|The Rays key to pitching success|
While the Yankees have been waiting for their pitching prospects to pan out, the LA Dodgers, Oakland A's, and Tampa Bay Rays seem to crank out Major League ready pitchers as if they were put together in a factory.
While the Dodgers youngsters, outside of Clayton Kershaw, haven't produced quite as well as they have in the past, the A's and Rays have dominated the last decade with good, live arms. Due to budget constraints, both teams deal away their pitchers once their on the brink of earning big money, and they always bring back a nice booty of prospects in the process.
Facing the Rays 19 times a year, the Yankees have had the misfortune of going up against Tampa Bay's plethora of pitching talent. After averaging nearly 5.5 runs per game this season, the Yankees were held to five runs total in the three game series with the Rays that concluded Wednesday night. It was no surprise then that the Rays took two of the three games, with the Yankees defeat of ace David Price their lone victory.
The Rays dealt Matt Garza to the Cubs following the 2010 season for a package of players, including prospects Chris Archer (another pitcher, #36 in Baseball America's top 100) and shortstop Hak-Ju Lee (ranked the #56 prospect by mlb.com).
This past off-season it was James Shields' turn to move on. He was dealt with another former pitching prospect, Wade Davis, to the Royals for one of the top ranked hitters in the minor leagues (Wil Myers),one time highly ranked pitching prospect Mike Montgomery,and the #45 prospect in MLB.com's top 100 (Jake Odorizzi).
The Rays tabbed Matt Moore to replace Garza and Alex Cobb to supplant Shields. In his second full season, Moore is 4-0, 1.04 and has averaged better than 10 strikeouts per 9 innings. His performance has come on the heels of an 11-11, 3.81 campaign last year that saw him strikeout 175 hitters in 177.1 innings pitched. The left-hander won't be 24-years old until June and isn't arbitration eligible until 2017.
Cobb showed promise in a nine game call up in 2011 and got 23 starts last season. His 11-9 record with 4.03 ERA and 1.247 WHIP had to bolster Rays GM/Exec VP Andrew Friedman's confidence that he could deal Shields.
So far it has paid off. Cobb beat out Jeff Niemann for the final spot in the rotation and has gone 3-1, 1.82 in his first four starts. He came within two outs of his third career complete game in Wednesday's 3-0 win against the Yankees. It was a game in which Cobb out pitched veteran Andy Pettitte.
The rumor mill has already begun that David Price will be the next Rays pitcher to go. The 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner is making more than $10MM this year and is arbitration eligible in 2014. Something tells me the Rays front office isn't concerned though. They've got an Archer, a Montgomery, an Odorizzi, a Taylor Guerrieri (#44 MLB.com), and an Enny Romero waiting in the wings.
Cobb was masterful in the rubber game of the series; he allowed a pair of hits through 8.1 innings pitched before Brett Gardner's single sent him to the showers. Fernando Rodney, who blew up in Tuesday night's loss, allowed another base hit to Tuesday's hero, Ichiro Suzuki, before he retired Robinson Cano and Travis Hafner to preserve the victory.
The Yankees only managed to get one runner to second base against Cobb, who retired the side in order in five separate innings and faced the minium in another thanks to a double play. 72 of his 106 pitches were for strikes, very similar to the 105/68 Pettitte threw in two and one-third less innings.
The game was scoreless until the 5th inning when Pettitte hit light-hitting catcher Jose Molina on the foot. Kelly Johnson followed with a single to right that went through Brennan Boesch, getting a rare start in the outfield. Molina's lack of foot speed was the only thing that prevented a run from scoring on the play.
With second and third and no one out, Pettitte looked like he might get out of the jam when he struck out Desmond Jennings and Ryan Roberts. But Ben Zobrist slapped a hanging curveball to right for a two-run double. Sean Rodriguez added insurance an inning later with a solo home run.
Eduardo Nunez looked like a different player in the field last night, with a couple of spectacular plays at shortstop. He stopped a hard shot up the middle, did a 360 degree turn and threw the batter out. Later he made a stop deep in the hole between short and third and made a hard, one bounce throw for the out at first base.