In the renowned dice game of craps, throwing “boxcars” (double sixes) is also known as “midnight,” which, for Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Brad Boxberger, also means lights-out, nighty-night, and time for the other guys to go home. Boxberger has been throwing “boxcars” consistently to opposing hitters since being brought up from Triple-A Durham.
Boxberger, nicknamed “Box” (maybe the “car” will be delivered later) by his battery mates, has been a bright spot in a tough Rays first half and has shined along with former Durham Bulls teammate Kevin Kiermaier. Originally drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 20th round of the 2006 MLB Draft, he opted not to sign and chose to play at the University of Southern California where his father, Rod, was named Most Outstanding Player as a pitcher for the 1978 College World Series champion Trojans. The Cincinnati Reds then drafted Boxberger in the 1st round (43rd overall) of the 2009 MLB Draft. After spending time in the minor leagues with both the Reds and the San Diego Padres between 2010 and 2013, Boxberger never posted an ERA higher than 2.70, but had some control problems. However, when Boxberger was sent to the Rays in a multi-player exchange for Alex Torres and Jesse Hahn following the 2013, that evidently was the medicine he needed to sort out his location issues. At Triple-A Durham, he fine-tuned his 90-95 mph fastball along with his changeup and slider, and that has led to his breakthrough 2014 season.
The Tampa Bay Rays home game of May 8, 2014 is when Brad Boxberger threw his first round of “boxcars”. Appearing in relief of starter David Price in the top of the sixth inning with no outs and the bases full of Orioles, “Box” shut down the side on nine consecutive pitches, becoming the first pitcher to throw an immaculate inning with the bases loaded. Also notable is the fact that only 52 nine-pitch, three-strikeout innings have been thrown in MLB history. Brad then became what Rays manager Joe Maddon terms “a middle innings closer”, ironically a term he also used in 2008 for pitcher Grant Balfour.
More recently, Boxberger rescued Alex Cobb on the road in the sixth inning versus the Minnesota Twins on July 18th with two outs and two Twins on base. He walked the former Ray Sam Fuld to load the bases, but then struck out Danny Santana for the final out. Returning in the seventh inning, he struck out the side. Then another rescue was performed today when Boxberger relieved Chris Archer in the bottom of the seventh inning with one out and struck out the final two Twins batters on eight pitches. For his past 13 appearances, “Box” has posted a 1.23 ERA in 14.2 innings pitched, striking out 22 while giving up five hits, one walk and two earned runs.
If Rays manager Joe Maddon choses to continue his “closer by committee” program, Brad Boxberger, as a righty, would definitely lessen the pressure on Jake McGee. Wherever he appears in games, Boxberger has shown the talent to make it midnight for opposing hitters when he takes the mound.