Over the off-season I professed how I had a distaste for our bullpen, particularly the middle and back parts consisting of Gary Glover and Scott Dohmann. Every Monday I'll look at the usage over the past week, that obviously begins today.
Generally speaking the bullpen did an excellent job this week even with one loss credited to Al Reyes, and only one save to Troy Percival. The unit saw 13.6 innings worth of work, allowing six runs -- four by Reyes and the other two by Miller -- for an ERA of 3.97, quite an improvement over the 6.16 ERA last season, even at such a small sample size.
Beginning at the top, Percival was only called upon once and was efficient in preserving his first Rays save and the 325th of his career. Showing great poise Percival worked through an iffy non-strike call against Bobby Abreu and located his next pitch, striking the veteran out to end the game. Although his role thus far has been near minimal Percival's clubhouse demeanor and role have been unmatched, look for the new bullpen area configuration this week at the request of Percival.
Despite a bloodbath at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles Reyes has been solid in two of his three appearances, including cleaning up a mess left by Miller on Saturday. In the past I was skeptical about giving Reyes even more innings, but thus far it appears Joe Maddon is leaning towards using Miller and Reyes in union for the 8th inning, at least until their performance or address dictates otherwise.
Speaking of Miller he's hardly impressed, yet this is nothing unexpected. Over his career Miller has thrown more than 200 innings during the first half of the season and has an ERA of 5.18, as opposed to his 3.65 ERA in the second half. Another thing to watch during the unfortunately named "Miller Time" will be his pre-pitch tendencies, namely if he continues to go to the bill of his hat prior to each pitch.
We now reach a piece that the Rays have chosen as a core of the relief staff through 2010 at the earliest, yes the newest extension receiver, Dan Wheeler. Not only did Wheeler find himself with the most work this week but he also found himself as the most effective, not allowing a baserunner thus far while striking out two batters. As I've pointed out numerous times it wasn't hard to see that Wheeler was a candidate for performance regression, or in this case progression, based on his peripherals. His contract extension isn't just reasonable, it's a downright steal for an organization that since its inception has been hard-pressed to find consistently successful relievers and keep them in Rays uniforms.
From awful starter to potentially useful reliever, thus is the career path of one James Phillip Howell. As he showed Sunday Howell is able to go multiple innings without ill results, even against the most vaunted of lineups. To his credit, Howell also showed the ability to retire batters of either hand equally well, and even went on a streak of seven straight outs. For one day at least, Howell appears to have reached the point of his career where the talk of potentially becoming useful is turning into results and is certainly someone to watch for as this season ages.
Finally we reach Scott Dohmann and Gary Glover and while neither did anything to grant my ire, yet, I'm encouraged that Glover was used the least of all relief arms. To their credit both have been effective, but I sincerely question if the level of success achieved last year can be replicated by either. I'm skeptical, but hopeful, if the duo can at least be around league average the Rays pen could become amongst the deepest in the league.
Since the bullpen won't consist of these seven all season, or at least it's highly inconceivable that such a rarity would occur, I would also like to highlight some of the relievers at Durham during this space. Grant Balfour, the 8th reliever if you will, cleared waivers and accepted an outright assignment to Durham. Steve Andrade remains on the disabled list to start the season meanwhile Chad Orvella has seemingly yet to recover from his injury, but the good news -- I guess -- is that Kurt Birkins has began throwing again and could join Durham soon. Dale Thayer, Calvin Medlock, Nick DeBarr and Scott Munter have been solid thus far with Ben Hendrickson being anything but, allowing six runs in two and two-thirds innings of work.