PORT CHARLOTTE — With all the confidence and optimism surging through Rays' camp about the bolstered offense and potentially elite-level rotation, the bullpen, in terms of quality and depth, had to be, at the least, a concern.
Now it should be considered a downright worry.
News Friday that the nagging discomfort Brad Boxberger felt in his core area resulted in surgery to repair a muscle tear means the bullpen will be without its only experienced closer for at least the first six weeks of the season, and potentially into early June.
Which means to say hello to Alex Colome or Danny Farquhar or Steve Geltz or someone else who hasn't done it much trying to protect ninth-inning leads for a team expecting to compete in the American League East.
"It certainly makes it more difficult," baseball operations president Matt Silverman said. "For us to lose someone like Brad for a chunk of the season is tough."
Boxberger was not, as anyone who suffered through his 10 losses, six by walkoff, last year, a sure thing. But at least he had the experience of being the closer all season, and the confidence from the success of leading the AL with 41 saves last year and making the All-Star team.
And with Jake McGee — who would have made a pretty good fill-in — now working for the Rockies after being deemed too much of a luxury and swapped for Corey Dickerson, the Rays don't have an experienced alternative.
They will work the phones to find help, as they always do, and have displaced first baseman James Loney, or an extra outfielder (Desmond Jennings, Brandon Guyer) to offer.
But Silverman acknowledged they are more likely to add depth than a replacement and hope the guys they have — with manager Kevin Cash and pitching coach Jim Hickey sorting out how best to deploy their committee — can handle the assignment.
"This is something where we need to keep everything together as long as we can until (Boxberger) comes back," Silverman said. "And we're going to lean upon the depth we collected."
Farquhar, acquired from Seattle in the same trade as Brad Miller and Logan Morrison, has the most experience, converting 16 of 18 saves during a two-month stint as Seattle's closer at the end of the 2013 season, and 18 of 26 overall. Until Friday's news, the bigger question — as even he said — was whether he would make the team. Now it may be whether he'll get the ball in the ninth April 3.
The other top choice would seem to be Colome, who has the most appealing profile, with the type of velocity and demeanor that could play well. But in his nine pro seasons (excluding winter ball) he has never saved a game.
Otherwise, the Rays will be reaching. Geltz, who saved two games as a rookie last year (and also started two), could be a wild-card. So could David Carpenter, signed recently after being released by the Braves. Taking lefty specialist Cedeno or ground-ball getter Webb out of their planned roles could weaken the pen elsewhere. Trusting Enny Romero doesn't seem wise yet. Erasmo Ramirez could get bumped over from the rotation.
"We have multiple options," Cash said, "that we're excited to see how it shakes out."
Boxberger, working on a reduced schedule this spring, was dealing with a nagging issue once he started throwing off the mound that initially seemed related to a tight hamstring. But when it didn't get better, the Rays had him checked here, then sent his records to Philadelphia, where noted specialist Dr. William Meyers saw a tear in the adductor brevis muscle near the groin, and performed surgery on Thursday.
The Rays will have a better read on Boxberger's timetable for return after the first four weeks of rehab, but mid May seems the earliest and early June more likely.
Given the options, it won't be soon enough.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.