The Rays pitching staff has struggled this year thanks to a multitude of injuries and inconsistent performances. One of the lone bright spots in the bullpen has been Juan Carlos Oviedo, who is coming off Tommy John surgery. Prior to this year, he hadn’t even pitched in the majors since 2011. Full disclosure: in his previous incarnation as Leo Nunez (his previous fake identity), Mr. Oviedo was one of the players I always looked to add to my fantasy team. In his early years I could usually get him for a dollar, and he would always be worth his money in wins, saves, WHIP, and strikeouts. Later in his career, when he was the closer for the Marlins, he was usually still a bargain. His performance earned me a lot of points over the years. The point is- Oviedo has been a good pitcher in his career, but he has been even better for the Rays so far this season.
He pitched well before the surgery, and his arm seems to be working itself into shape nicely after his long time off from the game. There’s a reason over 500 major league pitchers had Tommy John surgery performed on their arms over the years: it works! In some cases their arms get even stronger. Tommy John had the surgery in 1974 when he was 31. He rehabbed during 1975, and then went on to pitch in the majors until he was 46, even winning 20 games in a season three times. To use a more modern example, Adam Wainwright had the surgery in 2010 when he was 28. He proceeded to lead the National League in wins and innings pitched in 2013. Tommy John surgery isn’t a death sentence to major league careers, and certainly hasn’t been to Oviedo.
Juan Carlos Oviedo had one bad outing on April 29, where he gave up three runs in only two-thirds of an inning. Since then he’s pitched 6.2 scoreless innings over five games. Opposing batters are only hitting .048 against him and he hasn’t allowed a run in that stretch. Overall he has a 2.53 ERA in 10.2 innings this season. Oviedo’s stuff has looked great, especially given how long it has been since he’s pitched in meaningful games, and it only is getting better as he continues to pitch. The bullpen hasn’t been great this year, but Oviedo certainly didn’t get that memo. The Rays need him to keep up the good work, and he certainly has the ability to do so.
The Rays bullpen has an ugly 4.46 ERA on the season, good for 6th worst in the league. No one has really stepped up so far this year, and they continue to be inconsistent. Given the fragility of the current Rays bullpen, look for Oviedo to pitch in increasingly crucial situations. He has looked great in the early going this season, and his stuff is only going to get better as he continues to log more innings and build his arm strength back up. As the Rays start to ask him to throw in more late-innings situations, I think we’ll find that he’s up to the task.