PORT CHARLOTTE — With a week until their April 1 opener in Miami, the lingering question facing the Rays seemed to be deciding which relievers would fill out the final spots in the bullpen.
But a bigger concern may have surfaced Wednesday.
Nick Anderson, the reliever the Rays typically use in the highest-leverage moments, had a rough outing with a noticeable drop in velocity. Anderson said he had experienced some tightness in his elbow during his previous outing a week earlier, and “a little bit” of soreness and inflammation afterward — enough that he took a couple days off — but that it felt better now.
As a result of the discomfort, his mechanics were off and in need on resynchronization, which led to Wednesday’s issues. He was clocked in the 90- to 91-mph range, as opposed to his 2019-20 regular-season average of 96.2, and allowed hits to four of the six batters he faced.
“Sure, there’s a level of concern,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “I’d like to talk to him and see how he bounces back (Thursday). I see the same stuff you guys are seeing and the results aren’t as easy as he’s made them look in the past. And the velocities and stuff are a little off than what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing.”
Anderson said part of that was by design, that he and pitching coach Kyle Snyder considered having him first throw in a back field setting, but decided he would benefit more from facing hitters in Wednesday’s game. But he was cautioned to take it easy, to focus more on being in control of his mechanics than the results.
Even with those provisos, he wasn’t pleased.
“Obviously if I would have come out and I was 94-95 (mph) I would have be happier for sure,” Anderson said. “I was a little disappointed that the velo was there (at 90-91). But I’m not throwing max effort and really trying to step on it, trying to just stay collected within myself.”
Anderson, 30, said he felt something askew in the March 17 game against the Pirates, when he allowed three hits over a six-batter inning, including a home run to Colin Moran, and didn’t log any strikeouts.
“I just threw a couple pitches and it was a little tight,” he said. “I threw a couple pitches weird. Put a little weird stress on the elbow that I’m not really used to, kind of put myself in a bad situation. So really, there’s no structural thing. Nothing. It’s just got the little inflammation. Getting that down and getting my mechanics locked back in, and we’ll be good to go.”
Anderson was dominant in limited action last season, allowing one earned run and five hits total (one to a right-handed hitter) in 19 games around a two-week stint on the injured list (forearm inflammation).
He was used heavily in the postseason, and that showed as the Rays advanced, allowing runs in a record seven straight games, including after relieving Blake Snell in the sixth inning of that decisive World Series sixth game.
Anderson said afterward that he felt fatigued though not injured, and added this spring there also was a mental strain from being under pandemic protocols. He said he started throwing later than usual during the offseason so he was a little behind.
Though the Rays don’t call Anderson their closer — they also use Diego Castillo, Pete Fairbanks and others in late-inning situations — they have tended to call on Anderson for the heaviest lifting since acquiring him from the Marlins in July 2019.
“He’s extremely valuable,” Cash said before Wednesday’s game. “It’s tough to say one is more valuable than the other. Our season last year, and definitely our postseason, the bullpen, they played just such a massive role. They’re so talented. They’re so efficient. Their stuff is electric. … I think it’s fair that Nick probably leads the way with that, but Diego, Pete, Ryan Thompson, (Andrew Kittredge) and Chaz (Roe), when they’re healthy, there’s just a lot of people that contributed.
“I think we all feel good when Nick’s on the mound. You want to be able to say that about most of your bullpen and we do.”
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