So the best decision in the fifth-starter competition between Jeff Niemann and Roberto Hernandez might be to not really make a decision and end up using both. Manager Joe Maddon said Saturday that they'll make their call by midweek, and whoever isn't picked will go to the bullpen. That's not much of a surprise, because Niemann's trade value isn't going to be very high after an unimpressive spring. And it makes the most sense given the Rays' ultimate goal, which is get the best 32 or 33 starts from that slot in the order. So begin the season with Hernandez, who offers the ability to log innings, which is helpful early in the season anyway and even more on a staff of young starters missing James Shields. Slot him between Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore to protect the bullpen depth if one or both comes up short. And have Niemann work occasionally out of the pen, building and conserving arm strength. Then if/when Hernandez struggles — his 33-48, 5.01 record from 2008-11 was among the game's worst, and he missed most of last season due to identity-fraud issues — flip them and turn to Niemann, who when healthy can run off a string of dazzling starts. The key to the plan is the bullpen not being overworked given the limited contributions Niemann or Hernandez can make. If the worst thing is that both are pitching well, and the rest of the rotation is healthy, they could deal one during the season, knowing they have Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi in reserve at Durham.
Rays may use Niemann, Hernandez in rotation
Tampa Bay Times | Mar 24