Camp Preview 2015: The Bullpen
With the season nearing, it’s time to preview the Rays’ roster, unit by unit. Here’s the schedule:
Thursday – Bullpen
Friday – Depth pieces and minor leaguers
The return to Tampa Bay did not go as expected for Balfour. Signed to handle closing duties, he effectively removed himself from the role due to lost control. Throwing in the low-90s these days, his fastball location was hit or miss or being hit when he missed. His slider was effective, but the poor showing with the fastball limited the impact. McGee’s injury impacts several members of the bullpen, but perhaps none more than Balfour, who is due a guaranteed salary and who could, with a strong showing, perhaps become attractive to outside suitors.
The bespectacled Belisario has a high-quality fastball—a mid-90s sinker that misses bats and eats dirt—and that’s about it. He doesn’t have a good secondary pitch, nor does he have the kind of command associated with fastball-heavy late-inning relievers. Factor in his history of platoon splits, and he’s best used in a limited capacity.
Beliveau finally found a home in the pen as the second lefty after several trips back and forth between Durham and St. Pete. Barely breaking 90 on the gun, he dominated southpaws, allowing just six hits in nearly 50 plate appearances; none off his secondary pitches. The curveball – thrown in the mid-70s – was the more effective of the two, but the mid-80s slider was also tough to square up. Beliveau is out of options, so he’ll either make the Opening Day roster or hit the waiver wire.
Boxberger distinguished himself with an impressive first season in St. Pete. He rode his fastball-changeup combination hard, using those pitches nearly 100 percent of the time. Boxberger’s improved command ensures he should continue to pitch late in games for the foreseeable future.
Following a rough 2014 season, which saw him fall from Opening Day closer to unemployed by season’s end, Frieri will attempt to become Jim Hickey’s latest turnaround success story. Frieri has always relied upon his fastball command and deception, yet both suffered last year. If he can right the ship, he could work his way into important situations before summer rolls around.
Unlike most of the Rays’ relief acquisitions, Jepsen is neither broken nor unproven. The right-handed reliever is coming off his best season with the Angels, having found some semblance of fastball command and trust in secondary offerings. His curveball is high-quality and thrown for both strikes and outs. His changeup is the third offering behind the hook and high heat, but is enough of a disruption to kept the opposition off the other pitches. With McGee on the shelf, he could see some ninth inning opportunities.
The club’s relief ace will start the season on the disabled list after off-season elbow surgery. His stay should be brief, but other options may lengthen his time away from save opportunities. His above-average fastball command gives the singular pitch multiple layers and should remain one of the best offerings in the game upon return to active duty.
Undersized and underrated out of Hawaii, Yates was an effective member of the bullpen in his rookie season. Featuring a low-to-mid 90s fastball and a slider 10 miles off of that, his best work came against fellow right-handers. Without the threat of a changeup, lefties sat on his fastball away and waited for a mistake. His demeanor is worthy of high-leverage work, but that won’t be necessary unless things go wrong.