Rays seek more multi-inning relief appearances

Cash says idea could lead to a different bullpen dynamic

February 18th, 2016

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- A number that stat heads chewed on a lot last season was the Rays' tendency to pull their starting pitcher prior to facing the opposition their third time through the order.
Entering Spring Training, the team is hoping to be a little better prepared for a starting pitcher's early departure.
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The Rays pulled their starters prior to the third time through the order more than any team in the American League in 2015. They faced a league low of 899 batters after the second time through the order.
Cash laughed on Thursday when asked about the tendency.
"That question gets asked quite a bit," Cash said. "We want our starters to give us a chance to win games. How we manage how they go as far as they go -- last year we took an approach, I won't say criticized, but scrutinized a little bit. It worked out in our favor quite a bit. When it didn't we had to answer some questions.
"This year we're going to be better [prepared] for that. But we have a different set of starting pitchers. If we're healthy coming out of camp, we'll have to kind of re-group and think what's best suited for our team going into the season. First and foremost, we need to be healthy."
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Cash announced that "the one thing going into this spring that will be a little bit different" is the fact the Rays plan "to challenge some of our pitchers to extend themselves a little bit from the bullpen."
"Maybe not so many one-inning guys," Cash said. "Let's have some guys who can get us four-plus outs and add to our dynamic of how we want to run things."
Cash said that thinking could lead to "a little bit different bullpen dynamic."
"That's what we're talking about, getting some multiple-inning bullpen pitchers in there," Cash said. "Four- or five-out guys."
President of baseball operations Matt Silverman pointed out how the number of one-run games went into the moves that were made with the teams starters.
"We played a ton of one-run games last year," Silverman said. "It was so often that the fifth or sixth inning we were up a run or down a run. ... When we're playing in one-run games every night, it's tough. It's tough to piece together the innings and make sure we keep everyone fresh."

The Rays played in 94 games decided by two runs or fewer, which led the Major Leagues in 2015. And 56 of the team's games were decided by one run. That prompted Silverman and company to try and improve the offense in the offseason so it is capable of scoring more runs.
Upgrading the offense can "give us more breathing room and distance," Silverman said. "And that allows Kevin and the coaches to manage differently."
As for extending the relievers, Silverman backed his manager, noting that "Spring Training is a time for guys to prepare themselves for what might be in the regular season."
"And we feel that it's prudent to make sure that our relievers build themselves up in a way that gives us flexibility," Silverman said. "It would be great to have a starter go seven innings, hand the ball off to a reliever in the eighth and close it out in the ninth and win a ballgame. If that happens, great.
"But we want to make sure that we have enough contingencies where we don't have issues covering innings if there's an injury to a starter. If a guy doesn't go very deep. We want to make sure that we have the length to be able to have a fresh end the next day, and not have it affect our club that day for a couple of games down the road."
In theory, that would lead to using fewer pitchers on any given night. Having guys stretched out going into the season "just gives us more options."
"There's a lot of reasons for a guy to pitch an inning, and it would be great if it lines up that way," Silverman said. "But it doesn't always, and that extra flexibility should be helpful."