Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey was on WDAE 620 this morning, and he dropped a little nugget of information to anyone that was paying attention. While the Rays won’t officially announce their pitching rotation for the playoffs until this afternoon, Hickey stated that Jeff Niemann is going to start Game One.
Before you start running for the hills, remember that Jeff Niemann has some of the best peripherals on the Rays’ staff; even though his ERA is higher, there’s reason to believe he’s a more solid bet going forward for success than Jeremy Hellickson. Niemann has a 4.13 FIP and 3.64 SIERA, while Hellickson has a 4.44 FIP and 4.63 SIERA. If we’re going to give Hellickson the benefit of the doubt and a spot in the postseason rotation, we should give Niemann one too.
Of course, though, Niemann has one big problem: he’s hit or miss. When he’s on, he can lull teams to sleep with his quiet efficiency and mow down teams with his curveball. But when Niemann is off — and with such a big frame and such a fragile body, he frequently is — you don’t want him anywhere near the mound.
In September, Niemann had two great starts where he limited the opposing team to only two runs, but he also had two starts where he lasted five innings and allowed five runs or more. Both of those bad starts were against Texas.
The Rays will surely have Niemann on a quick hook, with rookie Matt Moore waiting in the wings in case he struggles. And with Niemann starting, it takes all the national attention away from Moore and hopefully allows him to prepare for the game with less pressure. Can you imagine the sort of attention he’d get if he, as a rookie with one career start, got slotted in as the starter for Game One? Madness.
That said, I’d still prefer to hear that the Rays were starting Moore in Game One, simply because I think he’s one of the best pitchers on our team right now. I can content myself with this news, though, and with the knowledge/hope that the Rays will pull Niemann at the very first sign of trouble.