ST. PETERSBURG – Everyone likes to play manager. It’s one of the true joys of watching baseball.
Between the pace of the game and the rich numbers at our fingertips, there are about half a dozen key moments in every game when a home fan can declare a strategy before a coach’s decision.
Do you hit and run? Is it time to retire a pitcher? Do you tip? Is it time for a defensive replacement? We shout to the rooftops when our proven strategy works, and promptly forget the many times they would have blown up in our faces.
So tell me, what would you do today if you were Kevin Cash?
Because the Rays manager is facing a perilous jump between needing to win in the regular season while being mindful of postseason preparation. He is also faced with the choice between doing what is right for the whole team and being responsible for the careers of individuals.
In short, he is stuck in a no man’s land of impossible choices.
I was reminded of this while watching Sunday’s game against the Tigers. For an innocent afternoon affair against a non-division opponent, it was still a critical game in Tampa Bay’s season.
The Rays had gone weeks without winning a single series. So Sunday’s result would be the difference between a satisfying 3-1 series win or a disappointing 2-2 draw against a bottom-placed team.
With that background in mind, Cash had decided before the game started that leadoff hitter Drew Rasmussen would not pitch more than three innings.
Now, you may ask why.
(Or you can scream, WHAT THE %$#&?)
The answer is complex. Rasmussen, you see, is 27 years old, but he’s never pitched more than 100 games in a professional season. He had Tommy John surgery midway through his sophomore season in college, then a second Tommy John surgery less than two years later.
Both the Brewers (who drafted him in 2018) and the Rays (who acquired him in 2021) have been aware of his medical history. That’s why, before Sunday, Rasmussen had never gone over 90 times in a professional season. After the third game against the Tigers, he was at 91.1 innings pitched for 2022.
Now, it’s not like the Rays aren’t willing to push him to new heights. He’ll probably go 100 innings in the next couple of months and could go 130 by the end of the postseason.
But the Rays aren’t keen on the idea of Rasmussen jumping from 89.1 innings last season to more than 150 innings this season, and so they’re managing his workload now so they don’t have to shut him down during a possible playoff series.
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And Cash was willing to risk the ire of critics in a pretty important game against the Tigers, with the Mariners, Orioles and Indians nipping at his heels in the wild-card race.
As it turned out, the ball was pitched magnificently and the offense came alive in the ninth inning and the Rays picked up their series victory by defeating the Tigers 7-0.
But the decisions will not end there and will not be limited to Rasmussen.
Jeffrey Springs and Corey Kluber have already hit more games than in any season since 2018, and Shane McClanahan is one game away from a new career high.
All three of those starters have also seen their ERAs jump significantly in recent outings, which could be a fluke or could be a sign that their arms are tiring.
And so Cash and pitching coach Kyle Snyder must find a way to keep the rotation intact over the next eight weeks while trying to secure a wild card and also make sure their starters aren’t running on fumes if the Rays reach the postseason in October.
There may be help along the way from the injured list. Yonny Chirinos is pitching again. So does Tyler Glasnow. Those guys aren’t likely to show up at Tropicana Field throwing six innings in a row, but they can give the rotation a break while working as a starter.
Luis Patino is also pitching again at Triple-A Durham and could provide rotation depth if he ever gets his command under control.
And, by the way, the Rays need to do all of these tricks without burning him out, which turned out to be a problem in the 2020 postseason.
It worked Sunday in Detroit, but who knows what happens Tuesday in Milwaukee.
Still think you’ll enjoy being a big league manager?
John Romano can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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