It seems as though the Rays recycle LOOGYs (lefty specialist relief pitchers) the way that George Steinbrenner recycled managers. First, Trever Miller made a return trip to the bay area to assist the Rays in winning the 2008 American League pennant. In August of 2009, RJ Swindle was claimed off waivers from the Brewers, only to be designated for assignment a day later to free up a spot for Russ Springer. During the offseason, the Rays brought Swindle back on a minor-league deal with an invite to Spring Training. With Randy Choate entrenched as the Rays' primary LOOGY, an abdominal injury all but sealed Swindle's fate to pitch in Durham.
The 27-year-old has made the most of his season, striking out 22 of the 46 lefties he has faced (47.8%!) while allowing seven hits (2 doubles) and walking three. He also posted a K/9 north of 16 at AAA in 2008. However, his minor league success has not translated to the show in a very small sample size. He has faced 26 major league lefties, striking out just five, while walking three and allowing a home run. Swindle is not an extreme ground ball pitcher in the fashion that Choate is. The question is do Swindle's minor league career splits vs. lefties of a K/9 of 14.1 and BB/9 of 2.1 while allowing zero home runs against 301 batters warrant the Rays giving him another shot?
Unfortunately if you are the Rays, you need to make up your mind fast. As first stated by DRB user TPH1 and later confirmed on Twitter by the hardest working scoop reporter for the Rays R.J. Anderson, R.J. Swindle's contract with the Bulls includes a July 15th opt-out provision if he is not on the 25 man roster. Certainly Swindle seems likely to opt-out after watching former teammate Ryan Shealy opt out and quickly get called up by his new team the Red Sox. Swindle has also watched teammate Dan Johnson make the International League his personal playground without a sniff to date from big brother. With Randy Choate pitching very well, the Rays will likely need to choose between carrying two LOOGYs or waving goodbye to RJ Swindle once again.
One might read the tea leaves and suggest that the Rays have already made up their mind to force Swindle to opt out based on their quiet minor league signing last week of another recycled Ray Brian Shouse. Shouse is currently rehabbing an injury down with the GCL Rays, but appears to be in-line to replace Swindle in Durham should he leave. Of course if the Rays were to call Swindle up, Shouse is still useful to the Durham pen as the sole lefty. The 41 year-old had a disappointing season last year with the Rays, and sports a career FIP vs. lefties of 3.05.
Personally I would like to see Swindle get a shot if for nothing else than I would like to witness a few 50 mile-per-hour curveballs live. Shouse has struggled to stay healthy the past two seasons perhaps somewhat due to age, and lost his job to Choate last year despite having signed for $1.3 million. If the Rays have no intention of bringing up a second LOOGY at any point this season barring a Choate injury, I can understand the Shouse signing. If the plan is to go with two lefty specialists, I would like to see Swindle stick around. Last year carrying two LOOGYs att hte expense of a position player was frustrating. For one we had JP Howell as an all-purpose lefty, and two, well, Brian Shouse just wasn't very good. This year Choate is operating as the sole lefty. However the lights out right-handed trio of Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, and Rafael Soriano are all quite capable of getting left-handed batters out consistently. What do you think DRB?