Roberto HernandezThis is the time of spring when Joe Maddon starts to prepare the starting pitchers for the regular season by using them on normal 4-days rest. And by looking at when the starting pitchers are being used now, we can look forward and see who will likely start the first five games of the regular season.

And based on the evidence, this is what the Rays rotation will look like. I will explain how we know this below…

  1. David Price
  2. Jeremy Hellickson
  3. Matt Moore
  4. Roberto Hernandez
  5. Alex Cobb

Our first two clues come today and tomorrow. We already know David Price will be the opening day starter. With the Rays having an off-day today, he will pitch in a minor league game. That will keep him on regular rest with three more starts in spring training prior to the opening day spot on April 2.

In addition, we know Jeremy Hellickson will be the no. 2 starter as he will also pitch in a minor league game tomorrow. The Rays play the Orioles tomorrow. And by pitching in the minor league game, the Rays will avoid giving Baltimore hitters a good look at Hellboy. And by pitching tomorrow, Hellickson would be able to pitch in game two of the regular season on regular rest.

Matt Moore will start Friday’s game on four-days rest, which sets him up for the no. 3 spot in the rotation. So far, all of this lines up with what we already knew.

The Wild Card is Saturday’s game. The starter on Saturday will most likely be the Rays’ no. 4 starter. Well, Jeff Niemann is starting the regular game on Thursday in place of Hellickson. And Alex Cobb, who pitched yesterday, won’t be available until Sunday, which would line him up with the no. 5 spot in the rotation.

That leaves Roberto Hernandez to start on Saturday. And by doing so, he will be on schedule to pitch in the fourth game of the regular season. Niemann is the only pitcher that is not lined up for a spot in the first five games.

Of course, this could all change if Hernandez starts to struggle, Niemann starts to dominate, or somebody gets hurt. And that is why Maddon won’t make anything official for a while. But as of now, this is the Rays starting rotation.



  1. John Michael says:

    If Niemann doesn't make the cut, what are the odds that the Rays trade him for some more prospects? I'm sure there are teams out there looking for a back-of-rotation starter and would trade a decent prospect or two for Niemann.

  2. Ken says:

    I'm concerned about this battle. While both pitchers have their pluses and minuses neither has the upside of Archer. Niemann is less durable historically than Hernandez but Hernandez hasn't dazzled this spring. Archer being sent down makes sense short term so he can get regular work. But, ultimately he has to get a shot this year.
    While I love JoMa as a manager, I believe his one fault is sticking with a player too long (JP, Briggy, Srod, EJ, Pena and others come to mind. Hopefully formerly Fausto doesn't join that group.

    • Mr. Smith 1980 says:

      There is no need to rush Archer with tons of big league experience right in front of him.

      Carmona/Hernandez and Niemann have shown more than enough to prove that they are viable back of the rotation players (at times they've both shown that they could be front of the rotation starters). Why hurry Archer, with limited experience, at the expense of designating, bullpen-ing, or trading a proven, experienced big-leaguer?

      Archer's day is coming.

  3. Joe D. says:

    Makes sense, Cobb being 5 usually that's the guy skipped , and the young guy the Rays protect, the Rays also seem to be masters of mysterious injuries late in spring.

    Prof., do you think a 6-man Rotation is out of the question to start the season? Even if it's just to keep The Giraffe's trade value up?

  4. Amanda says:

    Cork, what's Niemann's contract look like? The more I think about it, the more I think that he'd be a great option for long/middle relief. The one cavaet would be if his contract makes sense in that position, too.

  5. Gus says:

    Cork's ready of the tea leaves is at odds with their past stats and their spring stats. Neimann is, to this point, the better pitcher, hands down. Carmono-Hernandez is a player the front office is trying to prove how smart they are by recycling him. Whoever gets the job, theyr will have the most irregular rest becuase the rest of the rotation are the Rays' prize assets. Drawing conclusions from spring starts is a little nutty, but I guess that is why we read sites like this. The headline is an overstatement unless Cork has inside knowledge the rest of don't have.

    • Cork Gaines says:

      This isn't based on spring starts. And nobody is reading tea leaves. It is based on Joe Maddon's tendencies. And it is based on what Joe Maddon is doing now. This is how he handles the rotation every spring.

      And why would you give anybody irregular rest if you didnt have to? If Niemann was still a legit candidate for the rotation, Maddon would just pitch both Niemann and Hernandez on Saturday and keep both on regular rest for that 4th spot in the rotation. Maddon could easily find a reliever to sub in for Hellickson on Thursday. But he didn't do that.

      • Bill says:

        Love how you put all the effort to lay out the logic behind your reasoning, then people come on here and call it reading tea leaves. And in the same post they make the statement that one is the better pitcher, "hands down", with nothing to substantiate that logic. A simple case of if you spot it, you've got it.

        • Gus says:

          Where in their statistical profiles is it even close? Looking at last 4 seasons (not counting 2012 for Hernandez when he hardly pitched) you have this:
          ERA: H- 5.44-6.32-3.77-5.25

          W-L: H 33-48

          Career ratios: H: BB/9-3.5, K/9-5.4
          N: BB/9-2.9, K/9-6.8

          Neiman is the better pitcher this spring. Neiman is at least 2 years younger -- we'd have to cut Hernandez open and count his rings to know for sure, but he's listed at 32.

          He is hands down the better pitcher. What metric are you guys and the Rays seeing in Hernandez that I am not? He's a journeyman. You could do worse. But Neiman has been darn good for the Rays when healthy;and a guy who missed virtually all of 2012 doesn't seem to have the edge on him in the health department either.

          My point to Cork was simply that there are lots of variables in spring training scheduling. They sometimes juggle to hide top guys from AL rivals. It may well be that they are showcasing guys for scouts. It would not surprise me if the Rays dump Neiman for $ reasons (and to get prospects); but if he's on the roster opening week, I'd be darn surprised to see Hernandez start over the Giraffe based on what we've seen in their careers and this spring, no matter what Maddon may be doing in early March.

          • Bill says:

            Much better. Now you're backing up the argument. I never said one was better. I was simply backing Cork's argument as sound and not readind tea leaves. That said, your argument, while sound, doesn't support a hands down Niemann is better case. The ST numbers are really small sample size, but not that different in reality. Joe is probably not looking at numbers as much as specific things each pitcher is working on at this point.

            You also have to consider that RH had 19 win season not all that long ago. The age thing doesn't matter since we're only taking about this season, and RH is certainly not old right now. In fact it works against you considering Niemann is young and still gets injured a lot. You have to admi that Niemann is fragile based upon the last couple of seasons. Perhaps Joe is thinking that if he limits his innings early, he can bring him into the rotation after 6-8 weeks.

            Anyway, I was just kind of defending Cork since he seemed a little offended by the tea leaf reading comment. I see both arguments but none of us know what Joe is thinking. I'm a big fan of the Giraffe that we have seen glimpses of. Losing faith that he can do it for a whole season, so glad to see we have options.

    • Mr. Smith 1980 says:

      For the record, at the end of the article Cork reminds all of us that this isn't concrete, "Of course, this could all change if Hernandez starts to struggle, Niemann starts to dominate, or somebody gets hurt. And that is why Maddon won’t make anything official for a while..."

      This is beyond speculation or reading tea leaves though. Baseball, in and of itself, is a game based on tendencies; batters' tendencies on batting approach, pitchers' tendencies to throw certain pitches in certain situations, fielders' tendencies in regard to how they react to fly balls, ground balls, line-drives, etc.... in that same vein, Cork is tracking the tendencies of the manager's approach to the weeks leading up to opening day... the past has given us a glimpse in to the future. Maddon, for all his variances in line-ups is at his core quite predictable when looked-at from a tendencies standpoint.

      So, just like with the extreme shift, you look at tendencies and you roll the dice. That's what Cork did with this article. It's not random conjecture or wild guesses or reading tea leaves... it's applying the extreme shift to the Rays' rotation.

  6. Don says:

    Gus hits a Home Run....Maddon has little to do with the decision....the front office over payed for No Name and they are going to use him no matter what (Remember Pena's $7mil)....People call Maddon a Players coach, to Sell Niemann down the River (off injury) for a New guy who at best is NOT better than Niemann is Chicken shit! Maddon would sell His mothers Hamburger stand if Friedman told him too...

  7. Dave L says:

    Jeez I really nailed this one. When most speculated Fausto was being brought in to fill the Davis role, I maintained he wes brought in to start.

    Archer never really had a chance barring injury to the others.. Its simply not his time yet/

    And since as speculated, as both Niemann and RHFC both having solid springs, the only question is who will get 'hurt'.

    Roster moves are made by AF with consultation of all coaches including Maddon. I didnt think that was a mystery.

    They dont make such decisions based on emotion as no successful franchise does.

    Only some fans react that way. Not sure why.

  8. Chris G. says:

    There are other factors working in Hernandez favor. I believe there was a quote in the Times this week where Maddon called Hernandez an "innings eater." That is something that Niemann most certainly is not. Not only is Niemann fragile, but he also works better on long rest. And the biggest thing the Rays will miss from Shields is his innings. Not only was he good, but working so deep into games, Shields made the bullpen better.

    • Gus says:

      Innings eater? In last 5 seasons, Hernandez averages 1/3 more innings per start than Neiman (6.0 per start v. 5.7) We aren't talking Don Drysdale (or even James Shields) here, and if the innings are worse quality (and you have a good and underused bullpen), why would they chose Hernandez over Neiman when Hernandez is older and missed more starts than Neiman.

      Still looking for a good reason here. When Archer is ready, trade Neiman. But don't blow importnant April games with the unknown of Hernandez when Neiman is pitching well.

      • Mr. Smith 1980 says:

        Niemann is no less of an "unknown" than Hernandez at this point. You're missing the angle that considers Niemann as a piece of a trade. If Niemann is on the radars of several teams then it makes more sense not to line-up his starts in order to make the rotation because then when the season comes you've got another pitcher out of sync.

        You're starting to sound like the proponents of "NoWin" Jackson back in the day...

        • Bill says:

          Good post. I think the trade point is the biggest one being overlooked in all of this. Certain posters are acting like RH is worthless. I've listened to or watched each of his starts. If we want to use ST stats Matt Moore is history, so making arguments on stats alone at this point is meaningless. Keep watching. Hernandez is not pitching badly. And he's obviously doing things Joe likes based the comments from him. If he turns out to be serviceable and allows us to get good value in a Niemann trade, then he turns out to be one of our best free agent signings IMO.


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