Rays' fifth-starter competition down to four

Odorizzi, Karns, Bedard, Ramos still in running to shore up back end of rotation

Rays' fifth-starter competition down to four

TAMPA, Fla. -- When Enny Romero and Alex Colome were optioned to Minor League camp on Saturday, the Rays could have made the announcement that the competition for the fifth spot in the rotation is now down to four.

Still standing are right-handers Jake Odorizzi and Nathan Karns and left-handers Erik Bedard and Cesar Ramos.

Rays manager Joe Maddon did not sound like they would be making a final decision any time soon, though.

"You look at each one individually," Maddon said. "Let's say Odorizzi. Here's a guy vying for a job and he's out there working on a new pitch. It's a beautiful thing. And now he's made some progress with that."

Maddon was referencing the changeup that Odorizzi has been working on under the watchful eye of Alex Cobb. The pitch has been such a success that it's been called "The Thing" by others.

Karns came to the Rays in a trade with the Nationals.

"Karns had a little bit of a setback the other day [general soreness]," Maddon said. "He came back and was throwing the ball well, kept the ball down. And Bedard had a nice outing his last time out.

"Bedard's velocity came up a little bit. Odorizzi's developing this other pitch. And Karns is just kind of interesting the way he throws the ball hard and down. That's what I've focused on with all three."

Maddon noted that "it's hard to really look at it as a performance race."

"You just have to look under the hood a little bit," Maddon said. "Who do you think is going to play the best in the Major Leagues this year? And you probably will make that particular call at that moment, and knowing that your Triple-A team is going to be pretty thick in regards to replacements.

"But if a guy gives up a couple of hits, walks a guy, guy bloops a ball in, I'm not really worried about it."

Ramos would likely return to the long-relief role if he does not come away the winner, but what happens if Ramos wins? Would Odorizzi become the de facto long man?

"More than likely you'd have [Odorizzi] start [at Triple-A Durham]," Maddon said. "There's certain guys you don't want to retard their development. Guys like Odorizzi, let's just say that pitch is coming along. You don't want to put him in the bullpen pitching sporadically. And when he comes out of the bullpen, he won't want to throw it anyway. So guys like that you definitely want to place back in Triple-A.

"Think about it the last couple of years. [Alex] Cobb goes back, gets sent back, 20 starts and Cobb becomes very good. And [Chris] Archer the same thing. Going back to Triple-A is not an awful thing either at the beginning of the year as you're starting to get things together. You're going to need help from those guys at some point."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.