Tampa Bay Rays: Counting on a Healthy Boxberger

Jul 31, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Brad Boxberger (26) looks on against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 31, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Brad Boxberger (26) looks on against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Spending the majority of the 2016 season on the disabled list, Tampa Bay Rays reliever Brad Boxberger is healthy and looking towards a bounce back season.

A healthy Brad Boxberger is essential for the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen not just as a veteran arm, but also as a stabilizing force. The addition of his return takes off some of the pressure that had been on placed on many of the relievers used in 2016.

Boxberger was penciled in last spring as the Rays closer, fresh off the 2015 season in which he was the American League saves leader with 41. However, in his first Spring Training appearance on March 6 of last spring, Boxberger tore the adductor brevis muscle (core muscle) in his groin area and underwent surgery on March 17.

Starting the season on the disabled list, Boxberger would not return to the Rays until May 30 and would make his 2016 debut a day later against the Royals. The results of his debut though were not what Boxberger wanted – as he had to leave the game, after pitching to just two batters.

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The injury sustained was a left oblique strain, putting Boxberger back on the disabled list for another month before he would return to game action. All-in-all Boxberger spent a total of 99 games on the disabled list and made just 27 appearances on the season.

Overall in 2016, Boxberger went 4-3 with a 4.81 ERA in 24.1 innings pitched. Though he did have 22 strikeouts, he also walked 19 batters.

During his time on the disabled list, Alex Colome stepped into the closers role, capitalizing on the opportunity that saw him save 37 games for the Rays and making him one of the most sought after closers this off-season.

Because of the World Baseball Classic this spring, Ray’s manager Kevin Cash and pitching Coach Jim Hickey are monitoring the entire pitcher staffs work schedule with a fine tooth-comb, so-to-speak. What they are doing is slowing down the workload with some of the relievers specifically with Xavier Cedeno, Erasmo Ramirez and Boxberger and veteran starters Alex Cobb, and Jake Odorizzi.

Cash though was very happy to see Boxberger’s first go during live batting a few weeks back…

"“You saw the depth on his changeup, which was great to see. The ball’s coming out of his hand really well.”"

That is a great sign for the Rays, especially for the back-end of the bullpen that right now is leaning towards Boxberger as the set-up man with Colome back in the closers role – however, the rest of the bullpen seems to be in a flux, which may or may not involve Boxberger.

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It is very possible that Cash could go with a lefty/righty combo (Cedeno-Boxberger) in the set-up role or even Ramirez, though he seems better suited as middle reliever. Going deeper into the hole, there is newcomer Shawn Tolleson a former closer who worked as a set-up man after losing his closers role with Texas or even Danny Farquhar.

Regardless, just having Boxberger back is a big in all terms. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times put it best – “Boxberger can have the single most impact on the overall success of the team than anyone else in a Rays uniform.”

Cash went on to say that having Boxberger back, and in good health, would be a big asset for the team.

"“Not to put added pressure on Box — he had a lost year, not by his doing, just injuries — but you look around the league, you see a lot of kind of those two-headed-monster bullpen, and Box and [Alex] Colome at the back end would be huge for us. We need to get him to where he is comfortable and pitching in those big innings like we saw him in ’15.”"

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If Boxberger can stay healthy and pitch like he did prior to his injury riddled 2016 season, the Rays are certainly less likely to overwork the rest of the bullpen, making way for what could be a very successful season.