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Rays are going to have find ways to get more relief

Tales | Injuries and inconsistent performances have created a lack of experience and depth that have to be addressed with outside help.
 
Rays relief pitcher Jason Adam pauses while pitching in the ninth inning at Tropicana Field on May 4.
Rays relief pitcher Jason Adam pauses while pitching in the ninth inning at Tropicana Field on May 4. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published May 20, 2023|Updated May 20, 2023

NEW YORK — After the Rays made history in the wrong kind of way Wednesday, the first team in at least 50 years to give up three score-tying or go-ahead homers from the seventh inning on, pitching coach Kyle Snyder sent the relievers a group text.

The gist wasn’t much different than his usual message: You’re a Ray for a reason, you have good stuff, it’s a long season, things happen in games, flush it and move on.

He reiterated it when he sent them scouting reports for Thursday’s matinee with the Mets. And then shared his faith in the group when questioned by reporters about the meltdown — as three of their primary relievers (Ryan Thompson, Jason Adam and Pete Fairbanks) gave up the homers — and state of the bullpen.

“As their pitching coach, I have zero concern,” he said.

Snyder has to say that; his job is to work with and get the best out of the 13 pitchers on the active roster each day.

But in a season that overall has been spectacular — despite injuries sidelining three starters — and has a real chance to be special, it’s fair to wonder how much concern his bosses have, and what they will do (and how soon they can do it) to make the bullpen mightier.

The Rays have let too many leads (including a couple of big ones) slip away, too many games get closer than they should be and had to rely on their offense to bail them out too many times.

Through Friday, they have blown 10 of 22 save chances, a 55 percent conversion rate that puts them in the bottom third of the majors (although, for what it’s worth, along with other contenders such as Atlanta, 55; Texas, 53; Minnesota, 52).

Most of the damage has been recent and coincided with Fairbanks being sidelined; that forced Adam into the closer slot and others into higher-leverage roles than planned, and illustrated a lack of depth.

Consider: as they won 23 of their first 28 games, they blew only one save (and, thanks to the offense, had only five). But starting with the April 30 debacle in Chicago, when they let a 9-5 ninth-inning lead in turn into a 12-9 loss, they have blown nine saves over 18 games, going 10-8.

There are reasons.

Between injuries (including losing Garrett Cleavinger for the season with a knee issue) and inconsistent performances, this isn’t the bullpen the Rays expected to have.

Rays relief pitcher Kevin Kelly reacts after he gives up a double to Yankees third baseman DJ LeMahieu on May 6.
Rays relief pitcher Kevin Kelly reacts after he gives up a double to Yankees third baseman DJ LeMahieu on May 6. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

One sign is how they have had to use the pitchers they have, such as Rule 5 rookie Kevin Kelly — who this time last year was with Cleveland’s Double-A team — working in late-inning, high leverage situations. Same for Trevor Kelley, who was signed in January after being designated for assignment by Milwaukee.

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Another sign is who they have used, evidenced not only by shuttle from Triple-A Durham but also from the discard pile, trading for Javy Guerra, who was designated for assignment (then dropping him themselves); signing Jake Diekman, who was released; claiming Zack Littell off waivers.

Plus, the injuries to starters Tyler Glasnow (due back this week), Drew Rasmussen (maybe in August) and Jeffrey Springs (2024) have created more innings to be covered by the relievers.

“I think they’ve done a good job given the circumstances,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Given how the starters have gone down, they’ve had to carry a bigger load, some of them that we didn’t ideally want to happen.”

There are also some internal reinforcements coming, pending no injury rehab setbacks. Shawn Armstrong is targeted for a June return and Andrew Kittredge, who will provide high-leverage support, should be back in late July/early August. (And Luis Patino is working in a relief role at Triple A.)

But it certainly seems the Rays are going to have to go outside and trade for some established relief help.

Presumably they have already started reaching out to non-contending teams that have quality relievers and are targeted by other teams, such as Cincinnati’s Alexis Diaz, and surely other lesser knowns who the Rays have historically done well in identifying.

“Are there other things in discussions and will we make a splash at the (July 31 trade) deadline? I don’t know. I’m the pitching coach,” Snyder said. “If they ask me questions about my confidence in the guys that we currently have here, I’m going to share with them exactly what I’ve just shared with you (reporters).”

Or, as Adam said: “We’re fine. Have we pitched the way we should? No. But at the same time, we’re still a top bullpen in the league (3.81 ERA ranks seventh). I think it instills confidence in a lot of us that we haven’t pitched how we should and we’re still among the top. So it’s going to be fun when we start taking care of business.”

Rays rumblings

Brandon Lowe was excited that indie pop band AJR, whose “Burn the House Down” is his walkup song, played a concert after Friday’s game. Even more so by the guitar they signed for him, and a brief post-concert meet-up. … The second half of the AppleTV+ schedule, starting July 7, could include three to four Friday night Rays games. … A Phil Mushnick New York Post column headlined “Rays’ Randy Arozarena joins growing list of stage-hogging athletes disrespecting game” criticized the outfielder for his arms crossed home run gesture. And lumped him with sports stars Serena Williams, Megan Rapinoe and Angel Reese, plus Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia, as not good (to put it politely) people. … Former A’s pitcher and current broadcaster Dallas Braden tweeted after seeing Pete Fairbanks’ graceful interview after giving up Wednesday’s walkoff homer: “God I love this wide-eyed psycho!” … Very kind of the Mets to honor late radio broadcaster Dave Wills during the recent trip to New York. … The clue on a recent Jeopardy episode in the ‘Burgs category was: The Tampa Bay Rays play their home games in this city’s Tropicana Field.” ... MLB.com’s latest mock draft has the Rays taking Texas Christian third baseman Brayden Taylor with the No. 19 pick. Strawberry Crest High shortstop Arjun Nimmala is picked to go No. 11 to the Angels and Mitchell High third baseman Aidan Miller No. 15 to White Sox. … This week launches the 16th season of the Reading with the Rays program that encourages kids to log 24 hours of reading during the summer with free game tickets an incentive. The team is also seeking donations of new children’s books on Sunday to support a new community library program; see www.RaysBaseball.com/Library. ... Adam on staying at the same New York hotel for eight nights during the recent season-long road trip: “I think that made it feel almost longer; that’s a long time in one hotel room.” … While Brooks Raley was trying to give his Mets colleagues scouting reports on his former Rays mates during Tuesday’s series opener, Tommy Hunter, another former Tampa Bay reliever, was quizzing him on the proper pronunciation for Brandon and Josh Lowe.

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