The Rays’ Five Greatest Pitchers
David Price (2008-2014)
The tall (6’6”) and imposing southpaw from Tennessee was highly touted when he arrived on the major league scene late in the Rays’ magical 2008 American League championship campaign and showed that he indeed was an ace for opponents to contend with in the future. Sure enough, within two years, Price would be the starting pitcher for the AL All-Star team.
With a blazing fastball clocked high in the 90s, Price appeared in five games late in 2008 and authored a 1.93 earned run average; in five more relief appearances that postseason, he allowed just one earned run in 5.2 innings of work—winning Game Two of the ALCS against Boston and saving the clinching seventh game to send the Rays to the World Series.
After a lackluster sophomore effort (10-7, 4.42 ERA) in 2009, Price in 2010 rose to the level anticipated by many, taking 19 of 25 decisions with a fine 2.72 ERA and finishing second in the AL Cy Young vote behind Seattle’s Felix Hernandez. Two years later, he did one better with 20 wins (against five losses) to become the Rays’ first-ever 20-game winner—and was second to none in the Cy count, becoming the first Tampa Bay player to be so bestowed.
It is assumed that the Derek Jeter is not on Price’s Christmas card list; the New York Yankees’ star shortstop not only hit a home run for the first major league hit off of Price, but in 2011 stroked his 3,000th career hit—also a home run—off of Price.
Price’s dominant reign with the Rays came to an end in 2014 when he was dealt to Detroit at the trading deadline. The exit was hardly a shock; Price had little more than a year left on his contract and the budget-strapped Rays knew they had no chance of paying massive sums of money to keep him afterward.
James Shields (2006-2012)
Despite some inconsistent success on the mound in terms of efficiency, one thing was certainly counted on from the big right-hander: He was always be there to take the ball, having labored six straight years with 200-plus innings per season, leading to the nickname Big Game James. No other pitcher in Tampa Bay history has ever topped 200 innings three times while with the team.
A tough, loyal thrower, Shields began his run of productivity in 2007 with a 12-8 record that was all the more impressive considering the Rays were in the final throes of their lost, losing years. When the Rays snapped out of it in 2008 and stunned the AL with a pennant, Shields was there—winning 14, losing eight and fielding a 3.56 ERA in 215 innings. He also showed the more free-spending foes of the AL East that the Rays were not to be intimidated, instigating a brawl at Boston’s Fenway Park when he threw a retaliatory pitch at the Red Sox’ Coco Crisp, leading to a six-game suspension. Shields won the only game for the Rays in their five-game World Series defeat to Philadelphia, tossing 5.2 shutout innings in Game Two at St. Petersburg.
Over the next two years, Shields continued to rack up the innings but his performance slid, suggesting that his arm might be a victim of overuse. In 2010, no AL pitcher gave up more home runs (34) or runs (128) than Shields; he tied a dubious AL mark that season when he gave up six homers in one game at Toronto. But he came roaring back to life in 2011, ratcheting up the innings to a career-high 249.1 and leading the league with 11 complete games and four shutouts en route to a 16-12 mark and solid 2.82 ERA.
In a sign that business trumps everything else in baseball, the Rays sent the popular Shields—with two years still remaining on his contract—to Kansas City after 2013 in a move that sent highly-prized prospect (and 2013 AL Rookie of the Year) Wil Myers to Tampa Bay.
Scott Kazmir (2004-09)
The slight (170 lbs.) southpaw was the first legitimate superior pitching talent for Tampa Bay, but his constant fragility ruined any chance for long-term stardom with the Rays.
The Houston native was originally New York Mets property, but the team dealt him to the Devil Rays for veteran Victor Zambrano in 2004, enraging New York fans over what promise they had lost in Kazmir. Before the rise of Price, Shields and Jeremy Hellickson, Kazmir was the only reliable pitching talent in the Tampa Bay rotation, and he proved that by producing four straight winning records from 2005-08—the first three years of which were done with distinctly losing teams. In 2006 at the age of 22, he became the youngest pitcher to start an Opening Day game in 20 years, and within just a few years he was the franchise career holder in many pitching departments. Kazmir’s most dominant campaign took place in 2006, when he finished 13-9 with an AL-leading 239 strikeouts for a Tampa Bay team that wrapped at 66-96.
Kazmir had a mixed performance in the 2008 postseason for the Rays. He won his only playoff game in the ALDS against the Chicago White Sox, following that up with two no-decisions in the ALCS against Boston; in the World Series, Kazmir lost Game One and was roughed up in the fifth and final rain-delayed game that gave the Phillies the world title.
By 2009, major velocity loss in his fastball coupled with high pitch counts led to severe ineffectiveness, forcing the Rays to trade Kazmir to Los Angeles of Anaheim—where he only got worse before performing an impressive rebound in the mid-2010s.
Roberto Hernandez (1998-2000)
The big, robust Puerto Rican-born closer signed a free agent deal to become an original member of the Devil Rays in 1998, spending the first three years in Tampa Bay and saving 101 games—still a franchise record—and giving a veteran assurance to a team that had little else in the way of solid pitching.
Hernandez probably would have been more popular at the Tropicana Dome had he pitched better there; his home ERA of 4.22 with the Devil Rays was in stark contrast to a 2.51 mark on the road. His best year overall came in 1999, when he saved 43 games for a Tampa team that only won 69; his total served as the Rays’ season record until Rafael Soriano bested it by two in 2010.
Traded after 2000, Hernandez underwhelmed for a few years as closer in Kansas City, then finished off his career for a number of teams through 2007 as a middle reliever or set-up man.
Hernandez is not to be confused with a namesake who previously went by the name Fausto Carmona and began a tour of duty for the Rays in 2013.
Matt Garza (2008-10)
The Rays’ 2008 run to the AL pennant likely wouldn’t have been possible without the presence of the tall right-handed Garza, who came with infielder Jason Bartlett in a crucial trade that sent disgruntled Delmon Young to Minnesota and dramatically approved team chemistry by rounding out two weak spots on the team roster. Garza’s value was reaffirmed in the postseason when he was named the ALCS MVP, winning both of his starts (including the winner-take-all Game Seven) against Boston to help lift the Rays to the World Series.
Garza’s best season with the Rays occurred in 2010 when he won a career-high 15 games and, on July 26 at home against Detroit, became the first player in franchise history to throw a no-hitter when he blanked the Tigers, walking one and facing the minimum 27 batters. Still, the Rays traded him at the end of the year to the Chicago Cubs in an eight-player deal.
Tampa Bay Rays Team History: Year-by year records, statistics and an oral history of the Rays, decade by decade.
The Rays' Five Greatest Hitters: A list of the five greatest hitters based on their productivity and efficiency.
The Rays' Five Greatest Games: A list of five memorable games and other notable personal achievements that have defined the Rays' history.
How did This Great Game determine the list of the Rays' five greatest hitters? Find out here.
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