Though the Tampa Bay Rays have triumphed in 3 of the past 4 games, including a 5-4 win over the Washington Nationals on June 19, frustrating news continues to emerge with the surprise addition of Jeremy Hellickson to the disabled list.
With 9 players currently disabled, no element of the team has been spared. Despite 40% of the starting rotation being sidelined, it is the lingering absence of Evan Longoria that has most limited the means of Tampa Bay.
And news is not improving.
Longoria has been out since April 30 with a torn left hamstring, which was expected to require 6-8 weeks to heal. Nearing the outer range of that assessment, the slugger was sent to rehabilitate with the minor league Durham Bulls over the weekend.
After participation in a pair of games, the 3 time All-Star hit a road block that promptly ended the assignment. Experiencing discomfort from the injury, Longoria instead was summoned to Washington to enable the big league training staff to monitor his progress.
Typical of the modern era, the player took to Twitter to ease worries that he re-injured his hamstring. Longoria noted, "[It] wasn't a re-injury, just felt some discomfort and didn't want to end up doing further harm."
That theory makes sense, as the Rays' resources are superior to anything on the minor league level. If Longoria cannot suit up, it is better that he work directly under the team's trainers.
However, even a slight setback is frustrating because of the 3rd baseman's value to the offense. As Carlos Pena struggles with a .204 batting average and Ben Zobrist sits not much higher at .233, the squad lacks a consistent power threat. Additionally, light hitting fill-ins like Will Rhymes and Sean Rodriguez have proven ineffective replacements.
Were Longo's absence extended, many would argue the club must seek a trade to bolster the line-up. Yet, with simultaneous injuries to the pitching staff, depth is no longer an unquestioned asset.
Hoping to calm worst-case scenario fears, Longoria told WENG Radio's Rich Spedaliere, "I will be back, just not today or tomorrow."
Optimistic readers may hope that suggests a return the day after tomorrow, but the 3rd baseman is likely sidelined through the end of the month. Even if discomfort passes, Longoria certainly faces an additional rehab assignment to find his swing.
While no injury has been more punishing than Longoria's hamstring, the loss of Jeremy Hellickson proves noteworthy. The 2011 Rookie of the Year yielded 8 earned runs in a 9-6 loss to the New York Mets on June 14. The performance was Hellickson's worst of the season, in which he possesses a 4-3 record and 3.45 ERA.
The 25 year-old was scheduled to pitch against Washington, but instead is sidelined by shoulder soreness. X-rays fortunately proved negative and it is hoped that rest can heal the pitcher after as little as 2 missed starts.
With no reason to tempt fate early in the campaign, this appears prudent. Nevertheless, the loss of Hellickson ends an interesting streak that highlighted the success of Tampa Bay's pitching.
In a testament to the franchise's top-notch scouting and management, for the past 231 contests, the Rays have exclusively employed starting pitchers that the club itself drafted -- including Hellickson, David Price, James Shields, Matt Moore, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, Alex Cobb, and Andy Sonnanstine.
Not since Matt Garza in the 2010 A.L. Division Series has a hurler from outside the vaunted farm system tossed the team's first pitch.
Getting the call for Wednesday's contest, 23 year-old Chris Archer will make his major league debut against the Nationals. Ironically, Archer was traded for Garza by the Chicago Cubs in a deal that brought 5 players to the Rays' organization in 2011. He has become a well-regarded prospect and gone 3-2 with a 2.48 ERA in his last 6 starts for Durham.
Nobody wants Hellickson to miss time, but mid-season rest rarely proves negative. Furthermore, not only is this a well-timed audition, it is also a chance to showcase Archer, who will oppose phenom Stephen Strasburg.
After all, Archer could potentially serve as trade bait for an improved infield bat, if Longoria's absence becomes prolonged.
Yahoo! Sports, Twitter.com, Baseball-reference.com, Newsobserver.com.
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