Something that may be forgotten about yesterday’s doubleheader sweep was how great the bullpen was. Grant Balfour in particular had a great day and recorded two saves. In both games, the Rays’ starter only lasted 4.2 innings, which usually spells disaster for any game, but even more so in a doubleheader. The Rays’ bullpen was outstanding yesterday and didn’t allow a run in the 8.2 innings that they combined for on the day. It was a lift that they desperately needed after some poor outings from the group as a whole, mainly due to the fact that the Rays’ starters haven’t been going deep into games. Almost every member of the Rays’ bullpen contributed and this will hopefully be a confidence boost for everyone going forward. Let’s touch on some specific performances.
Grant Balfour’s last outing going into Thursday’s doubleheader was horrendous. After blowing a two run lead and allowing a walk off grand slam last Friday, Balfour needed a bounce back outing. Clinging to a 2-1 lead in the 9th in the first game of the double header, the Rays’ went back to Balfour to close it out. He gave up a base hit to Dustin Pedroia, who then moved up to second on a sac bunt. This set up a huge at-bat for David Ortiz. With two outs and the tying run on second, Joe Maddon walked out to the mound to instruct Balfour to walk Ortiz, but Balfour insisted he pitch to him. Maddon let him proceed and Balfour rewarded him with a great sequence to Ortiz. On the 3rd pitch of the at-bat (0-2 count), he threw an off-speed pitch just off the outside corner to coax a weak grounder that Balfour easily fielded for the final out. Then, in game number two with the Rays’ clinging to a 6-5 lead, more drama occurred. Balfour came in to close his second game of the day. After allowing a lead off double to Shane Victorino and a ground ball to first that advanced him, it was time for another big match up. With Mike Napoli up, Balfour battled and eventually struck him out on a well-placed fastball right on the inside corner. After walking Grady Sizemore, he then caught Xander Bogaerts looking on a 2-2 slider to get out of the jam and win the game. It was a huge day for Balfour to get two important saves, but the confidence booster from getting out of two tough jams is even bigger moving forward.
An unsung hero in game two of yesterday’s doubleheader was call up Brad Boxberger. Boxberger got the call just for the second game to be the Rays’ 26th man, but was one of the key players in the contest. After Chris Archer‘s horrendous fifth inning, Boxberger came in to keep the Rays close. He allowed a hit to the first batter he faced, but then settled down to throw two shut out innings. In his two innings, he struck out 3 while also walking 3. He did a great job keeping the Red Sox off balance with his changeup, and while his command still needs a bit of work, he is close to being the shutdown reliever that the Rays expect him to be. The two shutout innings he pitched allowed the Rays’ offense a chance to get back into the game, which they did. With outings like this it’s going to be hard to keep Boxberger in Triple-A for much longer. He was sent back down after the game, but you can bet he’ll be back soon to play an important role in the Rays’ bullpen.
Jake McGee also pitched in both games of the doubleheader yesterday, and worked out of a pair of jams, but he got through both innings unscathed. McGee has come out strong this year and continues to be one of the most reliable relievers in the Rays’ pen. Paired with Balfour the Rays have a great 1-2 punch in the bullpen, and Boxberger could soon provide a third late innings piece to give the Rays an even scarier bullpen.
It was a much-needed lift for the Rays’ to sweep yesterday’s doubleheader, and the bullpen was a major part of it. Hopefully the relief corps as a whole can build off of this outstanding day and can start stringing together more solid outings.