Back on January 13, 2013, Juan Carlos Oviedo originally signed with the Tampa Bay Rays. Only tomorrow, 464 days later, will Oviedo finally spend his first day on the Rays’ active roster. The 32 year old has not pitched a single game since September 21, 2011 between Tommy John Surgery, a longer-than-expected rehab process, and visa issues that delayed his arrival in spring training. However, Oviedo is ready to pitch again, and the Rays are looking forward to seeing what he can do.
After allowing 2 runs on 3 hits in his first rehab appearance for the Durham Bulls, Juan Carlos Oviedo looked very good in his remaining six, allowing just 1 run on 2 hits in 6 innings of work, striking out 9 while walking just 1. That kind of dominance is to be expected at Triple-A from a pitcher with 92 major league saves under his belt, but it is not simply about the numbers. The last the major leagues saw of Oviedo, he threw a fastball consistently in the mid-90’s to go along with an excellent changeup. Oviedo’s fastball may have lost a tick or two of velocity, but for the most part, he should be the exact same pitcher, and the Rays need someone like that.
The prevailing theme in the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen this season has been unimpressive velocity. Jake McGee is certainly an exception, but Grant Balfour has seen his fastball velocity drop from 94.50 MPH in 2013 to 92.61 MPH this season according to Brooks Baseball, Heath Bell has gone from 93.96 to 92.47, and Josh Lueke has gone from 95.75 to just 93.02. Combine that with the general lack of velocity from Joel Peralta and Brandon Gomes, and McGee is the only pitcher who can come in and blow hitters away. It’s no coincidence that Rays relievers have managed to strike out just 7.0 batters per 9 innings so far this season, actually less than their starting pitchers (7.4). You have go back to 2006 for the last time that Rays relievers struck out that few batters per 9 innings. Oviedo has the ability to start fixing that immediately.
For his career, Oviedo has just a 7.3 K/9, not exactly a major help to the Rays right now. But in his best season, 2010, he managed to up that to 9.8 per 9 innings in his breakout year, and you know the Rays find a way to restore pitchers to their previous stages of dominance. If that sounds far-fetched, it is worth mentioning that Oviedo, at least at the beginning, will not need to work on high-leverage spots nearly as much. He will be pitching more in the 6th and 7th innings than the 8th and 9th, and with less pressure on him, the result could be dominance. Oviedo has also been better against righties than lefties in his career, and the Rays will be able to put him into more matchups against them. We can’t know anything for sure with a player who has not pitched in so long, but everything is set up for Oviedo to succeed. The Rays could certainly use another bullpen arm they can rely on, and Juan Carlos Oviedo has the ability to give them exactly that.