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Rays

Rays preview: Pitchers must fill Shields' void

Published:   |   Updated: April 1, 2013 at 06:40 AM
ST. PETERSBURG -

Wil Myers starts his first season as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays organization at Triple-A Durham, where his indoctrination to the Rays Way of playing baseball begins.

The 22-year-old outfielder may one day live up to the hype that comes with being the 2012 consensus minor league player of the year, a rookie of the year candidate when he finally arrives to the big leagues, an All-Star for years to come and a pillar of future playoff teams.

The Rays parted ways with pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis and infielder Elliot Johnson to add a talent like Myers and also pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Ben Montgomery.

But while everyone patiently waits for Myers to polish his act at Triple-A, one question can not be ignored: What about Shields? Specifically, who is going to fill the void left by the innings eater who logged more than 200 innings in each of his six seasons in Tampa Bay, including 227 2/3 last season?

The answer: Everyone.

The Rays won 90 games despite a sluggish offense and a leaky defense because of the pitching. The rotation picked up a lot of innings, which enabled the bullpen to remain fresh over the 162-game season.

David Price won 20 games and earned the American League Cy Young Award in 2012 while pitching 211 innings. The next highest total was 177 1/3 innings from Matt Moore. Jeremy Hellickson pitched 177.

Rays starters pitched 993 2/3 innings last season, an average of 6.13 per start.

Shields and Price averaged nearly seven innings per start. The other three starters – Moore, Hellickson and Alex Cobb (136 1/3 innings) – averaged less than six.

“That's where I try to challenge all the other guys,” Price said. “Six innings is not good enough anymore for us. We want to get to that seven-inning mark, the eight-inning mark. We want to be the team that logs the most seven-inning starts, stuff like that. We can get the most quality starts. Six (innings pitched) and three (runs allowed) is not quality, it's not good enough around here anymore. It's something we've all talked about, we understand that.”

Hellickson and Moore both made 31 starts. One more inning per start from them this season would push them over the 200-inning plateau. Cobb averaged 5.9 innings over his 23 starts. He can come close to 200 innings if he can get two more outs per start.

Rays manager Joe Maddon said he agrees with Price. He doesn't see why the starters can't pitch deeper into games and thinks the rotation has the ability to pick up the void in innings created when Shields was traded.

“Yeah, I really do. Every one of them,” Maddon said. “If they throw their fastballs for strikes they can all do that. Honestly, every one of them is capable of six-plus nightly by being a little bit more aggressive, to not pitch away from contact, make the hitter put the ball in play and let us play our defense. That's what it comes down to.”


rmooney@tampatrib.com

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Twitter: @RMooneyTBO

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