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Does Andrew Kittredge have a future as a starter with the Tampa Bay Rays?

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays
Andrew Kittredge reacts as he gives up a home run as Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts 
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Kittredge appeared in 15 games for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2017, and twice thus far this season. Last year he averaged one inning per appearance. This year, he’s averaging nearly three, including a “start” in his first appearance of the season. In his third, today, he will be starting again against the Boston Red Sox.

March 31 (Tropicana Field): 3.1 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 1 SO, 1 ER
April 5 (Fenway Park): 2.1 IP, 2 H, 2 BB (2 IBB), 1 SO, 1 ER

The decision to make Kitteredge one of the eight “starters” in the Tampa Bay rotation has been a curious one. Kittredge had the reputation of a rubber arm when he was promoted in July of last year, but that did not come to bear last season.

Kittredge threw more than 40 pitches only six times in 2017, and exceeded three outs only once at the major league level. He pitched in back to back games only twice with the Rays, and and in both cases he yielded earned runs during the second appearance. There was not much in Kittredge’s performance to imply he would get multiple starts among the many Rays bullpen days of 2018, nor that he would be relied upon for multiple innings.

But here we are, and Kittredge is clearly no longer a reliever.

How much of a starter is he?

When describing his strategy for the many bullpen days ahead, Kevin Cash offered Kittredge as the ideal, a “kind of a hybrid guy” that you’d want to pitch for more than one inning. Going out there “once” would “impact his availability the next day or after,” and since he can deliver multiple innings, Cash argues that he should.

Speaking before today’s game, Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder says Kittredge “seems to thrive” in this role. “It didn’t bother him to begin a game... He’s a guy we feel can respond from multiple innings and still be able to come back with one day of rest, compared to other guys who are more ‘starter profile’ guys.”

So in the most basic parlance, despite a career of relief work throughout the minors, he’s a starter. In Durham, Snyder called Kittredge’s out efficiency “pretty obvious,” but says a mid-50’s pitch count is where they’ll keep him.

Kittredge has less in his junk drawer, but a role similar to that of Erasmo Ramirez could be his future.

“He’s a strike thrower. He can get the strikeout if he needs the strikeout, but he doesn’t empty the clip,” Snyder said before today’s game, praising the pitcher’s stuff. “He’s throwing the slider, a couple of different fastballs, and the change up.”

The multiple fastballs will be something interesting thing to watch for. Kittredge offers mid-90’s heat and a major league slider, with a change that’s coming along enough that the Rays were comfortable having him abandon the curveball we saw last season, even though it is a more formulated pitch.

“He and I have talked about when to use it,” Snyder said of the change, “but it’s something we’ve kept for this role, when he’s going to face a handful of righties.”

Kittredge’s Keys to Success

To find success, Kittredge will have to be efficient, and work to get his pitches per plate appearance more in line with peers Yonny Chirinos (3.45 P/PA), Chris Archer (3.77), or Austin Pruitt (3.80). He’s close with 4.18 P/PA, but with a stricter pitch count than the rest of the eight man rotation, the motivating math is simple: Fewer pitches will yield better results.

“He’s pretty efficient,” Snyder said of Kitteridge. “I don’t think this [role] will turn him into a starting pitcher, but he’s someone we feel comfortable facing the same guy twice in a game.”

Perhaps this is what Cash meant by hybrid.

“That’s why he’s in the game,” Snyder continued. “The out efficiency and durability was part of the reason why we felt he fit in a multi-inning role, but also a situational role.”

Now that he’s joined the Rays eight-man experiment at filling a five man rotation, he has a chance of proving how much of an Erasmo Ramirez replicate he can be.