In Thursday’s game vs. the Baltimore Orioles, Brad Boxberger was given quite a task. In the 6th inning, David Price allowed the Orioles to load the bases, and was pulled from the game in favor of Boxberger. When your team loads the bases with no outs, you are generally happy to see them escape the inning with just one or two runs given up, but Boxberger went well beyond that. Not only did he retire the next three hitters, he struck all of them out, and it took only nine pitches to do so. Elias Sports Bureau claims that to their knowledge, that was the first time in history that a pitcher had come into a game with the bases loaded and preceded to strike out the next three hitters on just nine pitches. Their pitch count records are incomplete, so it can’t be 100% confirmed that this was the first time this has happened, but regardless it is a historical feat that is even rarer than throwing a perfect game. Also, a nine pitch, three strikeout inning alone has only been thrown 52 times in big league history. Boxberger’s dominant outing last night gives us a glimpse of what is to come now that he has finally secured a permanent bullpen role.
Jake McGee has been long labeled as the Rays closer of the future, and while that was delayed a bit after Grant Balfour was signed this offseason, the label was still there. But now, McGee needs to be looking over his shoulder at Boxberger. The right-handed Boxberger has an outstanding arsenal, headlined by his changeup that is basically unhittable, especially when he can keep it down in the zone. His fastball sits in the low-90’s with some solid movement, and it too is hard to make contact with. His slider is behind the other two pitches, but it is at least an average offering, if not slightly above. Boxberger’s command is his biggest issue- as evidenced by his 7 walks in 9.0 innings in the MLB this season. But the Rays generally do a good job of helping pitchers hone in their command, and if they can do so with Boxberger then they will have a scary good reliever on their hands. Even if his command never gets any better, his outstanding stuff alone could carry him into a setup man role. But if he can even slightly improve his command, he could surpass McGee, he of the career 3.14 ERA and 10.61 K/9, as the Rays’ best 9th inning option when Balfour’s contract is up after the 2015 season.
Brad Boxberger has impressed with six scoreless outings so far this season despite inconsistent command, but last night’s historical outing showed just what kind of pitcher he could become. Only the third piece in the Alex Torres to the San Diego Padres deal, Boxberger could turn out to be just as valuable as Logan Forsythe or Matt Andriese. The Rays have one of the league’s most promising young relievers on their hands, and if they can work hard to hone in his command just a bit, they could really have something special in Boxberger.