Rays kept rotation depth, so Davis goes to bullpen

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The decision the Rays made Tuesday was the obvious one, when they sent Wade Davis to the bullpen and named Jeff Niemann as their fifth starter.

The more significant decision was made a while back, when the Rays opted to keep all six of their potential starting pitchers.

Plenty of people thought they wouldn't. As far back as last September, I remember listening to rival scouts and executives suggest that the Rays would either deal Davis or Niemann, or even go for the bigger strike and trade James Shields for what no doubt could have been a significant offensive return.

I also remember listening to Rays general manager Andrew Friedman say he didn't really want to move anyone, because for a financially limited team like the Rays, rotation depth was crucial.

The Rays can't afford to get caught short in the rotation, Friedman explained, because they can't afford to go and buy a starting pitcher if they suddenly need one.

Friedman and the Rays did consider moving a starter, but it never happened. Instead, the Rays addressed their lineup questions through the free-agent market, signing both Luke Scott and Carlos Pena.

"Andrew was able to get what we needed, without losing our depth," manager Joe Maddon said. "That was great."

The Rays told Davis that they still see him as a starter, and they said he took the move well. They also said that they see Davis becoming an important part of their bullpen, even though the back end is already set with Kyle Farnsworth, Fernando Rodney, Joel Peralta and J.P. Howell.

If this were last spring, when the Rays' bullpen was much more uncertain, they might have been talking about Davis as a late-game option.

The Rays are left with a rotation of Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Moore and Niemann. All are under 30 except Shields, who turned 30 in December and on opening day will break the Rays' major-league record 764-game streak of games started by pitchers under 30.

"The streak was wonderful," Maddon said. "But we made that streak while we were winning. It's a pretty significant achievement, but people don't finish the sentence. We did that, and we won."

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