In a year that not much has gone right for the Tampa Bay Rays, there have been some diamonds in the rough. Two of those players have been Jake McGee and Brad Boxberger, both of whom have dominated in the back-end of the Rays’ bullpen. Neither were sure things coming into the year- McGee posted a disappointing 4.02 in 2013 and Boxberger’s previous command issues made you wonder if he could ever take full advantage of his stuff. But both have developed nicely and have proven themselves capable of solidifying the 8th and 9th inning for years to come. That said, it is time to end both of their seasons.
This year, McGee has thrown 69.1 innings, which is tied for 15th-most innings thrown by a big league reliever. That mark is the most innings he’s thrown in a single season in his big league career, and he hasn’t thrown that many at any level since 2010, when he saw time as a starter. He has allowed 5 runs in his last 4.1 innings, and that may be a sign that fatigue is catching up to him. McGee has a history of arm injuries, having undergone Tommy John surgery in 2008, and ultimately durability concerns led to his move from the rotation into relief. McGee’s workload isn’t anything particularly huge for a reliever that plays such a key part to his bullpen, but the Rays should still shut him down. McGee will be an important part to the Rays bullpen in the future, and they are basically out of contention. So, it makes plenty of sense to shut him down and take away the risk, however small, that he would hurt himself in meaningless games over the final two weeks of the season.
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Boxberger, too, has had a greater workload this year than he has seen in quite a while. Boxberger’s combined 72.1 innings (63.0 for the Rays and 9.1 at Triple-A Durham) would put him tied for for 9th most innings thrown by a big league reliever. He hasn’t thrown that many innings at any level since 2010, when he threw 91.2 innings in the lower minors while spending time as both a starter and reliever. Is his last 8.0 innings Boxberger has posted a 5.63 ERA, which could be indicative of fatigue. Boxberger hasn’t ever had a significant injury as a pro, though he did have some elbow issues back in 2009 when he was in college at USC. Just like McGee, Boxberger is going to be a key part of a Rays’ bullpen that seems more or less in flux heading into next year. Given the fact that his workload is already significant, the Rays should just shut him down and ensure he stays fresh for next year.
One more advantage of shutting down Boxberger and McGee is that the Rays can give other pitchers a look in crucial situations. When in contention, the Rays aren’t simply going to let any pitcher throw the 8th or 9th inning in a tight game. But now, the Rays can afford to give other guys a bit of experience in high-pressure situations and see how they react. The Rays could get Grant Balfour a couple of save opportunities to hopefully boost his confidence heading into next year after he has struggled mightily this year. They could also give guys like Steve Geltz, C.J. Riefenhauser, and Alex Colome to get them some exposure in key situations and see if they have what it takes to pitch there in the future.
In the end, it makes plenty of sense to shut down Jake McGee and Brad Boxberger. Both have seen higher workloads this year than they have in a few years, and the Rays are not contending. Thus, it makes sense to get them an early start to the offseason to ensure they are fresh for next season, when the Rays need them once again be go-to relievers. Also, it would give them a chance to give other pitchers some late-innings opportunities. This is a move the Rays need to make.