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Depth, high-octane heat hallmarks of bullpen

With closer Colome and deep stable of power arms, Rays boast strong relief corps
MLB.com @wwchastain

ST. PETERSBURG -- Putting together the Rays' 2018 bullpen might present management with one of the more intricate puzzles to solve in recent years.

More and more, the Rays seem committed to limiting their starters in terms of the number of times they get to face the opposing lineup. Some starters might be limited to twice through the order, while the more seasoned members of the staff might be allowed to go three times through, or perhaps a complete game.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Putting together the Rays' 2018 bullpen might present management with one of the more intricate puzzles to solve in recent years.

More and more, the Rays seem committed to limiting their starters in terms of the number of times they get to face the opposing lineup. Some starters might be limited to twice through the order, while the more seasoned members of the staff might be allowed to go three times through, or perhaps a complete game.

In essence, this means the composition of the bullpen might be different than recent years, with fewer short men and more relievers capable of pitching multiple innings. That approach has been effective during recent postseasons, and the Rays' front office is always willing to explore new ideas. So this one should be fun to watch.

MLB.com is taking a look at the projected bullpen of all 30 teams ahead of Spring Training. Here's how the Rays might stack up:

BULLPEN IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
Alex Colome, RHP, closer
Dan Jennings, LHP
Ryne Stanek, RHP
Nathan Eovaldi, RHP
Jose Alvarado, LHP
Jaime Schultz, RHP
Austin Pruitt, RHP

STRENGTH
This year's bullpen will have plenty of power arms and a closer who has a closer's mentality. That's a good thing, according to Rays manager Kevin Cash, who addressed his bullpen at the Winter Meetings.

"You look at the bullpens throughout baseball, really in the American League East -- it's power, power, power coming out of them," Cash said. "You talk to our hitters and opposing hitters, when you have those elite fastballs, like Jose Alvarado and Ryne Stanek have that just sit at the upper 90s, your margin of error, in theory, it should be that much greater."

With Colome closing, the Rays have a calming influence for the ninth and a guy who led the Major Leagues with 47 saves in 2017.

QUESTION MARK
Control issues and health with some of the young guys, specifically Stanek and Alvarado -- can they find the strike zone with their big fastballs?

Schultz is also a question mark because of his health. The hard-throwing right-hander was the darling of Spring Training last season, and he would have been with the team had he not spent the summer recovering from groin and knee injuries. If he can stay healthy, the Rays will have an added weapon in their bullpen.

"We're looking forward to seeing where he's at coming into the spring, knowing that he's very talented with the fastball, curveball combination," Cash said.

WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
Colome has been a hot commodity for trade talks during the offseason. If the Rays do decide to deal him, they will either anoint one of their youngsters as the closer or they could have a closer-by-committee situation.

Also of interest is how the team plans to use its bullpen. If indeed the Rays stick to using their starters twice through the order, they might decide to go with eight relievers on their roster, rather than seven. That would be made possible because of the flexibility of the team's position players.

If they decided to go with eight relievers, right-hander Chih-Wei Hu might be the extra guy, or maybe they would consider using left-hander Ryan Yarbrough in the bullpen.

Despite the loss of veterans Tommy Hunter, Steve Cishek, and Sergio Romo to free agency, the Rays still have some depth. So if one of the above mentioned pitchers gets injured or does not perform, the likes of Chaz Roe, Hunter Wood, and Andrew Kittredge could easily step in to fill the void.

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

 

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