The Tampa Bay Rays rarely get criticism for the way they run their ballclub. In fact, they compete year in and year out because Andrew Friedman and the front office are so good at managing a roster. But, in the past couple of days, the Rays have poorly handled their bullpen, and it could come back to bite them.
The Rays bullpen came into last Thursday already tired. In 11 out of their past 15 games heading into Thursday, Rays starters had failed to go five innings or more, which certainly made the bullpen exhausted. Then, much to the Rays’ chagrin, the Boston Red Sox elected to makeup a Wednesday rainout with a doubleheader on Thursday. The Rays needed some long performances from their starters in the doubleheader, but Cesar Ramos and Chris Archer each went only 4.2 innings, and the bullpen was forced to throw 8.2 innings, including appearances in both games from Jake McGee and Grant Balfour. The Rays did have Brad Boxberger for 2 innings in the second game as the 26th man on the roster, but it was clear that the bullpen was exhausted and needed reinforcements.
It would seem logical after the doubleheader that the Rays would call-up a fresh arm from Triple-A on Friday to give the bullpen some relief. Well, they elected not to do so, instead going with a tired bullpen without McGee and Balfour unavailable. That cost them immediately. Joel Peralta allowed 2 home runs in the 8th, but they attempted to leave him in for a second inning because their trusted reliever were not available. They took him out after he gave up a leadoff single in the ninth, but that would end up being the runner that tied the ballgame to take it to extras. Then, as the Rays’ worst nightmares came true and the game went 14 innings, they were forced to throw Brandon Gomes for two innings and Heath Bell for 2.1 innings and 43 pitches more. All this could have been avoided if the Rays had called up a Triple-A starter like Mike Montgomery or Nate Karns to fill in as a long reliever. Both pitchers are already on the 40-man roster, and Montgomery was scheduled to start on Friday while Karns is on four days’ rest right now. Either pitcher could have thrown from four to six innings in relief, and the rest of the bullpen would have been saved. However, the Rays didn’t make a move, and their already tired bullpen became entirely gassed.
After two days in which the Rays’ bullpen threw 15.2 innings, it seems given that they would call up an arm bolster the relief corps on Saturday. Plus the Rays’ starting pitcher in the game was Jake Odorizzi, who had failed to surpass 5 innings in any of his previous four starts. Yet, the Rays STILL did not make a move. Once again, the Rays could have called up one of several pitchers from Triple-A, and probably need only one or two innings at most out of their other relievers. But they did not, and it cost them again. After Odorizzi exited with runners on second and third with nobody out in the fifth, Cesar Ramos threw an inning on his normal bullpen session day and managed to escape the jam unscathed. Behind him, however, Josh Lueke had to throw 2 innings in a tie game even as he pitched horribly before Bell, despite throwing 43 pitches the night before, had to toss the 8th inning. By not calling up anyone, the Rays set themselves up to fail. We could see it coming from a mile away, and the Rays still did nothing.
The most shocking part of the Rays bullpen management is how easy it would have been to call up a fresh arm. Josh Lueke has looked awful this season, and though he is out of options, his time has come to leave. The front office stresses depth, but they could live with losing a subpar pitcher like Lueke, so why not designate him for assignment? If the Rays wanted to keep Lueke around so badly, they could have sent down Logan Forsythe, who has a remaining option. Forsythe has struggled this year, hitting just .154 with a .462 OPS. He is not adding anything to the Rays right now, and could use a short minor league assignment to work out the kinks even if the Rays didn’t need bullpen help. The last way they could accommodate another reliever is by sending down Brandon Gomes. Yes Gomes has been one of the Rays most reliable relievers this year, but he has an option remaining. It is worth sending him down for ten days in order to ensure the bullpen stays sufficiently rested. Overall, it is easy for the Rays to accommodate a fresh arm, yet they have still refused to do for an incomprehensible reason.
The Tampa Bay Rays generally do a great job of roster management, but they made big mistakes by failing to call up a reliever on Friday and again on Saturday. Their inaction cost them dearly in Saturday’a game, and it will only continue to hurt them until they finally make something happen.