer/Odorizzi/Colome for long.— Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) March 29, 2013
Interviews on the decision, courtesy of Marc Topkin and the Tampa Bay Times:
Rays Niemann on the decision (via wwwtampabaycom)
Rays Maddon on picking Hernandez (via wwwtampabaycom)
You can read Topkin's full story here.