The Competition Has Begun for the 2015 Rays Bullpen


Sunday’s Tampa Bay Rays game against the Baltimore Orioles was bizarre for many reasons. Principal among them were David DeJesus‘ inside-the-park home run after Orioles outfielders David Lough and Alejandro De Aza collided and Logan Forsythe‘s strikeout on a pitch that hit him to end the game. Right behind those two plays, however, was the way that Joe Maddon used his bullpen. Jake McGee and Brad Boxberger were both unavailable after being used in three straight games, but the Rays did not use Grant Balfour or Kirby Yates either. Why did Maddon possibly use the pitchers he did when those latter two pitchers were available? The answer: Maddon and the front office are starting to find out who will be realistic options for the 2015 Rays bullpen.

Steve Geltz was the first pitcher used in relief of Jeremy Hellickson, and it did not go well as he walked two batters without recording a single out. As we have discussed, Geltz has electric stuff, but has failed to show anything since arriving in the major leagues. He better start providing reasons for optimism soon if he wants to have any chance of being with this team next season.

In sharp contrast to Geltz, Jeff Beliveau continued his strong performance this season, tossing 0.2 scoreless innings before departing after allowing a hit. Beliveau lacks overpowering stuff, but you wouldn’t know it based on his results as he has a 1.83 ERA and a 21-6 strikeout to walk ratio in 21 appearances and 19.2 innings pitched with the Rays this season. Lefties have just a .565 OPS against him, and righties are actually lower at .560. Beliveau’s combination of an aggressive approach with his fastball and two other solid offerings in his cutter and curveball have been enough for him so far. We will have to see if that remains true as Beliveau spends more time in the major leagues. At the very least, though, Beliveau has a strong case to be a part of the Rays’ bullpen next season.

Brandon Gomes followed Beliveau and was excellent, going 2 innings allowing just a walk while striking out 1. He also forced a double play to navigate around the leadoff baserunner allowed by Beliveau. Gomes, who turned 30 in July, faces an uphill battle to prove himself as something more than a Quad-A reliever after his struggles in 2012, 2013, and prior to his demotion this season. However, Gomes has returned to the major leagues an entirely different pitcher.

Prior to this season, Gomes’ primary secondary pitch was his slider and he also threw a changeup in an attempt to overcome a below-average four-seam fastball. This spring training, he switched to a cutter-heavy approach in spring training and threw the pitch over 50% of the time, leading to early-season success until the league adjusted. Now, he has come back using his four-seamer as his fastball and has thrown his splitter as his foremost strikeout pitch for the first time, and the results have been promising. Gomes has tossed 6.2 no-hit innings across his last three appearances, striking out 4 while walking 1. We have to be dubious about any adjustments that Gomes makes after how badly he has fallen apart in the past, but he looks like a decent enough depth piece that the Rays can look to improve upon. He will be out of options next season.

Then came Joel Peralta for the save situation, and the results were disastrous. He allowed 3 runs on 4 hits, with the finishing blow being a Nelson Cruz three-run triple. It was the latest poor outing for Peralta this season as he blew his sixth save while converting just one. Peralta’s numbers are not as bad as you might expect–he has a 4.26 ERA and a strong 65-14 strikeout to walk ratio in 57 innings pitched. However, he continues to allow hard contact and has been unbelievably bad in anything but the lowest-pressure situations.

According to Baseball-Reference, Peralta has allowed a puny .465 OPS in low-leverage appearances, but that jumps to .846 with medium leverage and .906 in high leverage. Small sample sizes are an issue, but Peralta’s FIP corresponds perfectly with those numbers as the difference is just as extreme. His FIP jumps from 2.44 in low leverage to 4.74 in medium leverage and 4.83 in high leverage. For whatever reason, it seems like Peralta just can’t handle the pressure anymore. The Rays hold an option on Peralta for just $2.5 million, but it looks like time to move on from him nonetheless.

Finally, we have the pitcher who finished the game, Cesar Ramos. Ramos was excellent in his first 1.2 innings, escaping Peralta’s mess in the ninth and also tossing the tenth while allowing just an international walk. He struck out 3 in the process and looked about as good as we have seen him. But the Rays extended him and also had him pitch the 11th, and he allowed a Nelson Cruz two-run homer as he threw 57 pitches overall in the game. Ramos has pitched fine for the Rays this season, putting up a 3.89 ERA that is reminiscent of his 4.14 mark from 2013, but he has been strictly a low-leverage pitcher and the Rays wanted to see if he could be more.

This game was a trial for Ramos to see if he could slot into a role reminiscent of Wade Davis from 2012 or Alex Torres from last season. That 11th inning was not a good sign, but Ramos has pitched decently enough to warrant another chance or two to show that he can be more effective than that. It would not be surprising if we see another opportunity or two like this for Ramos as the Rays see where his place is with their team.

The 2015 Rays bullpen competition is only getting started, with several Durham Bulls pitchers also figuring to play prominent roles once the Bulls’ season ends. The Rays will sprinkle in these experimental appearances for various pitchers as September progresses, and pitchers like Alex Colome and Mike Montgomery will be especially interesting to watch. While the results of those games may not always be good, they will be invaluable for the Rays as they figure out what tasks are necessary to get their bullpen back on track for next year.