How will the Rays construct a starting rotation?

ST. PETERSBURG – The holidays are a joyous time and away from the hectic activity of everyday life.

In the past few weeks, the Tampa Rays defined that dynamic of the season. Quiet and taciturn among pursuing free agent signings, the direction appears to be “business as normal.” After making the one trade that fans and officials knew was enviable, the movement of right-hander Tyler Glasnow was completed by mid-December.

Not that Glasnow was a fixture for 225 innings, 250 strikeouts, and 22 wins, the Rays are now left without another reliable starter. Add lefty Shane McClanahan, who will miss the 2024 season with Tommy John surgery, and the staff is down one-third of a credible rotation.

Going forward, manager Kevin Cash and pitching coach Kyle Snider appear to count upon righthander Ryan Pepiot, acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Glasnow deal. With starting pitching at a premium in Dodger Stadium, the swap for Glasnow (and outfielder Manuel Margo in the same deal) appears relatively even.

“He’s big. He’s strong. He’s athletic. Exceptional changeup,” Rays’ president of baseball operations Erik Neander told of Pepiot. “His fastball plays above the velocities. A developing breaking ball that gives him three pitches that give him a very good chance to be a good Major League starter. I think he’s very close to that.”

If the Rays expect Pepiot to step in and immediately pick up where Glasnow picked off, that is probable, at best.

At first look, Pepiot does not have the experience.

In moving to the Dodgers, Glasnow put in eight seasons at the major league level for the Rays, compiled a 30-27 mark, and posted a 3.89 ERA. By comparison, Pepiot enters his second major league season and four years in the Dodgers system removed from the campus of Butler University.  Achieving a 9-1 season with Oklahoma City in 2022, that gave promise, and quickly the 26-year-old was sharing the Dodger Stadium mound with Clayton Kershaw and Julio Urias

While Cash and other officials hope for production from Pepiot, the titular head of the staff remains right-hander Zack Eflin. Coming off a 16-8 season, Eflin recorded a 3.50 ERA in 31 starts, picked up 186 strikeouts in 177 innings, and finished sixth in the American League Cy Young award voting.

When the bell rings on March 28 at Tropicana Field against Toronto, Eflin will likely get the ball from Cash. Given the benefit of the doubt, Pepiot could start game two and from that point, the remaining spots are open.

With McClanahan, a reliable lefty down, add Jeffrey Springs, another Rays lefthander starter to the list of the unfortunate. Springs went down in April and, too, underwent Tommy John surgery. Like McClanahan, he will miss the 2024 season.

All of which puts Cash and other club officials in a quandary. Given the competitive nature of the American League East and the Rays as a traditionally strong franchise, the challenge, from opening day, will be to create a rotation capable of challenging Baltimore, Toronto, and the New York Yankees.

Then again, the dilemma of putting together an effective starting rotation remains the usual spring task of all major league field and executive officials.

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