Game-Changer: Bullpen Holds Despite Unusual Workload | The Process Report

Game-Changer: Bullpen Holds Despite Unusual Workload

Although the Rays tacked on another to their franchise-record 27-straight starts with at least five innings pitched, the club’s bullpen had to do something Friday night they otherwise hadn’t done all season: Throw as many innings as the starter. Luckily Tampa Bay’s relievers were up for the task.

The fun started in the sixth inning when Jamey Wright relieved Matt Moore. Wright, who at one point pitched for the Rockies, recorded his three outs in easy fashion. He won a five-pitch battle with his counterpart, Adam Ottavino, by inducing a groundout. Eric Young Jr. came up next but didn’t leave his seat on the bench for long as Wright fanned him on three pitches: Cutter inside, changeup away, curveball away; each of which drew a whiff. Jordan Pacheco ended the inning with a first-pitch liner hit to Yunel Escobar.

Joel Peralta, ever reliable and effective, followed up Wright’s sixth inning with a breezy seventh. He mixed and matched his pitches and location, like usual, in order to strike out Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer—who did not see a fastball during his three-pitch sequence. Wilin Rosario then pulled a first-pitch fastball up-and-away to Escobar for the final out of the inning.

What started as an easy night at the park for the bullpen turned quickly during the eighth inning. Jake McGee struck out Nolan Arenado on three pitches, two of which were cutters. The cutter is a new wrinkle in McGee’s game, suppose to take the place of a changeup, and he used two of them to sit down Arenado (though it is worth pointing out all three pitches were over the plate and located in the middle-to-upper portion of the zone). McGee battled to a full count against Josh Rutledge before yielding a single on a 96 mph fastball up and in; a sequence that invariably caused flashbacks to his most recent outing against the Royals. McGee then allowed another single on a fastball over the middle before intentionally walking to Troy Tulowitzki to load the bases.

With Eric Young Jr. up McGee entered a fastball frenzy: 93 mph away, 95 in, 95 farther in—the latter two Young fouled off, albeit lately. After a ball McGee tested Young with 96 mph above the zone that Young again got his bat on. Having tested Young’s ability to catch up with heat inside and over the plate, McGee resolved to throwing a fastball away. It worked as Young swung through for strike three.

Brandon Gomes then entered to face Jordan Pacheco. Pacheco’s career splits are worse against right-handed pitchers, especially when the numbers are park-adjusted. Interestingly, Gomes approached Pacheco with a heavy dosage of sliders, including each of his first three pitches. With a 1-2 count Gomes missed the zone with a fastball before reverting to his slider on 2-2. It wasn’t the prettiest frame job by Jose Lobaton but the Rays got the call and headed to the ninth inning tied.

With the Rays unable to score in the top of the ninth Joe Maddon elected to give Kyle Farnsworth the ball in the bottom portion. Farnsworth started Gonzalez off with a fastball high and outside for a ball before running a slider down and in that was fouled off. On 1-1 Lobaton set up outside for a fastball but Farnsworth missed and the pitch leaked over the plate. Gonzalez struck it well to left field, however, Kelly Johnson ran it down for a long line-drive out—you shudder to think what Gonzalez may have done with the pitch if not for the previous slider perhaps giving him a slight pause.

From that point on Farnsworth shied away from his fastball. He used a mixture of sliders and cutters to retire Michael Cuddyer before Rosario flew out on a 2-0 cutter off the plate. Only one of the nine pitches between those at-bats was a fastball, and it wasn’t close to the strike zone.

The Rays scored three times in the top-half of the 10th inning and Fernando Rodney entered for the save chance. He fell behind 1-0 to Arenado then saw the rookie take a fastball away into right field for a leadoff single. Rodney began a disconcerting trend of poor changeup location against Josh Rutledge, leaving the pitch up and over the plate. Of the 11 changeups Rodney threw, seven were at least belt-high.

To Rodney’s credit, he was able to get through the inning unscathed. He coerced Rutledge into a groundout (on an inside changeup) then struck out a batter before Reid Brignac singled. With two outs Young Jr., who had failed to put the Rockies ahead in the eighth inning, strode to the plate. He worked a lengthy at-bat that saw him foul off back-to-back changeups at one point before being unable to hold back a check-swing on another high changeup away. It wasn’t a perfect night for Rodney but in the end he provided the necessary results, much like the bullpen as a whole.


  1. upnm42 wrote:

    Hoping that Mcgee uses his slider more or locates his fastball better.Lobo made a great stop on Gomes 1-2 pitch.Great job by entire bullpen.Wright is becoming impressive.I take back all those bad things I said about his spring training!

  2. Jenny Miller wrote:

    Thanks for the pitch-by-pitch. I get anxious whenever McGee’s in.

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