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Tampa Bay Rays' bullpen remains a work in progress

BOSTON — As much reason as there has been to be concerned about the state of the Rays bullpen thus far, there is also reason to be confident things will change.

If for no other reason than because what you see now is almost assuredly not what you're going to see later.

Go back to 2008, when a huge key to their success was the relief work by J.P. Howell and Grant Balfour.

As the season began, Howell was an unknown commodity, moved to the bullpen as something of a last-ditch effort after several unsuccessful attempts at starting, with a spot open because of the shuffling resulting from Scott Kazmir going on the DL. And Balfour wasn't even in the big leagues, sent off to Triple A after clearing waivers and being passed over by the other 29 teams.

The opening day bullpen included Scott Dohmann (who pitched in 12 games), Al Reyes (26) and Gary Glover (46). By season's end, the Rays had used 17 relievers.

Howell grew quickly into the role and emerged as a dangerous weapon. Balfour came up May 30 and pitched with something to prove. No one could have projected how big of a role they'd play in the Rays' success.

There's talk now among Rays officials that Andy Sonnanstine could emerge a la Howell, given the extensive effort he's making to transition to relief and a repertoire that includes enough variety and deception in his delivery to make him effective in short stints.

And there will be help coming. Joaquin Benoit, the big-league veteran building arm strength at Triple A, looks to be first in line to be added, but there will be other options, both internal (prospects Jake McGee and/or Alex Torres) and through waiver wire/low-cost pickups as the season unfolds.

The Rays feel relief work is so subject to fluctuation and volatility that the only thing you really count on is change. And that there will be.

Tampa Bay Rays' bullpen remains a work in progress 04/17/10 [Last modified: Saturday, April 17, 2010 6:36pm]
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