The Rays announced the starting pitchers for the first five spring games today…
March 3 at Baltimore – RH James Shields or RH Matt Garza
March 4 vs. Baltimore – RH Jeff Niemann
March 5 at New York – LH David Price
March 6 vs. Boston – RH Andy Sonnanstine or RH Wade Davis
March 7 at Philadelphia – RH James Shields
There are two take-home points from this schedule…
First, Joe Maddon is already setting up the order of his rotation for April as he starts to get his starters on their regular 4-days rest. That rotation will be James Shields, Matt Garza, Jeff Niemann, David Price and Wade Davis.
Second, Sonnanstine will be used as a starter, at least early in the spring. Barring an injury, The Duke will not be in the rotation. His best shot at making the opening day roster is in the bullpen, and with the recent signing of Joaquin Benoit, even that seems like a long-shot.
So, why use Sonny as a starter at all? Using Sonny as a starter now suggests the team may not see him as a bullpen option. He could be used in Durham as a starting pitcher and be the starter-on-call should one of the Rays starters be injured.
Or maybe the Rays are showcasing Sonnanstine for other teams still looking to shore up their rotation with a cheap starting pitcher that has proven he has the ability to be successful at the big league level. But this can only happen if the Rays have somebody else they trust in the rotation if somebody gets hurt.
If Sonnanstine is traded and somebody is injured, who enters the rotation? The obvious choice is Jeremy Hellickson, but we don’t think the Rays are ready to go down that road (compare how they handled Davis and Price and how each performed as SP early on). The other option would be Carlos Hernandez. But do we know if his arm is ready to throw 6-7 innings every five days?
At this point it would appear Andy Sonnanstine’s ticket to Durham has already been punched and he will be the Rays 6th starter. But if another team is desperate enough, he may be more valuable to the Rays as a trade piece.