Kevin Cash’s recent questionable decisions stem from circumstance, not preference.
There are two beefs from Cash’s managing in the Toronto series (okay, some probably think there’s more than two, but these are the two worth examining). Let’s break them down.
1) Starting Erasmo Ramirez on Wednesday night
Though uninspiring, the truth is Ramirez is the best choice the Rays have to fill out their rotation.
In a typical season, Durham has an arm or two who can step into the majors on a whim. So far, this has not been a typical season. It seems the injury bug, perhaps the same that put four big-league starters on the shelf, infested Durham’s clubhouse during the spring. Enny Romero and Grayson Garvin are on the shelf, Burch Smith is out for the season, and Matt Andriese is in the majors already. The result is a Durham rotation staffed with organizational filler. Ramirez—who could be as low as the Rays’ ninth choice to occupy a rotation spot—is no great shakes, but it’s hard to place him below the likes of Everett Teaford, Scott Diamond, and Matt Buschmann.
Of course, another side to the argument is that keeping Mike Montgomery and putting him in the rotation would have been better.
There’s a line of thinking that, because a player has not failed in the majors, he has an unidentifiable range of probabilities—as if scouts have no chance whatsoever to peg a player’s most-likely outcome without seeing him in the majors. Most often, this argument is trotted out in support of non-prospect types who have passable minor-league statistics—most recently it was used with Allan Dykstra, who has since posted a 29 OPS+ in 20 plate appearances.
Sure enough, you can see why those more trusting of minor-league stats than scouts would prefer Montgomery. After all, he threw 86 innings last season, posting a 3.66 ERA and 5.15 strikeout-to-walk rate. But wait, those were actually Ramirez’s statistics from his 2014 stint in the PCL, the tougher league for pitchers. Montgomery, on the other hand, tossed 126 innings, posted a 4.29 ERA, and had a 2.04 strikeout-to-walk rate in the IL. Turns out, the best argument for keeping Montgomery over Ramirez invoked blind faith and little else.
This is not meant to bash Montgomery, who could in time turn into a solid relief arm. Merely to point out that much of the anger is a product of hindsight and unrealistic expectations rather than poor management.
2) Using Steve Geltz on Thursday night
It’s understandable why nobody would want Geltz pitching in high-leverage situations: he’s sloppy with his command and doesn’t make up for it with great stuff. Still, as with the rotation, Cash is working with few good choices. Ernesto Frieri and Grant Balfour have struggled for the past year-plus, Jeff Beliveau is more of a second lefty, and Jose Dominguez had been in the majors for 24 hours when Geltz entered the game. Cash cannot use Kevin Jepsen and Brad Boxberger every night—lest he get blamed in September for running his best relievers into the ground—hence the appearance from Geltz, who has been (arguably) Tampa Bay’s third-best reliever to date.
Obviously Cash’s plan didn’t work out—Geltz did his best to blow a four-run lead, forcing both Jepsen and Boxberger into the game anyway—but you can understand the thinking, and you can empathize with him. Oh, and you can hope Jake McGee gets well soon.
Cash has made some disagreeable decisions here and there—using Rene Rivera to pinch-hit when David DeJesus is in the bench, for instance—but realistically, he’s done as well as any manager could with a banged-up roster full of rookies. That Cash has done so in his first month as a big-league skipper bodes well, not only for his future, but for the future of whichever team he is placed in charge of.