NEW YORK -- Over the past week, the Tampa Bay Rays have added three top-notch, veteran arms to their bullpen as they prepare to make a run for the postseason.
The bullpen has been the Rays’ glaring weakness this season as the majority of their losses have come in games which they have led late in games. Fans have to wonder what might have been if the bullpen had been able to hold those games.
On Monday, Sergio Romo was added. Dan Jennings, acquired on Thursday, followed.
Jennings made his debut the same night, allowing two hits and an earned run without recording an out in the seventh inning. However, the left-hander has been a potent weapon against same-side batters and will reprise that role in Tampa Bay.
“I think he’ll float a bit, we will ask him to get lefties out and we will have confidence he will pitch to some righties,” skipper Kevin Cash told reporters, including DRaysBay, after the acquisition of Jennings Thursday. “Where we see a need; if a couple of left-handed [batters] come together, whether it’s in the sixth inning or the eighth inning.”
On Friday, the Rays acquired Steve Cishek, giving the Rays bullpen completing a major bullpen overhaul. But where do all of these new arms fit into game strategy.?
Breaking down the new bullpen
The closer is Alex Colome, just to get that out of the way.
“I don’t think we have anything that is stapled into our bullpen other than Alex being the ninth inning [option],” Cash said.
The question is: who bridges the gap from the starter to Colome?
Cash has currently been giving the seventh and eighth innings to the duo of Tommy Hunter and Brad Boxberger with each putting up solid results, occasional bumps notwithstanding. Romo may now share those duties, however, with the trio of pitchers likely to rotate between high leverage situations. On Thursday, Romo came in and struck out one in two-thirds of an inning, an unusually high-leverage spot for a reliever with an ERA north of six.
The additions of Jennings and Cishek gives the Rays weapons against same handed hitters as the two latest Rays acquisitions can carve through those hitters.
“Our front office is trying to put the best team on the field for us,” Cash said. “[Cishek] will be in a role clumping anywhere from the sixth to the eighth [inning]. He’s going to pitch to a lot of righties, similar to Romo. He brings high leverage experience as a closer.
“Everyone wants to be a closer but at the same time, I think everyone understands we need the ultimate buy-in to win games.”
Cash went on to compare his team to the Yankees, who acquired Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson, pairing the relievers with All-Stars Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman. While Chapman has the ninth inning locked down, the Yankees have shown flexibility with their key arms, depending on the situation.
“We see this club over here in the other dugout doing it [successfully] right now,” Cash added as he pointed at the Yankees dugout. “I don’t see us locking anybody into a seventh or eighth inning role...I know it won’t happen.”
The loss of Erasmo Ramirez takes away a bullpen arm that is able to throw multiple innings, but they still have Chase Whitley who can probably match Erasmo’s output.
So, the Rays have a closer, three set-up men, a ROOGY and a LOOGY, and a swingman as they have massively revamped their bullpen. Despite two losses in the Bronx to start the series, the Rays are confident as they prepare for a playoff push.
“It gives another meaning in August and September,” Brad Boxberger said to DRaysBay before Friday’s 6-1 loss to the Yankees. “Instead of being ready to finish the season strong for yourself, it’s a team effort to compete in every game and every game matters instead of just checking the days off until you go home.”