UPDATE: Welp, the uncertainty didn’t last long. Balfour is out as Rays’ closer. Joe Maddon said he would use the old “closer by committee” thing.
9:16 AM: Grant Balfour has been pretty atrocious this season. He has a 6.46 ERA, a 1.65 WHIP, and 21/20 K/BB ratio in 23 and two-thirds innings. Yesterday he came in to a 0-0 game in the ninth inning and surrendered five runs on four hits and walked two. Yet, he remains the Rays’ closer. For now. From Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times:
Grant Balfour didn’t really have any answers after his latest ninth-inning collapse, turning a scoreless game — with two outs, nobody on and two strikes on a .167 hitter — into a 5-0 mess of a loss Sunday.
“He’s our closer as of today,” Maddon replied . . . “Even if I was going to change anything, I wouldn’t tell you guys anyhow.”
The Rays’ season is sort of lost already, so maybe who is closing the games doesn’t matter. But in the meantime, Jake McGee or Juan Carlos Oviedo may be getting some time in the ninth inning soon.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.