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Watch the Bullpen Closely over the Next Two Weeks

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The Odorizzi injury and a busy slate of games will put a lot of pressure on the pen

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

After Rays’ starter Jake Odorizzi left Saturday’s game in the second inning, the Rays’ bullpen put in maybe their best effort of the season. With Odorizzi only getting three outs, the Rays’ relievers were tasked with getting the final 24 (or in this case, 21) outs on a day when the Rays’ offense was going to be quite limited.

Considering the circumstances, Erasmo Ramirez, Tommy Hunter, Xavier Cedeño and Jumbo Diaz performed admirably. The quartet combined to go seven innings, allowing just two runs on five hits and two walks, while striking out four. The Rays ended up taking the loss, but that was in large part due to an offense that wasn’t up for the challenge of the long-limbed-lefty, Chris Sale.

The Rays’ bullpen, as a whole, had looked a little sketchy coming into Saturday’s game, sporting the 21st-ranked ERA (4.60) as a unit, and the peripherals making them look even worse. Through their first 11 games, the Rays’ relievers had a K/9 rate of 5.74, worst in the major leagues this season. Their xFIP (4.84) was fourth-worst, and their fWAR was sixth-worst.

Of course, it is quite early in the season, and thanks to Saturday’s strong outing, those figures are set to improve significantly on the strength of just one game - proof as to how noisy early-season data can be, especially in regards to the bullpen.

There’s also the Austin Pruitt Factor. Pruitt has proven woefully inadequate in his four and two-thirds innings so far, sporting the worst ERA (17.36) of any reliever who teams have dared to use that much this season, with peripherals (matching 3.86 K/9 and BB/9 rates) that don’t portend much better. Take Pruitt and his 11 runs (nine earned) out of the equation, and the team reliever ERA (even before Saturday) plummets to 2.36 - that’s the kind of sample size we’re dealing with here.

Since that is the case, this article is intended to look forward more so than look back at the tiny, noisy data so far. With Odorizzi officially hitting the DL after Saturday’s exit, the Rays now have an open rotation spot. Chase Whitley has been called up to fill Odorizzi’s roster spot, and while it may be Whitley in the bullpen and Ramirez in the rotation, the point is going to stand: the Rays will need more than ever out of their bullpen over the next two weeks.

The Rays don’t have another off-day on their calendar until April 27. Eleven straight days (and really it’s 13 straight days since the Rays last off-day was Thursday) is a tough task for a fully-loaded bullpen, let alone one that will be losing an arm to the rotation, as well as dealing with the taxing seven-inning effort from Saturday.

Before Odorizzi’s early exit Saturday, the Rays had gotten more innings out of their starters than all but one team, the San Francisco Giant, across MLB this season. That will need to continue. They’ll need Chris Archer to keep going seven strong each time he takes the mound, and they’ll need Alex Cobb to continue being efficient with his pitch count. One blow-up game from a starter is going to do exponential damage to this bullpen over the next two weeks.

The Rays will need Austin Pruitt to show he can handle eight-run lead mop up duty, and they’ll need Jumbo Diaz and Danny Farquhar to continue their early-season excellence (in the face of their xFIPs). They’ll need Xavier Cedeño to stop doing whatever it is that has our site manager writing articles about what is wrong with 30-year-old lefty, and they’ll need Alex Colome to continue to be the rock at the back end of the pen.

The pen may even need a little roster-massaging from Kevin Cash and the front office, which could include using one of the options Daniel Robertson options has left. The Rays can’t afford to be buried by the end of April this year, and the bullpen’s performance will play a key role in keeping this team competitive.

In the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, and Baltimore Orioles, the Rays face four of the top 10 offenses from last season over the next 11 games. Coming out the other side of that stretch with a record near .500 is going to be a tough ask for the Rays. Let’s hope the bullpen arms are up to the challenge.