Sunday, June 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays should drop Rodney as closer

ST. PETERSBURG

It is time to put away the imaginary bow.

It is time to put away the suddenly blunt arrow.

It is time, pretty much, to put away Fernando Rodney.

Rodney has lost his ownership of the ninth inning. Another blown save, and another squandered lead, has turned him into just another struggling relief pitcher on just another fourth-place team. These days, he throws doubles. These days, he surrenders leads.

Rodney blew another one Saturday evening. He had a two-run lead with one out to go, and the Rays had a grand opportunity to slice into the Yankees' lead in the AL East, and he let it all slip away.

Oops. And oops and oops and oops and oops.

It was the fifth blown save of the year for Rodney, and his third in the past five games, and suddenly, everything isn't so cute and cartoonish about the closer. This season is getting away from the Rays, and it is doing so in the ninth innings.

And you wonder: Just how much more of this will the Rays endure?

According to Joe Maddon, who disagrees with everything I have written here, quite a bit more.

"If it's a save situation tomorrow, and everything flows," Maddon says, "you'll see Rodney back out there."

At this point, you may feel free to groan.

The thing is, Maddon doesn't have as many options as you might think, and after all, somebody has to pitch the ninth. So whom else would you pick? Jake McGee, who has had his own struggles this year? Kyle Farnsworth? Joel Peralta, who retired the muscle of the Yankees order in the eighth inning?

I get that. I also get that, at the beginning of the year, the Rays decided that Rodney was their closer. If they are going to play meaningful games in September, he will be much of the reason.

"We have to have this work a certain way for us to be successful," Maddon said. "We're set up to win a certain way. We have to utilize people in their appropriate moments."

But now? While he is struggling so badly? Why not use Rodney in a seventh inning or two, with a little less pressure, until his confidence is high again? Put it this way: Is it even possible to lose your job through poor performance? Or are you doomed through an entire season because of choices you made at the beginning?

"Even if we had a closer by committee, we would have done 95 percent of what we've done," Maddon said. "Look at the options. Where would we have pitched Rodney if we hadn't pitched him in the ninth?"

Batting practice, perhaps?

It is such a strange sight, watching Rodney struggle. Last year, he toyed with hitters. He would throw a fastball so hard it would whistle as it went past, and then he would come in with a silly changeup that would twist up a hitter. It looked almost unfair.

Rodney converted 48 out of 50 saves, and suddenly, it was fashionable to wear your hat cocked to the side, or to shoot imaginary arrows into the air. These days, however, the batters have weapons of their own. Cannons, perhaps.

Here's the thing that gets you. Granted, this was against the Yankees, but this really wasn't a difficult save situation. Peralta had retired Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner and David Adams the inning before.

In fact, after Rodney got Ichiro Suzuki on a fly ball and struck out Jayson Nix, he seemed to be in fine shape. But he walked Lyle Overbay, the No. 8 hitter, on a full count. (All four of the balls were changeups.) After a balk, he gave up a check-swing double to Brennan Boesch. Then he gave up a tying single to Brett Gardner.

"As long as he doesn't lose confidence in himself, I won't lose confidence in him." Maddon said.

It is a wonderful thing, loyalty. It is a grand thing, faith. But major-league baseball is performance-based. If this continues, Maddon will have no choice. At this point, it is merely a question of how long to suffer it, and where else to turn.

A bow? An arrow?

These days, all fans are left with is a quiver.

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