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Alex Colome looks like answer to key Rays question

Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Alex Colome (37) throwing in the fifth inning during the exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla. on Friday, March 18, 2016.
Published Mar. 29, 2016

PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays won't know for sure if Alex Colome can handle the ninth-inning closing duties he appears to be in line for until he actually does it, and probably a couple of times at that.

But he sure looks the part.

Colome has the appealing arsenal, an upper 90s fastball paired with a wicked cutter/slider, plus a curveball and changeup to sprinkle in. He has the aggressive attitude to go after hitters, with no concern for who it is or what the count or situation may be. He has the abundant confidence, evidenced by his barrel-chested strut as well as his impactful words.

And he has the, well, look.

"He does look mean," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "I would not want to see him in a back alley."

Just the view from the field can be threatening enough.

"He definitely doesn't look like a softy on the mound," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "There's no doubt about that — it's definitely intimidating to watch him come in. And his ball moves all over the place, too."

The intimidation factor, starting with his intense glare, can be another weapon.

Colome, who appears the first choice to fill in for injured closer Brad Boxberger, likes knowing he has hitters a bit concerned.

"They think I'm (mad) but I'm not. I'm only thinking about throwing strikes," he said. "The guys know when we are off the field we joke, we talk. But when I'm on the mound, I cannot be smiling. I can't."

Off the field, Cash said Colome is "the nicest guy in the world," which makes him all the more interesting to play with.

"It's funny," catcher Curt Casali said. "He's this big, overpowering figure, and you're kind of immediately scared of him because of how mean he looks. Then you talk to him, and he's soft-spoken and really quiet in the clubhouse.

"But, gosh, once he steps on that mound, he flips a switch and he wants to throw the ball really, really hard and he wants to stick it to the hitters. Just stick it to them. … He's not afraid. And if you give him a wrong look as a hitter, one might be coming in a little high."

Colome, 27, has grown into this role, having worked as a starter with mixed results during a long climb through the Rays' minor-league system after signing in 2007. He moved to the bullpen upon Matt Moore's initial return to the rotation last July and quickly adapted, taking the advice of bullpen coach Stan Boroski and pitching coach Jim Hickey to become more aggressive.

"The second he went to the bullpen," Cash said, "it seemed like he really bought into Stan and Hick's approach of, 'Let's let your stuff play. You've got as good of stuff as anybody on this pitching staff. Let's get into attack mode and get as many outs as possible as quickly as you can because we want you to be able to pitch the next day for us.' "

Plus, Colome has learned to stay calm when things aren't going well.

"I like when he's out there because he never really seems rattled," Longoria said. "When you're looking for back end of the bullpen guys, you're looking for body or facial cues to let you know if he's panicking or if he's still under control."

Though Colome needed a lot of refining, Moore said he saw encouraging signs way back in his first pro season in Princeton, W.Va., in 2008.

"From the first day we played in rookie ball together, that guy doesn't shy away from anything," Moore said. "There isn't a 2-0, 3-0 count that he's not going to challenge somebody. There isn't a backdown button for that guy.

"Obviously it stings pretty hard to have Boxberger down right now, but when you've got a horse like Colome back there that really doesn't have fear in his game, we're looking forward to seeing how he's going to do at the end of the game."

Though Colome has never saved a game in the minors or majors (0-for-5), he has done it a couple of times pitching for Escogido during winter ball in his native Dominican Republic.

He has no doubts — no surprise — he is up to the task.

"I worked for this," Colome said. "I'm ready. I'm ready to do this."

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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