Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Robbie Ray made Detroit Tigers fans forget about Doug Fister for at least a night after his performance on Tuesday. During this past winter, the Tigers felt the ground ball pitcher to the Washington Nationals for a package that included Ray, Ian Krol and Steve Lombardozzzi.
To everyone’s surprise, Ray started an MLB game in 2014 before Doug Fister did, who ranked eighth in the majors in WAR with 13.3 over the past three seasons, per fangraphs.com.
Ray pitched an outstanding game for his debut, allowing just five hits and one run while striking out five batters over 5 1/3 innings pitched. He was on a limited pitched count which allowed him only to go just past five innings, but the 22-year-old lefty was able to pick up his first major league win.
It won’t be decided who won the trade this past winter for a few years, once Ray establishes his role on the Tigers. But by the looks of it, the Tigers may have already won the trade.
After trading Fister to Washington, the Nationals attempted to sign him to a long-term contract to keep him in the nation’s capital. The team and Fister were unable to agree to terms and instead settled on a one year, $7.2 million deal to avoid arbitration.
Fister will be under team control for 2015 and then is set to hit the open market, which is more than likely to happen at this point after he was unable to agree to a long-term deal this winter. Ray on the other hand is under Tigers control through 2019 and looks primed to join the rotation maybe as early as 2015.
The real question isn’t whether or not Ray will end up tilting the trade in the Tigers favor, but can he contribute to a stacked 2014 team that looks primed to make a run at the World Series once again?
The Tigers should look to add Ray to the bullpen if fellow left-hander Phil Coke continues to struggle (9.39 ERA in 7 2/3 innings). Ray and his smooth delivery can compliment Krol, who has a 2.70 ERA in 2014.
Right now, Ray is a fastball-changeup guy who mixes in a few sliders. Most bullpen guys count on one or two pitches that can generate swing-and-misses. Ray was able to rack up 10 whiffs against the Houston Astros on Tuesday during his 86-pitch start.
His fastball velocity toped out at 93.2 MPH, while his change up ranged from 82.1 to 85.1 MPH. If he were to be added to the bullpen later in the season (most likely after the All-Star break), he could crank up his fastball and have it top out in the mid-90s.
Coke has been an absolute disaster in the bullpen for the Tigers this season, and I’m not sure how much more patience Ausmus has with him. It wouldn’t cost the Tigers too much to let Coke go, as he is on a very cheap deal which is the main reason he was retained after a poor 2013 season.
The Tigers only major issue at the moment is their consistency out of the bullpen. Joe Nathan and Joba Chamberlain have been much better as of late, but Al Alburquerque has been up and down all season too.
Which brings up flamethrower Corey Knebel, who is absolutely destroying Double-A hitters out of the bullpen. If the Tigers were to bring up youngsters Ray and Knebel to contribute to the bullpen as well as a healthy Joel Hanrahan, then it looks like the AL Central favorites all of a sudden figured out their bullpen woes.
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A bullpen that consists of Alburquerque, Nathan, Knebel, Hanrahan and Chamberlain from the right side plus Ray and Krol, who would form the lefty duo in the bullpen, could end up winning important games in the playoffs, if the Tigers were to qualify. Who would have thought that the bullpen could possibly look like that come September?
With the rotation being five-deep when healthy, the Tigers could also move either Rick Porcello or Drew Smyly into the bullpen for the playoffs as a long reliever or insurance for a poor start from the four-man playoff rotation. Not many bullpens can match up with all those arms the Tigers could possibly have.
Their are questions remaining with that scenario, though like can Knebel and Ray consistently contribute at the major league level? How healthy will Hanrahan be in a couple of months? The Tigers have time on their side as they extended their streak to eight games after Wednesday night’s victory over the Astros at Comerica Park.
For the Tigers to solve all their bullpen issues, bring up Ray and Knebel. This also allows the team to focus on other minor fixes they can make at the deadline such as a possible replacement for Torii Hunter in 2015 or a shortstop that can be more useful full-time.
For once, the bullpen seems like it could not be an issue come September. The signing of Hanrahan helped a lot, but bringing up the young guys to contribute to the team could help tremendously.