We are one week from opening day and based on the pitching assignments that manager Joe Maddon has utilized recently, we now know the order of the Rays starting pitching rotation and it hints at who the 5th starter is. First let's look at the slots...
- Scott Kazmir
- Jae Seo
- James Shields
- Casey Fossum
- Edwin Jackson/J. P. Howell
We already know that Scott Kazmir is going to be the opening day starter. Kaz made a start on Friday and will get the ball again on Wednesday, which will put him on normal rest for the opening day start in Yankee Stadium. Jae Seo pitched yesterday and will likely get the ball again on Friday. That will put him on a normal four days rest heading into the second game on Wednesday, after the off-day on Tuesday. James Shields is in the third slot, as he is on schedule to pitch the final game of the Yankees series, with Casey Fossum slotted to be the fourth starter. With Fossum pitching last Thursday and again this upcoming Tuesday, a normal four-days rest schedule would have him taking the mound in the Rays home opener against the Jays on Friday.
Kazmir and Seo as the first two starters is a surprise to nobody, but Maddon's decision to go with Shields in game 3 is a telling one. This could be an indication that Papa Joe is leaning towards Edwin Jackson for the final spot in the rotation. If Maddon had gone with Fossum in the third slot, it would have given the Rays a lefty-righty-lefty-righty rotation at the top. However, given the current order of starting pitchers, if J. P. Howell were to earn the final spot, the Rays will send out lefties on three straight days (Fossum, Howell, Kazmir). That is a situation most managers would try to avoid. Jackson in the 5th spot would break up the two lefties.
Jackson and Howell two have very similar spring numbers. Howell has given up 13 hits, 5 walks and 1 hit batter with 9 strikeouts in 15 innings (1.80 ERA). In 14.2 innings, Jackson has allowed 10 hits, 8 walks and struck out 13 (1.84 ERA). With Jackson out of minor league options Howell probably would have needed to be markedly better than Jackson this spring to win the final spot. Maddon will probably make his decision official on Thursday. Whoever starts on Thursday will be on schedule to pitch the 5th game of the season.
With the off day the first week, the Rays may choose to skip the fifth spot in the rotation the first time through. If that is the case, the Rays will not need a fifth starter until the ninth game of the season, against the Rangers. However, last season Maddon chose to give Kazmir an extra day of rest the first week as he did use the teams 5th starter the first time through the order.