C.J. Riefenhauser came up to the major leagues, and we immediately saw the potential. The 24 year old showed a good low-90′s fastball and an outstanding slider, and he looked like he had a chance to be a part of the Rays’ bullpen from years to come. He returned to the minor leagues after the Rays’ game on April 20th, but everyone was confident that we would see him again before long. Instead, Riefenhauser has gone through a struggle of a season, and only recently has he broken through.
C.J. Riefenhauser’s ERA for the Durham Bulls is a sparkling 1.61 in 34 appearances and 50.1 innings pitched. Since May 19th, it has been just a few ticks above at 1.79. However, ERAs can be misleading, and that has precisely the case with Riefenhauser. After the 24 year old lefty managed an 8.6 K/9 and a 2.3 BB/9 to go along with his 1.22 ERA in 2013, his strikeout rate has fallen to 7.7 per 9 innings while his walk rate has nearly doubled to 4.3. Before his call-up, Riefenhauser had an 11-4 strikeout to walk ratio in 7.2 innings pitched at Triple-A. Since then, it stands at just 30-23, and it is no coincidence.
Shortly after returning to Triple-A, Riefenhauser was sidelined by an oblique injury, missing just short of a month because of it. It was an unfortunate circumstance, but it is not as though it has not happened before. Chris Archer, who also happens to have an excellent slider, returned to Triple-A after a successful two-start stint in the major leagues and promptly injured his oblique. However, Archer came back fine and was ready for the next big league opportunity that arose for him. For Riefenhauser, meanwhile, it was a different story. He battled to somehow continue being effective, but his control simply was not there as he walked a scary 4.9 batters per 9 innings in his first 36.2 innings back. Lately, Riefenhauser has recovered, striking out 4 batters without a walk in his last three appearances and 3.2 innings pitched. But it took him quite a while to get there, and it cost him in a major way.
We mentioned Riefenhauser’s 11-4 strikeout to walk ratio before being called up–that happens to be the same mark that Jeff Beliveau has at this moment for the Rays. Joel Peralta was sidelined with a virus, and with Riefenhauser’s struggles preventing him from being an option, it was Beliveau that got the call instead. Beliveau did allow a home run in last night’s game, but he has run with the opportunity on the whole, managing a 2.38 ERA in 11.1 innings pitched. While Riefenhauser has been making up for lost time, Beliveau has been establishing himself as an increasingly reliable option in the Rays bullpen. What does Riefenhauser think about that?
At the end of the day, the events of this season should be something that C.J. Riefenhauser can overcome. His repertoire is impressive, and if he can continue finding himself, he has the ability to make an impact for the Rays as soon as September and certainly by next season. For now, though, Riefenhauser has to be lamenting his missed opportunities from this year and hoping that better things are on the way.