Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Chief Rays' concern? There's no relief

PORT CHARLOTTE

Rays officials were predictably optimistic Thursday in talking about their chances to return to playoff contention this season.

Having an elite rotation stacked with high quality and healthy arms, and a lineup they're convinced has been made more powerful and productive without sacrificing any defense, can do that.

Even make them a little giddy.

Asked about the stats-oriented Baseball Prospectus site that counters more common opinion by projecting the Rays to win 91 games and the American League East title, manager Kevin Cash quipped, "I think it's a great computer."

"We should buy one," added baseball operations president Matt Silverman.

But for all the reasons the Rays have to be confident with spring training opening this weekend, there is also cause for concern. Specifically a bullpen that had issues with usage and inconsistent performance last year and now has to replace veteran Jake McGee as well, making it potentially the biggest problem in their way.

"There's going to be competition in that bullpen, Silverman acknowledged: "We can't replace Jake McGee's performance and productivity, but we feel like we have a lot of good arms who will compete. We'll see how it shakes out this spring and throughout the year."

One step the Rays took was finalizing a one-year, $1 million plus incentives deal with Clearwater product Ryan Webb, giving them another veteran and the ground ball specialist and double-play inducer they have lacked. "A nice element to have," Silverman said.

Another is more of a strategic change, with plans to use relievers in front of closer Brad Boxberger to work in more than one inning and, at times, to get more than three outs.

Though not as unconventional, or as controversial, as last year's plan to lift their lesser experienced starters after two times through the batting order, it is a different approach nonetheless.

The Rays are always looking for new frontiers to explore and inefficiencies to exploit, and this seems to be next.

There are benefits to doing things differently, such as getting more out of a reliever who is doing well rather than automatically lifting him just because he did his job and ended the inning, and using fewer pitchers on a nightly basis to maintain overall depth over a multiple-night front.

But there are potential concerns too, topped by the increase in workload on each pitcher individually and residually on the staff in totality.

Cash said they will experiment in exhibition games to see how it works. Alex Colome, Xavier Cedeno, Enny Romero, Danny Farquhar and Andrew Bellatti would seem to all be candidates for extended duty, as Cash suggested they could use this group approach rather than having a set set-up man.

"That's something we're going to have to find out in spring training — how those guys can do it," Cash said. "Can they bounce back? Are they able to come in after one-third of an inning and sit for 15 minutes while we're scoring runs and go back out? We're going to have to figure that out with some guys. Because the way we were stacked up last year, it was a lot of one-inning guys."

With veterans Matt Moore and Drew Smyly healthy and expected to be in the rotation all year, along with Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Erasmo Ramirez (at least until Alex Cobb returns in late July), the Rays will have a deeper, more experienced set of starters and shouldn't have to go to the pen as early, or as often.

But, noting the void left by trading McGee to the Rockies for Corey Dickerson, one of the key new bats, Silverman talked about the new plan as a way to increase flexibility and maximize their options in what will be a relatively inexperienced bullpen. (At least unless they add another veteran arm or two.)

"It would be great if our starter goes seven innings, hand it off to our reliever in the eighth, close it out in the ninth and win a ball game," Silverman said. "And if that happens, fantastic.

"But we want to make sure we have contingencies where we don't have issues covering innings if there is an injury to a starter, if a guy doesn't go very deep, we want to make sure we have the length to be able to have a fresh pen the next day and not have it affect our club that day and for a couple of games down the road."

The Rays are known for seeking creative solutions, and this could be another. Or it could be a big reason the bullpen blows up and the season is a bust.

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @ TBTimes_Rays

Penned in

The Rays' inexperienced relief corps currently looks like this (with stats as relievers):

PlayerGamesW-LERASaves
Closer
RH Brad Boxberger, 27174 9-132.9444/53
In the pen
LH Xavier Cedeno, 29138 4-23.862/6
RH Alex Colome, 2732 5-13.550/5
LH Enny Romero, 2523 0-25.100/2
RH Ryan Webb, 30357 17-183.550
Top candidates for two spots
RH Andrew Bellatti, 2417 3-12.310/0
x-LH Dana Eveland, 3293 3-44.712/5
RH Danny Farquhar, 29158 4-123.9618/26
RH Steve Geltz, 2881 2-73.792/6
PlayerGamesW-LERASaves
Closer
RH Brad Boxberger, 27174 9-132.9444/53
In the pen
LH Xavier Cedeno, 29138 4-23.862/6
RH Alex Colome, 2732 5-13.550/5
LH Enny Romero, 2523 0-25.100/2
RH Ryan Webb, 30357 17-183.550
Top candidates for two spots
RH Andrew Bellatti, 2417 3-12.310/0
x-LH Dana Eveland, 3293 3-44.712/5
RH Danny Farquhar, 29158 4-123.9618/26
RH Steve Geltz, 2881 2-73.792/6

x-non-roster deal

Chief Rays' concern? There's no relief 02/18/16 [Last modified: Thursday, February 18, 2016 10:03pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. College World Series: Gators, LSU face off in all-SEC finals

    College

    OMAHA, Neb. — The matchup for the College World Series finals bolsters the case for those who say the best baseball in the land is played in the SEC.

    Florida’s Brady Singer, delivering during a CWS win over Louisville last week, is scheduled to start tonight against LSU.
  2. Jones: Fox Sports Sun shows depth in Rays coverage

    TV and Radio

    tom jones' two cents

    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

    Best coverage

    Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) makes a run home for a score in the in the final game of a three-game series between the Tampa Bay Rays and AL East rival the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, June 25, 2017.
  3. Brian Boyle says returning to Lightning a 'huge option'

    Blogs

    As former Lightning forward Brian Boyle approaches free agency this week, he said he's trying to stay busy.

  4. Rays journal: Blake Snell to rejoin rotation, Erasmo Ramirez heads to bullpen

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — LHP Blake Snell is rejoining the Rays' rotation, but the move has as much to do with helping the bullpen as it does with Snell's improvement during his time at Triple-A Durham.

    Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Erasmo Ramirez (30) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday, June 21, 2017 in St. Petersburg.
  5. Rays' bullpen stars lit up in loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Saturday it was the soft underbelly of the bullpen that let one get away from the Rays, incurring the wrath of the team's faithful followers, who wondered why the high-leverage guys weren't pitching.

    Rays closer Alex Colome, coming in with the score tied in the ninth, allows three runs in his second straight poor outing.