Another day, another bit of injury news in the American League East. Unfortunately, this one is about the Rays.
#Rays Farnsworth experiencing soreness in his right elbow. Team will know more about his status in a day or two. Opening Day could be iffy.— RMooneyTrib (@RMooneyTrib) April 3, 2012
Mr. Negative1 wrote a piece in early February about the 2012 bullpen competition in which he laid out how this troublesome scenario would work:
The biggest concern with the construction of the 2012 Rays bullpen are the two words that were most often associated with Kyle Farnsworth at the end of the 2011 season—Tender Elbow. The bullpen competition certainly takes on a different complexion if that elbow flares up and the Rays are faced without having their reliever extraordinaire at the back end of the bullpen. The Rays have proven that they can fill that role in the past but the question will shift to whether or not they have the depth to maintain the 80-82 game frequency of having a lead after 8 innings if they bump everyone up one notch.
Now, that appears to be coming to fruition as Farnsworth's status for opening day is in doubt. Joel Peralta, Fernando Rodney, J.P. Howell, Jake McGee, Burke Badenhop, and Wade Davis have already filled out the other spots in the bullpen so the Rays certainly have more depth in the pen now than they did this time last year. Should Farnsworth have to go on the disabled list to start the season, Josh Lueke could be added if the team would like to give Brandon Gomes more time to get back to full strength from his off-season surgery and Cesar Ramos is another possibility.
Peralta could step right in and fill the unofficial closer role if Farnsworth is out, but a platoon situation could also come into play. Peralta has become incredibly effective against lefties since using his splitter more often as they are just 31 for their last 176 against him with 55 strikeouts and 12 walks over the past two seasons. Against righties, Peralta has also been good in that split as his opponents' OPS has not been above .720 over the past three seasons.
If Joe Maddon were to play the late inning match-up game for right-handed batters, J.P. Howell could be a big factor. 2011, by most measures, was a debacle for Howell as he returned from injury but Howell was incredibly effective against right-handed batters in 2008 and 2009. During that pre-injury stretch, righties had a slash line of .180/.271/.305 against Howell in 404 plate appearances.
Maddon was rather reticent last season in regards to the closer role as he never officially slapped the label on Farnsworth despite the usage pattern. Should Farnsworth actually miss time this season, Maddon may indeed be able to leave that label in his playbook and let the match-up and the situation dictate the pitcher rather than the traditional roles bullpens are built around.
Update: The beat writers are reporting they've heard from some players that Farnsworth will start the season on the disabled list.