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Sunday, Sep 23, 2018
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Rays will go forth with four starters

ST. PETERSBURG — Three weeks was enough for the Rays to officially ditch their three-man rotation plan.

Starting Sunday, they will go forth with Yonny Chirinos as their fourth starter.

Which is a five-star idea.

The flaws in the three-man plan — which they were somewhat forced into by Nathan Eovaldi's injury the day before the season opener — had become apparent.

And that went beyond — as some suggested — that they were only doing it to show how smart they were, or only sticking with it because they were stubborn.

Most obviously was having to schedule two bullpen days in a five-game stretch.

That caused innings to pile up dramatically on their designated long relievers, which then impacted the use of their more traditional short relievers, which then impacted the rest of their roster as they for several games have played a man short on the bench because they had to call up fresh arms at the expense of a position player.

Manager Kevin Cash said there were several reasons the time was right for change.

One was that Chirinos, who had three good outings before a rough one Tuesday, was ready to be stretched out to the somewhat starter standard 100 pitches, having thrown 89 last time.

"He's comfortable now that he can provide right around that 100-pitch mark," Cash said. "We had been going back and forth with it. It's not the easiest thing to build these guys up."

A second was that pitching coach Kyle Snyder and Cash have gotten a better sense of how they can best deploy the other multi-inning relievers — Matt Andriese, Andrew Kittredge, Austin Pruitt, Ryan Yarbrough. Specifically, in what situations they can be most effective and how often they can be used.

"We've gone back and forth with that group in the bullpen," Cash said. "They all handle things different, meaning the workload and how they bounce back. And it's just taken us three weeks or so to kind of figure that out."

In sorting through that, they learned something else — which they should have known as much as they preach it all spring when asked about players doing particularly well or poorly — that March results don't mean spit.

"We tried to get a pretty good assessment of that in spring training, and we did," Cash said. "But live games, real games, you get different assessments."

When the Rays first started scheming up specifics of this starter-short pitching plan, the idea was to make best use of their stash of young arms and limit exposure of any one going through an order too often. So they'd use a four-man rotation through the off-day heavy first six weeks, and on the four times going into mid May they did play five straight games to use two or three of the long relievers for a couple innings each.

But the impact of the Eovaldi injury — and not having anyone else stretched out to step in — plus the adjustment to the April 2 postponement in New York forced them into six "Bullpen Day" starts in their first 17 games.  Add in some unexpectedly short outings from their three regular starters and the amount of innings quickly caused constant revisions of their plan.

Having four starters should make the bullpen management more manageable.

"In theory, it should be a little easier," Cash said. "I think we got in (trouble) early on because of the losses. They piled up, and then the decisions became tougher because we were having guys really probably a tick more stretched out than we wanted. And you didn't want to cut back on that by giving them a one-inning outing.

"But now, in theory, it should line us up to where those guys can get their two-inning, three-inning workload in the middle bullpen session and allow the starters just to go out and be starters."

That should help them, too.

Obviously for Chirinos, the 24-year-old rookie who has done well pitching for the first time in the majors under less than comforting conditions. Now he'll know when he's pitching, and have the benefit of getting on a familiar routine, and specifically being able to do work in between starts, as he did last week.

But also the others, as Chris Archer, Jake Faria and Blake Snell — who was very sharp again Saturday — can get on more of a regular schedule. At least until for the next few weeks, as on May 11 they start a stretch of 39 games in 41 days.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @[email protected]

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