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Growing pains normal for young Rays hurlers

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Published:   |   Updated: June 23, 2013 at 08:59 AM

NEW YORK - When the Rays mapped out how they expected the events to unfold before the season began, they didn't see a scenario in which two rookie pitchers would start both ends of a doubleheader at Fenway Park, a doubleheader that would kick start a seven-game, six-day road trip through Boston and New York.

Nor did they envision three rookie pitchers making four of the seven starts on this trip.

"But," pitching coach Jim Hickey said, "the circumstances are what they are."

Trades and injuries forced a turnover on the pitching staff, making it younger than anyone anticipated it would be at this point of the season. Younger than anyone anticipated it would be this year, period.

"But we're certainly prepared for it," Hickey said. "When you talk about being seven starters deep, it's not just talk."

Make that eight starters deep.

Injuries to David Price and Alex Cobb have forced Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Alex Colome into the rotation. The Rays expect Price to return to the rotation before the All-Star break. They expect Cobb to return from a concussion this season, as well.

Until then, Archer and Colome are here to stay with Odorizzi back at Triple-A Durham waiting for another call.

The good news is the kids are talented.

The bad news is the kids are, well, kids.

The Rays traded James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals in the offseason for four prospects, including rookie right fielder Wil Myers and Odorizzi.

Including this season, Shields has thrown 1,560.2 big-league innings over 233 major-league games. Davis, who started Saturday, brought 533.1 innings over 132 outings into the game.

Add Price (841.1 innings, 134 games) and Jeff Niemann (544.1, 97), who's out for the year after having shoulder surgery in April, and that's an awful lot of innings in Kansas City or in the trainer's room.

They've been replaced by Archer (49 innings, 10 games), Odorizzi (25.1, six games) and Colome, who had pitched just 5.2 innings his first big-league start against the Marlins in May.

The rest of the starters aren't exactly gray beards, either. Matt Moore has pitched 267.1 big-league innings in 49 games.

"He's just the baby," Hickey said. "And he's a neophyte in terms of pitching experience and especially in this league."

Jeremy Hellickson has thrown 494 innings in his 85 major-league outings. Cobb has 272.2 innings over 45 games on his major-league resume.

You can see why the Rays felt it was important to sign innings-eater Roberto Hernandez (1,031.1 innings in 198 games) in the offseason.

The Rays have been very careful with their starting pitching over the years. They show tremendous patience in developing them through the system and do their best to guard against arm injuries at the big-league level.

And, still, stuff happens.

And because of that, Colome's start Saturday against the Yankees marked the first time since September 2009 that the Rays had three rookie pitchers make starts on the same road trip. Back then it was Price, Niemann and Davis.

"The fact the organization thinks I can get it done, we can plug guys in who began the year at Triple-A and think we can be successful, it's always encouraging," Archer said.

Hickey loves the fact that the kids come up from Triple-A expecting to have success, not just glad for the opportunity to start a big-league game and if it goes poorly, well then what did you expect from a rookie?

"I like the fact they are all coming up here to produce and to win, not simply happy to be here and hope it goes OK," Hickey said. "We trying to win the American League East. When Jake Odorizzi came here (Tuesday night) to pitch he realized that and he realized that after the game when he went back to Durham. Chris Archer knows that. Cobb knows that as well. I like the fact that they're basically ingrained to the culture that we created around here since Joe came on board. Since '08 the expectations have been extremely high and they haven't changed."

Said Archer: "It's unspoken. You spend all that time developing so that when you get here you perform optimally, not sub-optimally."

As dicey as it was throwing a pair of rookies against the Red Sox in the doubleheader and starting Colome and Archer in the final two games of this series at Yankee Stadium, the Rays front office as well as manager Joe Maddon and Hickey remember the bleaker years of the organization when they had pitchers who garnered no faith when it came to giving the Rays a chance to win in those two venues . or any venues.

"In a perfect world they wouldn't all be starting on this road trip," Hickey said. "But it's not a perfect world by any means, but I think we'll be better off in the long run for it. They will individually and we will as an organization, too."

rmooney@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7227

Twitter: @RMooneyTBO

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