The Rays pitching is in shambles, both in the rotation (where Dietrich Enns is now starting after IL trips for Shane McClanahan and Chris Archer), and in the bullpen (5.04 ERA, 5.34 FIP, 4.41 xFIP in September), although that has been overshadowed in the baseball world by the collapse of both the Yankees and Red Sox this September.
Thankfully, Tampa Bay’s 100-win pace and comfortable lead in the American League East creates a buffer for the team to sort things out before the playoffs, and that includes re-introducing Nick Anderson to the fold.
Once one of baseball’s best relievers, Nick Anderson infamously was a shell of his normal self for the Rays during last year’s World Series, with news coming after the playoffs that he was pitching through mental and physical fatigue. Anderson then showed up to Spring Training with an elbow tear. After rehabbing the injury, he now returns to a Rays bullpen that desperately needs who he once was.
It’s a shame that player isn’t coming.
Previously topping out at 99 mph on his fastball in 2019, Nick Anderson had reportedly only reached 94 mph across his 13 minor league rehab appearances in 2021 (4.26 ERA, 3.24 FIP), and in his first outing of the 2021 season the results were worse than that, as the former closer was sitting 92 mph on his fastball.
For his first batter of 2021 to start the seventh inning, Nick Anderson was greeted by Lourdes Gurriel, and after three straight balls Anderson was able to fire two fastballs down the middle. Gurriel took the first, fouled the second, and then got a 93 mph fastball middle-in that took a miracle ten-foot leap from Kevin Kiermaier to keep a run off the board.
In the second plate appearance, Anderson worked another full count, beginning with a curve and then fastball into the heart of the zone, with the heater clocking in at his fastest on the night (93.8 mph). Anderson then uncharacteristically tried fastballs below the zone for two balls before returning to the curve. He then missed far and above the zone — where the fastball should be placed — giving Grichuk a preview of what was to come. When he finally located his fastball on the seventh pitch it was a Randal Grichuk single off easy heat at 91.4 mph.
For the third batter, Anderson attempted five fastballs above the zone against Breyvic Valera, none of them exceeded 92 mph, and only one was deemed to have clipped the zone for a called strike.
The fourth batter brought George Springer to the plate, and after two attempted curveballs Anderson again fed a 92 mph fastball down the middle. Springer gave it a ride to center field, but like the first it was fielded by KK at the warning track. The final batter of Nick Anderson’s night was Marcus Semien, who saw two curves and popped the second out to short stop.
On a night where Ryan Yarbrough is sure to grab the headlines for allowing seven runs to the rival Blue Jays, it was Nick Anderson who might have had the most inconsistent and disappointing night.
As a two-pitch pitcher, Anderson relies on an elevated fastball to get much of the work done. If he’s lacking life on the fastball, then anything less than perfect command might lead to even more problems for the Rays in high leverage relief.
According to a report from Marc Topkin before tonight’s game, Triple-A Durham manager Brady Williams told Rays manager Kevin Cash that Nick Anderson had “better location” and “good velocity” over his last couple outings before his promotion.
Having seen what Anderson has to offer in his 14th outing of the season, I now find that hard to picture.
Nevertheless, the key question isn’t whether 2021 Anderson is as good as peak Anderson in 2019-2020, just whether he makes the team better. Given the state of the Rays bullpen, he just might, and the good news is that the playoffs don’t start tomorrow.