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Thursday, Jul 10, 2014
Rays Way prevails for young pitchers

Alex Cobb understood why he was being sent back to Triple-A Durham to begin the 2012 season. There was no room at the top. Simple as that.

And still Cobb wore a look of disbelief as he met with reporters on that March afternoon in Port Charlotte. The news he expected from the moment he arrived in camp had been delivered firsthand moments earlier by Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey.

Also, more work at Triple-A wouldn't exactly stunt his development. It would help.

That's the Rays Way.

Pitchers rise with the bubbles through the farm system, never moving a step past where they belong. They develop, marinate while pitching hundreds of minor-league innings.

Graduate - that's the term once used by farm director Mitch Lukevics about a pitcher who reached the big club.

Jeremy Hellickson pitched 5791/3 innings before he threw his first pitch for the Rays.

Cobb has 582 2/3 minor-league innings on his résumé.

"I've noticed they are patient a little bit, but that's what works for them," Jake Odorizzi said. "I don't see any reason for them do anything different. Sometimes being patient is because there is no room for you."

Odorizzi became the 17th pitcher to start for the Rays since 2008 - a span of 852 games. That's the fewest in the majors during that stretch. The San Francisco Giants are next, having used 20 starters. The Minnesota Twins are second to the Rays in the American League with 28 starters used since 2008.

Maddon said that is a product of several factors: good scouting, good development and good planning by the front office.

"It's nurtured over a period of time, and Andrew does a wonderful job of trying to look at the big picture all the time, because we have to, because we're not going to be able to go out and purchase what we need," Maddon said. "It's really attributable to scouting and the guys upstairs. They do a wonderful job looking into the crystal ball future-wise, knowing that things are going to happen and we have to be ready and they have to be pretty much in house."

Odorizzi came to the Rays in December from the Kansas City Royals in the trade that sent James Shields and Wade Davis - two graduates of the Rays farm system - to the Royals.

Odorizzi pitched 4802/3 minor-league innings before making his major league debut last September for the Royals.

He joined the organization and took a ticket, waiting for his number to be called while the Rays began the year with David Price, Matt Moore, Roberto Hernandez, Hellickson and Cobb in the rotation.

"I can understand why they're patient," Odorizzi said. "There's a lot of talent up here. In Triple-A, our rotation down there is one of the more solid I've been in."

Joining Odorizzi with the Bulls are Chris Archer, Alex Torres and Alex Colome. All four are considered major league-ready pitchers. All but Colome have major-league experience.

"That's good planning," Maddon said. "I know every manager on the last day of camp will talk about how it takes more than 25 guys to get this done, and it's true. You got to be, I don't know, 30 or 30-something deep in order to really have a pretty good chance of winning."

Odorizzi replaced Price in the rotation when Price went on the disabled list.

Archer received his first call to the big leagues last June when he replaced Hellickson, who was placed on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation and missed a pair of starts.

Cobb in 2011 and Hellickson in 2010 made their respective big league debuts when popped into the rotation in an effort to push the rest of the starters back a day and buy them some rest.

Both were quickly sent back to Durham for more seasoning.

"People told me when I was coming up to, 'Put your time in and your time will come,' and you don't believe it," Cobb said. "But once you get here, you want to tell them the same thing: 'It's true, your time is going to come here. They have a plan for you. The sooner you understand it, the better it's going to be.' But it's kind of hard to grasp that."

Cobb knew why he was sent back to Durham before the start of last season. He wasn't happy. And it wasn't long before he returned to replace Jeff Niemann in the rotation when Niemann fractured his right fibula May 14 in Toronto.

Now, Cobb is second on the team in wins. He was moved up in the rotation to face the Yankees this afternoon in the series finale.

Now, he sort of understands the need for all the minor-league innings.

"Here they have to hold on to everybody as long as possible and they have to have that insurance, that backup plan at Triple-A," Cobb said. "You kind of realize the way this organization works."