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The Rays bullpen is on its 13th best reliever

With a rest-free stretch on the horizon, the Rays are desperate for relief

Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles
Danny Farquhar
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The Rays started the season with an All-Star closer in Alex Colome, arguably one of the five best relievers in the American League last season. Colome was flanked with four setup men to enter the 2017 season.

After the first month of play, all four setup men are injured and on the disabled list.

Brad Boxberger (Rays closer in 2015) was sidelined by a flexor strain, as was Shawn Tolleson (Rangers closer in 2015-16) as he recovered from a back injury incurred this spring. They were replaced by veteran presences Tommy Hunter (RHH specialist — now out with a calf strain) and Xavier Cedeno (LHH specialist — out with a flexor strain).

Alex Colome is all that remains in high leverage, and as we saw this week, the Rays have been riding their horse into the ground. Three of the last four games heavily featured Colome, and the Rays lost their most recent outing when Colome had to pitch a second inning. But what else are they to do?

The current bullpen

The Rays are now utilizing their 12th and 13th options in the bullpen, as minor league depth has also succumbed to injury in April.

  1. Alex Colome
  2. Brad Boxberger (injured)
  3. Shawn Tolleson (injured)
  4. Tommy Hunter (injured)
  5. Xavier Cedeno (injured)
  6. Danny Farquhar
  7. Erasmo Ramirez
  8. Jumbo Diaz
  9. Austin Pruitt (moved to rotation for injured Jake Odorizzi)
  10. Jaime Schultz (injured)
  11. Ryan Garton
  12. Chase Whitley
  13. Chih-Wei Hu

Tampa Bay has now called up two starters from Triple-A Durham just to help shoulder the load, which has been a considerable ask for the Rays.

As noted by Neil Solondz, the Rays have the fewest quality starts in the majors thus far, which makes their .500 W/L record all the more impressive. The bullpen has carried them there.

What’s next?

Jake Odorizzi has missed two starts from the rotation, the most recent of which was the Austin Pruitt led “bullpen day,” where the Rays flummoxed Baltimore into a two-hit shutout. If he comes back in good shape, the Rays at least return Pruitt — who had an abysmal first few outings from the bullpen — back into the fold, with hopes of maintaining his newfound composure.

If Odorizzi is not back from his hamstring strain, and the Rays need another reliever, the only pitchers left on the 40-man roster in Triple-A (that are not injured) are starter Jake Faria, and 100-mph reliever Ryne Stanek.

Stanek would presumably be the next man up, unless the Rays make room on the 40-man roster for a player with more experience (like Justin Marks, or spring stand-out Diego Moreno) by moving Cedeno to the 60-day Disabled list. Stanek had a rough spring, and in his outings this season has seemed just as wild. Stanek had 4 BB in his first 3 outings (3.1 IP), but only 2 in his last 5 outings (7.1 IP). In those 7.1 IP he's only allowed 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 K. He was too wild for the Rays to call him up instead of Hu — who has been considered a starter to date — but Stanek might be settling in enough.

Regardless of whoever might be next in Durham, the Rays still face the problem of having no left-handed relievers in the bullpen (Cedeno was the lone lefty, Stanek is right-handed) until at least June, when some of the other set up men might return.

It would not be surprising for the Rays to look outside the organization for more help, which they are most assuredly doing, but in the meantime Danny Farquhar’s change up will have to handle the LOOGY situations, Erasmo Ramirez will remain the longman, and Jumbo Diaz’s 97 mph fastball will be the best the Rays can offer in high leverage.

The Rays enter 20 games without a day off starting tonight. Should be fun.