Saturday, January 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays trying to find right spots to use Grant Balfour

ARLINGTON, Texas — Even pitching with a 7-0 lead in the ninth inning Monday, struggling RHP Grant Balfour made things uncomfortable by walking two straight Rangers.

While manager Joe Maddon acknowledged the increasing challenge in finding safe spots to use Balfour — "you've got to walk that line" — he maintained the deposed closer's problems are not with how he is actually throwing the baseball but his approach and pitch selection in doing so.

"I think for the most part, his stuff has been good," he said. "It's just a matter of him trusting himself and believing in his abilities and he'll be fine."

Balfour showed better Tuesday, working a scoreless 12th and 13th innings. "Moving forward that should definitely help him confidence-wise,'' Maddon said.

For proof, Maddon cites Balfour's .221 opponents' average and that the primary reason for his 5.01 ERA is the high number of batters he has walked — 35 in 462/3 innings.

"When he's actually challenging guys over the plate, they're not doing a lot of damage," Maddon said. "He has to understand we believe in him so much more than he probably believes in himself right now."

With Balfour in the first year of a two-year, $12 million deal, the Rays would seem to have no choice but to find a way to use Balfour comfortably.

KIERMAIER OKAY: OF Kevin Kiermaier was relieved to wake up Tuesday less sore than expected, and after taking a few swings and going through drills, he was cleared to return, going 0-for-4 but making several standount defensive plays.

He was especially relieved since he didn't know why his lower back tightened up so badly that he ended up leaving Monday's game, attributing the "discomforting" feeling to a "not-so-graceful" dive or slide on the bases. "I knew it was something weird," he said. "I hadn't had anything like this."

RECORD-BREAKERS: The Rays on Tuesday broke the American League mark by logging their 16th consecutive road game of not allowing more than three runs, surpasing the 1968 Indians. The major-league mark is 21, by the 1908 Cubs. … The Rays also broke a team record by allowing no more than three runs in eight consecutive games overall. … Rays pitchers also tied a team record with 54 strikeouts over a four-game span.

MISCELLANY: After using six relievers Tuesday (all but RHP Kirby Yates), the Rays are likely to make a roster move today to add a fresh arm with a call-up from Triple-A Durham. ... The Rays announced Saturday's game against the Yankees as a sellout and said only limited tickets remain for Sunday. … SS Yunel Escobar was out of the lineup; Maddon said he wanted to give him a day off with a flyball pitcher in Jeremy Hellickson on the mound, though he entered in the 14th. … The Rangers had been 0-48 when trailing after six innings. ... OF Wil Myers (right wrist) walked and stole a base in his only plate appearance before his rehab game with Durham was suspended by rain.

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