The Tampa Bay Rays’ rotation looks to enter 2015 the same way it did 2014: with most of the pieces there, but with the final piece, the number five starter, still up in the air. There will be some good candidates, for sure, but a candidate that people might not think of is Alex Colome.
Colome’s history doesn’t help the problem of perception he has with Rays fans. A positive test for steroids led to 50-game suspension before this year began in March, continuing his ill-fated journey through the Rays system. This is a guy who has been a top prospect for years but has never seemed to break through, a talented soon-to-be 26 year old with parts of three Triple-A seasons and just 39.2 big league innings under his belt. Finally, he is a pitcher who still, despite all the time that has passed, needs to work on his command and secondary pitches. You look at the accumulation of evidence against Alex Colome and you wonder why we still care about him. And then he steps onto the field.
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While Colome’s 7-6 record with a 3.77 ERA in 15 games in Durham isn’t an eye-popper, his big league performance told another story. In three starts, two relief appearances, and 23.2 innings pitched total, he recorded a 2.66 ERA, with all three of his his starts yielding excellent results. He held the eventual AL East champion Baltimore Orioles to one run in 5.2 innings in a spot-start on June 27th. That was his last big league game until September, but he returned with 6.2 shutout innings versus the New York Yankees on September 15th and 6.1 more scoreless frames against the Cleveland Indians on September 27th.
Colome’s start against the Yankees is a great example of his strengths and weaknesses. He was extremely fastball-reliant, throwing it for 73 of his 113 pitches and it was his only pitch that worked on the day. His three secondary pitches–his slider, changeup, and curveball–went for strikes just 17 of the 40 times he threw them, and he kept having to go back to his fastball. The results was a multitude of flyballs, 15 against just 6 grounders, but in this game, no one lined up one of his mid-90’s four-seamer and his outing turned out to be successful.
Alex Colome’s stuff is undeniably electric, but it lacks the refinement that we would want to see at this point in his career. Everything he throws is hard–he threw just five pitches under 80 MPH in that start against the Yankees. His slider touched as high as 91.57 MPH over the course of the game while the changeup reached 89.89 MPH. Neither pitch is a consistent weapon for him, and that will have to change. Colome is decidedly a “thrower” and not a “pitcher”–can he be a starting pitcher with this team despite that approach?
Next season will be when Alex Colome finally gets his chance. He is out-of-options, and despite all the reasons he drives the Rays crazy, they have no intention of letting him go. His tasks now will be to have a clean offseason, keep working on his secondary pitches, and get ready to prove to the Rays that he deserves to be a starter and not a reliever.