I don’t think Matt Moore was ever The Present for the Tampa Bay Rays. In 2011, when he dominated the minor leagues and then came up at the end of the season to give us that most tantalizing of glimpses, he was very much The Future. The followup, his rookie 2012 season, was his best year as a Ray. We didn’t know that at the time. We expected much more. He remained The Future.
Blink and The Future disappears. The velocity on its fastball steps inexoribly down. It walks too many batters. When it goes on the disabled list, you’re not even surprised. In 2014 and 2015, when the Rays needed Matt Moore to carry them, he pitched a combined 73 innings.
When I watch Matt Moore pitch now, limiting the Rays to one unearned run over seven innings with his quality curve, his quality changeup, and his fastball that just isn’t really exceptional in any way, I remember those disappointing days. Being a major league pitcher is a remarkable thing, but with Matt Moore’s burden of unrealized possibilites, this version can never step out of the shaddow of the old version. No matter how many innings Matt Moore pitches, the weight of his career will remain centered in 2011, when all of his innings were ahead of him, and they were all going to be dazzling.
Whether we like it or not, Yonny Chirinos is now The Present of Rays baseball. Today was all about finding whether he’s also The Future.
Chirinos is the most intriguing of a group of pitchers getting their shot due to the inuries to Brent Honeywell, José De León, and Nathan Eovaldi. This group of pitchers, which also includes Ryan Yarbrough, Austin Pruitt, and possibly Chih-Wei Hu, are all guys who the Rays believe can face a major league batting order once or twice, and do well enough, but who probably shouldn’t be exposed more than that (the way true major league starters are).
A new style of roster construction, where pitchers are protected from overexposure, may be what The Future looks like, and the Rays are willing to use this group of players in an experiment to learn what that future might be like, and to give themselves a leg up when it comes, if it comes.
But, ironically, the only way for a pitcher to ensure that he sticks around for The Future—whatever it may hold—is to show that he doesn’t need to be part of a bullpen day, because if bullpen days are to be The Future, those bullpen days will be pitched by quality starters.
Yonny Chirinos, more than any of the other Rays swingmen, has the opportunity and might have the ability to show that he can be one. As Danny wrote, the schedule lines up to where the Rays can now use Chirinos as a regular starter for a string of games on normal rest. Tonight was the start of an audition.
In one sense, it didn’t go especially well. Six earned runs over five and two thirds innings, with seven hits, three walks, and only three strikeouts isn’t a good line. Chirinos clearly didn’t have his best stuff, and he wasn’t able to locate his pitches consistently. His slider especially was too often a sitting duck in the middle of the strikezone.
But in another sense, Chirinos should take heart from the fact that manager Kevin Cash let him go those five and two thirds innings. Sometimes starting pitchers have to figure it out, even when nothing they throw is working. Cash gave Chirinos the space to fail. That means he believes, a little. Or at least he wants to see if he should believe.
It started badly, when Chirinos walked Shin-Soo Choo on four pitches. Then he gave Isiah Kiner-Falefa a slider that didn’t move, and stayed up in the zone, and Kiner-Falefa lined it into left for a single. Nomar Mazara grounded to first, but C.J. Cron couldn’t backhand the bouncing ball cleanly, and everyone was safe. Chirinos hung yet another slider to Adrian Beltre, but the ageless wonder maybe showed a bit of age, fouling the poor pitch off and missing out on the grand slam. Instead he settled for a sac fly. Chirinos got out of the inning with only one run allowed.
In the second inning, Drew Robinson bunted for a single against the shift and then went first to third on a soft Carlos Tocci line drive. Choo sacrificed Robinson home to add another run. It could have been more, as Kiner-Falefa ambushed yet another one of those elevated, do-nothing sliders and hit it on a line over Johnny Field’s head in right, but Field made a good play to barehand the carom and fire it in quickly, probably preventing a another run. A groundout got Chirinos out of the inning.
Chirinos allowed no runs in the third and fourth innings, but neither did his pitching inspire confidence. He was struggling, missing many locations but few bats, and consitently giving up hard contact. Luckily for Chirinos, it was hard contact hit in the vicinity of Rays fielders. Meanwhile, the Rays clawed one back with a leadoff walk by Daniel Robertson, a line drive single by Adeiny Hechavarria, and a fielding error on the Texans.
This is where that bit about the audition comes into play. I firmly believe that if those first four innings were pitched by Austin Pruitt Cash would have given the ball to someone else for inning number five. Despite all the line drives, it was only a one run game. But because there’s a chance Yonny Chirinos is The Future, he was sent back out in the fifth inning to face the Rangers order for a third time.
Sometimes baseball doesn’t go well. This time it didn’t. Choo walked, Kiner Falefa singled, Mazara grounded out, beating a double play. Beltre sacrificed home a run. Gallo walked, and Guzman doubled home two more.
That put the game out of reach.
Yonny Chirinos will get another chance to show what he might be on April 22 vs. Jake Odorizzi.
Some other notes:
- When Brandon Snyder bats seventh, and Rob Refsnyder bats eighth, they combine in the batting order to make B-Ref Snyder.
- In the top of the seventh inning, Adrian beltre lined hard into right field. Carlos Gomez charged hard and threw to first. Almost got him. Beltre wasn’t happy at first, but it looked like he laughed about it eventually. Later in the game Gomez was hit by a pitch. Brian Anderson thought it might have been intentional, and thought that later, in the ninth inning, when Alex Colome missed wildly above a Texas batter’s head, that that might have been intentional too. I sure hope not. That would be a silly escalation of a close play at first base.
- Hunter Wood made his second major league appearance (the other, in 2017, was also against Texas). He has a very interesting delivery, where he comes all the way over the top. One of the straightest up-and-down arms I’ve seen. He throws a loopy curve from that armslot, which might be pretty interesting if he could consistently locate it at or just below the bottom of the zone. He didn’t often do that tonight.
- Alex Colome came out in the ninth to pitch in a 7-1 game. Cash is trying to get him right. Colome clearly was there to work on his fastball. It sailed high a bunch, but other times it was good. And it did set up some very excellent cutters that got guys out.
- Former Ray Matt Bush came in to pitch the ninth for Texas, and Wilson Ramos tagged him for an opposite field home run.