Friday, September 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' Brad Boxberger blames early overuse for struggles

ST. PETERSBURG — Brad Boxberger's arm feels fine. There's no problem there, or anything else wrong physically. His velocity may be down a tick and command a tad askew, but not enough to be of concern. Nothing glaring in his mechanics.

If there is a reason he's pitching poorly now — and four losses, four blown saves and a 6.92 ERA in his past 15 games sure support the eye test that he is — Boxberger says it's because of how much the Rays have had him pitch.

"It could all be attributed to the use of me," he said before Tuesday's 6-3 win. "There's no set 'closer' here, but I don't know of another team that doesn't call it a 'closer' and has 34 saves. So all of the early use in non-closing situations has probably put a toll onto the recent outings, I guess you can say.

"But I'm not going to blame it on that by any means because there are guys that have more appearances and have more use and all that stuff, so it's part of it. It's just a matter of battling through until the season's over when it's over."

Of course, that sounds like exactly what he's blaming his struggles on.

Primarily, how often — 62 times total, including some non-save situations, such as twice in the seventh inning and eight times in tie games on the road, where some teams won't use their closer until they have a lead.

Also, with how much intensity. Going into play Tuesday, no pitcher in the majors had faced a higher percentage of batters — 89.5, with 222 of 248 — with the game in the balance, a task that can take a physical and mental toll.

"You just look at other closers around the league that have even 25-plus saves, and I can probably guarantee none of them have thrown in the seventh inning this year and not many have probably thrown multiple games tied on the road and all that," Boxberger said. "So those innings add up and those appearances add up. And it is what it is this year."

Boxberger went on to suggest there are further ramifications of "the use in general," noting, without naming names, injuries to current Rays relievers and that he has heard of pitchers who left the Rays and were struggling elsewhere or even had to have surgeries.

The more Boxberger talks, the more it sounds like the problem may be deeper than just a rough stretch of pitching. With another season until he starts making even seven figures via arbitration in 2017, and four until he is a free agent in 2020, he is one of the best bargains among high-leverage relievers in the game, which seems to make him a perfect fit for the Rays. Maybe even at the expense of lefty Jake McGee, who will get a salary hike to around $5 million next year despite two DL stints, and with free agency approaching in 2018 he thus could be trade bait.

But would it be wise to keep Boxberger around, and eventually invest millions in him (and, as a Scott Boras client, it will be every cent he is due), if he doesn't like the way the Rays are doing things?

"When you won't let your starters go deep into games it does put a toll on the pen," Boxberger said. "It's just the way they're going to do it, I guess. If it works out, it's great. But I think we're starting to see the effects of pulling starters after five (innings) every time with the bullpen kind of struggling now with all appearances."

Manager Kevin Cash said, simply, "We feel the way we used Boxberger this year gives us the best chance to win as many games as possible."

With McGee recovering from knee surgery, Kevin Jepsen traded to the Twins and Alex Colome still transitioning to high-leverage work, Cash doesn't have much choice for the rest of this season anyway. As tempting as it might be to try Colome as the closer, there are some risks, including damaging the confidence he has built.

Meanwhile, Boxberger — who wasn't available to pitch Tuesday — knows he is risking putting a bad finish, with 10 losses and six blown saves, on what actually had been a good season, making the All-Star team and ranking second in the AL with 34 saves.

"That's what everyone is going to be talking about," he said. "You can have the conversation of well, he wasn't the closer, but he was. And then if he was on a regular team that used like a real closer, then he wouldn't have been put in half of those situations."

Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

     
Comments
How do you really feel, Carlos Gomez?

How do you really feel, Carlos Gomez?

Rays veteran OF Carlos Gomez made his feelings about being ejected from Thursday's game by home plate umpire Andy Fletcher quite clear in a series of Twitter posts and a live video.Gomez was in the dugout complaining about being called out on strikes...
Published: 09/21/18
How to kill playoff chances? Rays blow six-run lead in 9th, lose 9-8 to Jays

How to kill playoff chances? Rays blow six-run lead in 9th, lose 9-8 to Jays

TORONTO — The Rays had done so much right in making their entertaining, exciting and endearing September run to make it a race for the final American League playoff spot.But it was what they couldn't do Thursday night, get the final three outs ...
Published: 09/20/18
Updated: 09/21/18
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Thursday’s Rays-Blue Jays game

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Thursday’s Rays-Blue Jays game

As if the Rays haven't been innovative enough — with relievers starting and starters relieving, with pitchers playing infield spots and infielders playing the outfield — Thursday they unveiled a four-man outfield.Thursday was another exam...
Published: 09/20/18
Rays journal: Austin Meadows gets called up, but there’s nowhere to put him

Rays journal: Austin Meadows gets called up, but there’s nowhere to put him

TORONTO — After taking his first look at OF Austin Meadows in Rays colors, manager Kevin Cash said the promising prospect is a "huge part" of their future. But he also acknowledged that they might not get much of a look at that future over the ...
Published: 09/20/18
For starters: Rays at Blue Jays, looking to keep rolling

For starters: Rays at Blue Jays, looking to keep rolling

UPDATE, 6:36: Cash said Meadows is "a huge part" of the future and the Rays want to get a look at what he can do, but he may not get much opportunity and Cash feels Kiermaier, Pham and Smith deserve to keep playing. … RHP Yonny Chirinos is slat...
Published: 09/20/18
Are these guys threatening to turn AL wild card into a race? Just ask the Rays

Are these guys threatening to turn AL wild card into a race? Just ask the Rays

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Rays still have got a long way to go and a short time to get there if they're gonna do what they say can't be done.If the Smokey and the Bandit paraphrase doesn't work for you, then let's try another theatrical reference....
Published: 09/19/18
Updated: 09/20/18
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Wednesday’s Rays-Rangers game

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Wednesday’s Rays-Rangers game

OF Tommy Pham is playing with a sore groin and a sorer right ring finger, but he is determined, in his words, to "salvage" his season, and his two home runs Wednesday give him 19 total, five in 28 games with the Rays since the trade to go with a .327...
Published: 09/19/18
Rays journal: Austin Meadows among final wave of callups

Rays journal: Austin Meadows among final wave of callups

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Rays will get their first look at OF Austin Meadows when he joins them Thursday in Toronto as part of the final wave of callups.And based on what RHP Tyler Glasnow, a former Pirates and now Rays teammate, said, they're go...
Published: 09/19/18
Oh, baby! It’s Rays rookie dress up day

Oh, baby! It’s Rays rookie dress up day

Today was rookie dress-up day for the Rays, a long-standing, and recently by rule toned down, tradition among teams to embarrass their first-timers.Masterminded by veteran reliever Sergio Romo the Rays went with a fitting theme for the rookie-laden t...
Published: 09/19/18
Rays keep pressure on, beat Rangers 9-3 for fifth straight win

Rays keep pressure on, beat Rangers 9-3 for fifth straight win

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Rays still have a long way to go, and they are going to need a lot of help to get there.But they continue to do their part to try to make it a race for the final American League playoff spot, beating the Rangers 9-3 Wedne...
Published: 09/19/18