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Rays

For Frontline Pitchers, Less Is More

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 24, 2013 at 03:24 AM
CLEARWATER -

Every morning, James Shields reports to the ballpark along with the rest of his Rays teammates. He goes through his prescribed workouts in the morning, whether throwing a bullpen session or doing a bit of conditioning work.

And, well, that's pretty much it these days. With the Rays holding back their frontline pitchers who took on heavy workloads last season early in spring training, Shields' renowned competitive juices have yet to flow in 2009.

Instead of him, Matt Garza, Scott Kazmir and Andy Sonnanstine, the Rays' first four Grapefruit League games have been started by Carlos Hernandez, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann and Mitch Talbot.

"It is a little odd," Shields said of the setup. "But I'm definitely not opposed to it."

That seems to be the consensus among those who are being reined in - not that they have any choice in the matter. Ever since the Rays' season ended a month later than anyone expected, pitching coach Jim Hickey has made it clear he intended to err on the side of less work for his horses this spring. That would have been the case even if an extra week hadn't been added to spring training to accommodate the World Baseball Classic.

Despite the talent abundant in just about every corner of the clubhouse, the Rays are well aware their young starting pitchers are the foundation and then some when it comes to long-term success. They're not about to push them past their boundaries at this stage, and they have met with a receptive audience on that front.

"I think they get it," Manager Joe Maddon said. "We talked to them enough about it going into this and we probably made it a part of their thought process coming into this camp. I don't see anybody being overeager to get out there."

Certainly not Shields, who matched his 2007 output with 215 regular-season innings last year but added an additional 25 to his ledger in the playoffs. The same goes for Garza, who put 2092/3 innings on his arm between the regular season and playoffs.

Garza said his brain has been telling him it's spring training and he should be getting cranked up but his body is on board for as much additional rest as he can squeeze out before getting back to full speed. And he doesn't see any need to push the pedal down now.

"No, because in my mind I know when things really count and I know what I'm getting ready for," Garza said. "We're getting ready for another run to October, so these March games aren't really important to us other than getting our work in. We're obviously working on the side, so it's not a big thing."

The regulars have been throwing bullpen sessions, albeit at wider intervals than might otherwise have been the case. And toward the end of this week you'll finally begin to see the starters and relievers who did so much to carry the Rays to the World Series get into some games.

Once they get going, Hickey plans to keep them on the same basic program they have always used, with one exception.

Whereas in previous springs he tried to work his starters up to an outing of about seven innings and 105 pitches before backing them off for a short turn in their final spring training tune-up, he'll probably skip the dialing back this time. They'll work right up to six innings and 95 pitches or thereabouts in their final spring start, then dive right into the AL East race the first week of the season in Boston and Baltimore.

"I threw a lot of innings last year. We all did," Shields said. "It's good for us to rest and take our time and ease into this thing."

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