After a long clip of relatively smooth, injury free sailing, the Tampa Bay Rays have finally caught up with the rest of the league. Currently six pitchers have either gone under the knife, or are expected to. And while Matt Moore and Jake McGee are expected to return soon (relatively speaking, that is) the other four — Jeff Beliveau, Burch Smith, and most recently Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly — are expected to miss a significant amount of time.
So why do the Rays still outrank the majority of major league teams with regards to ERA and strikeouts?
Subtract the re-injured Smyly’s three starts (where he struck out 21 in three games), and Tampa Bay still ranks in the top 10 in strikeouts. The team has done a remarkably good job in the absence of their two best-projected starters (Cobb and Smyly).
Where will the team go from here?
You can't erase Erasmo
In an ideal world, no one else would get injured and the pitchers would continue their consistent ways, but losing the dynamic duo calls for a response. It is the opinion of Marc Topkin that RHP Erasmo Ramirez is the likely in-house replacement for Smyly, conceding that Enny Romero and Everett Teaford could also fit the bill.
We can all agree that Erasmo’s first two appearances ranked toward the bottom of the confidence-meter. Since converting back to relief, however, he has been much better over his last 12-innings of work.
It goes without saying Ramirez is the type of pitcher who needs to work ahead of batters in order to be successful — and successful he was not during his first two appearances (5-1/3 total innings) against Miami and Toronto. The righty faced 37 batters and quickly fell behind 24 of them.
Ramirez threw first pitch strikes only 35% of the time (13-for-37). Opposing batters also tagged him for five first pitch hits over that span, three of which resulted in runs and put runners into scoring position. The gaudy results spoke for themselves, Ramirez allowed 16 total runs — 15 earned.
However, he improved his attack and command from the 'pen, and pitched well because of it. In the subsequent 12 innings of work, Ramirez threw first pitch strikes 57% of the time (24-for-42) and allowed only one earned run on seven hits and a walk.
The progression of his wOBA and OBP speak to the fact that he is a much better pitcher when he works ahead and attacks the zone with quality strikes:
It begs the question whether Ramirez has improved because of his recent use out of the bullpen. While it’s hard to infer what his mindset might be, I have my doubts. After all, one of his more dreadful outings came in relief, yet he put together a pretty good one run, a four-hit start against the Blue Jays on April 25th.
One thing is certain, in the words of Joe Strummer, the future is unwritten. Could Ramirez continue his streak of solid pitching over the next month or so, while we await the highly anticipated return of Matt Moore? Sure, why not. Might he regress, only to be replaced by the likes of Enny Romero? That’s a possibility as well. Could the Rays just keep Matt Andriese and Andrew Bellatti in a tandem until Moore is ready? Sure, but Ramirez only uses one roster spot.
To be clear, while I’m not sold on Ramirez, I remain cautiously optimistic — something that isn’t easy for a baseball grump like myself.
— Nick Franklin didn’t have the best day at the plate in his rehab game with Durham on Sunday, but he's not injured!
Nick Franklin was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in a rehab appearance for Triple-A Durham today.— Matt Baker (@MBakerTBTimes) May 10, 2015
— Perhaps the Rays could use Andrew Bellatti in place of Smyly? Of course I’m joking...or am I? The Rays seemed to have liked what he delivered this weekend.
Trivia: Last night, Andrew Bellatti became the 3rd #Rays pitcher to win his major league debut in relief, and first since who in 2003?— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) May 10, 2015
— I believe these two tweets should be hash tagged #KillingIt
Jay Mohr (jumbotron messages) encourages the fans to show some energy, because some people drove across a bridge to get here. #Burn— Matt Baker (@MBakerTBTimes) May 10, 2015
For what it's worth, I can confirm that there is indeed a functional, operational bridge from Tampa to St. Pete.— Matt Baker (@MBakerTBTimes) May 10, 2015
— Though it’s a little too early to dissect the Rays offensive production, at least as it relates to batted ball data, Tony Blengino (FanGraphs) got the discussion rolling for when the time is right.
— According to the BaseRuns ranking system, the Rays should have 18 wins under their belts. I could be wrong, but the one extra run is negligible in the here and now. Ask me again around July.
- In BP's first mock draft, Chris Crawford says there's a strong connection between the Rays and Missouri State RHP Jon Harris. He also suggest a top-three HS OF or Arkansas's CF Andrew Benintendi.
- Eno Sarris on James Shields, his change up, and aging.
- Bless you Boys wonders why J.D. Martinez is terrible right now.
- Bryce Harper knows how to celebrate.
- Peter Gammons praises the "culture" of the Rays pitchers, noting how it's impacting other teams as players leave.