Make us your home page

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

(View our Privacy Policy)

Rays' revamped bullpen has been key to team's success

There are several reasons why the Rays are off to such a good start and heading into a who-would've-thunk-it tussle for first place with the Orioles starting tonight in Baltimore.
But none bigger than the guys who have been finishing the games.
The revamped bullpen has been a source of relief and salvation, as the Rays have the best penmanship in the majors with a 2.26 ERA — and the consistency and confidence that go with it.
Even more so than they expected.

"Honestly, we knew they were good and we were going to be better," manager Joe Maddon said, "but to this extent? There's no way I would have guessed all this. There's no way."

The bullpen is improved for several reasons. First, the Rays have better, more experienced and more professional relievers. Having left-handers Trever Miller and J.P. Howell allows Maddon to create matchups to their advantage. Dan Wheeler has come back strong from a poor 2007. And Troy Percival provides leadership, calm and confidence to go along with his 0.00 ERA and three baserunners allowed through nine games.

"There's a tremendous amount of competition among that group," Maddon said. "Nobody wants to let the group down. And Percy is in the middle of this whole thing, and I know how he is when he talks about his bullpen. There's definitely a different attitude about the group."

As much as the Rays struggled last season with a bullpen that was historically bad, they have benefited from the stellar early performance this season, with an 11-1 record in games they've led after six innings.

How much does it change things? Plenty, from the perspective of a position player, a starter and the manager:

Carl Crawford, leftfielder

"It's just a different feeling when you know there's a good chance the game is going to be closed out. You're not really worried about it as much now. It's a little less stressful.

"We've got veterans here. You can tell they're not really thinking about what they're going to do. They get the ball and they're making the next pitch keeping the tempo going instead of grabbing it, thinking, 'What I'm going to do here,' and just looking nervous and stuff.

"These guys look real confident, and that keeps us confident, keeps us on our toes, so that when the ball is hit real sharp and quick, we're right there to make a play."

Jason Hammel, starting pitcher

"It's huge. You're comfortable coming out of a game with a lead. Even a tie ball game, you're not worried about all of a sudden maybe a run comes across and it's game over. It's awesome. It makes pitching with a lead that much more comfortable. You can still be aggressive. One run can definitely be a comfortable lead with that bullpen. … It's unbelievable. It's so much different of a feeling."

Joe Maddon, manager

"Now before the game you can map out a plan and kind of stay with it because you have a better idea of what to expect from each guy on a nightly basis. … They're just a lot more at ease in their skin and their role than we've had in the past. …

"Once a guy's in the game, you have confidence that he can get through some issues. And if it gets a little bit hot, you still might leave him out there, where in the past if it got a little bit hot, you knew you had to get the next guy right out there.

"There's a little bit more of a comfort zone. The two-run or three-run lead is a lot more formidable than it used to be, basically. … Players feel that if they catch a lead, there's a pretty good chance we can hold it now."

Marc Topkin can be reached at

Good penmanship

The Rays have the majors' best bullpen ERA. Through Sunday:







a relief

A look at what has made the Rays bullpen so good:


ERA, best in majors


Hits allowed (in 75 2/3 IP), fewest in majors


Opponents' batting average, best in AL


Walks allowed (in 75 2/3 IP), fewest in majors


Opponents' on-base percentage, best in majors


Home runs given up, matching fewest in majors


Trever Miller

J.P. Howell

Dan Wheeler

Rays' revamped bullpen has been key to team's success 04/28/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 29, 2008 4:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Erasmo Ramirez continues to deliver for Rays

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Pitching coach Jim Hickey has a saying he uses with the Rays pitchers: "Don't let them hit the ball. Make them hit the ball."

    HUG IT OUT: Souza, back, celebrates his two-run homer with a congratulatory hug from Rays catcher Jesus Sucre.
  2. Tom Jones: Rays made right move sending Blake Snell to minors

    The Heater

    tom jones' two cents

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays took their team photo before Wednesday night's game against the Angels. One player who should have been there was not: pitcher Blake Snell.

    Blake Snell’s struggles on the mound were only one of the reasons the Rays sent him to the minors; some other red flags existed. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  3. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Wednesday's Rays-Angels game

    The Heater

    Rookie INF Daniel Robertson's bat might ultimately determine how much he plays, and even whether he stays in the majors. But there is no doubt his glove is ready, as he made another highlight-reel play while playing second base, diving to his right.

  4. Rays journal: More bullpen changes as Diego Moreno heads to DL

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays bullpen has another new look.

    Rays reliever Diego Moreno, pitching Sunday against the Yankees, heads the DL with shoulder bursitis.
  5. ACC baseball tournament: FSU beats Notre Dame on 12th-inning HR


    LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Jackson Lueck hit his second two-run home run of the game in the 12th inning, lifting Florida State past Notre Dame 5-3 on Wednesday at a rainy ACC baseball tournament.

    Jackson Lueck hits his second home run of the game, a two-run shot in the 12th inning to send FSU past Notre Dame.