Tonight the Royals welcome the Rays to the K for the first time since the big offseason trade between the two teams. As luck would have it James Shieldswill get the ball to open this series up again Tampa Bay. To get some inside information on the opponent we got a hold of Robbie Knopf who’s the senior editor at Rays Colored Glasses prior to this series.
Kings of Kauffman – At 12-13 what’s been the number one issue for the Rays?
Rays Colored Glasses – If there’s one number that the Rays have to address, that’s their 3.79 team ERA, just 8th in the American League. The Rays’ pitching staff has been very streaky all year, tossing 5 shutouts but also allowing 6 or more runs six times. The keys to fixing that are going to be David Price and Roberto Hernandez.
Price finally got his first win yesterday, but his ERA still stands at 5.21 despite a 35-9 K-BB ratio as he has allowed a crazy 6 home runs in 38 IP (1.4 HR/9). Price has been good his last two times out, but the Rays need him to get back to being that ace pitcher he has been for them the past few years. If he can do that, pairing him with the untouchable Matt Moore will leave opposing teams shaking in their boots.
Hernandez, on the other hand, has just a 4.66 career ERA so his 5.28 mark this year isn’t so surprising, but he has looked electric, managing a 30-10 K-BB in 30.2 IP with a strikeout rate not too far off from double his career average as the Rays have altered his pitch usage to utilize his great changeup more often. But Hernandez has to become more consistent throughout his outings and find a way to get his results in line with his stuff. There’s reason for optimism, but that means nothing if Hernandez doesn’t start putting some solid starts together.
In the bullpen, the major concerns is Jake McGee, who is striking out batters like no tomorrow (14.0 K/9) but allowing far too many walks and home runs on his way to just a 6.48 ERA. That’s a sharp contrast from his 1.95 ERA from last season. McGee has been relying too heavily on his fastball in big spots and Rays have to get him right as well.
The offense is always a concern for the Rays as well, but they’ve gotten solid contribution all over the place and adding in Luke Scott will only make things better. If there’s one player the Rays have to get going, it’s Yunel Escobar, who has hit just .164 in 80 PA’s. He will return from a hamstring injury for Game 1 of the Rays-Royals series.
KOK – Tampa Bay is 8-4 at the Trop while just 4-9 away? Any reason for this oddity 25 games into the season?
RCG – Watching the team, I don’t think there has really been any difference and it really has just been a matter of the Rays just happening to be playing poorly on the road and well at home. That’s illustrated best by the fact that the Rays’ team OPS at home is better than away (.725 vs. .686) something shocking giving how tough a ballpark they play in, while their pitching staff has been just about as good, managing a 3.50 ERA and a 3.90 FIP at home and a 4.07 ERA and a 4.10 FIP on the road. The Rays have really just been basically the same team everywhere and one tough road trip in Texas, Boston, and Baltimore and a great home stand versus the Yankees and A’s are making the difference seem a lot more than it should be. It’s early in the season, and by the end of it all I’ll be shocked if the Rays’ home and away records aren’t remarkably similar.
RCG – Everyone is talking about Wil Myers, but I don’t think anyone cares about Shields and Davis anymore. Both of them, especially Shields, were great for the Rays, but they were also easily replaceable because the Rays just have so much pitching. It’s a real possibility that the Rays could lose Shields and Davis yet still have a significantly better starting rotation with Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, and Jeremy Hellickson looking vastly improved in the early goings.
Back to Myers, he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire at Triple-A, not hitting for much power, and most Rays fans have just accepted that he’s probably not coming up until June. The Rays’ offense has not been that bad, all things considered, and while Myers will be a big boost to the Rays when he comes up, if keeping him at Triple-A makes him a better player in the long-term, Rays fans are fine leaving him there as long as it takes.
KOK – Who are the pitchers that KC can expect to see this week at the K?
Cobb, 25, has been incredible to begin the year, going 3-1 with a 1.82 ERA, but I don’t believe he has looked as good as the numbers would indicate. He attacks hitters with a heavy sinker, but the issue with him has always been missing bats. He throws an excellent split-change, but the key for him is his curveball. Cobb has been throwing a lot to begin at-bats and a decent amount with two strikes, but I don’t think it’s that great of a pitch and I expect the league to adjust soon. Will that happen before or after the Rays leave Kansas City?
Hellickson is a pitcher who has elicited much debate between the traditionalists and the sabermetricians the past couple years, but this is the season where they all agree that he’s a very good pitcher. Hellickson’s ERA is just 4.31 in his first five starts, but he’s pitching like a completely different pitcher right now. In his last three starts, Hellickson, a pitcher who has struck out just 6.2 batters per 9 innings in his career, has struck out 23 while walking just 6 in his last 3 starts spanning 20 IP. And that isn’t just an aberration–Hellickson has made a major breakthrough. Hellickson’s bread-and-butter has always been his fastball and changeup, but this season, he has added his curveball as a third plus pitch, and that gives him a real chance to become a true number two starter. Hellickson will obviously still have his struggles, especially when his fastball command is off, but he’s emerging as a really good pitcher and just maybe one of the best in baseball.
And then there’s the enigma, Hernandez. As we talked about above, Hernandez can befuddle hitters with his electric arsenal but has been missing way too often over the heart of the plate. Hernandez has two really good pitches in his sinker and changeup and another solid one in his slider, but often his sinker moves so much that he doesn’t know where it’s going, and when he misses he gets hit hard. If Hernandez can be a little more consistent, he has the ability to be a rock-solid innings-eating 4th or 5th starter. No matter how Hernandez does for the Royals, there will be a few swings from Kansas City hitters about as ugly as you’ll see. The question is whether those will be canceled out by his mistakes.
Pitching Match-ups and game times –
Tuesday: Alex Cobb (3-1, 1.82) v. James Shields (1-2, 3.09), 7:10 pm
Wednesday: Jeremy Hellickson (1-2, 4.31) v. Luis Mendoza (0-1, 5.14), 7:10 pm
Thursday: Roberto Hernandez (1-4, 5.28) v. Ervin Santana (3-1, 2.00), 1:10 pm