Now that the calender has flipped into May, it is getting closer to the time to begin to worry about certain members of the Rays. In fact, given the status of the bullpen in general, that time may already be here, at least in that aspect. As Robbie pointed out yesterday, only two relievers, Jamey Wright and Joel Peralta, have been reasonably close to reliable thus far this season.
Notice that neither of the names mentioned as being reliable thus far happened to be Fernando Rodney, and for very good reason. One year after his all time great season, he has already blown two saves to go along with his 5.06 ERA and has allowed 19 baserunners (ten hits and nine walks) in 10.2 innings this season. Aside from a slight uptick in strikeouts, Rodney has looked very much like the barely league average reliever he was from 2007 through 2011, when the Rays pulled him off the scrap heap and essentially resurrected his career.
So what has changed? In terms of pitch usage, Rodney essentially used his sinker and changeup majority of the time last year, while mixing in the odd fastball. His changeup was especially devastating, inducing a swing and miss 25.56% of the time. This year, however, he has gotten a swing a miss on the change only 15.5% of the time, while it is being fouled off at the same rate. However, he has not given up many hits on the changeup, but the same cannot be said of his sinker. Facing the sinker, opponents batted .235 last year, with only three extra base hits. Thus far in 2013, opponents are hitting .364 off the sinker, and have already tied last year’s total with three extra base hits.
Is this a case of hitters adjusting to Rodney’s approach from last year? Or could it be something beyond that? During the World Baseball Classic, Mark Mulder noticed that Rodney appeared to be tipping his pitches. Could hitters finally have realized this?
Regardless of the reason, Rodney has reverted back to the mediocre pitcher he had been prior to 2012, and likely should not be closing out games at this point. The problem is, the Rays do not have a lot of internal options. Peralta had been excellent as a closer for the Rays down the stretch in 2011, which gave him first shot at the role when Kyle Farnsworth was hurt last year. However, he did nothing with the opportunity, and may not have the mindset required to be a closer. Wright, meanwhile, has one career save, and is likely not an option.Jake McGee, who was considered a possible closer in waiting, has essentially been napalm this season, and should not be anywhere near a close game at this point.
Any possible external candidates are far from attractive either. Jose Valverde may have been worth a chance, but he was resigned by the Tigers. Brian Wilson is not expected to start throwing until the All-Star Break as he comes back from injury. Bobby Jenks is also injured, and his career is likely over. Do the Rays look to the minors, or give Farnsworth another chance at closing, despite his own struggles this year?
In the end, Fernando Rodney may end up getting plenty of chances to work through his troubles not because of how well he performed last year, but because there may not be another option. Hopefully, for the Rays, he ends up turning his season around soon.