Rays Still Looking For More Pitching (www.mlb.com)

General manager Erik Neander said that, in an ideal world, Archer will pitch every fifth day like a typical starter. They committed $6.5 million to the veteran right-hander with that role in mind. But Archer told Neander that he’s willing to do whatever manager Kevin Cash asks of him.

“He’s made that very clear. That’s not anything that we had to pull out of him,” Neander said. “It was a matter of him saying, ‘Look, if you need me to bulk, if you want to put someone in front of me — whatever can help this team win games, that’s what I’m about. Just to get back there, to be with that group and be part of a winning club is all that really matters to me right now.’”

Neander said Tampa Bay will need that “team-first, selfless” attitude out of a lot of pitchers to get through this uniquely challenging season. The Rays played 80 games last year, 60 in the regular season plus 20 in the playoffs, and now face a 162-game schedule — plus, they hope, another month in the postseason. And they parted with two of their most experienced starters by declining Charlie Morton’s option and trading Blake Snell to the Padres.

It simply isn’t reasonable to expect pitchers to double their workloads and all stay healthy, so the Rays are trying to build a deep group of starters, bulk-inning pitchers and multi-inning relievers to get through the season.

“This is going to be unprecedented. What disruptions, the doubleheaders — who knows what we’re truly going to be up against,” Neander said. “Having flexibility with your group and having them aligned in that goal of winning to do whatever it takes is going to be huge.”

With that in mind, Neander acknowledged that the Rays are still open to adding starters or bulk-inning pitchers via free agency or trades before Opening Day.

“It’s still something we feel is important. You have to find the right players with the right motivations and incentives to make it all work, because we don’t know exactly what we’re going to be up against and how it’s all going to fit together,” Neander said. “I think we just recognize that we need a lot more innings. This [addition of Archer] certainly helps, but we probably still need more innings to feel good about this thing and to make sure we’re not asking too much of any one individual person. But we also don’t know exactly what that looks like.”

The Rays already have a number of starting/bulk-inning options on their roster. Tyler Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough, Michael Wacha and Archer seem like locks to play important roles. Josh Fleming pitched well as a rookie last year. Shane McClanahan and Luis Patiño are young arms who could factor into that mix. Brendan McKay and Brent Honeywell Jr. are intriguing prospects who’ve dealt with recent injury issues. Trevor Richards has experience as a starter.

They’ve also been linked to veteran left-hander Rich Hill, with WEEI recently reporting the Rays are one of three teams with “significant interest.”

Corresponding move
The Rays cleared a spot on their 40-man roster for Archer on Monday night by

to the Angels for a player to be named later or cash considerations. Slegers pitched well for the Rays last year, and he’s the kind of versatile multi-inning pitcher who could be useful this year given the challenges Neander mentioned above.

For that reason, Neander admitted the Rays arrived “not all that easily” at the decision to move Slegers. The GM said they considered a variety of moves that would have created the necessary space on their roster.

“I wish I had a better explanation above and beyond that we just felt like that was the one that made the most sense out of a handful that were frankly pretty close for us,” Neander said. “Wish Aaron nothing but the best with L.A. Think the world of him. The growth that he’s made over the last couple of years has been remarkable, and I expect him to continue to build on it as he moves forward here.”

The Rays’ roster crunch is exacerbated by the lack of a 60-day injured list in the offseason, forcing them to carry a handful of pitchers who won’t appear much or at all this year. (Yonny Chirinos, Jalen Beeks and Colin Poche, for instance, all had Tommy John surgery last summer.) That will change early in Spring Training, when the club can free up space by transferring those players to the 60-day IL.

Record chasing?
If Archer only plays out his one-year contract before leaving, he won’t catch James Shields for the Rays’ all-time starts (217 to 177), innings (1,454 2/3 to 1,063) or wins (87 to 54) records. But he could push his name to the top of the franchise’s all-time strikeouts leaderboard.

Archer will enter the season with 1,146 strikeouts for Tampa Bay. Shields holds the franchise record, with 1,250. So he needs 104 strikeouts to tie Shields and 105 to claim the record. He’s averaged 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings during his career, and he’d have to pitch about 97 innings at that rate to surpass Shields this season.

That isn’t on Archer’s mind as he rejoins the Rays, obviously, but he acknowledged the possibility and what it would mean.

“I’m not going to be counting down. Having any record with a pitching-rich organization is something that is special, and the Rays are definitely pitching-rich,” Archer said. “They still are. They always have been since James Shields was on the team. He kind of started the whole mantra of pitching deep into ballgames and all that cool stuff.”

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