Like the Tampa Rays season, Grant Balfour started the year with such high expectations. Manager Joe Maddon even used the “C” word, closer, when describing Balfour. Maddon tabbed him as the team’s official closer in spring training. This may not make news on other teams in the league, but Rays fans know Maddon plays everything so close to his vest, and that he only rarely make grand announcements like this when he is extremely confident in a player.
So as spring ended and the season came upon us, Grant Balfour was the big man an in the bullpen. Week one didn’t start off too bad- Balfour made two appearances, had one save, worked two scoreless innings, and the Rays were 4-2 after the first six games. Week two wasn’t too shabby either- he made three appearances and earned three saves in two and two-thirds scoreless innings, but there appeared to be some control problems. In his work during week two , Balfour had the same number of walks as strikeouts.
As April continued on and the weather became warmer, the Rays were hovering around the .500 mark. Then came April 25th. Coming off two straight losses, the Rays rallied from a 4-4 tie against the Chicago White Sox, to take the lead with two runs in the top of the ninth. As expected, Maddon called in the Balfour to shut down the game. But, Balfour did not even finish the game. Officially, he worked two thirds of an inning. In that time, he walked three and gave up two hits, including the walk-off grand slam to Jose Abreu. The Rays went on to lose three of the next four to end the month of April at 11-16.
It was too early for panic to set in for both Balfour and the team, but something just wasn’t right. The Rays went on to win 12 and lose 17 in the month of May and start out June winning one out of the first nine games. At that point Balfour’s ERA sat at 6.47, and he had walked 20 batters in 23.2 innings. Maddon decided he’d seen enough, and on June 9th he announced the Rays would be using a closer by committee.
In all fairness, the Rays have played through a lot of adversity this year. But, the implosion of Balfour was different. Here is a guy who is a battles through anything. He’s tough as nails, gives no quarter, and takes no quarter. His struggles have baffled me as I’m sure they have stunned the entire Rays organization.
Keep in mind that Grant Balfour this past offseason, as a free agent, initially accepted an offer from the Baltimore Orioles. After Balfour was examined by the team doctor, the Orioles rescinded the offer. News reports in the Baltimore Sun stated that Balfour’s surgically repaired throwing shoulder was not up to snuff. Obviously, signing with the Rays after this episode, I’d like to think that the Rays medical staff inspected the same shoulder and deemed it in order. Who’s to say this is the issue.
I do know that after averaging less than four walks per nine innings for the previous four years, this year Grant Balfour is averaging 6.9 walks per 9 innings. Something’s up with his command- maybe it’s because of the shoulder, maybe it’s not. His confidence has clearly been shot, which hasn’t helped.
The wear and tear of the season certainly seems to have taken its toll on Balfour. After losing in extra innings to Detroit last Tuesday, Balfour took a shot at the defense behind him in radio interviews. After that, he then took a shot at fans who were booing him.
All of that culminated what has been a rough season for Balfour. To this day he has a 5.29 ERA and 38 walks through 49.1 innings. Balfour is signed with the Rays for next season at $7 million, so this saga may not be over yet. Let’s just hope that the Rays and Balfour can find something that clicks to return his confidence and control to their previous levels.