The Tampa Bay Rays have gotten off to a rough start to this season, but one positive has been seeing the Rays’ relatively young bullpen arms who will be around for years to come. Jake McGee has looked as strong as ever with his curveball complementing his fastball. Brandon Gomes has been far from perfect, but he has come a long way from his 6.52 ERA last season. Brad Boxberger is finally in the big leagues to stay and has looked excellent. Then there are lefties Jeff Beliveau and C.J. Riefenhauser, who were only up for a couple of days, but showed their promise as well. Combine those five with pitchers like Kirby Yates, Adam Liberatore, and even current starting pitcher Mike Montgomery at Durham, and the Rays’ bullpen may finally be able to keep the same faces around for a few years in a row. But the success of the youths have exacerbated the struggles of the veterans of the staff. Heath Bell is already gone, Grant Balfour has only come around in his last few appearances, and then there is Joel Peralta.
Joel Peralta is 38 years old and has given the Rays everything he has since arriving in 2011. Over the last three years, he has averaged 76 appearances with a 3.32 ERA, emerging as a dependable pitcher even as he has been used heavily. Peralta is the only pitcher left in the Rays bullpen who has made at least 38 appearances the last three years. He has been a constant in a seemingly never-ending sea of change. This season, though, Peralta simply has not had it. Through 14 appearances, he has a 5.54 ERA, a 7.6 K/9, a 3.5 BB/9, and a horrific 2.1 HR/9 in 13 innings pitched. Yet not a single time this season has he entered a game earlier than two outs in the 7th inning. The Rays are relying on him in key situations even though he simply has not had it this year. Rays fans, what does that remind you of? For Rays Colored Glasses reader Marylou McMillan, she thought of Troy Percival in 2008 and 2009. Are the Rays stuck in the same situation with Peralta as they were with Percival?
Percival managed just a 4.53 ERA in 2008 yet remained Rays closer most of the season and returned in 2009. The good news is that Peralta will move into a lesser role and will not be back next season if he continues to struggle. In 2008, the Rays had J.P. Howell, Dan Wheeler, and Grant Balfour pitching extremely well (and Trever Miller pitching OK), but they had no depth after that. Jason Hammel, Gary Glover, Alberto Reyes, and Scott Dohmann combined for 102 relief appearances of 5.02 ERA ball. The Rays would not tolerate anything remotely like that this season given the depth that they have.
Before we get to that point, however, it is not quite time to give up on Peralta yet. Without dominating stuff, this is the type of pitcher he is sometimes. In his last 5 appearances, he has a 12.46 ERA with 2 homers allowed in 4.1 innings pitched. In 5 appearances from September 8th to September 15th of last year, he also had a 12.46 ERA with 2 homers allowed in 4.1 innings pitched. No, that is not a typo. He also had a 16.20 ERA in 5 appearances and 3.1 innings pitched in from June 12th to the 22nd, allowing 2 home runs. And who could forget the way he began 2012, with a 37.80 ERA through 4 appearances and 1.2 innings pitched? Then from June 20th to July 1st of 2011, he had a 16.20 ERA in 5 appearances and 1.2 innings pitched. Those are all extremely bad stretches, but Peralta has rebounded from them every other time.
The thing about baseball, and sports in general, is that we give a talented player the benefit of the doubt while flocking away from the less touted guy at the first sign of trouble. We all know that Joel Peralta is not a dominant pitcher, and he needs deception and excellent command of his secondary pitches to survive. When he doesn’t have those, he gets hit hard, and we wonder whether his time has run out. Maybe it has–Peralta is 38 years old after all. However, Peralta has gone through stretches like this before and been just fine. With several pitchers with great stuff in their relief corps, hopefully the Tampa Bay Rays will use Joel Peralta in a few lower-leverage situations to get him on track. At the end of the day, though, Rays fans should still believe in Peralta in the long-term. Before we say that Peralta is done, give him a chance to prove himself again.
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