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Cash emphasizes value of 'pen, middle relievers

Rays' manager addresses media at Winter Meetings
MLB.com @wwchastain

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Kevin Cash hit leadoff Monday when he became the first of the 30 Major League managers to meet with the media at Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings.

Among the subjects addressed by Cash were the composition of next year's bullpen and how the Rays intend to use their 'pen and pitching staff.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Kevin Cash hit leadoff Monday when he became the first of the 30 Major League managers to meet with the media at Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings.

Among the subjects addressed by Cash were the composition of next year's bullpen and how the Rays intend to use their 'pen and pitching staff.

Winter Meetings interview with Kevin Cash

Tampa Bay had a strong bullpen in 2017, but Tommy Hunter, Steve Cishek and Sergio Romo became free agents. The Rays traded Brad Boxberger to the D-backs earlier in the offseason, and there's speculation closer Alex Colome will be dealt, with the Cardinals and Rockies at the forefront.

Video: Cash on adding to the Rays' bullpen

"I think we're going to have a bunch of guys from our farm system, namely in Triple-A, come in and compete," Cash said. "We're going to have some opportunities. We started a bunch of pitchers last year. We're not going to have nine starting pitchers, so we're really going to have to find ways to put them in successful situations in the bullpen, some leverage positions that can help us.

"It was nice, after the [non-waiver Trade] Deadline with our the veteran guys that we brought in -- Cishek, Romo, Dan Jennings -- and Tommy Hunter had a tremendous year. Colome obviously had a tremendous year. But those additions really helped us late in ballgames. I think we all learned and saw the value of that the last month and a half of the season."

Video: Cash jokes about evolving view of pitching staff

Cash said Tampa Bay will be spending a lot of time trying to piece together an effective unit, noting that new pitching coach Kyle Snyder will arrive at the Winter Meetings on Tuesday.

"We're going to continue to discuss. I'm really going to lean on him quite a bit, because he saw a lot of those guys in Durham and saw how they performed in non-starting roles and the dual/multiple-inning roles," Cash said.

Video: Cash on development of Bauers and Adames

A trend has developed throughout the Major Leagues that has seen teams reluctant to allow a starter to face opposing hitters a third time through the lineup. Cash fielded a question regarding whether this trend -- which the Rays embrace -- will put more of a premium on the team's middle-relief corps.

"Without a doubt," Cash said. "Everybody looks or talks about the eighth and ninth innings. We have said it for a long time now -- there are a lot of games that are won in the fifth through the seventh.

"... The last three outs of the game have always been shown to be tough to come by and get. But the three outs are three outs, and we've got to find guys that are very capable of consistency of having success in those middle innings."

Video: Cash praises Longoria and his style of play

Cash conceded that selling the acceptance of new ideas is a part of the equation.

"It has been done in the postseason now the last two years, really," said Cash, noting that the Rays introduced the twice-through-the-order idea in 2015. "It didn't go over too well. So yeah, there's going to have to be constant selling, I think, on that.

"The biggest issue is every starting pitcher -- whether they're in high school, college and get to pro ball -- they are taught and built with the mindset to go deep in the ballgame. That's their game, their day to pitch, save the bullpen and get as far as they can go. That's all fine and dandy, but at the end of the day, it's about winning games. And if we feel that we can get a better matchup earlier in the ballgame, why wouldn't we use it?"

Cash said the sales pitch to Rays pitchers will require "constant communication" on his part and Snyder's.

"But I think that we're all seeing that that's the trend of the way the game is going," Cash said.

Cash caught in the Major Leagues, and part of what catchers have historically done is try to nurse their starting pitcher through as many innings as possible. Given his background, the manager was asked if he had a hard time embracing the idea.

"There were some hiccups along the way," Cash said. "I think that that's a good point, your goal as a catcher is for that starting pitcher to have success. And for him to have success, he basically meant seven innings and two runs or less, whatever it was, and getting really deep, fulfilling his 110, 115 pitches.

"I think with all the information out there right now, it's pretty telling that we can find other ways to relocate those quality pitches, rather than the back-end pitches."

Cash chuckled after being asked about when he bought in.

"When I was hired and Matt [Silverman] told me, 'This is what we're going to do,'" Cash said.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays