The decision for the fifth starter in the Rays’ rotation is finally in. Roberto Hernandez will join Tampa Bay’s starting five and Jeff Niemann will start the season in the bullpen.
#Rays have named Hernandez their fifth starter. Niemann will pitch out of the bullpen. Starters: Price, Hellickson, Moore, Cobb, Hernandez.— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) March 29, 2013
Jeff Niemann—who competed well and made this a very tough decision for Joe Maddon—had the better spring. He posted a 2.92 ERA with 17 strikeouts and four walks over 24.2 innings in Grapefruit League play, while Hernandez posted a 5.33 ERA with 14 strikeouts and six walks over 27 innings.
Despite performing better, Niemann lost this job due to lack of velocity during spring training. He didn’t even reach 90 MPH on his fastball once, which obviously concerned the Rays, considering his average fastball velocity lifetime is 91.3 MPH.
#Rays will put Niemann in bullpen, give him time to build velocity, use him in long relief for now.— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) March 29, 2013
Another reason why Hernandez got the edge over Niemann is because Maddon, at the moment, believes that the 32-year-old veteran can provide more innings. Getting deep into games is maybe the biggest thing Maddon was looking for out of these two.
Another advantage in Hernandez’s favor is the fact that he does well enticing groundballs, something that he’s had success in throughout his entire career.
Niemann, who will serve as the Rays’ long reliever, has not not been a successful relief pitcher in the past. However, his steady increase in groundballs over recent years could be a positive sign.
#Rays Niemann disappointed at decision, felt he did all he could, but willing to accept new role in bullpen— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) March 29, 2013
Remember, Niemann had a shoulder injury at the end of last season, so he’s not in the same form as he was at the beginning of last year.
The Rays also announced the order of their rotation this morning:
So #Rays rotation is Price, Hellickson, Hernandez, Moore, Cobb— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) March 29, 2013
Hernandez will actually slot in the third spot in the rotation, due to the way things line up from spring training, giving everyone the full-time rest they need.
At the end of the day, this decision is really just a makeshift roster move by the Rays, as prospect Chris Archer will soon be called up to take over the fifth spot in the starting rotation. Until then, it will be interesting to see if Hernandez will become the next veteran arm to turn his career around with the Rays.
Here's Maddon on his choice: