We're less than three weeks from Opening Day and the Rays are still sorting out who the fifth starter will be. With many of the minor league starters already optioned to minor league camp, the remaining arms in contention are veteran Erik Bedard, reliever Cesar Ramos, and minor leaguers Nate Karns and Jake Odorizzi.
Bedard has a full arsenal of pitches, hides the ball really well, and has been doing this at the major league level for a long time. Cesar Ramos has enough pitches to start and major league success with his change, but he needs stretched out if he wants to compete for a starting role, and in all likelihood this might just be to up his trade value leading into opening day.
I'm more interested in the prospects:
We are scheduled to see more of Karns this afternoon, a televised game at the Blue Jays with a low, off-center television angle that's not ideal for evaluation.
Ostensibly, the Rays have been working on his delivery, as Karns pitches with a very stiff front side that can lead to issues in command. If he can't find a proper downward plane, pitches will be elevated, like we saw with his first batter Brett Lawrie:
We can't tell a whole lot from this angle (honestly there's no worse angle on television) but not much looks to have changed from last season. Feel free to use this as reference though: Here's the gfycat o play with, which if you are not familiar with that hosting site, it lets you slow down the frames, rewind, or freeze frame.
This was Karns's only walk, and as he settled in, he would allow one hit over two innings, including three groundouts to plow through the seventh. He's thrown three innings for the Major League side this Spring, and we finally see have him in a start shortly, pending good weather.
Watch carefully for adjustments he might have made, should he match up with a TV broadcast.
I'm having trouble uploading the gifs so I'll include links to each gfycat's here as well.
Odorizzi has been throwing tons of change ups this Spring, specifically it's a change up with a split finger grip that he learned from Cobb, and it's been doing wonders. Like this strike out of Ortiz:
Here is a gfycat of this pitch, if you'd like to play with the video.
Ortiz saw at least five split-change, including three consecutively to finish the plate appearance:
Likewise, here is the gfycat of the three pitches.
I know that it's Spring, but Ortiz had to know exactly what was coming and he still didn't do anything with these pitches, so I'm pretty pleased with Odorizzi's progress. Not every batter succumbed, because Odorizzi would not stop throwing it, but it's been encouraging to follow.
Allie mentioned in yesterday's Tank that Odorizzi is intent is to continue throwing the pitch, which was lovingly nicknamed The Thing last season, until he has a better feel for it.
Instead of abandoning and going to something I know -- like my slider -- that I can throw for a strike, I'm going to keep throwing it right now. That's my main emphasis. I'm not going to be too fine with it or [think], 'Well, I can't throw a strike with it at first. I'm going to put it in my pocket and not work on it.' Now is the time I need to work on it."
You can listen to Odorizzi's full audio on the pitch, as well as the rest of his outing, here:
The Rays do not have as strong a history of making pitching decisions based on service time, so it's easy to say it's anyone's spot to win. However. As we saw with Roberto Hernandez last season, the Rays are content with a veteran with replacement level performance holding down a rotation slot while prospects continue their development most of the season.
If the season started today, I have to believe Bedard wins the job. We won't see the likes of Odorizzi or Karns unless Maddon and Hickey and the front office all agree the player is ready, and I'm particularly curious as to Maddon's appraisal of each player's mentality.
Luckily, we have a few more weeks of Spring to see each player vie for the fifth starter position.