Mark Lancaster said it in the Tribune this morning: the bullpen narrative is already becoming old. You could see it on Jim Hickey’s face last night in the sixth, when Shawn Camp was in the middle of his nightmare. The new pitching coach rolled his eyes, cursed, bolted out to the mound and said something sharp. He must have been thinking: what do we have to do to hold a lead?
It would be easy to gripe about the problems, though; let’s take the opportunity to think about how a team can solve this particular issue. First, looking at Camp and Ruddy Lugo, who have been ineffective this year: can these guys develop any further to eventually become reliable? Their PECOTA projections at Baseball Prospectus seem to think they can be decent, at least (Camp, Lugo). Maddon sounded supportive but noncommittal last night (his quote in every story has two elements: one, “I’m going to keep talking to these guys,” seemed hopeful, while the other, “That’s who we’ve got, that’s what we’re going to work with,” may have betrayed some frustration.)
How do you work with this bullpen problem during a season? It seems as if Maddon and Hickey plan to continue with the current relief corps, but there is the possibility of eventually replacing them. The Durham Bulls have received three consecutive impressive starts, from Jason Hammel, J.P. Howell, and, last night, from Mitch Talbot. Seth McClung and Chad Orvella are also on the Triple-A staff. When does it become time to try out some new arms in St. Petersburg?
The story to watch here is whether Friedman and Maddon make major adjustments to the pen during the season. If they sense a need—in terms of fan interest and player buy-in—for a significantly improved record this year, they may need to tinker.
Interesting take on the bullpen situation today at Rays Index.
And now, something more positive:
Jackson did struggle with his command last night, and ended up a ball/strike ratio that was less than stellar. He also, however, pitched significantly better than his line in the box score. In addition to pumping a mid-nineties fastball and generally effective slider, Jackson seemed composed and confident. Remember, the game was tied when he left with two outs in the sixth. Had Shawn Camp been able to get an out, Jackson’s impressive outing would have been the story.
“Nice job,” Maddon said when took the ball from his starter. Jackson may not have heard him, as he began walking toward the dugout.
Maddon stopped the pitcher, looked him in the eye, and said again, “Nice job.” He wanted the praise to be heard and noted. Jackson thanked him and jogged to the bench, where he sat and smiled. He beamed for a few minutes, satisfied with the knowledge that his development was moving in the right direction. The smile, of course, had faded entirely by the time the score was 8-2.
One more thing: Jorge Cantu started at first base for Durham last night. A future power hitting corner infielder for the Rays?