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Rays' Odorizzi will fill in with Price on DL

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Published:   |   Updated: May 19, 2013 at 12:54 PM

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BALTIMORE -

Rays manager Joe Maddon said before Saturday's game that a winner has been declared in the race to replace David Price in the rotation while Price nurses his strained left triceps.

That winner is Jake Odorizzi.

He was the man all along, because he was pitching on the same schedule as Price.

Chris Archer, Alex Torres and Alex Colome were also in the running, according to Maddon.

But Torres was called up Thursday to add depth to an over-used bullpen. Archer is still trying to build up his arm strength, making him an unlikely choice. The Rays like what Colome is doing, but …

Odorizzi has some major-league experience and is 4-0 with a 3.83 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 442/3 innings over eight starts with Triple-A Durham.

Despite his poor start, the Rays do not want to lose Price for any amount of time. What makes it easier — not easy, but easier — is they have a handful of pitchers who they feel confident can handle themselves at the big-league level.

That, of course, is by design.

Maddon said he and executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman spend a lot of time in the offseason talking about organizational depth. Injuries happen to pitchers. They now have three on the disabled list.

The Rays need a Plan B, a Plan C and even a Plan D.

“You need to have that,” Maddon said. “We are not going to go out and purchase that guy, and furthermore it's nice to have a younger guy on the verge to becoming that next guy as opposed to someone who's been around a while and has some physical problems, potentially, so the fact that we have all these different options, that's just something that we nurture.”

The Rays are on a nice little run when it comes to rookies helping out the big-league staff. It started with Jeremy Hellickson in 2010, continued with Alex Cobb and Matt Moore in 2011 and moved along to Archer last season.

Odorizzi made two starts last season for the Royals, so he won't be making his major-league debut Monday when he faces the Blue Jays in Toronto. But he's still a young pitcher, and the differences between pitching at Triple-A and pitching in the big leagues will still be drastic.

“You can't really explain it,” Hellickson said. “The hitters are a lot better. They don't swing at too many pitches out of the zone. They make you throw pitches and work the counts. They wait for their pitch, and usually if they get it they don't miss it. A lot of times in the minor leagues if you make that mistake, it gets fouled off.”

The batting orders are deeper. A No.?8 hitter on a major-league team could be a No.?3 hitter at Triple-A.

“There are no breaks,” Hellickson said.

The biggest difference, Hellickson said, is the strike zone.

“It got a lot smaller,” he said.

Cobb said the intensity of the major-league game is greater. That makes what Moore accomplished at the end of the 2011 season all the more impressive, considering he joined the Rays late in a playoff chase and won their only postseason game.

“But for some guys it's easier up here,” Cobb said. “You're more locked in. You're more amped up. There's a little bit more adrenaline. It helps some guys pitch.”

It helps, Cobb said, if a young pitcher is able to stay on an even keel. From what Cobb and Hellickson learned of Odorizzi during their time together in spring training, that's what they expect to see Monday.

“I think he's that guy,” Cobb said. “Some guys can't handle the pressure, some guys can. He's so even-keeled. His confidence level is through the roof without it being arrogant. He has no doubt that he can pitch. He has no doubt that he belongs up in the big leagues. That's what you want from a guy who is making a spot start for you. He's not going to be overmatched. He's not going to be overwhelmed.”

If you had been told before the season that Price would head to the DL in mid-May, what would you have though?

“We'd probably cash in,” Cobb said.

But nobody in the clubhouse is folding.

“It's nice to know you have that insurance no matter what happens up here,” Cobb said. “No matter what guy goes down, your No.?1 or your No.?5, you have an arm to minimize the damage.”

Odorizzi will take over for Price in the rotation for now. But it could have been Archer, Torres or Colome.

“We're fine with it,” Cobb said. “Regardless of what David was doing, he's our ace. Him going down is a huge blow, but it's going to minimize the damage having those three options to go to.”

rmooney@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7227

Twitter: @RMooneyTBO

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