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The Rays pitching depth is about to be tested

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Fingers crossed from here on out.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays have a problem: Yonny Chirinos has joined starters Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow on the Injured List due to middle finger inflammation and is expected to miss a month.

This sends the Rays deep into their depth charts for starting pitchers or bulk pitchers.

Charlie Morton and Ryan Yarbrough are the two men left standing from the expected five to start the season picking up the bulk of the innings for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Despite the talk from New York Yankees fans every team has to deal with injuries. The average team will need to use 8-10 starters in a typical season. So far the Rays have used 8 (Snell, Glasnow, Chirinos, Morton, Yarbrough, Brendan McKay, Jalen Beeks, and Austin Pruitt) pitchers in a starting or bulk capacity.

The saying that you can never have too much starting pitching is as true today as ever. Injuries aren’t an excuse. They are something you expect to have to work through.

That leaves three times through the rotation that the Rays are going to their plan B.

Brendan McKay

Brendan McKay’s results have seen him rise from AA to the majors. The first 29.2 innings in six outing for the Rays have been solid. McKay has still yet to pitch on a traditional MLB schedule and only thrown with five days off.

Part of the schedule is to throttle McKay’s innings. They have pulled him early many times with 5-6 innings thrown and no more than 75 pitches. McKay sits at 100.1 innings thrown this season.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In McKay’s final season at Louisville he threw 109.0 innings before throwing an additional 20.0 innings after signing with the Rays. In 2018 he was unable to push his inning total up due to a pulled oblique that saw him miss a month and have to work back to full outings. This left him at 77.0 innings and a step behind where he would ideally be heading into this season.

Sitting at a career high 129.0 innings in a year it’s unlikely the Rays would see a substantial bump past 150 or so innings. Starting every six days leaves eight starts remaining through the regular season. At five to six innings per outing that would put him in the 140-150 range setting up a full season of 170-180 innings in 2020.

McKay is the clear next best option and will get every inning he can handle down the stretch.

Jalen Beeks

Jalen Beeks started the season in the bullpen as a multiple inning reliever, but over most of the last few months has been a one and a half to two times through the order pitcher that has picked up 3-4 innings on a starters schedule.

Beeks has been protected from third time through the order and many times second time against opposing team’s top of the lineup. This has lead to solid results with a 3.77 ERA/4.40 FIP through 76.1 innings at the major league level.

Beeks will likely be asked to pick up additional outs until September comes.

Trevor Richards

Trevor Richards was the second piece picked up in the big bet on Nick Anderson with the Miami Marlins. Trevor Richards has put up solid results as a starter for the Marlins over his first two seasons in the majors. 238.1 innings with a 4.46 ERA/4.37 FIP might not sound exciting, but isn’t far off from the major league average the last couple of years.

Ian Malinowski wrote about the ideal use for Trevor Richards earlier this week.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Miami Marlins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

For the time being Richards is in Durham while he gets stretched back out after being sent to the bullpen at the end of July. On Tuesday night he made his first appearance with the Bulls. He only managed one inning after working through 28 pitches in the inning.

Richards next appearance will likely see him limited to three innings or 50 pitches. The question becomes when do the Rays have him throw those innings in the majors. Last year the Rays had Glasnow stretch out in the majors starting with 3.0 innings after acquiring him in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates last July.

Richards likely becomes an option after one more outing in Durham.

Austin Pruitt

Austin Pruitt has survived the 40 man when it seems like more talented pitchers have been jettisoned from the 40 man roster. Pruitt isn’t a great pitcher by any means, but while he has options is a solid option to be your sixth starter stashed in AAA. Without having a good prospect in AAA this is the kind of pitcher you expect to be there.

Pruitt has pitched in many different roles with Durham from multiple inning reliever to bulk guy that picks up 4-5 inning. In the majors he has seen a similar variety of roles. He’s thrown 5+ innings in two of his eight outings, but picked up 2-3 innings in five of them.

Until Richards is ready to pick up major league innings or pitchers return from the Injured List Pruitt is the best option for the Rays.

Tommy John Recovery

Coming into the year a lot of the major league starting depth for the Rays came in the form of pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery. Brent Honeywell Jr. and Jose De Leon underwent surgery towards the beginning of spring training and would be expected to return to the mound this summer.

Unfortunately Honeywell Jr. fractured his elbow in his return to throwing from the mound and won’t return until spring training.

Jose De Leon has suffered through injuries and diminished stuff during his time with the Rays after being acquired in the Logan Forsythe trade with the Dodgers after the 2016 season. The results have been good with a 3.48 ERA/4.08 FIP in 44.0 innings. The bulk of his outings has seen him collect 3-4 innings in each outing. The stuff has improved and is better than at any point since being traded to the Rays, but the command has been less than desired. His 59 strikeouts (30.5%) have been promising, but the 26 walks (13.5%) have been less so.

MLB: MAY 15 Rays at Royals
Anthony Banda and pitching coach Kyle Snyder
Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Anthony Banda is the third pitcher expected to help out the Rays that underwent Tommy John surgery in early June. Any help for the 2019 season was likely to be minimal and limited to mostly September. His results haven’t been good, but the stuff looks solid. In his last outing he went a season high of 4.0 innings. Without positive results in his pitching appearances, he’s more likely and in case of emergency option.

The Bad

The easiest way to derail a major league season is to run out of quality major league pitching and no amount of depth can prevent you from succumbing to injuries.

It’s never exciting when you get down to what is likely your 10th best option coming into the season. It’s the nature of pitching and the Rays have done a good job of collecting quality depth to make it possible to play through.

If injuries knock out any more of the Rays major league options there aren’t really options available in Durham that aren’t on the 40 man.

The month of August will likely be a trying time where the remaining rotation and bullpen will have to step up.

Here’s the good news: In August the Rays have four scheduled off days. That is more than the two the Rays had from May 21-July 24 discounting the four days everybody had off for the All-Star break, and as the Rays face many teams below .500 on the season, pitching injuries could not have come at a better time.

Additionally, when September comes so does the help of expanded rosters. Snell and Chirinos should return sometime and whether they come up starting at 1-3 innings and working up from there will still help when you don’t need to worry about having enough fresh arms.