The Tampa Bay Rays finally decided on their fifth starter Saturday, tabbing rookie right-hander and Highland High School graduate Jake Odorizzi for their rotation.
In a story on the team's website tampabayrays.mlb.com, Rays manager Joe Maddon said it was a "very difficult" choice after a great competition, but what put Odorizzi over the top was his "body of work," from his performance in September to his new pitch, a split/changeup, which "has been spectacular."
Odorizzi, 23, who had trouble sleeping Friday night and didn't find out until after Saturday's game, was emotional over the news.
"It's incredible. It's kind of indescribable right now," said Odorizzi on tampabayrays.mlb.com. "I feel honored to be picked out of the three, because any one of us could've gotten it."
Odorizzi is replacing Jeremy Hellickson, who will likely miss the first two months after January elbow surgery. Maddon said Ramos, a late-developing candidate, made it "very, very hard" on them with an impressive spring. Maddon said Ramos might pitch in higher-leverage moments in the bullpen and still could start if need be.
Tampa's starting rotation will include David Price, Matt Moore, Chris Archer and Alex Cobb along with Odorizzi.
Maddon said Odorizzi, considered by many to be the organization's top prospect, showed a lot in the last of his five big-league stints last year, with a 1.04 ERA in his final four appearances, including two starts.
Odorizzi came to Tampa Bay in a December, 2012 trade from Kansas City that also included Wil Meyers.
Odorizzi is 0-2 in his major league career with a 4.14 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 37 innings over nine appearances with the Royals and Rays.
Last season he was 0-1 with a 3.94 ERA in four starts and seven appearances.
This spring, the team wanted him to develop his split/change, taught to him by Cobb, a pitch Odorizzi believes can be a "huge weapon."
"It's taken me to a different level in a short amount of time," he said.
Left-hander Cesar Ramos will go back to the bullpen. The team hops veteran lefty Erik Bedard will stay with the organization at Triple-A Durham, but he'll first explore other big-league opportunities prior to the March 31 opt-out date of his minor-league deal.
Maddon told Bedard before the game that he wasn't getting picked but that the club thought he fit into its culture and would like to keep him. Bedard seemed open to it after Friday's start but will check out his options. "He's still a Ray as of right now," Maddon said.
Odorizzi and Ramos didn't find out their fates until around 6 p.m., both anxiously waiting in the clubhouse until the postgame meetings.
"It was a prolonged day," Odorizzi said. "But it was worth it in the end."