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Balfour feeling strong, has 'something to prove'

Rays reliever confident he'll bounce back after down year in 2014

ST. PETERSBURG -- Grant Balfour had just finished throwing in the Tropicana Field bullpen when he talked to reporters on Friday morning.

"I feel good, threw 40 pitches just then," said Balfour, before joking, "I'm ready to take the ball Opening Day. I'm ready to start. I'm going to challenge [Alex] Cobb."

Clearly the deposed Rays closer is ready to make good on what he set out to do in 2014, when he returned to Tampa Bay for a second tour of duty via a two-year, $12 million contract.

The 2014 season did not go well for Balfour, as the 37-year-old right-hander from Sydney, Australia, went 2-6 with a 4.91 ERA in 65 appearances, notching just 12 saves after finishing 2013 with 38. Along the way, he lost his role as the team's closer.

Balfour, who was among a large contingent of Rays players working out on Friday, is confident about rebounding this season.

"I kind of like the fact that people doubt me sometimes," Balfour said. "I want to show them that, 'Hey, I've got something to prove.' I'll just keep my mouth shut and go about my business this year and see what happens."

Balfour wants to improve in 2015, but he's not feeling any more motivation due to what happened in 2014.

"I go into every offseason thinking I'm going to have a good year," Balfour said. "Last year wasn't what we wanted as a team. And personally ... wasn't what I wanted. But it's 2015 now. We've turned the page. [There have been] a lot of changes here, and we're excited about it all."

Helping to fuel Balfour's optimism is the fact he finished last season strong. He went 1-0 with a 2.89 ERA and a save in 11 September appearances.

Video: [email protected]: Balfour fans Navarro to nail down the save

"Got back to my numbers I've had the last four or five years," Balfour said. "That builds confidence, too, when you're going out there getting people out all the time, too. So when you're not, it's tough. It's a tough game. It's not meant to be easy. Not everyone is doing it. There are a lot of people on the sidelines wishing they were doing it. Until you go out there and do it and go through it, it's not easy.

"I had a good run. I had some good times. It's easy when you're doing that. When you face a battle and face some tough times, it was nice to finish strong at the end of year and know that I came out on the good side of it."

Balfour pointed out there were "a couple of things" -- both physical and mental -- that led to his turnaround. Of the physical problems, he noted: "Just a little thing in my mechanics that I found comfortable. I was able to repeat my delivery, execute and make the pitches I wanted to. The results showed."

Balfour downplayed the idea that he put too much pressure on himself last season due to his contract.

"You always want to do well," Balfour said. "You're in a persona, you want to go out there and perform and do well for your team and your teammates. And if you don't, then you feel like you're letting guys down. And when you do, it's a great feeling. That's the game. A lot of this game's about failure. When you go out there and do well, it's like you don't want to ride the horse too high, either. It's a long way when you come down. [You have to] try to keep that even plane in this game."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for
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