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Tuesday, Sep 02, 2014

Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays piece together rotation after trade

Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 05:28 PM

James Shields started 33 games in each of the past five seasons. He averaged nearly seven innings per game during his six full seasons in the big leagues. Only once in those six seasons did Shields pitch less than 215 innings, and that was 203 1/3 innings in 2010.

"It is not easy to lose somebody like him," Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon said Tuesday night.

But, the Rays lost Shields and Wade Davis on Sunday when they two pitchers were shipped to the Kansas City Royals for four prospects, including outfielder Wil Myers, the consensus 2012 minor league player of the year.

Shields leaves a big void in the rotation. He never missed a start, normally saved on the bullpen by pitching deep into games and usually gave the Rays a chance to win.

"We're going to certainly miss James a lot in a lot of ways, but I also think we're going to carry on," Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "There's not going to be, I don't believe, a tremendous drop off in production."

Maddon and Hickey and about a two dozen members of the Rays organization served dinner and handed out blankets Tuesday night at the Tampa Salvation Army.

Maddon and Hickey both slipped away from their serving/busboy duties to talk about life without James Shields.

"I think the thing we're going to miss the most about him is the fact he pitches every fifth day, period, end of story," Hickey said. "For six years this guy's pitched 220-plus innings. You never had to worry about him."

And that leads to a pair of question: Who fills Shields's spot in the rotation? And, how will the staff pick up those all those innings in 2013?

Of the two, the issue that will affect the Rays the most are the innings pitched.

Shields led the team with 227 2/3 innings, the third highest total in the American League. David Price was second on the team with 211. Matt Moore, 177 1/3, and Jeremy Hellickson, 177, followed.

"No one has to put everything on their back, and that's including myself," Price said earlier in the day after receiving the key to the City of Tampa. "I can't try and make up for James Shields and Wade Davis all by myself in one start. I'm just going to treat it the same way, go out there and try and give us a chance to win every fifth day. I think that's the most important thing Shields kind of showed me was taking that ball every fifth day and that 200 innings mark is such a big deal."

The natural development of Hellickson, Moore, Alex Cobb and Jeff Niemann, who should join Price in the Opening Day rotation, should help pick up some of those innings left behind by Shields.

"Probably whoever fills his spot doesn't give you those innings, because that's asking a lot," Hickey said. "So let's just say they give you 180, 190, you got to come up with an extra 30 or 40 innings that you didn't before. And that can be big, but I also think our bullpen is deep enough or strong enough to cover that."

As for the rotation, Price, fresh off his 20-win, Cy Young Award season, will face the Baltimore Orioles on Opening day.

"But after that it will be based on who we're going to play and how it sets up," Maddon said. "I haven't even thought about it, but we do like to wait and see who matches up best against the team's were facing. We don't even know who the five guys are going to be."

Niemann, limited to eight starts in 2012 because of a fractured right fibula and tightness in his right arm, needs to show he is healthy during spring training. Cobb will have to fend off challenges from Chris Archer and Jake Ororizzi, also acquired in the trade with the Royals, to hold his spot in the rotation.

The Rays will slip a right-hander between Price and Moore, the two lefties, and will look to separate two starters who aren't known for pitching deep into games so as not to tax the bullpen on back-to-back nights.

"We know David's there, then we have a bunch of twos we have to figure out," Maddon said. "If you're No. 5 starter, that guy normally is someone who you're not quite sure what you're going to get yet but you still like the upside, that's pretty good as opposed to somebody who's a fifth starter because you just have to have a fifth starter. That's where we're a little different."

rmooney@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7227 Twitter: @RMooneyTBO

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