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The state of the Rays starting rotation

The Rays are playing well, even as the starting rotation falls apart

Tampa Bay Rays v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays have only three losses on the season, which is fantastic three weeks in. Usually teams that have great success are also lucky in the injury department, but that hasn’t been the case for the Rays. The team’s three top defenders — UTIL Taylor Walls, CF Jose Siri, and SS Wander Franco — have all missed time for various strains and ailments. But those losses are minor compared to what has happened to the starting rotation.

The Rays entered Spring Training with a formidable starting five:

  • RHP Tyler Glasnow
  • LHP Shane McClanahan
  • RHP Zach Eflin
  • LHP Jeffrey Springs
  • RHP Drew Rasmussen

Glasnow is an annual Cy Young candidate regularly beset by injury at this point, but his quality remains and the Rays eagerly signed him to an extension of $25 million for the 2024 season to keep him around. Tampa Bay was going to be faced with limiting his innings this year, so his strained oblique was not the end of the world, particularly with LHP Josh Fleming deemed ready to handle a couple times through the order.

But the problems were just beginning.

Zach Eflin made two starts before back tightness flared up for the Rays newest addition, forcing the Rays to turn from the largest free agent contract in team history to top pitching prospect Taj Bradley (notably bypassing multiple veterans in Triple-A). Their faith was rewarded, though, as Bradley has made two starts since called upon, racking up impressive strikeout totals.

Eflin has been pitching in side sessions and is scheduled to return to the rotation on Sunday, April 23 for his third start of the season.

By far the worst blow came this past week. Recently extended Jeffrey Springs experienced some numbness in his throwing arm. It hasn’t been officially explained, although the Tampa Bay Times reports that the lefty former reliever is trending toward Tommy John surgery.

In his stead, the Rays were able to utilize a combination of Bradley, a bullpen day featuring LHP Jalen Beeks (3.0 IP, 1 ER) and recently promoted RHP Cooper Criswell (4.0 IP, 4 ER), and an off-day to bridge the Rays to this weekend, but a new solution needs devised with Springs indefinitely.

Criswell is a reliever who gave the Rays a four inning spot start in 2022 as well, and has been starting full time in Durham after pitching in relief last year, but the Rays have a different reliever in line for the next in a common theme: an underutilized relief pitcher ripe for a conversion to starting pitching.

It was Rasmussen and Springs before, and in the minors Criswell has been another ongoing experiment, but candidate No. 1 was and has been Calvin Faucher.

We’ve written about the possibility of Faucher getting stretched out multiple times — most recently in this article from Cole Mitchem from March of last year on Faucher’s curveball — and with his walk rate seemingly under control and good faith built up in the organization’s ability to make this transition for its top relievers, Faucher is now in line for his first official, non-opener start with the Rays on Friday.

Acquired as part of the Nelson Cruz trade, Faucher cracked the Opening Day roster following an early Spring neck injury to RHP Shawn Armstrong and has impressed with his ability to keep his stuff in the zone, including a 7% increase in Zone% thus far, and a 9% increase in first pitch strikes.

In total, on the season, Faucher has five appearances (including a 2.2 IP start on April 15) with 4 ER, 6 K, and 2 BB over 8.2 IP on the season. Per Topkin, the Rays are hoping his next outing can go four innings, or more or less one to two times through the order.

As a result, here’s what the Rays rotation looks like heading into the home weekend series against the White Sox (starting with Faucher on Friday, and with Eflin returning from the Injured List on Sunday):

  • LHP Shane McClanahan
  • RHP Zach Eflin
  • RHP Taj Bradley
  • RHP Drew Rasmussen
  • RHP Calvin Faucher

The names not listed above are worth mentioning, should injury occur again or Faucher falter, and those are former rotation starters RHP Yonny Chirinos and RHP Luis Patiño.

Chirinos was promoted to the Rays roster on Friday, April 14, and it’s been purely as a reliever. He gave the Rays 2.2 IP on the day he was promoted, and then another 3.2 IP on the following Tuesday.

Over those two appearances, Chirinos struck out three while allowing 5 baserunners and 0 runs. Compared to the Yonny we knew, the fastball is a little less lively and the secondaries aren’t playing up to where they should at the moment, so a relief role is likely his calling until the stars realign for his stuff.

Patiño, meanwhile, is on the 40-man roster and potentially next in line if the Rays are not comfortable with the many long relief options in the current bullpen. He made 6 starts in 2022 with an 8.10 ERA, and so far has three starts in Durham, but only 12.0 innings total with 11 K, 10 BB, and 7 ER. There might be more work for him to do before another call for the Rays is in order.