We have heard so much about the Tampa Bay Rays’ starting pitching struggles that their bullpen issues have gone overlooked for a while. But right now, with Cesar Ramos and Erik Bedard coming off strong starts, it is finally time to confront the issues that exists. Here five things that could help the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen to get on track.
1. Get More Length From the Starters: Yes, we are talking about relievers here, but none of these problems would be as noticeable if the starters were doing their jobs all along. David Price picked the wrong time to be up-and-down, and the Rays need him to start providing 7 innings nearly every time out. Chris Archer has the stuff to dominate, and he needs to start doing so a little more often. Jake Odorizzi has had issues the second time through the order (and the first time through in his last start), and the Rays have to figure out what is going on with him. For Ramos and Bedard, meanwhile, either they need to keep getting stretched out and show the capacity to go longer or the Rays are going to have to get rid of the weak link in favor of another starter.
2. Play Closer Games: The Rays have played a grand total of four one-run games this year–and won all four, by the way. The bullpen simply isn’t have enough games where they can protect a lead. Grant Balfour has been entirely thrown off because he is appearing so little and it’s pure luck that the same wasn’t true for Joel Peralta until last night. Just eight times this year have the Rays scored between 3 and 6 runs. The Red Sox have already scored that many runs 16 times–and that’s an unbelievable difference that we are just a month in. If the offense can start delivering an average amount of runs more consistently instead of either doing nothing or winning in a blowout, it will help the bullpen immensely.
3. Designate Josh Lueke for assignment: This is actually getting crazy that Lueke is still around. Yes, he has good stuff, but he has no command and the Rays clearly don’t trust him. Compounding his problems is that he can’t throw more than 2 innings in a game. When he collapses, the Rays would love for him to at least save the bullpen, but he has not been able to do so. There is a real chance that Lueke would pass through waivers even if the Rays did DFA him, and even if he doesn’t, they have the Triple-A depth to lose him.
4. Call Up Mike Montgomery: Whether Montgomery is being called up to start or relieve, the bottom line is that the Rays need an actual long reliever. Whether it’s Montgomery, Bedard, or Ramos, the Rays need someone they can rely on to pitch 3 or more innings after a disastrous start and just maybe give them a chance to come back. Montgomery deserves a chance to do that in an Alex Torres-esque whether or not the Rays deem him good enough to start.
5. Keep Brandon Gomes Rested: The Rays bullpen is in such shambles that Brandon Gomes was called upon in a tie game just three days after tossing 3 innings for the first time since 7/17/11. Gomes has improved significantly since adding his cutter and just maybe could become a pitcher the Rays can rely on in the middle innings. But especially with a long reliever in the fold, the Rays have to keep Gomes from being too burned out in any one game.
These five steps would be only the beginning of getting the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen on track. The bottom line is that the Rays need pitchers like Balfour and Heath Bell to do better while keeping Jake McGee and Gomes effective. But they need to start somewhere and it is minor moves that could help get on top of this problem before it gets any worse.