Rays’ injuries open opportunities for Teaford, Andriese to make impression

Left-hander Everett Teaford (left) and right-hander Matt Andriese are fighting to earn a spot in the Tampa Bay Rays rotation.

SARASOTA, Fla. — These two dreamers entered the spring as afterthoughts to most.

These two dreamers were faces in the crowd to begin, lost in the shadows cast by Alex Cobb and Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly, Alex Colome and Nathan Karns.

These pitchers, left-hander Everett Teaford and right-hander Matt Andriese, now have a chance to make the most of the moment thanks to injuries, both propelled into a competition to earn a spot within the Tampa Bay Rays’ season-opening rotation in a development that almost no one with an active pulse saw coming a month ago.

Raise your hand if you predicted Teaford and Andriese, with a whopping eight regular-season starts in the major leagues between them, becoming relevant in a rotation race this spring?

Crickets? Well, it’s time to become acquainted.

"Spots have been opened up from unfortunate circumstances," said Teaford, who allowed one run and one hit in two innings during the Rays’ rain-shortened matchup against the Baltimore Orioles on Friday at Ed Smith Stadium. "But I think everybody has really stepped up. Andriese has thrown the ball great. Karns has thrown the ball great. This could be an unfortunate situation where the Rays really find out what they have in their system. And once those guys get back healthy, and if everybody continues to throw the ball pretty well, then look at your ‘problem,’ so to say."

Spring is a time for stories like this one. Sure, attention is paid to how stars rise from their winter hibernation and prep for the 162-game grind. Attention is paid to developing team chemistry and best guesses for the summer ahead. This is a time to let wonder run wild, with just about anything possible in March’s steamy heat.

But this is also a time to see if fresh faces can tackle opportunity if it charges at them like a 200-pound tailback. Injuries to Cobb (right forearm tendinitis), Smyly (left shoulder tendinitis) and Colome (pneumonia) have given Teaford and Andriese a chance to be considered for the Rays’ rotation. The race provides a welcome buzz in an otherwise laid-back, low-drama Tampa Bay camp outside of the health problems.

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Teaford, 30, is the "seasoned" of the two with a 3-5 record, a 4.25 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 45 appearances (eight starts) as part of the Kansas City Royals from 2011 to 2013. He was signed to a minor-league deal in January, after spending last year with the LG Twins of Korea Professional Baseball. He entered Friday with a 1-1 record, a 2.79 ERA and seven strikeouts in five appearances (one start) this spring.

Andriese, 25, is the green one with no regular-season major-league appearances. He has a 37-24 record with a 3.38 ERA and 407 strikeouts in 94 minor-league games (84 starts) from 2011 to 2014. He was acquired from the San Diego Padres in January 2014, and he’s 1-1 with a 1.10 ERA and 10 strikeouts in five appearances (three starts) this spring.

On the surface, both have given decent arguments for why they should survive to see a start within the rotation sometime next month. But a little taste of November may determine how Tampa Bay’s rotation looks by the start of April.

This is sports, but politics has a place.

See, Andriese is part of the Rays’ 40-man roster, and Teaford is on the outside looking in. Andriese is safe within the baseball equivalent of a crammed storm shelter, and Teaford is left to fend for himself on the outside. Even left-hander Mike Montgomery, another rotation hopeful who was thought to become comfortable in the bullpen, is part of the 40-man roster.

Will the Rays make room for Teaford?

Will he do enough to sway them?

It’s possible, but at a glance, it seems like Andriese and Montgomery have the better chance. Manager Kevin Cash gave rave reviews of Andriese’s start against the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday in Fort Myers, where the young pitcher allowed no runs, three hits and struck out six with one walk in five innings.

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"I thought Matt Andriese was outstanding," Cash said then. "Really good. Change-up seemed to be really good for him. You just didn’t see many strong swings against him. He kept guys off-balance."

And the competition? Andriese describes the whole thing like a Vegas vacation with college pals.

"All the guys I’m competing against are like my best buds," he said. "On the field, they’re your best friends. But if you go about your business the right way, all that stuff will take care of itself. It’s a fun competition."

It’s not often that "fun" is used for situations like this. But the word fits here, with Teaford and Andriese receiving a larger splash of the spotlight. Their presence has added intrigue.

Whatever the outcome, Teaford and Andriese will benefit from the added shine. They’ve made an impression. They’ve made others take notice.

For players trying to move and shake within an organization, that’s the most important thing. Ask Archer. Ask Odorizzi. Ask Kevin Kiermaier.

"We came into this spring probably with a bunch of guys competing for one spot," Cash said. "Now they’re competing for multiple. So it just adds more opportunity. And I think, at some point, whether it’s soon — Opening Day or whenever — we’re going to see a lot of these guys that are competing are going to help us throughout the course of the year."

Not long ago, Teaford and Andriese were dreamers. Now, they’re doers.

A big question remains: Will they accomplish enough to crack the rotation?

In the long run, the answer won’t matter. They’ll both have reasons to claim personal victory.

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