Sunday, April 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Brad Boxberger seizes chance with Rays

ST. PETERSBURG — After years of trying, Rays right-hander Brad Boxberger has finally established himself by starring in situations like the one he faced Friday night.

The Rays led by four in the eighth, but the Yankees had two on and one out and future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter at the plate. Boxberger, as usual, was unfazed, even after giving up a single to Jeter.

He struck out the next two batters to leave the bases loaded and secure the Rays' shutout win.

"No big deal," manager Joe Maddon said. "That's just who he is. He has demonstrated that consistently."

Boxberger has also demonstrated that he belongs in the majors, for good.

The reliever appeared in 42 games for the Padres over the past two seasons before coming to the Rays in January in a seven-player trade that sent pitchers Alex Torres and Jesse Hahn to San Diego. But those appearances came over nine different stints in the majors, with the rest of the time spent in Triple-A Tucson.

Since the Rays recalled Boxberger in May, he has solidified his spot in the bullpen with some of the best statistics in the league.

His 14.26 strikeouts per nine innings is second among AL relievers, and he's on pace to shatter Grant Balfour's club record (12.65). His .144 opposing batting average ranks among the top 10 in the majors among relievers, and lefties have only one hit in their past 57 at-bats against him.

"He knows if he doesn't have a great night, he's still going to be out there pitching again," Maddon said. "I think when you know that, you have less bad nights because you're just out there letting it fly."

By doing that, Boxberger, 26, has corrected his biggest flaw: inconsistency in the strike zone.

Boxberger allowed 31 walks in his previous 49 2/3 major-league innings. This year, with a secure roster spot and the faith of his manager, he has issued only 17 in 53 innings while striking out almost 43 percent of the batters he has faced.

"I think the biggest tweak was being able to actually get an opportunity," Boxberger said. "I never had the opportunity in San Diego to stay for a good amount of time. They never really gave me the chance that I've had here. I've just kind of taken the opportunity and ran."

The Rays haven't just trusted Boxberger to stay in the majors; they've trusted him in pressure situations, as part of Maddon's closer-by-committee strategy. With Friday's two-strikeout performance against the Yankees, opponents dropped to 0-for-9 with six strikeouts against Boxberger with the bases loaded, and he has stranded the past 11 runners he has inherited.

He delivered one of the biggest highlights of the Rays' year in May by walking into a bases-loaded, no-out situation against Baltimore. Boxberger struck out the side on nine pitches, and he allowed himself a rare jolt of emotion to celebrate.

"More often than not," starter Alex Cobb said, "he's going to come clean up your mess."

Boxberger credits his success in pressure-packed situations to his ability to stay calm.

Like his dad, Rod, a former minor-league pitcher who played summer ball with Maddon, Boxberger doesn't say much and shows little emotion. He pitches the same way he warms up: Quickly and efficiently, with a cool confidence befitting someone who knows he finally belongs.

"In that situation, if I try to do too much, I could leave a pitch up, and then a lot of bad things can happen," Boxberger said. "If I'm able to control my emotions and make my pitches, success is hopefully going to follow."

Contact Matt Baker at [email protected]. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

. FAST FACTS

Shutdown relief

Brad Boxberger has been one of the AL's most dominant relievers. Some numbers and where he ranks (among relievers with 20 or more IP):

Stat Total AL rank

ERA 1.87 11th

SO 84 2nd

K/9 14.26 2nd

K/BB 4.94 13th

WHIP 0.79 4th

BAA .144 3rd

WHIP — walks+hits/IP; BAA — batting average allowed

 
Comments
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Rays’ 10-1 Saturday win over Twins

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Rays’ 10-1 Saturday win over Twins

* Is it time to take the leap and believe this is the real Blake Snell? He talked a good game this spring and pitched well in his debut, but that rough second outing raised old doubts. But a good outing in Chicago and two dominant ones on the homesta...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Rays Tales: How low can this team go compared to those Devil Rays days?

Rays Tales: How low can this team go compared to those Devil Rays days?

When the Rays, in the opening weekend of their 20th anniversary celebration season, brought back and honored the inaugural 1998 Devil Rays squad, it got us thinking unexpected thoughts, such as which was a better team:The first one, or the current on...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Rays Journal: Team effort pays off in 10-1 win over Twins

Rays Journal: Team effort pays off in 10-1 win over Twins

ST. PETERSBURG – Let's be clear here, the Rays still have a long way to go, and a lot of ground to make up.But seeing them play like they did Saturday in beating the Twins 10-1, putting on a solid all-around show in cobbling their first three-g...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Rays will go forth with four starters

Rays will go forth with four starters

ST. PETERSBURG — Three weeks was enough for the Rays to officially ditch their three-man rotation plan.Starting Sunday, they will go forth with Yonny Chirinos as their fourth starter.Which is a five-star idea.The flaws in the three-man plan ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
For starters: Rays vs. Twins, with a familiar look

For starters: Rays vs. Twins, with a familiar look

UPDATE, 4:17: CF Kevin Kiermaier was back at the Trop, and at one point on the field with a glove on his left hand and protective wrapping on his right, the day after surgery to repair a torn UCL in his right thumb. He said the surgery went "as good ...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Rays will go forth with Chirinos as fourth starter

Rays will go forth with Chirinos as fourth starter

The Rays have made it official – or as official as things can be with them – in naming RHP Yonny Chirinos as the fourth starter in their rotation.The Rays had been using three, and two "Bullpen Day" slots when playing five straight days.B...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Archer’s sparkling start precedes surreal finish

Archer’s sparkling start precedes surreal finish

By now, we presume you've had a few hours to digest the Rays' improbable 10-inning triumph Friday night.So instead of rehashing the whole bizarre body of work, how 'bout a closer look at the workmanship. Specifically, Chris Archer's.Partially lost in...
Published: 04/21/18
Now Batting in Double A: Biggio, Bichette and Guerrero

Now Batting in Double A: Biggio, Bichette and Guerrero

HARTFORD, Conn. — Craig Breslow is 37 years old, with a dozen years of experience as a left-handed reliever in the major leagues. He is pitching now for the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats, just getting to know his teammates. In their openin...
Published: 04/21/18
Span, Rays top Twins in 10 innings

Span, Rays top Twins in 10 innings

ST. PETERSBURG — Roughly four hours before taking the field against his former team Friday, Rays outfielder Denard Span spoke admirably about the Minnesota Twins, their organization in general, even hometown icon Joe Mauer.But business is busin...
Published: 04/20/18
Rays journal: Miller back from DL, KK surgery successful

Rays journal: Miller back from DL, KK surgery successful

ST. PETERSBURG — For a change, the physically snake-bitten Rays got some vigor, versatility and even a veteran presence back in their lineup  when INF Brad Miller was reinstated from the 10-day disabled list.To make room, they DFA'd INF/OF...
Published: 04/20/18