MIAMI — It took a quarter of a season of inconsistent play, a previously undisclosed injury to starter Scott Kazmir and a frustrating and potentially career-ending setback for closer Troy Percival, but the Rays are making changes.
And that is a good thing.
The offense, despite the limited contributions then absence of DH Pat Burrell and ongoing struggles of B.J. Upton and Dioner Navarro, has come around as the Rays have the most runs in the majors and highest per-game average (5.76) in the AL.
But the pitching has been a problem, and the Rays took the first step to address it by taking Kazmir, who has been struggling mightily, out of the mix.
Sure, his right quad is sore. But the benefit will be giving him time to get his mechanics right without costing the team more games. And given the option of replacing him with David Price, it sure makes a lot of sense.
The bullpen has been better, but Percival's inconsistency was creating an uncomfortable problem. Manager Joe Maddon had tried to lighten his workload, but if the Rays couldn't count on Percival to get the final outs, there really wasn't much use for him in a middle relief role.
With Jason Isringhausen on hand, Chad Bradford on the way back and Dale Thayer and others throwing well in the minors, the Rays needed the room to try some other options. Percival played a large role, on the mound and in the clubhouse, in their 2008 success, and his final contribution may be retiring now so they have a better chance to win more this season.
Two other potential changes are lurking.
One is dropping Upton from the leadoff spot. Maddon has held off, insisting Upton will rebound and not wanting to show a lack of faith. Plus, he's not convinced there's a better option, reluctant to mess with Jason Bartlett's success by moving him to the top. But Upton — who contributes heavily in the field and on the bases (when not getting picked off) — understands and is pretty much expecting it to happen.
The other is playing Ben Zobrist regularly in rightfield. The Gabes — Gross and Kapler — have a combined two homers, 14 RBIs and a .233 average; Zobrist has 8, 23 and .292. Maddon's concern is that Zobrist's productivity may decline if he's used in less favorable matchups and is overexposed.
But change, as the Rays just showed, can be good.