The Rays took a three game lead in the ALCS but have battled with the Astros in Game 4 and 5, both one-run losses.
In each of those games, the Rays have rested the majority of their A-bullpen, and it’s thanks in large part to Aaron Slegers.
After his acquisition in 2019, the Rays have been using the towering Slegers in a stretched out role, pitching for multiple innings in all but three appearances in his Rays career, one of which was a save, and another was on Wednesday in Game 4 of the ALCS.
In that appearance, Slegers made quick work when called upon in the eighth inning, the final frame the Rays would pitch that night, walking one but coaxing a groundball double play against the heart of the Astros lineup.
Slegers’ sinker worked Jose Altuve high and low in the zone, and then flummoxed Carlos Correa who grounded out on the first pitch he saw.
In Game 5, Slegers was brought in to start with the easier task of getting number nine hitter Martin Maldonado, but with two outs in the fifth had himself an 11-pitch battle with George Springer, who fouled off seven pitches — including one that hit the Astros pitcher Scrubb in the dugout — before Slegend got a whiff on a slider away.
Underrated moment from last night: The Sleghammer pic.twitter.com/OoXwS3FI5i— Danny Russell (@d_russ) October 16, 2020
The sixth inning was the biggest ask, but Slegers breezed through thanks to some defense that felt playoff-made. After lefty swinging Michael Brantley grounded out, Jose Altuve lined one off the third base bag. It should have been an easy double, but the deflection redirected the baseball to Randy Arozarena, who made a perfect throw to second.
Brandon Lowe nearly missed the tag, but replay showed he clearly got the out given how much time he actually had to nab Altuve on the way into the bag on his slide. Alex Bregman followed with a fly out.
In the seventh inning, things got weird. Slegers got Correa reaching below the zone for a liner into the shift, nabbed by Brandon Lowe:
Then, for the first time in forever we saw a pitcher field one of the many hits back to the mound this ALCS and it didn’t go for an out. If Slegers was shaken by the moment, though, he didn’t show it.
Prior to these two games, Slegers faced eight Yankees in the Game 4 loss, allowing one run and getting four outs. The latter is the accomplishment, this is his role in the stacked Rays bullpen, and he’s done the job.
On the season, Slegers is in the top 4% of pitchers for limiting barrels, and the top 8% for hard hits. If I had a theory, I’d say that maybe hitters can’t barrel it up thanks to the extension he gets. By releasing his two-seam closer to the plate than a normal pitcher, he may cause enough late life to limit good contact, even when hitters time it up.
For whatever reason, The Slegend filled the gaps nicely in his three appearances thus far, limited the Astros to no added runs in this series. Thanks to his success, the Rays enter Game 6 with the A-bullpen ready to go.
Should the Rays advance, not many will dwell on these performances, but it’s the stuff slegends are made from.