Every pitcher is going to have his struggles. The question is always going to be how long those rough patches will last. For Alex Torres, he watched his entire career fall apart and it seemed like he would never be able to pick up the pieces. In 2012, Torres managed just a 7.30 ERA with 8.2 walks per 9 innings in 69 Triple-A innings and found himself all the way down in Rookie ball as he hoped desperately to turn himself around. But now that he has gotten past that, it has made him a better pitcher than he ever was before.
On Wednesday, Torres made his first appearance back at Triple-A Durham after two effective relief outings for the Rays, and it began about as horribly as anyone could have thought. After vastly improved control had keyed his rebound, Torres suddenly could not find the zone once again in the first inning, throwing just 14 of 34 pitches for strikes as he allowed 3 runs on 2 hits and 2 walks. But from there, Torres tossed 3 shutout innings to complete his outing and renew everyone’s confidence in him. Torres’ run of nothing but success since he made the breakthrough with his control ended but Torres refused to let that faze him for more than an inning. If only Rays relievers like Fernando Rodney and Kyle Farnsworth could have pulled off the same trick.
As reliever after reliever comes apart in the Rays bullpen, Alex Torres has the ability to be one of the few that keeps himself together. His mental toughness is only part of the equation–the reason Alex Torres has the ability to be an outstanding major league reliever has a lot more to do with his stuff. Torres’ fastball touches the mid-90’s with big sink and run. Its movement was a big reason why Torres struggled so mightily to control it, but Torres has smoothed out his delivery to make the movement on his fastball consistent enough that he could throw it for strikes while still leaving hitters befuddled. But the fastball is only the beginning for Torres’ He combines it with two effective secondary pitches, his slider and his changeup. His slider features devastating late break when he’s going will and his changeup features outstanding late sink to miss more bats and force some weak contact. With that type of three-pitch arsenal, it makes sense that Torres has spent just about his entire career as a starting pitcher. But while ideally the Rays would give Torres a shot in the rotation, they don’t have room and they have to move on. Torres is behind Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer right now for a starting spot. Are the Rays going to pedantically leave him as their 8th starting pitcher when he can make a major impact to their bullpen immediately?
Depending on how the next few years shake out for the Rays, Alex Torres could receive a chance to start. That’s completely irrelevant, though, for the Rays until that time actually comes. The Rays don’t need another starting pitcher and Torres has a chance to be an extremely effective reliever and maybe even a late-inning arm right now. The Rays’ rotation has been far from perfect, but its predicament is not nearly as dire as the bullpen and the Rays have to address that. Torres could be a central piece of the Rays’ quest to revitalize their bullpen and it’s inexcusable for the Rays to leave him starting at Triple-A when that is the reality.
Rays fans got a preview of just how good Torres can be on May 18th, when he threw 4 shutout innings of relief as the Rays came back to beat the Orioles–and that was without a good feel for his breaking ball and changeup. He struck out just 3 while walking 2 in that game but has always possessed a talent for striking batters out and in the past few months has learned to limit the walks as well. Torres’ repertoire is overbearing and the perspective his disastrous 2012 gave him will serve him invaluably the rest of his career. He has the ability to dominate major league hitters in a relief role, and that has to happen now.