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Xavier Cedeno set for key Rays' bullpen role

Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Xavier Cedeno (31) throwing in the sixth inning of the game between the New York Mets and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Saturday, August 8, 2015. WILL VRAGOVIC | TIMES

Published Mar. 12, 2016

PORT CHARLOTTE — Brad Boxberger is the most important member of the Rays bullpen, given he has the toughest task, of getting the final three outs, and the most — granted it's not much — experience at doing so.

Alex Colome has the most eye-popping weapons, and thus conceivably the highest upside, based on his blazing fastball, with Enny Romero lurking in his shadows.

But the most important member of the Rays relief corps may be the quiet left-hander who showed up unexpectedly last April and quickly made quite a mark for himself:

Xavier Cedeno.

"Huge," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "He has a huge role. Yeah, he does."

Cedeno played a pretty big part last year, after being ditched by both the Nationals and Dodgers, working in 61 games, posting a 2.09 ERA and allowing only four of 30 inherited runners to score.

"I don't like to say 'surprise' very often, but I didn't know him. We didn't know him at all," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "So he was a surprise. A great surprise."

But now the Rays need Cedeno to do more.

With Jake McGee traded to the Rockies, Cedeno will be asked to work in even more prominent, higher-leverage situations, as their top and most trustworthy lefty.

In other words, when David Ortiz, Chris Davis and any of the assorted Yankees lefties are up with a game on the line.

While the Rays are working up a somewhat unorthodox plan to have most of their relievers be able to handle multiple innings, getting four to six outs while working every second or third day, Cedeno, even though he showed he could handle right-handers, is more likely to be used more traditionally.

And thus more often.

"To X's credit he comes in, and he just continued to get outs," Cash said. "It didn't matter who was up there, he just kept getting outs."

The Rays also value what Cedeno can do in terms of leadership. At 29, he is the oldest of the 18 pitchers on their 40-man roster, and though he has less than three years of actual service time, he has pitched parts of five seasons in the majors and has been in four other organizations.

He talks daily in his corner of the clubhouse with the younger Spanish-speaking pitchers and, having spent a year at Miami-Dade Community College after growing up in Puerto Rico, speaks good enough English to converse with anyone.

"Anything I can do to help my teammates," Cedeno said, "I'll do it."

Cash has been impressed by both "the way he goes about what he does on the field" as well as "the way he carries himself" everywhere else.

"He doesn't say 'Boo,' it's just the way he very much leads by example," Cash said. "The little private conversations he has with a lot of pitchers seem to go a long way."

Cedeno couldn't be more appreciative of the opportunity the Rays gave him last season.

"I'm glad I had the chance to show myself and compete and prove that I could be up here," he said.

Though he spent a week in limbo after being designated for assignment, he didn't spend a day in the minors, which was something new for the 11-year pro. The service time he accrued puts him in position to cash in on arbitration eligibility after this year.

And for the first time, he could show up at spring training this year knowing he had a job assured in the majors.

"No surprise, he doesn't plan on doing anything different. "It doesn't change me," he said.

The Rays are counting on it.

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

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