Who Should Replace Niemann?

By: Chris Dommermuth

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jeff Niemann was placed on the 15-day disabled list Tuesday and is said to be out 4-6 weeks after being struck by a ball in the first inning of his start Monday against the Toronto Blue Jays. An MRI later showed a fracture in Niemann’s leg.

Niemann was seen in the clubhouse Tuesday on crutches borrowed from the Toronto Raptors. The 6’9″ Niemann needed special, extra long, crutches that niether the Rays nor Blue Jays had available.

The Rays have been absolutely ravaged with injuries this season. In spite of the 8 players placed on the DL, the Rays currently sit tied for first place with the Balitmore Orioles in the American League East.

For the time being, the Rays have called up reliever Josh Lueke from Triple-A Durham. Lueke has a rough first stint with the Rays this season, allowing 7 earned runs in just 2 1/3 innings in 2 games. He was brought up to provide a much needed fresh arm for a bullpen that had just got done pitching 8 innings in relieve of Niemann.

With Niemann out of the rotation for at least a month an a half, what do the Rays do now?

Well to start, lets go over the possibilities and when the spot needs to be replaced. The Rays use a 5-man rotation that gives them until Saturday to set their roster in time to replace Niemann’s spot in the rotation.

The three legitimate contenders are minor-leaguers Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, or currently on the roster, (but in the bullpen) Wade Davis.

Davis obviously has the most experience as a starter, but Joe Maddon has said that he’d like to keep Davis in the bullpen. He has started 29 games in each of the last two seasons but has excelled out of the bullpen this season posting a 2.04 ERA in 17 innings.

I believe Maddon would like Davis to continue working at his new role and doesn’t want to interrupt his growth and yank him back and forth between the rotation and bullpen. I think the Rays look at Davis as a future back of the bullpen guy and no longer as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher.

“Probably it’s going to come from the minor-league area,” Maddon said.

The replacement is likely to come from the minors (as I’ve heard above). If there’s a team that has the depth to have more than one of it’s 5 previous season starters on th DL, and another to the pen and still be alright, it’s the Rays.

Chris Archer was most recently awarded with the International pitcher of the week. Archer has had trouble with consistency in finding the strike zone all of his career, this season hasn’t been any different.

Archer has issued 28 walks in just 42 innings this season with a 4.71 ERA. He does have 40 strikeouts over that same span, so the ability is their, but I believe Archer still needs sometime in the majors to work on his accuracy.

The situation that would make the most sense is to bring Alex Cobb up to replace Niemann this Saturday. Cobb’s next scheduled start would be Saturday, which mean the Rays wont have to shuffle their rotation and can plug him in without skipping a beat.

Cobb has somewhat struggled this season at Durham with a 1-4 record and a 4.14 ERA in 8 starts. During two stints with the Rays last season Cobb went 3-2 with a 3.42 ERA in 9 starts.

The 23-yr. old has the most polished stuff of anyone in the Rays minor league system. I do believe Archer has more potential as a top of the rotation guy then Cobb, but for now, Cobb is the guy the Rays should go with.

His below average stats this season have been partly a product of being rusty and coming back from an injury and a little bad luck. Cobb has been better then his stats have shown.

Bringing Cobb up just makes the most sense. You don’t have to reconstruct your bullpen and change roles by yanking Wade Davis out of it and you don;t have to pitch anyone on shorter rest then there used to for the rotation.

The Rays always seem to make moves that leave you scratching your head, and those usually work out. They’ve been known as the smartest organization at baseball, but this is a no-brainer. The Rays should promote Alex Cobb to take Niemann’s spot.

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