Tampa Bay Rays: Boxberger Uncertain for Opening Day

Sep 4, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Brad Boxberger (26) throws a pitch at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 4, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Brad Boxberger (26) throws a pitch at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Tampa Bay Rays and their bullpen need a healthy Brad Boxberger, however lack of work this spring due to lingering back soreness could land him on the disabled list to begin the season.

The news on Tampa Bay Rays reliever Brad Boxberger was not very encouraging on Monday when the soon to be set-up man was scratched from his minor-league session set for Tuesday due to lingering soreness in his lat and back.

Because of the continuing soreness, Boxberger’s latest development has put the start of his season in jeopardy, as it is becoming “crunch time” in regards to having him ready for Opening Day.

Boxberger’s arm is fine; however, the lat injury (oblique) is not getting any better therefore prohibiting him from getting in enough innings during his workout sessions, which includes pitching live batting practice and appearing in any Grapefruit League games.

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Manager Kevin Cash still has not ruled Boxberger out of Opening Day; however, it is becoming very apparent that he will begin the season on the disabled list as he has not had enough innings of work, but more importantly, the Rays do not want to push just have him ready for Opening Day.

"“Realistically, key piece in our bullpen, we’re going to do right by him and want him to get his innings and reps. It’s going to be very difficult to do that.”"

Losing Boxberger is a big blow to the bullpen, especially since he arrived healthy to spring training and the early prognosis of his workouts, which had included pitching batting practice, was very good and impressed Cash.

Throughout training camp, the Rays had kept a watchful on the former AL saves leader, primarily due to the abdominal and oblique problems that Boxberger endured during the 2016 season. Between the abdominal surgery (core muscle) that took place during spring training and then upon his return an oblique strain in May, Boxberger was limited to just 24 innings of work.

Another reliever that could be joining Boxberger on the DL to open the season is Shawn Tolleson. Last August Tolleson landed on the 60-day DL with a lower back strain and like Boxberger, the Rays are being cautious with his workouts and because of limited innings, he would likely begin the season on the DL to get additional work at Durham.

Although he has made four appearances, logging just four innings of work his line is comes in at 1-0, with a 4.50 ERA with five strikeouts and two walks. Since his initial appearance (Mar. 3 vs. Detroit) in which he gave up two runs on two hits, he has been much more effective.

The loss hurts in many ways, as the depth in their bullpen could get a very early test and one that could open up opportunities for some pitchers that may not have necessarily made the team out of camp. Three of those opportunities belong to Justin Marks, Austin Pruitt and Jaime Schultz who have done exceptionally well this spring, with Marks having the upper hand as he has major league experience and that he is a left-hander.

Currently, the only lefty in the bullpen is Xavier Cedeno so having Marks would certainly be an asset in terms of not over-working Cedeno in situations where Cash would need a southpaw. Marks spring line is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA over six appearances (10-IP, 1 start), with seven strikeouts and no walks while holding opponents to a .200 average.  However, he is not on the 40-man roster and the Rays would need to make a corresponding move.

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Pruitt’s spring line is 1-0 with a 2.53 ERA over six appearances (10.2-IP, 1 start), with 11 strikeouts and just one walk with opponents hitting .227 against him. Schultz has been just as impressive, though he has not started any games he has made six appearances (10-IP) and is pitching to a 0.90 ERA with 16 strikeouts, seven walks while holding opponents to a .118 average.

Both Pruitt and Schultz have no major league experience and with that being said, making the jump to the majors out of spring training may not be feasible. However, speculation is that they will make their MLB debut sometime this season.

One reliever that is on the 40-man roster is Jumbo Diaz whom the Rays have yet to see pitch because of his participation in the World Baseball Classic. Diaz had a very rough start to his spring training with the Reds before being placed on waivers and being without any minor league options, his effectiveness in a short period with the Rays will be the key to whether or not he remains with the team.

If Boxberger and Tolleson open the season on the DL, that leaves Chase Whitley, Danny Farquhar, Xavier Cedeno, Erasmo Ramirez and closer Alex Colome as the mainstays, creating two openings.

In addition to those mentioned above, non-roster invitees David Carpenter and Tommy Hunter could also join the mix as possible bullpen candidates.

Hunter is having a respectable and solid spring for the Rays, pitching to a 0-0 record with 0.00 ERA in six appearances (6.2-IP) in which he has eight strikeouts and three walks, holding opponents to a .222 average. He has also made a very good impression to Cash and speculation on my part is that he makes the club.

Carpenter last pitched in the majors in 2015 with the Yankees and Washington and ironically, this stop with the Rays is his second, as he had been signed by the organization last March 11 and released on March 30 in the first of three organization moves before landing in the Atlantic League.

Shoulder injuries that derailed Carpenter’s time in 2015 are behind him he is healthy and his spring lines with the Rays make him an option. His line so far is 0-1 with a 3.12 ERA in seven appearances (1 start). He has six strikeouts with no walks while holding opponents to a .219 average.

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However, Carpenter and Hunter would need to be added to the 40-man roster, which could be solved when and if the Rays place Kevin Gadea on the 15-day DL (with an eventual move to the 60-day DL) due to a sore elbow, and the possible DFA of Ryan Garton and or Jumbo Diaz.