While most baseball fans are talking about the controversy in the Rangers/Red Sox game today, the performance of another American League powerhouse should fuel some excitement in their fan base.
Although they’re currently floundering in last place in the American League East, the Wheel of Fortune might be spinning upwards for the Tampa Bay Rays. Despite a disappointing 6-3 defeat to the Indians in last night’s contest (due to the bullpen allowing all six Cleveland runs), the silver lining for the Rays could be seen the pitching performance of starter Jake Odorizzi. The 24 year-old righty has always shown dominant, front-end starter ability in the minors, as evidenced by his career 3.47 ERA, 1.208 WHIP, and 9.1 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched. Each of the last four years, he has appeared on Baseball Prospectus’ list of Major League Baseball’s Top 100 prospects. A main return piece in both the Royals trade of Zack Greinke and the Rays trade of James Shields, Jake Odorizzi is no stranger to adjusting to a new environment and pitching like a star. Now, after nearly 70 combined Major League innings in the last three seasons, he must adjust to life at the big league level. Last night, he showed the Rays he is capable of doing just that.
Entering last night, Odorizzi owned a 6.83 ERA to go along with a 1-3 record this season. Only once this year had Odorizzi gone more than five innings or allowed less than three runs in a start. Although he wasn’t able to get past five innings last night, he didn’t allow a run in a game for the first time since April 4, his first start of the year. Odorizzi threw 101 pitches his five innings yesterday, allowing five hits, two walks, and striking out a whopping 11 batters, crushing his previous high of 6 strikeouts. Although the Rays would like to see him throw less pitches per out, everyone must have felt encouraged by his performance last night.
With the sixth-worst starters ERA in the Majors, the Rays need to find a starter they can rely on outside of David Price if they want a chance to get out of the basement in the AL East. At the end of Spring Training, the Rays decided to rely on a handful of young pitchers rather than going with an experienced veteran. They decided to send Erik Bedard down to Triple-A and went with Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, and Jake Odorizzi to round out their rotation. Those starters are 24, 26, 25, and 24 years of age, respectfully. With Matt Moore finding out he needed Tommy John Surgery after his second start and Alex Cobb not expected back until later this month after injuring his oblique on April 12, the Rays have had to scramble to get production out of unexpected starters. Bedard was called up to replace Moore, but hasn’t been very effective. Reliever Cesar Ramos has pitched well in place of Cobb, but the Rays haven’t gotten much out of Archer (4.91 ERA) or Odorizzi.
If the Rays want to turn the ship around after a disappointing month and a half to start the year, it has to start with the starting pitching. If Jake Odorizzi can establish himself as the undisputed number two pitcher on the staff, expect the Rays to start winning again. Last night, he showed all of Tampa Bay that he has the ability to their team to a successful finish. If he can improve his consistently, there is no doubt that Jake Odorizzi can become a dominant starter at the big-league level.