The bullpen is the section of major league teams’ rosters that changes the most over the course of the year. A reliever could be replaced because of injury or ineffectiveness, just like at every other position, but sometimes he just gets sent down because his team could use a fresh arm. Kirby Yates didn’t look particularly bad to begin the year, but with the Rays’ relief corps getting a little strained, the team decided to replace him with Jose Dominguez.
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Dominguez immediately gives the Rays better pure stuff than Yates, but it doesn’t come without a cost. Dominguez’s fastball has reached as high as 101 MPH during his big league time, and he pairs it with a solid slider than comes in nearly 15 MPH slower. It is easy to look at those pitches and see a potential late-inning arm and maybe even a closer. The Rays acquired Dominguez in the Joel Peralta hoping to make the final adjustments necessary to get him to that point.
The Rays’ major task will be to help Dominguez figure out where his pitches are going on a more consistent basis. It won’t be an easy task. Dominguez walked 4.3 batters per 9 innings in the minor leagues, a number that increased to 5.1 in his 41 Triple-A appearances. Dominguez has struck out enough batters to maintain a strikeout to walk ratio of better than 2-to-1 despite that, but we can only expect that to get worse for him in the major leagues.
A tempting comp for Jose Dominguez is former Rays closer Kyle Farnsworth. Farnsworth also had electric stuff, reaching triple-digits with his fastball as well, but he finished his career with a 4.26 ERA (101 ERA+), a mediocre mark for a reliever even taking into account the times he played in. He was a dominant closer in 2005 and 2011, but his ERA was above 4.30 in 8 of his 14 seasons as a full-time reliever.
Is Dominguez doomed to the same fate as an up-and-down bullpen arm? He very well could be, especially given that his slider trails behind Farnsworth’s. Farnsworth also had better control, walking 3.8 batters per 9 for his career, and his struggles were more from allowing home runs than anyone else. The good news for Dominguez is that he may do a better job keeping the ball in the yard than Farnsworth did, but will that be a worthwhile tradeoff given how many more batters he will walk?
Jose Dominguez still isn’t a finished product. He will get into a few games for the Rays and hopefully pitch well, but then he will return to Triple-A hoping to continue improving his control. There is still time for his arsenal to click and give him a chance to surpass Farnsworth’s career. The big thing to remember as Jose Dominguez makes his Tampa Bay Rays debut, though, is that his triple-digits fastball won’t overcome all of his problems. We shouldn’t expect too much, at least not yet.