MLB Insider: Rays take big hit in starting rotation

Matt Moore’s 2014 season lasted just two starts. A 17-game winner last season, the lefthander will undergo Tommy John surgery. The Rays’ rotation is also missing Alex Cobb.

Photo: Orlin Wagner • Associated Press,

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The Tampa Bay Rays have a problem. And it’s not hitting into triple plays, like they did on Thursday against the Yankees.

They have to make up for the loss of Matt Moore, the hard-throwing lefty who will miss at least a calendar year because of a torn elbow ligament that will require Tommy John surgery this week. It’s a tough blow for both the player and club, as Moore missed a month last season because of a sore elbow but appeared to be healthy going into the season.

You can point to great clubhouse chemistry and the workings of eccentric manager Joe Maddon as reasons for the Rays’ recent competitiveness, but it’s really been strong starting pitching that has carried them.

The Twins play three games in St. Petersburg this week and will encounter a team that’s trying to keep the rest of its projected rotation on the mound. If losing Moore weren’t enough, promising righthander Alex Cobb (1-1, 1.89 ERA) went on the 15-day disabled list last week because of an oblique strain. But the Rays already expect to miss Cobb for four to six weeks.

So the Rays are looking to be just as resilient as the Braves and Athletics, two teams that have lost starting pitchers to injuries but don’t show that in their records.

The Braves lost both Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery, a blow that could derail their chances of winning the National League East. So far, so good. Ervin Santana has a 0.64 ERA in two starts since signing with the team, and 36-year-old Aaron Harang is 3-1 with a 0.70 ERA.

Oakland’s Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin combined for 26 wins last season. But Parker is done for the year because of Tommy John surgery and Griffin is working his way back from flexor tendinitis. Yet Oakland’s rotation was 5-2 with a 2.48 ERA.

The good teams don’t use injuries as an excuse, and the Braves and A’s entered the weekend both 10-5 after absorbing early blows to their rotations.

Tampa Bay, which entered the weekend 7-9, will try to do the same. When Moore went down, the Rays moved lefthander Cesar Ramos to the rotation, but he lasted just two innings in his first start on Sunday against the Reds. With Cobb out, the Rays are turning to veteran lefthander Erik Bedard, who was added to the rotation last week.

Lefthander David Price has to continue to pitch like the ace he’s been through the years, and righthanders Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi have to develop quickly. And the Rays can’t afford to let anything else happen to their starters if they expect to contend in a very competitive AL East.

Central Intelligence

White Sox manager Robin Ventura on Wednesday used four relievers in the ninth inning, only to see the Red Sox tie the score. Then, as the game spun through extra innings, Ventura ran out of arms and asked for volunteers to pitch.

Infielder Leury Garcia raised his hand.

Garcia got two quick outs, then walked two batters, then gave up a two-run double that allowed Boston to win 6-4 in 14 innings. At least Garcia received a nice critique from teammate John Danks.

“I want him to teach me a sinker like that,” Danks said. “He’s got a pretty good sinker. Surely it’s weird to be out there for the first time. I can only imagine having to play second base for the first time. It’s like a fish out of water, but I felt like he held his own.”

• • •

Nyjer Morgan batted .348 with a .484 on-base percentage in nine games with Cleveland and played well in center field. That production would be celebrated in Minnesota. In Cleveland, Morgan’s prize was a ticket to Class AAA Columbus.

Morgan was sent down when Michael Bourn was activated from the disabled list. Instead of making room for Morgan, the Indians opted to go with an eight-man bullpen and three-man bench.

• • •

The Tigers have been impressed with Ian Kinsler so far. Kinsler, part of the trade that sent Prince Fielder to Texas, feels the same way.

“I try to do everything within my power to win a game,” Kinsler said. “This team is full of guys like that. It’s definitely a refreshing place to be.”

Three observations ...

•  It’s nice to see that the Astros called up George Springer, one of the top prospects in baseball. After all, they did offer him $23 million during spring training before he spent a day in the majors.

•  The leader for unfortunate injury of the year is the Blue Jays infielder Maicer Izturis, who tore the lateral collateral ligament in his left knee last Sunday while tripping on the dugout stairs at Camden Yards in Baltimore.

• Too bad about Denard Span suffering another concussion. He played in only 70 games for the Twins in 2011 after colliding with Brayan Pena.

... and two predictions

• Brian Dozier will lead Twins position players in Wins Above Replacement this year.

• Jason Kubel, who is tied with Dozier for the team lead in WAR, will fall off but finish in the top five.

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