Whenever a team skips a young starter’s turn in the rotation it leads to questions about the health of that young starter, especially after the Cardinals did that with Michael Wacha last week while claiming they were simply giving him “rest.” And now he’s on the disabled list with a shoulder injury.
This time it’s the A’s giving 24-year-old Sonny Gray some extra time off between starts, with manager Bob Melvin telling Joe Stiglich of CSNBayArea.com that it’s merely “a little bit of a break” and nothing to do with any arm problems.
Oakland will restructure the rotation around a pair of off days and in doing so Gray will get nine days off between starts rather than the usual four.
Gray had a very impressive debut for the A’s last season and has picked up right where he left off this year, starting 15 games with a 2.91 ERA and 86/34 K/BB ratio in 99 innings. They’ve been relatively cautious with his workload by not letting Gray go past 115 pitches in any start and letting him top 110 pitches just once, but he has topped 100 pitches in five consecutive outings leading up to this extra time off.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.