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Inbox: How does Maddon rate as tactician?

Beat reporter Bill Chastain answers questions from fans

I know Joe Maddon is supposed to be great with the media and a gifted guy in the clubhouse, but I'm not on board with the way he manages a game. He got lucky twice in the sweep against the Red Sox. First, Maddon let Grant Balfour talk him into pitching to David Ortiz when he had an open base. Balfour ended up getting Ortiz out, but that was tempting fate. You never elect to pitch to the other team's best hitter when the game's on the line -- especially Ortiz! Then, in the second game of the doubleheader, Maddon didn't mind Balfour putting on the potential winning run in the ninth with an unintentional intentional walk of Grady Sizemore. Again, he got lucky and Balfour struck out the next batter to end the game. But you're taught never to put on the winning run. What was Maddon thinking?
-- Steve J., St. Petersburg

While there are plenty of times I've disagreed with Maddon, I've always considered him to be a good in-game manager. Addressing both of the situations from the doubleheader that you brought up, I thought Maddon's explanation for letting Balfour pitch to Ortiz to be reasonable.

First, Maddon explained that only once before had he allowed a pitcher to change his mind in such a situation, and the only reason he did so in this particular case was due to Balfour's passion for wanting to pitch to Ortiz. He also was hoping to get Balfour back on track after a tough outing against the White Sox.

Finally, in the second situation, the runner that Tampa Bay was worried about was the tying run on third. Maddon felt like if the Red Sox tied the game, the Rays were cooked, even if they got out of the ninth, because the bullpen was spent. So pitching around Sizemore, who has had some success against Balfour, to pitch to Xander Bogaerts, seemed like a reasonable strategy. And, again, it worked. On a different day, both decisions might backfire, but that doesn't make Maddon a bad manager.

What's going on with Tim Beckham? I know he hurt his knee this past winter, but I haven't seen much about him since. Based on the way he played with the Rays at the end of last season, I thought he would be on the team this year.
-- Ken T., Lakeland, Fla.

I thought Beckham would be on the team this year, too. Unfortunately, he experienced a bad break when he tore the ACL in his right knee and had to have surgery. In talking to some Rays people last week, I get the feeling that Beckham will be back on the field after the All-Star break. He's a really hard-working kid, and during Spring Training, he seemed well on his way toward a successful comeback from the surgery.

I had high hopes for this season based on everything the Rays did in the offseason, but with the injuries and the slow start, I'm beginning to think the Rays might see an end to their run of six straight winning seasons this year. Please talk me off the ledge.
-- Nick C., Tampa, Fla.

I might agree with you if not for a few considerations. First, no team in the American League East has exactly burst from the gate to run away from the rest of the division. That should give the Rays some time to tread water until Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson can return. The team should look better with both in the rotation. I also believe the offense has a little more life in it than what's been on display thus far. Once Wil Myers gets on track -- like he did Sunday when everything he hit was a rocket -- the offense should look better as well.

I'm glad to see the Rays send Heath Bell on his way. I don't have the foggiest idea what they saw in him in the first place. Now they need to get rid of Josh Lueke, too. I understand he's out of options, but why keep a guy just because he's out of options? I would rather see Brad Boxberger, C.J. Riefenhauser or Jeff Beliveau any day.
-- Steve C., Tampa, Fla.

While Bell did not show that well during his tenure with the team, he did show some heart. He went 2 1/3 innings Friday night to claim the win in the 14-inning contest against the Yankees. On Saturday, Bell returned to pitch an inning during a game in which the bullpen was on fumes. Anyway, give the man some respect, he's had a nice career. And I'll tell you this, Bell is a class act.

As for Lueke, Maddon allowed that there were either/or discussions about him or Bell prior to Nathan Karns being recalled -- then sent back down on Sunday. The bottom line for the decision, as per Maddon, was that Lueke had youth on his side, and they still feel he has a high upside. If the Rays show him some patience, Maddon and company feel there could be a high reward down the line. Finally, I understand wanting to see more of the three players you mentioned, as all have shown well this season when they had the chance to wear a Tampa Bay uniform.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for

Tampa Bay Rays, Grant Balfour, Tim Beckham, Heath Bell, Josh Lueke