Brian Anderson Q&A: Rays need offensive spark, healthy pitchers

Alex Cobb is the latest Tampa Bay Rays starter to be sidelined with an injury.

Kim Klement/Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Two storylines have emerged early in this Tampa Bay Rays season: Pitching injuries and a prolonged offensive spell.

Left-hander Matt Moore has chosen to have Tommy John ligament replacement surgery, and he’s expected to be out about a year. On Sunday, right-hander Alex Cobb was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left oblique strain. Those developments followed the absence of right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, who has been out since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow in January.  

Meanwhile, the Rays’ offense needs a jolt. Through 16 games, they ranked 29th in the majors with a .221 batting average. They were tied for 27th in runs scored with 47. They had been shut out three times.

Sun Sports color analyst Brian Anderson touched on those topics and more in a recent conversation.

FOX SPORTS FLORIDA: The Rays’ hitting woes have been a hot topic of late. What’s the cause of the problem?

ANDERSON: I don’t really know what the cause of it is. I do know this: It seems like every season, at some point, you go through a stretch like that. And sometimes, it’s an extended stretch of time where the pitching, the offense — one or the other, sometimes both — just really have a hard time. When you play 162 games in anything within a six-month span, you’re going to have bad stretches. I do know that they’€™re more magnified when they have them at the beginning of the year and when they happen at the end of the year. This obviously happens to be right at the beginning — a team with high expectations that had a very good spring training and was pretty good with the bats the first week of the season. But since then, they haven’t done so much. So it’s going to be something that is on the front of everybody’s mind. It seems like one guy will have a nice game, sometimes two, but everybody else doesn’t do much that night. They’ve just not been able to put it together consistently enough to score runs. And right now, it has been very piecemeal.

FSF: Who must lead offensively to help the Rays snap out of their skid?

ANDERSON: Not to lift the whole group — I think certainly that him snapping out of it is going to help tremendously — but I think we’re all looking for Wil Myers to break out of his little slump that he’s in right now. He had that very good day on Opening Day — three hits. Listen, this guy is a hitter. He knows how to hit. He’€™s going to be a very good hitter for a long time. But then it seemed after that (Opening Day), things started to slide a little bit. I know that when he went back to Kansas City, the start of the road trip didn’t go very well for him. Then you started to see him vacillate in his approach. He started swinging at a lot of first pitches, going outside of the strike zone. And listening to his comments, he said I’m trying different approaches right now and nothing is working. I think that has led to some frustration, and it has led to him expanding his strike zone. I think we’re all waiting for him to back out of it. On the plus side, I think that the opening game of the Yankees series (on Thursday), you maybe saw some signs of him starting to come out of it. He was 0 for 2, but he hit two balls hard — line drive to left field that Ichiro Suzuki made a nice play on, and he took a couple walks. He took a borderline fastball in a full count. I think that that’s a pitch that, a couple days ago, he swings at for strike three or hits a little pop-up off of it, because it was off the plate away, but it was close. And to see him take those two walks and hit a couple balls hard, you start to say, "OK, maybe he’s starting to get his strike zone under control." And once he’s able to do that, you’re going to see more consistent hard contact and better results.

FSF: Left-hander Matt Moore has chosen to have Tommy John ligament replacement surgery. What’s your opinion on his decision to do that? What kind of pitcher do you expect him to be when he comes back next year?

ANDERSON: To answer the first question, I absolutely agree with it. I think that with all of the doctors, all the very bright minds in that field — the Rays’ training staff, which in my opinion is the best in Major League Basebal … that they were very cautious in their approach and they were very thorough in their investigation of this injury compared to past MRIs. And I think you get down to the end of it, it was something that was going to happen sooner or later. He maybe could have tried to rehab it, strengthen the area and come back later in the year. And he maybe would have been good for one or two starts before it completely went, and he was going to have the surgery anyway. So I think the right choice was made, absolutely. His body is still young, so I would expect him to come back and really not miss a beat. I would be shocked if he was anything less than what we would expect him to be. There’s a long road to go and a lot of hurdles that need to be cleared. But I think that because of his pride, his work ethic and the people around him, he’s going to give himself the best chance.

FSF: With all the injuries to key rotation members — Moore, Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson — how much strain does that reality put on people like David Price and Chris Archer?

ANDERSON: I think that it can be a strain. I don’t think that it should be. And I don’t think that it will be. I think some guys can think, "Maybe I need to do a little bit more." But I think when you’re talking about David Price, Chris Archer, guys at the top of that rotation — listen, every time they go out, they want to do more, they want to go nine (innings), they want to record 27 outs. They can’t do anything more than that. So ultimately, I don’t think it affects them at all. They’re going to go about their business the same way. What it is going to do — as you get towards the back end of that rotation and the guys that are going to be filling in — it presents them with an opportunity. This was the whole reason that (Rays executive vice president of baseball operations) Andrew Friedman and his staff started to put together some depth this winter with bringing in an Erik Bedard and strengthening the minor-league pitching staff. Jake Odorizzi, who now is in a prominent role, comes via a trade. So it just creates other opportunities for guys to do their thing. The reason that they’re in that position is because Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon felt that they were ready to go. You never go through a season with just five starting pitchers. So you need to have another two, three, four guys who can come to the major league level and win ball games. And you expect them to win ball games. You don’t look at them as a call-up. Certainly, the Rays’ depth is being tested right now. But I think the team and the players themselves fully expect good results.

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FSF: How much do you expect new rotation members Erik Bedard and Cesar Ramos to grow? Do you think they’re feeling pressure now, given that they’re thrust into this situation with some of the main starters out?

ANDERSON: I’m sure they are. I wouldn’t say "pressure," but they’re feeling like, "Hey listen, we’re being counted on heavily. We’re no longer pitchers that are on the fringe, the guys that are competing for the fifth-starter (job) in spring training. We’ve been thrust right into the middle of it." But you know what? Erik Bedard has been there. This is a veteran pitcher. He’s got over 200 starts in the big leagues. So he fully understands these games and what they mean. And Cesar Ramos has been champing at the bit for this opportunity for a long time. So while I think that it’s possible that these guys could feel a little bit of extra pressure — number one, one of them has been there done that for a long time and the other one has been begging for this chance for a long time. So I think that you’re going to get their very best, and I don’t think they’re going to allow the moment to become too big for them.

FSF: A lot of Rays talk has been concentrated on the offensive problems and pitching injuries. But do you see any silver linings with this team? What are some positives?

ANDERSON: The Rays, as a general rule, they’re a resilient bunch. They’re smart. They’re resilient. They play the game hard. They play the game the right way. They’re in a tough spell right now. I fully expect them to break out of it. Hopefully, that starts here in this Yankees series. Number two, look around. Look around the American League. As of the end of play on Thursday, there were 12 teams out of the 15 in the American League that had at least seven losses. So everybody is kind of in the same boat. Nobody is really running away with anything. No one has pulled out there with a 13-3 start and all of the sudden you’re seven games back in a very tough division. Everybody is right there — seven losses, eight losses, between six and nine losses. They’re right in the mix with everybody else. A couple of games here, a couple of games there, and they could find themselves right back at the top of the division. They’re a resilient bunch and kind of right in the middle of the pack with everybody else. I think that at the end of the day, they’€™re going to be just fine.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.