ST. PETERSBURG — Everyone likes to play manager. This is one of the true joys of watching baseball.
Between the pace of the game and the abundance of numbers at our fingertips, there are half a dozen key moments in every game when a fan at home can announce a strategy before the manager’s decision.
Do you hit and run? Is it time to pull a pitcher? Are you pinch hitting? Is it time for a change in defense? We scream to the rooftops when our proven strategy works, and promptly forget the many times it would have blown up in our face.
Tell me what you would do today if you were Kevin Cash?
As the Rays manager faces a dangerous dance between needing to win in the regular season while keeping the postseason in mind. He is also faced with the choice between doing what is right for the whole team and being responsible for individual careers.
In short, he’s 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 innocuous 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 have been the difference between a satisfying 3-1 series win or a disappointing 2-2 split against the bottom team.
With that background in mind, Cash had decided before the game even started that starting pitcher Drew Rasmussen would not pitch more than three innings.
Now you may ask why.
(Or you might scream WHAT THE %$#&?)
The answer is complicated. You see, Rasmussen is 27 years old, but he’s never thrown more than 100 innings 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 careful about his medical history. That’s why, before Sunday, Rasmussen had never gone over 90 innings in a professional season. After the third inning against the Tigers, he was at 91.1 innings for 2022.
Now, it’s not like the Rays aren’t willing to push him to new heights. He will certainly pass 100 innings in the next few months and could surpass 130 innings 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, so they’re now managing his workload so they don’t have to shut him down during a potential playoff run.
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And Cash was willing to risk the wrath of critics in a fairly pivotal game against the Tigers with the Mariners, Orioles and Indians hot on his heels in the wild-card race.
As it turned out, the bullpen pitched magnificently and the offense came alive in the ninth inning, and the Rays clinched their series by defeating the Tigers 7-0.
But the decisions won’t stop there, and they won’t be limited to Rasmussen.
Jeffrey Springs and Corey Kluber have already thrown more innings than in any season since 2018, and Shane McClanahan is one inning away from a career high.
All three 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 getting tired.
So Cash and pitching coach Kyle Snyder must figure out a way to keep the rotation intact for 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 on the way from the injured list. Yoni Chirinos throws again. So is Tyler Glasnow. These guys aren’t likely to show up at Tropicana Field throwing six innings at a time, but they could give the rotation a break while working as openers.
Luis Patino is also pitching again at Triple-A Durham and could offer rotation depth if he ever controls his command.
And, oh, by the way, the Rays have to handle all that juggling without burning out the bullpen, which has proven to be a problem in the 2020 postseason.
It worked Sunday in Detroit, but who knows what will happen Tuesday in Milwaukee.
Still think you’d enjoy being a big league manager?
John Romano can be found at [email protected]. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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