The Devil Rays team the Yankees will face over the next four nights in Tampa has changed slightly from the one they faced two weeks ago at the Stadium.
To begin with, the Yankees themselves knocked Rob Bell out of the Tampa rotation when they scored ten runs off him in one and one-third innings on April 18. He's been replaced by 24-year-old Doug Waechter, who was once an exciting up-and-comer for the Rays, but in two starts has looked more like the Old Mussina than the prospect of 2003. Waechter was in the pen two weeks ago, where he pitched much better than Bell has since switching places with him.
When Bell made that ill-fated start against the Yankees, he was moved up a day to do so to fill in for the injured Mark Hendrickson, who has since enjoyed a 15-day stint on the DL and is now back in action, having performed modestly in one start since being activated. Hendrickson will start Thursday against Chien-Ming Wang. Waechter starts tomorrow against Kevin Brown.
Overall, the Devil Rays' pitching has been awful. They have a 6.21 team ERA and only set-up man Travis Harper has a WHIP below 1.50 (0.83, but a 6.32 ERA). Conversely, only closer Danys Baez has an ERA below 4.00, but he has an equal number of saves and blow saves (one of each), and identical walk and strikeout rates of 4.91 per 9 IP. Recognizing that quantity does not guarantee quality (something the Yankees have yet to figure out), the Rays have slimmed down to eleven pitchers, as I mentioned in my previous post. They did this by demoting another once-exciting young prospect, 24-year-old Seth McClung, who returned to Durham with a 12.19 ERA and a 2.13 WHIP after nine appearances with the big club.
The Rays have replaced McClung on the other side of the ball by calling up yet another 24-year-old prospect, outfielder Jonny Gomes. Gomes got two cups of Turkish Coffee (too small and too overwhelming) in the past two years, but finally seems to be clicking, forcing his way into the lineup, primarily in left field, forcing Carl Crawford to center and Alex Sanchez to the bench (good news for Rays fans).
Throughout the line-up, the Rays are hitting so poorly that Lou Piniella is desperately shifting playing time around to get his hottest hitters in the line-up. Gomes (corner outfield), Nick Green (3B/2B), and Eduardo Perez (1B, and sure to start against Randy Johnson on Wednesday), are the only members of the Devil Rays' 25-man roster with OPSs above .800. One wonders how long it will take Lou to snap and exile Chris Singleton (.250/.294/.250, .195 GPA) in favor of Joey Gathright (who hit for a .309 GPA in his six games with the club during Alex Sanchez's suspension), giving the Rays the outfield they should have installed at the beginning of the season of Crawford, Gathright and Gomes.
In the infield, the underachieving Alex Gonzalez, Josh Phelps, and Travis Lee are finding themselves having to fight for playing time, while Aubrey Huff is once again being bounced around between right field, first base and DH, playing a different position in each of his last three games. Julio Lugo isn't hitting either, but Gonzalez is the only other man who can play shortstop (donde esta B.J. Upton?) and he's been even worse, opening up third base to Nick Green's advances.
All of this adds up to the Devil Ray's having the third-worst record in baseball (above only the Rockies and Royals). The Yankees, by the way, have the fifth-worst record in the majors, only the equally-disappointing Indians falling in-between tonight's two opponents. Speaking of tonight, the Yanks send the Old Moose up against the Rays' Young and Spritely ace Scott Kazmir. The Devil Rays enter this series on a seven-game losing streak and Kazmir has yet to win a game this year, despite hurling seven innings of one-run ball against the Red Sox two starts ago (the only one of his starts his team won, but Baez vultured the win). Pessimists start your engines!