Alex Torres Finds Himself Right Where He Belongs in the Rays Bullpen
By Robbie Knopf
The game had come apart. Three runs had scored after Fernando Rodney had allowed a two-out, bases clearing double to Will Middlebrooks to give the Red Sox a 4-3 lead in the game. Joe Maddon had seen enough, taking Rodney out of the game, and he brought in Alex Torres. Torres was making his first big league appearance in 20 months and was coming off a season at Triple-A Durham that saw him manage just a 7.30 ERA with a scary 8.2 walks per 9 innings and necessitated him to go all the way back to rookie ball in an attempt to get himself back together. Torres’ first pitch to Jacoby Ellsbury was a fastball way out of the zone, as the nervousness set it. But his second pitch was located perfectly on the outside corner for strike two and he threw his next three pitches for strikes as well, forcing Ellsbury to ground out to second base on a 94 MPH fastball to end the inning. It was just one batter and it was just five pitches. However, not just anyone could have entered the game under those circumstances as locked in as Torres was. It just seemed natural for him to be there, and it could very well be just the start.
Torres began the 2013 season by dominating as a starting pitcher at Triple-A, going 2-2 with a 2.39 ERA, an 11.7 K/9, a 3.3 BB/9, and a 0.3 HR/9 in 7 starts and 37.2 innings pitched. Torres turned 25 years old in December and isn’t nearly the prospect he used to be, but he still has the potential to be a good major league starting pitcher. Despite appearing in Thursday’s game, Torres may start for the Rays on Monday in place of the injured David Price. Even if he does, though, he would likely be a placeholder until Chris Archer or Jake Odorizzi is ready. Torres was a top prospect for years in the Rays organization, but after his struggles last season, his time may have passed. To Torres, though, that doesn’t matter much–he’s a different pitcher now and he’s more than willing to accept that.
In the minor leagues, Alex Torres has made 151 career appearances, 128 starts. The last four years, 79 of Torres’ 91 appearances came in a starting role, all except 12 from an ill-fated relief stint last season that went so badly that he was brought back into the rotation. In the minor leagues, Torres has been a starting pitcher and he has been uncomfortable coming out of the bullpen. The major leagues, though, has been a different story. Torres has appeared in five games, all in relief, and pitched quite well, managing a 3.24 ERA in 8.1 innings pitched. Whereas Torres struggled to adjust to the bullpen in the minors, he has thrived there in his brief big league time. Why? Maybe because the mind-set is so different. In the minors, relieving felt like a demotion to Torres after he faltered in the rotation. In the majors however, it’s a new challenge and a fulfillment of Torres’ lifelong dream to pitch in the major leagues.
Alex Torres was always a pitcher with incredible stuff but no idea where it was going. In the minor leagues, Torres struck out an impressive 9.8 batters per 9 innings, but he failed to even register a 2-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio as he walked 5.2 batters per 9. Maybe Torres still has some wildness within him, but he has made a breakthrough from the end of last season to Winter Ball to spring training to the start of this year, and describing him that way would no longer be accurate. He enters games throwing strikes and blowing hitters away like everyone knew he always could if he ever found some control. He throws each pitch like it may be his last knowing how close he was to letting all his talent slip away, and understands what will happen if he loses his focus again. In his relief outing on Thursday, Torres’ first pitch up and out of the zone was just 90 MPH. But after that pitch, he realized that he had a job to do and that nothing mattered beyond the batter he was facing. He got his velocity up to 94 MPH to put Ellsbury away and his pitches looked downright nasty as he did so.
At the end of the day, Alex Torres could probably become a pretty good major league starting pitcher and maybe more. Moving to relief, though, will suit him even better. Hitters from both sides of the plate will have themselves an awfully hard time contending with his mid-90’s fastball with late life, his sharp slider, and even his changeup, and tying it together with newfound command and the perfect relief mentality will just make him even more dominant. Torres doesn’t let the ball go and see what happens and he doesn’t nibble at the corners scared of what the hitter will do. Torres may be nervous on the mound, but he knows that he has the talent to beat any hitter on the planet and that the only one that can stop him from doing that is himself. And after the way Torres has made a breakthrough locating his pitches, him beating himself is not something that will happen too often anymore and dominance should be a much more common occurrence. Maybe Torres moves back into a starting role and maybe he heads back to the minor leagues if someone else is called upon to start. But in the long-term, the Rays have found themselves a keeper for the bullpen in Alex Torres.