No. 5 Starter Watch: Rays

Well, the Rays are the latest club to choose their No. 5 starter and everyone's favorite super-control pitcher is on the outs. Marc Topkin:

    The discomfort in J.P. Howell's left shoulder was obvious Wednesday — on Andy Sonnanstine's face.

    With Howell, their top setup man, out at least a month, the Rays didn't have much choice but to give the fifth spot in the rotation to rookie Wade Davis. And the runner-up prize of the long-relief job wasn't much consolation to Sonnanstine.

    "A little disappointed," he said. "It's a tough one to swallow."

    Sonnanstine said repeatedly he was ready, willing and able to do what he could to embrace his new role, but his cautiousness was clear. He has limited experience in the bullpen (four big-league appearances, 10 in Class A) and questions about how much and how often he'll be able to pitch, what changes to make to his workout routine and how to handle the late-game situations.

    "I feel like I've been a starter most of my life, I feel more confident as a starter, I feel like I'm a better pitcher as a starter," he said. "This is something that being a team guy, I really want to dive into and start learning. ... Hopefully the learning curve isn't too big."

    With Howell out and prospects to replace him externally uncertain, the Rays felt it necessary to make the decision now. They wanted time for Davis, who has had a rough spring, to get stretched out, and straightened out, and Sonnanstine working on the requisite adjustments.

    "The competition would have continued had J.P. not been injured," manager Joe Maddon said.

(Don't worry about the learning curve, Andy ... Just go out there for an inning at a time and throw harder than you usually do. You'll be amazed at how easy it is when you don't have to throw more than 25 or 30 pitches.)

Maybe someone can explain the logic here: Because Howell's going to miss a few weeks, the Rays need to turn a starting pitcher into (presumably) a long reliever, and their choice is the veteran starter who's pitched well this month, rather than the rookie who's been struggling?

Actually, there's something admirable about this. Sonnanstine and Davis have combined for 18 2/3 innings this spring, and I generally frown upon decisions made on the weak shoulders of 18 2/3 innings.

On the other hand, it's pretty clear that Sonnanstine doesn't have much of a future with the Rays. Not with Davis moving up and Jeremy Hellickson right behind him. On the organizational depth chart, Sonnanstine now ranks seventh or eighth among the starting pitchers, and maybe this is simply management's way of easing him out of the picture.