On Saturday, it happened yet again. One day after Kyle Farnsworth‘s ineffectiveness to begin the 8th caused Joe Maddon to resort to Joel Peralta for his 50th appearance of the season, there was Peralta out for appearance number 51 after Alex Torres walked Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. In both games, Peralta did his job, tossing a scoreless inning in each including escaping a bases loaded, no out jam on Saturday. But with the 37 year old reliever leading the American League in appearances, Joe Maddon and the Rays know they have to get him some rest and that can only happen if other pitchers rise to the occasion. Is there anyone on this Rays team that can be that type of player or do the Rays need to look elsewhere to find one last late-inning reliever to complete their staff?
Torres in particular was very much hung out to dry in his appearance on Saturday. He had already tossed 2 shutout innings, not entering the 8th even close to fresh, and facing hitters like Bautista and Encarnacion is no easy task to begin with. If Joe Maddon wants to use Torres as an 8th inning guy in a game, he has to be coming in for the 8th–it’s uncharted territory for him to begin with, and while Torres can go multiple innings, he has to start small. But if you’re doing that, aren’t you losing exactly what Torres is on the major league team for? Torres stands out for his ability to provide length in a close game. Jeremy Hellickson only went 5 innings, but Torres more than made for it by retiring 6 in a row to get the Rays to the 8th. Torres has the stuff to be a late-inning pitcher, but especially considering the Rays have Peralta and Fernando Rodney, isn’t he best sticking to the middle innings?
Kyle Farnsworth is pitching better of late–that can’t be disputed. After managing just an 8.44 ERA in his first 15 appearances, taking himself to the brink of a release, he has rebounded spectacularly in his last 18 games, managing a 1.72 ERA with more strikeouts (11) than hits (9) in 15.2 innings pitched. But nevertheless, he’s far from the pitcher he used to be. He still throws pretty hard, averaging 94.75 MPH with his four-seam fastball and 92.22 MPH with his sinker according to Brooks Baseball, but he simply isn’t striking anyone out anymore, managing just a 5.5 K/9 and a 6.3 mark even in his hot streak. Farnsworth best trait these days is his ability to force groundballs. He has a 48.7% groundball in his last 18 appearances. Farnsworth has made up for less overpowering stuff with command and control, as evidenced by his groundballs and his 2.4 BB/9 on the season, the second-best mark of his career to only his ridiculous 2011 season as Rays closer. But it’s very hard to say that he has the stuff to blow by hitters the way a late-inning arm has to on a consistent basis. Farnsworth is not done yet. But his best place is as a middle relief type for the Rays and using him in the later innings is just setting him up to fail.
The Rays’ best “backup” 8th inning man is pretty simple: Jake McGee. He doesn’t mess around, throwing fastball after fastball and making hitters miserable. After a horrific start, he has essentially gone right back to 2012 form in his last 29 appearances, managing a 1.37 ERA with 32 strikeouts and just 5 walks in 26.1 innings pitched. Everyone wishes he threw a more consistent secondary pitch, but especially on just an occasional basis, he is certainly capable of throwing the 8th. But that is only when Joe Maddon doesn’t have to use him sooner. McGee has emerged as Joe Maddon’s “fireman,” the pitcher he goes to whenever the team is in a jam in the middle innings. He has tossed mostly the 7th inning but Joe Maddon has even used him six times in the 6th inning. McGee has essentially been the opposite of Torres, instead of providing length, getting those two or three big outs that the Rays need to win games. And while the Rays’ starting pitchers have done a much better job providing length of late, the type of games McGee is best suited to go into happens extremely often, especially in the the contests that McGee might have a chance to give Peralta a rest.
To get Joel Peralta more rest, the Rays need to find another player they can trust to go to in the 6th or 7th innings. Maybe that player is already on their roster–maybe they could consider going to Farnsworth in some of McGee’s typical situations to save McGee for later in the game. But even if that pitcher is not in the big leagues right now, the Rays have plenty more options in their system, with the rehabbing Brandon Gomes, Josh Lueke, and Kirby Yates immediately coming to mind and Ramon Ramirez and Cory Wade being veteran options at Triple-A. The Rays have the pieces–they just need to mix and match to make sure every is used the correct amount. Joe Maddon will keep mixing it up until he finds something that work, and rest assured, you know he will.