ST. PETERSBURG — The offseason began with Jake Odorizzi penciled in as the Tampa Bay Rays' fifth starter, a promotion made possible by the impending David Price trade.
But Price wasn't traded this offseason. Yet, the Rays head to spring training in a week and Odorizzi is again penciled in as the fifth starter.
“It's all unpredictable,” Odorizzi said Wednesday during a break from his workout at Tropicana Field.
Unpredictable, because who expected a member of the Tampa Bay pitching staff to suffer an elbow injury during the winter that required surgery?
But that's what happened to Jeremy Hellickson, who had arthroscopic elbow surgery Jan. 29. Hellickson is expected to miss the first six to eight weeks of the regular season.
“I think everybody was caught off guard by it,” Odorizzi said. “It is an unfortunate situation.”
Enter Odorizzi, who was expected to begin the 2014 season at Triple A Durham. Now, he's competing for that fifth spot in the Rays rotation.
“In the blink of an eye everything changes,” Odorizzi said.
Alex Colome will also get a long look this spring. Enny Romero, Mike Montgomery and Matt Andriese, who just came over from the San Diego Padres in the Alex Torres trade, will also get a look.
“If something happens and it's not Jake, we have great options down below,” Rays pitcher Alex Cobb said. “We're obviously expecting a lot out of Jake. He's probably got the most experience. He's proven himself that he's ready for the spotlight.”
Odorizzi has more experience at the big league level – nine games, six starts – and that will work in his favor.
Not that the right-hander, who turns 24 next month, is taking ticket requests from friends and family for the April 4 game against the Texas Rangers, the Rays' fifth of the season.
“I can't really think about it that way,” Odorizzi said. “The opportunity just kind of fell in my lap, I guess you would say. I'm going to go in with the same mindset. Just go in, get ready, throw the ball well and leave the decision up to the front office. That's all you can do, and that's all I can control. No one's told me I'm the fifth starter, so I'm going to go in there and try to win a job.”
Odorizzi, who came to the Rays in December 2013 as part of the James Shields-Wil Myers trade, made four starts for the Rays in 2013 and pitched in relief in three games. He struggled through his first three outings when he was called up in May to replace Price, who went on the disabled list with a left triceps strain.
Odirizzi was sent to Durham, but returned to the Rays on June 18 to pitch the second game of a day/night doubleheader in Boston. He allowed one run in 5 2/3 innings, looking better than he had during his first stint.
“I think that was my turning point of the season,” he said. “First time up was so-so at best. First (start) was all right. Second one was terrible and after that it was a down point.
“When I came back and got that start and things went well, everything just took off. My confidence was through the roof. I went back down (to Durham), nothing changed from my throwing up here. It was nice to have consistent outings every time out.”
Odorizzi was 0-1 in those seven appearances. He was 0-1 with a 5.03 ERA in his four starts. He had one save and a 1.80 ERA in three relief appearances.
Odorizzi did not make the postseason roster, but remained with the club and continued to work out in case the Rays needed a pitcher during the American League Division Series against Boston.
Then Odorizzi headed into the offseason with the idea of competing for what most expected to be an opening in the Rays rotation.
“That's the exact reason I don't pay attention to anything,” he said. “You never know what's going to happen. All the indications were that David was gone. That's all you ever heard. It's awesome that we're keeping him. It's so much better for us as a team in general. He's the guy who gets things going for us as a pitching staff.”
Now, because of Hellickson's injury, Odorizzi has a chance to be a part of that staff, at least for the first six to eight weeks of the season.
“I feel really bad for him,” Odorizzi said, “but I'm going to try and make the most of my time and hopefully get adjusted well, put some starts together if the chance comes to me. Nothing's promised.”