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Tampa Bay Rays: Was Jeff Beliveau’s Regression Inevitable?

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Once a Quad-A player, always a Quad-A player. There are many guys who perform extremely well at the Triple-A level but lack the skills to succeed in the major leagues for an extended period. As a hitter, maybe they strike out too much or have difficulty recognizing breaking pitches. Off the mound, meanwhile, the flaws are most often not throwing very hard or leaving too many pitches up in the zone.

Jeff Beliveau looked like the definition of a Quad-A pitcher. He pitched extremely well at Triple-A in 2013, but with a fastball that barely scraped 90 MPH, nobody expected him to amount to much at the big league level. He pitched in just one major league game the entire season and it looked like his designation for assignment was only a matter of time. However, it never did come, and 2014 was an entirely different story.

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Jeff Beliveau may have never gotten a chance of C.J. Riefenhauser never missed time with an oblique injury. Once he came up, though, he looked outstanding. In 30 games, he pitched to a 2.63 ERA and a 28-7 strikeout to walk ratio in 24 innings. He held lefty batters to just a .146/.239/.244 line, and he even allowed a respectable .271/.321/.292 line against righties. His fastball still stayed mostly in the high-80’s to low-90’s, but he did an excellent job throwing it up in the zone to go along with his big curveball.

Beliveau was going to be out of options in 2015, but there was no question that he would make the Rays’ Opening Day roster. Then the season began, though, and Beliveau couldn’t do anything right. He appeared in five games and allowing 4 runs on 6 hits in 2.2 innings. The sample size was incredibly small, but there were clear red flags. His average fastball velocity slipped from 90.57 MPH to 87.81 MPH and his command wasn’t nearly as sharp.

Now there is an explanation for everything. Jeff Beliveau is on the disabled list with shoulder soreness stemming from a dead arm issue that never went away. This isn’t the case of the league simply adjusting to him, at least not yet. Beliveau will return when he is healthy, and he has the ability to look just as good as he did last year. The Rays still think that he can be a valuable part of their bullpen.

At the same time, though, there is reason to be scared, even terrified, about Beliveau’s prospects moving forward. So many great underdog stories end with disappointment from injury because the cinderella players did something unconventional that exposed them to potential health problems. Alex Cobb‘s story certainly has more pages to go, but it is the same delivery that provides him with the deception to exceed expectations that has forced the oblique and other issues that have caused him to miss time.

Maybe that won’t hold true for Jeff Beliveau. Just because his career is on hold for now doesn’t mean that it can’t resume right where it left off. We can’t take away the dominant season that Beliveau had last year. We can’t say that it means nothing just because his stuff is unimpressive. When we ignored the radar guns and either watched him or looked at the statistics, he was excellent. It isn’t a coincidence that the Rays held onto him for 2014 because they knew he had that type of promise.

Yet here is C.J. Riefenhauser replacing Beliveau just like Beliveau replaced him, and maybe Beliveau will become unnecessary. Riefenhauser throws a little harder and has a slider that is more impressive than any of Beliveau’s secondary offerings. Or maybe Riefenhauser will be optioned back to Durham but be recalled after Beliveau’s struggles continue. Perhaps this injury is simply delaying Beliveau’s return to the Quad-A player he always was.

Jeff Beliveau joins the growing list of Tampa Bay Rays players on the disabled list, but he may be the one the team can count upon the least. Nice stories quickly conclude in baseball, especially in this age of analytics, and Beliveau’s luck may have run out. The truth for Beliveau lies somewhere between the extremes of “he will be fine” and “this is the end,” but after this injury and his poor start to 2015, the odds have certainly decreased that a productive big league career lies ahead for him

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Next: Tampa Bay Rays: The Search for a New Stadium Continues

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