The Tampa Bay Rays Must Overhaul Their Bullpen

ARLINGTON, TX - MAY 31: Alex Colome
ARLINGTON, TX - MAY 31: Alex Colome /

The Tampa Bay Rays front office and on field management think this team can make a run for the playoffs, however in order to do so they must address the bullpen’s problems.

With the struggling Baltimore Orioles, plagued by injuries and poor pitching, coming to town, it looked like a good opportunity for the Tampa Bay Rays to pick up some wins against an Al East rival.

Things went very well on Friday night as the Rays banged out 11 hits and drew walks on their way to a 15-5 victory. Chris Archer gave the team six okay innings and they only needed Austin Pruitt to come in from the bullpen and toss three scoreless innings. The next two games were a different story.

On Saturday the two teams battled to a 3 to 3 tie through six innings. Jacob Faria gave the team another good performance and departed after 108 pitches. Then the wheels came off the bus. Jose Alvarado walked the only man he faced to lead off the seventh. Jumbo Diaz replaced him and gave up five runs on five hits to put the Orioles ahead by five. Game over and the Rays lose.

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Sunday was a similar story with a different twist. The Rays were ahead 5-4 going into the seventh inning. Jake Odorizzi had struggled yet again and had departed in the sixth inning.

Chase Whitley gave up a solo home run in the eighth inning and the score was tied going into the ninth. With no reliable setup man in the bullpen, the Rays had to go to Alex Colome in a tie game. Colome didn’t have it and gave up three runs in the top of the ninth. Again, game over and the Rays lose.

This series was not a new story. When the Rays are hot and the ball flies out of the ballpark, the Rays win. However, when the Rays have to go to the bullpen to hold off the opposition or protect a lead, they too often lose. As we look at the bullpen, we see a three part problem and those problems are as follows.

The bullpen has no setup men. Last year it had Brad Boxberger, Xavier Cedeno and, when needed, Erasmo Ramirez. This year it has been Ramirez on occasion and then whatever arm is fresh. The only other option has been Colome setting himself up by having to get one or more outs in the eighth inning.

That violates my rule of never using your closer in the eighth inning or when the game is tied. Boxberger is coming back soon and we hope that he is the same old ”Box” that we saw in 2014/15. Having Ramirez back in the bullpen will also help.

The bullpen also has no effective left handed specialist. A good bullpen has one or two pitchers whose basic job is to enter a tight game in the late innings to get out dangerous left handed hitters.

Xavier Cedeno filled that role beautifully in 2015/16 but when he went down to injury early in this season there was no one to effectively replace him and he is not due back until late August.

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The remaining problems simply have to do with consistency and everyone’s role in the bullpen. An ideal bullpen has a closer, two setup men, a lefty specialist, a right handed grind ball pitcher, another lefty and a long reliever.

The Rays currently have a closer in Colome, a right hander in Danny Farquhar, a long reliever in Austin Pruitt and four other arms.

Chase Whitley has been consistently solid but is more of a long reliever. Tommy Hunter, Jumbo Diaz and Alvarado are pitchers that can consistently throw the ball between 95-100 mph but can’t do much else. The Rays don’t trust any of them of them as a setup man.

The Rays knew this would be an issue before the season started but did very little about it. They bought into the new trend of stocking a bullpen with young arms that consistently throw 100 mph and it hasn’t worked for them. They have tried minor league pitchers but most of them don’t seem to be ready to play an important role at this point.

If the Rays’ front office and on field management think this team can make a run for the playoffs, they are going to seriously need to change this thinking and address the problem. You can’t have a playoff caliber bullpen with a closer and six other arms. We can hope that Boxberger will help but he is not the total answer.

Next: Erasmo Ramirez Back in his Proper Role

It may cost them prospects but the Rays must trade for quality bullpen help. With even the possibility of getting into the playoffs, it would be a shame to not take advantage of the opportunity when it presents itself.