PORT CHARLOTTE — Written in blue ink from a pen in the spot on today’s lineup card reserved for the starting pitcher is the name “Teaford.” It stands out because of the color of ink, and because the rest of the names were printed courtesy of a laser printer.
Everett Teaford laughed.
“At least I’m on there,” he said Saturday.
Teaford, one of five starters in the mix for three spots in the Rays’ rotation, starts today against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin.
It you are handicapping the competition, you might list the 30-year-old left-hander as the long shot, and Teaford might not argue, since he signed a minor-league contract on Jan. 16 with the idea of competing for a role as long man in the bullpen.
But, here we are, 15 days until the Rays open the season and Teaford has a chance to make the big-league roster out of camp.
“I would say a bad interesting,” Teaford said. “I don’t think anybody wanted this to happen. But that’s the nature of the game, and somebody has to step up.”
What happened, of course, is Alex Cobb (right forearm tendinitis), Drew Smyly (left shoulder tendinitis) and Alex Colome (pneumonia) will not be ready for the season, leaving Nathan Karns, Matt Andriese, Mike Montgomery, Burch Smith and Teaford to compete for the three spots.
After eight seasons in the Kansas City Royals organization that included 45 games in the big leagues from 2011 to 2013, Teaford spent 2014 pitching for the LG Twins in the Korean Baseball Organization. It was a move he favored, since he didn’t make the Royals out of camp and did not want to spend a fifth season at Triple-A Omaha.
The Royals sold his contract to the Twins, and financially it was a good move for Teaford. He also enjoyed it on a personal level. You’re never too old to grow as a person, and Teaford said playing the South Korean style of baseball where defense isn’t quite as advanced as it is elsewhere can certainly be an experience.
Besides, Teaford knew he would return a free agent.
When the Rays traded Cesar Ramos to the Los Angeles Angels last November, Teaford called his former Team USA teammate Chris Archer to learn more about the Rays.
Archer told him Tampa Bay is a great place to play. Teaford signed two months later.
“I thought long relief was kind of my forte with Kansas City. I had a lot of success,” Teaford said. “Sometimes, I think, I threw five-plus (innings) out of the bullpen. I thought we matched up well.”
Teaford said he was surprised and impressed when he arrived in camp, and manager Kevin Cash and pitching coach Jim Hickey were familiar with his résumé. Teaford made 100 starts in his minor-league career and another eight in the big leagues. He liked that he was told he would be stretched out and looked at as a long reliever or a starter.
“They knew about my versatility coming in, and I appreciated that, because sometimes you get, ‘Well, you’re either going to be a starter or you’re going to Triple A,’ ” Teaford said. “They said, ‘We’re going to stretch you out. We know you can pitch in the bullpen, we know you can start.’ Whether there were two true opportunities, they made it feel like that, and there hasn’t been anything to change my feelings.”
Teaford has thrown 62⁄3 innings in four games. He has allowed seven hits and walked one and allowed only one earned run.
He impressed Cash when he pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam against the Philadelphia Phillies earlier this month.
Cash likes that Teaford has thrown strikes and that he will sometimes drop down to lefties to cause some deception.
“He’s a more veteran pitcher who uses a lot of pitch-ability and mixes in his off-speed,” Cash said.
Cash said spring training performance might be the biggest factor in settling on a rotation, which is not the norm. But the Rays don’t have much of a choice,
“Let’s be honest, Cobb is going to be back, Drew is going to be back, Colome is going to get healthy, a lot of arms are going to come back, so you go with the hot hand,” Teaford said. “So I definitely think (Cash is) doing the right thing right now. It’s not, you know, knock on wood, it’s not a long-term thing.
“It’s sort of a stop-gap right now.”