In an interview with MLB.com during the winter meetings, Rays manager Kevin Cash stated, “at the end of the day it's about winning games. And if we feel that we can get a better matchup earlier in the ball game, why wouldn't we use it?”
The topic was bullpen use, and in that conversation he alluded to the idea that, at times, the Rays might use a eight man bullpen to get through the additional innings if the versatility of the bench affords them the opportunity in 2018. It’s a wise idea.
Going further than that, though, the Rays could even start the year with a four man rotation.
In 2016 the schedule afforded the Rays the opportunity to run a four man rotation to start the season with Blake Snell sitting in Durham waiting for an opportunity. Over the first six weeks of the season the Rays only needed a fifth starter twice. On one occasion Snell was brought up for his MLB debut. He ended up for good on June 16.
The Rays went with a four man rotation through April with Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi, and Matt Moore getting every start they could handle. Erasmo Ramirez and Blake Snell each made one start. In May Matt Andriese joined the rotation for six weeks until Blake Snell’s call up.
Currently the Rays have a lot of depth of MLB starters with Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Nathan Eovaldi, Blake Snell, Jacob Faria, and Matt Andriese looking to be the favorites to be in the rotation on opening day. It’s possible and maybe even probable that on opening day one of those players won’t still be with the Tampa Bay Rays by trade or injury, but the 2018 schedule has eight off days for the Rays between opening day and May 10, 2018.
That’s 35 games in 43 days. Only once is a fifth starter needed to make back to back starts. The Rays would need a spot starter on only two other occasions. The Rays could use those starts as an opportunity for one of the young guys to get their feet wet whether it be Honeywell, one of the other AAA starters, or one of the starters who ends up in the bullpen.
Beginning on May 11, the Rays then face their most daunting stretch playing 39 games in 41 days including the longest consecutive stretch of the season at 16 games.
If the Rays chose to not worry about Brent Honeywell’s Super 2 status the Rays could insert him in the rotation at that point or wait until the end of the 41 day stretch in the middle of June.
Either way they go the Rays aren’t without options. All the projected starting pitchers outside of Archer and Eovaldi have options.
A secondary benefit of using four starters is you’re able to fit eight arms in your bullpen. The Rays will be able to work through pitchers, cycling their depth between the majors and Durham, and find the best options for later in the season on mid-May arrives.
The Rays have an abundance of pitching depth and off days. Using a four man rotation to start the season is a practical solution and will give the Rays their best shot at winning games in 2018.