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Tampa Bay Rays Figuring Out Role for Austin Pruitt

By David Hill
Apr 2, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Austin Pruitt (50) throws a pitch at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay Rays defeated the New York Yankees 7-3. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 2, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Austin Pruitt (50) throws a pitch at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay Rays defeated the New York Yankees 7-3. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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There is no questioning the talent that Austin Pruitt possesses. The problem is finding the right role for him in the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen.

Right now, the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen is in a state of flux. Aside from closer Alex Colome, the Rays do not seem to have a reliever that manager Kevin Cash trusts in the later innings. While Danny Farquar could end up being that pitcher down the line, it is quite apparent that the Rays miss Brad Boxberger.

Given the state of flux in the Rays bullpen, it is understandable that manager Kevin Cash would be looking to find the right role for each pitcher. That, naturally, will lead to a bit of experimentation, which we have seen with Austin Pruitt. A starter in the minors, he showed solid swing and miss stuff, along with excellent command, leading to the hope that his stuff would play up in a relief role in the Majors.

Thus far, Pruitt’s time with the Rays has been a bit mixed. In his first appearance, with the Rays holding a five run lead, he failed to record an out while allowing three baserunners. He then allowed a run on two hits in the eighth inning of the Rays 5-0 loss to the Yankees, as Cash was letting him get his feet wet.

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Then came his usage on April 7 against the Blue Jays. With the Rays clinging to a 6-5 lead in the sixth, Cash brought in Pruitt to try to preserve the game. Pruitt loaded the bases with one out, with a single and two walks, to bring up the dangerous Jose Bautista. Surprisingly, Pruitt was able to strike Bautista out, before being lifted for Xavier Cedeno, who walked in two runs.

At 27 years old, Pruitt should be ready for the Majors. His strikeout of Bautista in that situation showed that he can be a viable weapon in the bullpen. However, it may be fair to question whether or not that moment was too much for the Rays rookie reliever to handle at this point in time.

Unfortunately, the Rays and Cash do not have the luxury of waiting to see when Pruitt can begin to handle that spot. They need to find someone who can help bridge the gap between the starters and Colome. In theory, Pruitt can be a part of that bridge, but he needs to prove that he can be capable of handling such a role.

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Until that happens, the Austin Pruitt’s role with the Tampa Bay Rays will be fairly uncertain. Eventually, he will find his niche, but it could take some time.

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