FORT MYERS — As many injuries as the Rays had during their miserable spring training, they still felt comfortable, and somewhat confident, because none of their frontline players would miss extended time.
But that changed Tuesday, with closer Kyle Farnsworth headed to the disabled list for what could be a lengthy stay due to right elbow soreness.
The Rays didn't say much officially, waiting to further review results of his visit to Dr. Koco Eaton and an MRI exam, but indications were that Farnsworth, who had elbow problems last season, will be out for at least the first month, potentially longer if the elbow doesn't improve and requires surgery.
Farnsworth said he'd wait until today to discuss the issue, but his text message reply reflected the severity of the situation: "It (stinks)."
Without Farnsworth, who saved 25 games in 31 chances last season with a tidy 2.18 ERA, manager Joe Maddon said the Rays would return to a closer-by-committee format, with Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney the most likely candidates for closing duties and converted starter Wade Davis potentially fast-tracked.
"I hope he comes back in 15 days, maybe less than that," Peralta said. "We need him. He's the guy who shuts the door in the ninth inning. We really need him. I said earlier in spring training, this bullpen is going to be sick and he's got to be part of it. Without him we're not the same bullpen at all. I don't have to say that. Everybody knows that."
With Brandon Gomes not ready, Farnsworth's spot in the bullpen is expected to be taken by Josh Lueke, the right-hander acquired from Seattle who had an unimpressive spring, going 2-1 with a 5.40 ERA and nine hits (two homers) in 81/3 innings. And he won't be the only unexpected member of the opening day roster, as utilityman Stephen Vogt was called up to take the place held by outfielder Jeff Salazar.
Peralta, who saved six games filling in last season, said he would do what he could to help replace the guy he calls Mr. Farnsworth, though he acknowledged after Tuesday's outing his own arm is not at full strength and it will take "a couple games into the season" for him to be ready.
"If they give me the chance I'm just going to try to help this team win games and try and do the same thing I did last year, just go out there and compete," Peralta said. "That's all I can do. What happens out there is up to God. But you guys know me, I'll fight all the way."
So did Rodney, the free-agent addition who had 37 saves for the Tigers in 2009 and 87 overall. "I think I have a little bit of experience," he said. "Whatever the situation they give me the ball and bring me into the game, I'm going to try to do the best I can to help the team win."
Maddon said they would keep their options open, with lefty J.P. Howell a possibility. "We will have to try to figure out the ninth," he said. "I'm not going to proclaim anybody. We'll just continue to do what we've done in the past."
Farnsworth, 35, was a somewhat unexpectedly integral part of the Rays' success last season, though he had elbow issues in September, missing almost two weeks, then returned in the final week but didn't pitch in the playoffs. (He said he also had similar elbow issues in 2001 and 2006, each time as a result of throwing a split-finger fastball.)
The Rays felt good enough about his condition to pick up his $3.3 million option. He didn't throw much during the winter — though he did participate in paintball tournaments — and was held back at the start of the spring ostensibly to limit his workload. He didn't report any issues while making five appearances, most recently on Saturday.
Though Farnsworth was still throwing 95 mph, Maddon said they noticed his slider was up and he wasn't finishing his pitches so they wanted him checked out. "He's been sore off and on, we just thought it was something he'd be able to work through," Maddon said. "So we have a little bit of an issue, that's all."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]