With starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez on the 15-day DL, the Detroit Tigers have decided to bring top prospect Robbie Ray up to fill his spot in the starting rotation.
Ray, acquired from the Washington Nationals over the offseason in a trade that sent Doug Fister to the nation’s capital, has quickly become the Tigers’ most prized pitching prospect.
In five starts with the Triple A Toledo Mud Hens this season, Ray is 3-2 with a 1.59 ERA. Aside from one poor start where Ray allowed three runs over four innings, he has been dominant. He hasn’t allowed a run in his previous two starts, lasting 8.1 and five innings respectively. In those two starts, Ray has struck out 12 batters while allowing just one walk.
Ray was the Tigers’ only real option to fill the role at the moment. He currently leads the Mud Hens in wins and is just one of two Mud Hens starters with an ERA below 4.00. Duane Below is the other starter with an ERA below 4.00, at 3.79, but he has struggled with his command, walking 15 batters in four starts.
Jose Alvarez would likely have been the man called up ahead of Ray, but he was traded during Spring Training as the Tigers looked for a replacement shortstop.
What Ray provides the Tigers with is a low risk, high reward option. Ray is just 22 years old and has a long career ahead of him. If he falters in his first couple outings, the Tigers can send him back down to Triple A for him to mature. But if Ray succeeds, he could assume a permanent role in the rotation which would strengthen the staff as a whole.
Drew Smyly is currently the fifth starter, but if Ray shows he is big league ready, Smyly could shift back to the bullpen where he was so effective last season. The bullpen has been the weak link for the Tigers this season and Smyly’s presence could be used there.
The Tigers see Smyly as a starter and would like to keep him in that role, but Ray could force them to change their mind in order to improve the team.
Is it likely that Ray sticks with the Tigers in his first stint? No, but the Tigers would have been foolish to not give him a shot after his strong start to 2014.