Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Balfour remains Rays' closer

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Two things were clear the day after Grant Balfour's latest failure led to him being pulled from Thursday's game against the Angels and the Rays suffering a staggering defeat.

One, Balfour will remain the Rays' closer.

"Absolutely," manager Joe Maddon said Friday.

Two, he needs to be more aggressive in pitching and personality.

"He just needs to go back to being a little bit more of a Neanderthal," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "More primitive. More of a caveman."

What was not nearly as clear was the reason for Balfour's reticence and accompanying lack of performance.

"There's no one reason why," Hickey said.

Maddon mentioned assertiveness and trust, suggesting it might be more mental and planned a chat with him before Friday's game against the Angels.

"He's way too much under control," Maddon said. "I just haven't see the same assertive Grant. I want him to be more assertive, trust himself."

Balfour noted Friday, as he has earlier this season, that he isn't pleased with his fastball velocity and thus relying more often on his slider, which suggests the issue is more strategic.

"It's about being more competi­tive in the strike zone," Balfour said, "not trying to make that perfect pitch."

That was evident Thursday when Balfour, called on to protect a three-run lead with the Angels' Nos. 8-9 hitters coming up, got ahead of Hank Conger (1-and-2) and Efrem Navarro (0-and-2) but walked both.

When he gave up a ground-ball RBI single to Collin Cowgill — Balfour blamed the Rays' alignment for it getting through — Maddon made the unusual move of pulling his closer with the lead. That didn't work out. Mike Trout hit the third straight changeup from Brad Boxberger for a three-run walkoff homer and a 6-5 loss.

Given Balfour's two seasons in Oakland, the Rays had high hopes when they signed Balfour to a two-year, $12 million contract late in the offseason after his deal with the Orioles fell through. But there have been two noticeable differences.

Most troubling is his high number of walks, 14 in 151/3 innings, compared to 11 strikeouts. Over his previous two seasons, he walked a total of 55 in 1371/3 innings while striking out 144.

The other difference is the decreased use of his fastball, which he threw more than 65 percent of the time in 2012-13 in Oakland but thus far only 51 percent with the Rays. The average velocity has been down slightly, to 91.5 mph, which Balfour admits is a reason he hasn't thrown it as much.

"I don't feel like my fastball is where I'd like it to be right now," he said.

But part of the current conversation is the Rays convincing him it's still good enough.

"Exactly as good as it's been, not kind of," Maddon said. "It's more than the actual velocity number. Location and life and everything is totally consistent as it had been."

Balfour, noting a big part of his 6.46 ERA came from Thursday and a similar April 25 blowup in Chicago, insisted he is working hard to regain the needed feeling. "I know I need to get better than where I'm at. I know I'm better that how I've pitched."

Hickey believes Balfour can solve the problem on his own.

"You've seen him. When he's confident, he's 10 feet tall and he's bulletproof," Hickey said. "All we need is a couple nice, good quick, clean outings and I think you'll see him back to being extremely assertive."

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