Saturday, February 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

No doubting Alex Colome's All-Star credentials

Evan Longoria had a pretty good read the first couple times he trotted from third base to the mound — during tight ninth-inning situations — to visit with Alex Colome.

"Sometimes you can tell when you look a guy in the face," Longoria said. "There's either panic there or there's a calmness and an understanding the situation is under control. And I've always looked at him and felt like he was going to make the pitches and get out of it."

From the dugout, Rays manager Kevin Cash and pitching coach Jim Hickey similarly noted how cool, how calm and how collected Colome was.

Especially since he had little experience at closing games, save for a few winter ball appearances, and never in the minors. And he never had much preparation, thrust unexpectedly into the role after incumbent Brad Boxberger was sidelined in mid-March.

"I don't know where it comes from, but he has a very veteran attitude out there," Hickey said.

What Colome has done on the mound certainly has been significant, enough for him to earn selection to the American League team for tonight's All-Star Game in San Diego.

But it was how Colome went about converting all 19 save opportunities, and compiling a 1.69 ERA, that has been impressive, even more so since he was just converted from starter to reliever last summer.

"He's handled it better than I think anyone in here would have put any kind of expectation on him," Longoria said. "His stuff has always been there. It's just when you move a guy into the closer's role from a starter you never know what's going to happen.

"And he's been unbelievable. His mentality. The way he's handled it. He's just very deserving of being an All-Star."

When the Rays bumped Colome from the rotation — to make room for Matt Moore's return from Tommy John surgery — last July, Hickey and bullpen coach Stan Boroski also asked him to narrow his repertoire, focusing more on throwing his upper-90s fastball and hard slider/cutter at the expense of making less use of his curveball and changeup, and adopt more of an aggressive approach.

Colome, 27, said there was no reason to pout, or to not go along.

"I never be negative," he said. "If they give me the opportunity to start, I do it. Any situation, I go in. They gave me the opportunity. They gave me the ball. And I do the job."

Colome has pretty much always had the attitude.

Signed in 2007 for $75,000, Colome came through the Rays academy in the Dominican Republic, pitching his way through all seven levels of the farm system to get to the majors in May 2013, weathering shoulder and elbow injuries and a spring 2015 bout with pneumonia, and serving a 50-game PEDs suspension along the way.

Colome said he figured from watching others that when he moved to the bullpen, he would have to be calmer. And when he found out he was headed for closer duties this season, "I knew I had to have more confidence and make better pitches."

As amicable as Colome can be in the clubhouse, he takes a fierce, unforgiving look to the mound, and complements that with the quiet, intense approach.

"You hear the term closer mentality a lot, and I think the first part of that is belief in your stuff and the belief that if you get into trouble you'll be able to pitch out of it, and at the same time being calm," Longoria said.

"When we had Grant (Balfour) here, he was kind of the opposite. He needed to amp himself to get it done, and some guys are like that.

"Alex is the opposite. He's always pretty even keeled, when faced with tremendous adversity, like if he gets a couple guys on and we're only up by a run. He never really panics. And he's gotten the job done in some situations.

"He's handled it, obviously, like an All-Star."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow @ TBTimes_Rays.

   
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