Who’s To Blame For The Rays Bullpen Woes

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - JULY 9: Manager Kevin Cash
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - JULY 9: Manager Kevin Cash /

To blame the relievers for the Rays bullpen woes goes only so far. The burden of proof though leans on the shoulders of poor management decisions and with the majority coming from the front office.

Sunday’s one run loss to the Los Angles Angels was particularly frustrating. The Rays had chances to win the game but couldn’t come through in the clutch. There was plenty of blame to go around and a lot of the blame goes deeper than just one tough loss.

The first villain was Chris Archer. Archer did hold the Angels to two runs in six innings but he lacked command and walked five, threw 107 pitches and was gone after six innings. Two missed tags at the plate by Jose Sucre didn’t help. However, in the end, the high pitch count was the real problem and Archer was not able to go seven or eight innings

The next issue was Cash’s strange bullpen management. With Archer struggling, Cash had Erasmo Ramirez up in the sixth. Archer got through the sixth giving up only one run in the inning. Then, with the Rays down by two runs, Cash went to Tommy Hunter in the seventh.

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Yes, the heart of the Angels order was up and Hunter got them out on eight pitches but the bullpen sequence, with Brad Boxberger unavailable, was now out of order. The Rays then scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh on a Logan Morrison two run home and the score was now tied 2-2.

Even though Hunter had thrown only eight pitches, Cash elected to go to the bullpen again in the eighth and once again he passed over Ramirez and called on Jumbo Diaz.

Diaz got an out and gave up a single and Cash then went to the newest lefty Adam Kolarek, The Angels countered by sending up right handed hitter R. J. Cron who deposited Kolarek’s first pitch into the stands and the Angels led 4-2. Should Cash have gone to Ramirez to start the inning? Should he have walked the power hitting Cron to get at the Angels eighth and ninth hitters? We’ll never know.

The Rays had another chance in the ninth. After scoring one run, the Rays had the bases loaded and one out with Tim Beckham at the plate. Beckham swung at the first pitch from a struggling Brad Norris and hit a roller to the shortstop. Double play, game over and the Angels win.

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We could blame Archer, Sucre or Beckham for this loss but the real villain is the understaffed and under-performing bullpen. The current bullpen has only three reliable pitchers available in high leverage situations.

They include Hunter, Boxberger and Alex Colome. Ramirez and Chase Whitley have had their moments but Cash sees them as low leverage middle inning relievers. Diaz was a disaster and Kolarek, the team’s only lefty reliever, has not proved to be dependable.

All of this is complicated by the fact that, far too often, starters can’t get past the fifth or sixth inning. It might mean that the team would be better served by adding an eighth reliever and dropping a position player. Of course, that only works if the eighth reliever can give you quality innings.

In the end, the people who really deserve the blame are President of Baseball Operations Matt Silverman and GM Erik Neander. They have known about this problem since the beginning of the season and it only got worse when Xavier Cedeno went on the 60 day disabled list in May.

Making the situation even more difficult was the lack of depth in the minors. The only available arms were starters such as Austin Pruitt, Chih-Wei Hu, Chase Whitley, Jose Alvarado and Ryne Stanek and they all lacked experience in high leverage relief situations.

At this point, the Rays only answer is to acquire relievers through trades. They missed an opportunity when they lost out on left hander Sean Doolittle to the Washington Nationals. I’m sure they tried to obtain him but you would think they could have come up with a better package of prospects than the #15 and #17 the Nationals offered.

It is now rumored that the Rays are in pursuit of lefties Justin Wilson of Detroit and Tony Watson of Pittsburgh as well as right hander Hunter Strickland of San Francisco. Adding Wilson to the bullpen would surely help. Adding Wilson and Strickland would be ideal.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen Hunt Continues to Expand

A year ago, the Rays were quick to understand the value of starting pitching depth. It took them until this year to understand the need for depth in position players. However, they have never understood the need for depth in the bullpen and have always thought they could fix the pen on the cheap. Let’s hope they finally understand the need for quality relievers and before this season slips away.