It really is a fascinating concept, taking the reliever you just called up and throwing him into the fire. Usually it is not as extreme as it was in the case of Steve Geltz, with Geltz immediately entering a one-run game, but it has happened to a lesser extent all season. Brad Boxberger, Kirby Yates, Jeff Beliveau, and even C.J. Riefenhauser were all pushed into big spots before they had necessarily proven themselves. As we saw, Boxberger rose to the occasion, Yates survived but did not particularly impress, Beliveau exceeded expectations, and Riefenhauser showed that he was not ready. Geltz has followed Riefenhauser’s path so far, showing flashes of ability but not the consistency to be an impact player at this point. There are three things separating the pair, however: Geltz is two years older, has nearly double the number of innings at Triple-A, and is a right-handed pitcher. The Rays saw enough from Geltz to give him an opportunity nonetheless, but pending a drastic turnaround, it is hard to imagine him getting too many more chances.
There are a lot of excuses we can make to explain why Steve Geltz has not pitched well in his first three Rays appearances. We can scream “small sample size,” or claim that Geltz is simply nervous pitching in the big leagues for the first time since 2012. You can bear those caveats in mind, but the following statistic does not paint a kind picture of Geltz. According to Brooks Baseball, Geltz has now thrown 15 secondary pitches in the big leagues, 8 sliders and 7 changeups. Among those 15 pitches, he has forced a grand total of zero whiffs and has recorded just six strikes of any kind. Even worse, this is a case where the eye test confirms that. Geltz has been doing nothing productive with his secondary pitches nearly every time, either hanging them up in the zone and making them look nothing like strikes.
At least his fastball has looked relatively good, but he is more 92-93 MPH than 95-96 and his formula of attacking hitters up will not bode well for him moving forward. His fastball has some life, but its command is iffy (Colby Rasmus can tell you all about that) and that puts Geltz in a tough spot to be an effective big league pitcher. This isn’t an isolated thing either–Geltz has a 0.9 HR/9 in 144 Triple-A innings. The immortal Josh Lueke is at 0.4 while a pitcher with vastly inferior pure stuff, Brandon Gomes, is at 0.8. Even at Triple-A, and even with most of his time spent in the International League, Geltz has missed spots with his fastball. There is a chance Geltz can improve, but for a Rays team that will be looking to turn itself around season, Geltz is not a pitcher that can help at this point.
All of this being said, it is a good thing for the Tampa Bay Rays that they gave Steve Geltz a chance. He had electric enough stuff and good enough numbers that he deserved a first-hand look at the big league level, especially given the Rays’ current situation. The Rays are no longer contending and Durham being in the Triple-A playoffs means that most of their prospects are still a ways from getting called up. Why not take a pitcher like Geltz and see what he could do? Steve Geltz did not work out, and there is a high probability that he is designated for assignment this offseason. He may even be gone before that if the Rays want to give Matt Andriese or Mikie Mahtook a look in September. But sometimes you don’t know what you have in a reliever until you put him in high-leverage spots in the major leagues, and now the Rays know for certain that Steve Geltz is not an option. They get to cross a name off their checklist as they hope that the next pitcher they put in a similar situation passes the test.