These Rays relievers are competing for final bullpen spots

March 17th, 2023

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The race for the final spot in the Rays’ rotation is still ongoing, with Josh Fleming turning in a strong start on Thursday and Yonny Chirinos looking outstanding in a 3 1/3-inning relief appearance on Friday after an uneven start by Luis Patiño.

But there’s another intriguing competition unfolding for the final spots on the Rays’ pitching staff. There are seemingly at least two jobs up for grabs in the bullpen alongside presumed locks Pete Fairbanks, Jason Adam, Jalen Beeks, Colin Poche, Garrett Cleavinger and Ryan Thompson.

Four of the top candidates took the trip to LECOM Park on Friday, although only three pitched in Tampa Bay’s 6-2 loss to Pittsburgh. Here's a look at what those four bring to the table and how they might fit.

Spring performance: Two innings, one run allowed, one hit, four strikeouts
Track record: 5.48 ERA, 1.69 WHIP, 2.10 K/BB ratio in 22 MLB appearances last season; 2.98 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 2.79 K/BB ratio in 45 Triple-A appearances since 2021
Roster status: On the 40-man, with Minor League options remaining

The skinny: Faucher’s MLB debut couldn’t have gone much worse, as he surrendered five runs before recording his first out last May at Angel Stadium. He was better during subsequent callups, but he still didn’t quite establish himself after being acquired from the Twins as part of the Nelson Cruz trade. But he’s looked like a potential weapon this spring, firing fastballs, curveballs (some clocking in at 88 mph) and sweeping sliders. In his Spring Training debut, he threw 13 pitches and generated six whiffs on seven swings. He gave up a homer in Friday’s game, but manager Kevin Cash remained impressed, calling Faucher’s stuff “stupid good.” Added pitching coach Kyle Snyder: “I'm just as bullish [on Faucher] now, maybe even more so than I've ever been.”

Spring performance: 5 2/3 innings, two runs allowed, four hits, one hit batter, nine strikeouts
Track record: 3.56 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 1.84 K/BB ratio in 194 MLB appearances since 2017; peaked as a setup man with the 2018 Pirates, logging a 2.39 ERA over 64 games
Roster status: Non-roster invitee on a Minor League deal

The skinny: Crick was throwing plate-spanning sliders well before seemingly everyone picked up a “sweeper.” The 30-year-old uses the big breaker as his primary offering, and opponents hit just .216 with a .270 slugging percentage against it last season. His fastball velocity has dipped, however, going from 95-plus mph in 2018 to 92 mph last season (and in the 89 mph range this spring). But he’s had success in the past and offers a veteran voice, and the Rays have found a place for slider specialists in their bullpen, including Sergio Romo, Chaz Roe and Matt Wisler.

Spring performance: Six innings, three hits, two walks, one hit batter, six strikeouts
Track record: 7.13 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 2.27 K/BB ratio in 32 MLB appearances since 2019; 1.81 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 2.95 K/BB ratio in 136 Triple-A appearances
Roster status: Added to the 40-man on Tuesday, with a Minor League option remaining

The skinny: The numbers above say it all for the 30-year-old sidearm reliever. He has dominated Triple-A but not yet clicked in the Majors. That brought Kelley to the Rays, who are renowned for helping pitchers take the final step. Almost immediately, Snyder advised Kelley to try a couple of new grips, and two new pitches were born: a two-seam fastball and a sweeping slider. Kelley believes that will open up the bottom of the strike zone, which he previously struggled to utilize, and make him more dangerous against lefties. “It's been here the entire time,” Kelley said, “and Snyder has just been the one to say, ‘Try this. Trust this.’”

Spring performance: 7 1/3 innings, seven hits, five runs allowed (three earned), five walks, one hit batter, nine strikeouts
Track record: 3.17 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 5.66 K/BB ratio in 102 Minor League games (reached Triple-A last season for 32 games)
Roster status: On the 40-man as a Rule 5 Draft pick

The skinny: It’s rare for the Rays to carry a player selected in the Rule 5 Draft, as the restrictions on those players make it more difficult to maintain roster flexibility. But they like the sidearmer’s stuff that much, believing the 25-year-old could be capable of making the leap to the Majors despite little upper-Minors experience. Kelly said earlier in camp he views his Rule 5 status as an “opportunity,” although Cash noted it may increase the pressure he feels in otherwise low-stakes Spring Training games. “Every pitch is 10 times more meaningful to him than maybe anybody else in camp. Just trying to get him to relax and trust that throwing strikes is going to help you,” Cash said. “We like him, so we’ll keep running him out there. He’s nasty.”