The Tampa Bay Rays made an encouraging move today when they called up Juan Carlos Oviedo, who hasn’t thrown a big league pitch in two seasons. If he can return to his prior form, the Rays have a much better bullpen because of it. But, to accommodate for him, the Rays sent lefty C.J. Riefenhauser back to Triple-A. Because of this, the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen now has a fatal flaw- it only has one lefty.
The Rays started the season already without a true lefty-specialist in the bullpen. Cesar Ramos and Jake McGee are both lefties, but Ramos was the long man and does not shut down lefties, and McGee is a setup man who shuts down both lefties and righties. It was a curious move given the fact that Joe Maddon loves playing matchups, but now it looks even stranger. With the plethora of injuries to Rays’ starting pitchers, Ramos and Erik Bedard are now in the starting rotation. With Riefenhauser being sent down, McGee is the lone lefty of the bullpen, but he is a shutdown reliever, not a matchup pitcher.
The Rays have no one to get a tough out against a left-handed hitter, which is a valuable piece to have. Yes the Rays have a more than capable bullpen, but not having a lefty specialist in the bullpen could hurt them. Imagine the Rays are playing the Boston Red Sox in an all-important divisional game. The game is tied in the 6th inning, and the Sox have runners on first and second base and left-hander David Ortiz is at the plate with two outs. Ideally, a lefty would come in to get Ortiz out. But, the Rays are not going to want McGee to come in and get just one out, rather they are going to rely on him later in the game. Now you are stuck with Ortiz facing the likes of Heath Bell, Brandon Gomes or Oviedo, all capable pitchers, but none ideal in this situation. There is a much better chance that Ortiz drives in a run if he is going against one of these pitchers, but there is nothing you can do about it. This flaw is not going to make or break the bullpen, but it is significant enough that it could be the difference in a couple of games.
So how do you fix this flaw? The Rays a more than capable lefty in Jeff Beliveau in Triple-A who could be called upon to fill in as a lefty specialist. Riefenhauser could fill this role too, although he does need more minor league seasoning and having him in the big leagues for an extended period of time would stunt his development. The problem with adding Beliveau is that the Rays do not have any relievers that they want to replace. Heath Bell is struggling performance-wise, but the Rays aren’t going to give up on him anytime soon. Brandon Gomes has a 3.86 ERA this year, but he has looked great from a scouting standpoint, and going back to spring training has only given up three runs in his last 18.0 innings. Josh Lueke struggled early, but has pitched well lately and can’t be sent to the minors without going through waivers, and the Rays aren’t about to lose him for good. Sending down Gomes is probably the best option, and while that stinks because he has pitched well this year, it is necessary to ensure that the Rays can add a lefty. There is no easy way to do it, but the Rays still do need to add a left-hander to the bullpen.
The Tampa Bay Rays have a tough decision- keep their current bullpen together and have just one lefty, or make room for another one in a less than ideal way. Joe Maddon loves using matchups, which is why I am surprised that Beliveau or Riefenhauser hasn’t found their way into a permanent bullpen role. The Rays usually have great roster construction, but currently their bullpen is flawed, and something is going to have to change to fix it.