The Tampa Bay Rays are one game under .500 after forty-three games but the team’s performance has often looked worse. While the offense is tied for the league lead in home runs, three of the teams nine starting position players are hitting under .200 and the team is tied for twenty-fifth in RBI’s and third in striking out.
The starting pitching, once the backbone of the team, has 11 wins in 43 starts and the staff leader is spot starter Matt Andriese with a 3-0 record and a 2.11 era. The bullpen has also blown up far too often. However, it also has not always been their fault as pitchers have been used far too often and too many times in unfamiliar roles. Here is an in depth look at the bullpen staff that and why it has often not lived up to its potential.
Every team wants to have a lights out closer and Alex Colome has certainly fit the bill. Stepping in for Brad Boxberger, he is 12 out of 12 in save opportunities and has more than lived up to expectations. The perfect bullpen also needs a couple of equally talented setup men to cover the seventh and eight innings and occasionally step in as the closer. The emergence of former starter Erasmo Ramirez into that role has been huge. However, with starters not getting past the fifth inning, the Rays have had to use him in too many early and/or multiple inning stints.
The search for a second setup man has failed miserably. Xavier Cedeno, a prize last year as a left handed specialist, did not take to the role as a setup man. Next up was Steve Geltz. A middle inning journeyman at best, Geltz has been terrible this season. With a 6.06 era, he has given up seven home runs in sixteen inninings with four of them costing the Rays victories. He has since been optioned to Durham. One unanswered question is why the Rays did not turn to Enny Romero as a setup man. Romero was on the same fast track as Colome and, for the most part, has pitched well when given the opportunity.
After Cedeno and Romero, there isn’t much to talk about. Ryan Webb is a journeyman right hander. After a terrible April, his game has come around but he is still only a middle inning ground ball pitcher. Dana Everland is nothing more than a roster filler as his 8.25 era seems to point out. The Rays have just added minor leaguer Ty Sturtevant to the roster. He is thirty years old and has never thrown an inning in the majors. Who knows how he will pitch in the big leagues.
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Triple A Durham doesn’t offer much help. Danny Farquar pitched well for the Rays at the beginning of the season but was optioned to Durham in a roster move and hasn’t pitched well since. Dylan Floro and Ryan Garton are a couple of non prospects who are having good years but their future is unknown. Andrew Bellatti pitched well for the Rays in a brief stint in 2015 but he is on the DL.The rest of the Durham relief staff look like a bunch of guys from the witness protection program.
There is hope for the rest of the season. Boxberger should return next week and that will give the team a talented late inning trio of Colome, Ramirez and Boxberger. With those roles filled, Cedeno can resume his role as lefty specialist and Webb can settle in as the right handed groundball pitcher. Hopefully, Romeo will find success as the middle inning reliever.
Of course, all of this goes out the window if the Rays starting pitchers can’t get past the fifth inning. An earlier exit by the starter forces an earlier use of the bullpen and more appearances, innings and chances to be thrown out of their comfort zone. In yesterday’s Marlins game Jake Odorizzi was pitching a brilliant two hitter but was over 100 pitches in the fifth inning and was gone at the end of the inning. The Rays went on to win the game but it took a six out save from Colome. The Rays are now without Ramirez for and Colome for the next couple of games.
Kevin Cash and Jim Hickey certainly have their collective hands full of unexpected pitching issues. There are no easy solutions but if the Rays are to play meaningful baseball in the fall, answers to these issues need to be found.