For years, moving to the bullpen was a possibility for Tampa Bay Rays then-prospect Alex Colome. Command that could be iffy at times already put his chances of being a big league starter in jeopardy from the moment he entered pro ball. Plus, a combination of injuries and a PED suspension kept him from building up innings in the minors as he averaged just over 108 innings pitched per season from 2012 - 2014 (including winter ball).
Despite his issues, injuries opened up an opportunity for an out-of-options Colome to get his shot in the rotation to start 2015. He was mediocre in the role, posting a 4.70 ERA with a 44-24 K-BB ratio in 69.0 innings spanning 13 starts. Opposing hitters slashed .277/.334/.428 against him, and, simply put, he was not effective.
With Colome struggling as a starter and the rotation finally getting healthy, the Rays made the decision to move him to the bullpen in early July. He got off to a shaky start, giving up three runs on nine hits over his first 3.1 innings in the 'pen. Since then, however, Colome has settled into his new role with the Rays.
From July 17th on, Colome has made 21 appearances spanning 30.2 innings, and he has been dominant. In that time, he has given up just one earned run and another two unearned, good for a minuscule 0.29 ERA., which ranks second among big league relievers since July 17th. He has also been worth 1.1 WAR in the second half, which ties him for second among all relievers.
Batters have posted a triple-slash line of .179/.238/.179 (that's right, no extra-base hits) against him since the All-Star break, and while a .266 BABIP against might indicate some luck on the part of Colome, that is hardly a low-enough mark to make his dominance irrelevant. Colome has blossomed in his new role.
A big reason for his success upon changing roles has been his slider. Prior to the All-Star break, Colome threw it just 3.3 percent of the time, according to Brooks Baseball. It was a weapon for him even if it was rarely thrown, and it had generated a .143 average and a .214 slugging percentage from opposing batters in the first half.
It makes sense that he would want to throw the pitch more, and that is just what Colome has done, increasing his slider usage to 13.3 percent in the second half. The results have been even better as hitters are batting just .103 with no extra-base hits against the pitch since that time. The pitch has also generated a greater amount of whiffs, going from 13.89 percent pre-July 17th to 35.9 percent since then. Oddly enough, the velocity of the pitch has decreased from an average velocity of 85.31 MPH prior to July 17th to 84.44 MPH after, but nonetheless it has been effective for Colome out of the bullpen.
With the increased usage of the slider, Colome's fastball has been able to play off the pitch and become more effective. As a starter, his four-seam fastball was getting hit to the tune of a .287 average and .433 slugging percentage. If you discount his first two tough outings as a reliever, the opposition has hit just .185 and slugged the same against his fastball in 19 appearances.
The Rays have weapons in the bullpen, but since moving to relief, Colome has shown he can be just as good as the next guy. The club indicated confidence in their young bullpen arms by dealing Kevin Jepsen at the trade deadline, and their willingness to do so showed that they trusted Colome to step up into a greater role.
It has seemed inevitable for a while that Colome would move to the bullpen, and while the Rays delayed it for as long as possible, it seems he has finally found his role.
Starting might not be totally out of the equation for Colome in 2016 depending on how the offseason shakes out and the health of the team, but more than likely he will ride his success since moving to relief into an important bullpen role next season. Ever since he came onto the prospect scene, there has always been a question about what Colome's future role with the Rays will be, but the early returns on him in the bullpen are great and his ability to provide value there in the future is looking good.