OAKLAND, Calif. — Rays staff and executives have wrestled for years with the question of whether right-hander Alex Colome would be more effective as a high-leverage reliever than a starter.
And now they might find out.
After being dropped from the rotation with the July return of Matt Moore (and a pedestrian 3-4, 4.70 record in 13 starts), Colome was working what seemed to be a gradual adjustment to handling more significant bullpen work.
And then two events in the span of about 24 hours propelled him into a more important role.
On Tuesday night, Jake McGee, who had been handling eighth-inning and occasional closing duty, sustained a left knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery and might sideline him the rest of the season.
And on Wednesday night, Colome, who had been doing mostly long and mop-up work, was entrusted with a lead for just the second time, and a one-run margin in the eighth at that, and struck out the top-three hitters for the Astros on 10 dazzling pitches.
"You look at a lot of these guys, a lot of young starters that go to the bullpen and maybe they simplify some things," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Hopefully that's what he's doing because the weapons are there.
"I have no idea what the future entails for him, starter or reliever, but right now he's in our bullpen, and he seems to be really taking to it. You do hear some great stories about a lot of guys that transition to the bullpen and have a ton of success."
The Rays are very familiar with one of the best stories. Wade Davis made the initial move during the 2012 season before being traded with James Shields to Kansas City in the Wil Myers/Jake Odorizzi deal, but he didn't have the breakthrough success until 2014 with the Royals, posting staggering elite-level numbers and earning an All-Star selection this year.
Not to get far ahead of things, but Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey said Colome has similar tools to Davis — a high-end fastball and a power breaking ball, which is an 85-86 mph killer somewhere between curve and slider — and thus similar potential.
And Hickey is impressed with what he has seen thus far from Colome.
"It took Wade quite some time to make that transition, where Alex had made it a little bit quicker," Hickey said.
"He may never be what Wade Davis has become — or he may — but if he's going to do it, he's going to get there probably a little bit quicker than Wade did."
Colome, 26, admits he wasn't particularly thrilled when the Rays first moved him to the pen. He knows this is a pivotal season in his career, at least with Tampa Bay, as he is out of options and mop-up duty wasn't going to improve his job security.
"All I could say is that if they give me a chance as a reliever, I have to do it," Colome said. "It's important to do my job and pitch well to stay here."
Once Colome accepted the move, it took him a few weeks to make the adjustments. Physically, he had to learn a different routine than building toward pitching once every five days.
Then strategically, to narrow his repertoire by throwing primarily the two pitches (minimizing use of his changeup and cutter) and to be more aggressive and attack-minded since he would be working in short stints.
Over 10 appearances from the All-Star break through Wednesday he had a dominating 0.59 ERA, with nearly twice as many swings and misses when coming out of the pen.
"The first few times I pitched out of the bullpen, I feel different," Colome said. "Now, I fell really comfortable. I feel really good. I only need the chance to pitch. I don't care what the situation is. I know I can do my job."
Even as well as Davis one day?
"I can do it," Colome said. "I just need the opportunity."
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]bay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.