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Inbox: What's the bullpen strategy?

Beat reporter Bill Chastain answers questions from Rays fans

I can't believe Joe Maddon lifted Grant Balfour in the bottom of the ninth of Thursday's 6-5 loss to the Angels. A closer's job is to put the game away. Maddon took away that opportunity from Balfour, even though the Rays led by two runs at the time. Why mess with your closer like that?
-- Brian R., Tampa, Fla.

I feel your pain, Brian, but that's baseball. Sometimes a manager goes with his hunches. Maddon normally bases his hunches on stats that back his decisions. Funny thing, I recently defended Maddon for doing just the opposite with Balfour when he let him stay in the game to pitch to David Ortiz to close out a game against the Red Sox. Fortune is fickle where baseball decisions are concerned.

Based on what Alex Cobb did Saturday night in his rehab start, it appears he's ready to rejoin the Rays. If that is the case, who do you think will leave the rotation? What other roster moves do you see happening?
-- George N., Miami

Unless Cobb has some kind of setback, he indeed is ready to step back into the rotation. Now comes the tough part: who leaves the rotation? I believe that Cesar Ramos will return to middle relief. Brad Boxberger appears to be the most logical candidate to go back to Triple-A Durham to make room for Cobb. Having made my guess as to how the club will proceed, I have to say the Rays can be unpredictable. Who knows what they'll decide? But Cobb will be back, and the team is much better with the right-hander in its rotation.

Having watched Kevin Kiermaier play this weekend, I'm excited about seeing him help the Rays in the future. I can't remember seeing an outfielder make such an impact on a game with his defense. How long will it be before he's a mainstay in the lineup?
-- Brian R., Tampa, Fla.

Kiermaier is fun to watch, isn't he? The acrobatic leaping catch he made Sunday vs. the Angels was amazing, but what I'm most impressed by is the way he does the little things. When Kiermaier caught a deep ball Saturday night, I watched how he prepared for the catch. Prior to the play, he backed up, then got his momentum moving toward the ball so he was going forward when he made the catch. That allowed Kiermaier to get a little extra on the ball throwing it back to the infield (and he already has an amazing arm). He almost caught the runner at third; it should not have been a close play.

Kiermaier is in his third stint with the team, if you include his time with the team during last year's postseason. This stint became possible when Desmond Jennings went on bereavement leave due to a death in his family. Basically, the only thing that is keeping Kiermaier from the Major Leagues is his offense, but that is rapidly catching up to his stellar defense. So I would expect him to be with the team in the very near future, particularly given the Rays' penchant for quality fielders.

All I heard about in the offseason was what a great bullpen the Rays were going to have this year. Instead, they have been blowing games left and right. What gives? Jake McGee is the only one in the group who seems to have anything going.
-- Ben D., Sarasota, Fla.

I have to stick with my initial view: The Rays have a nice bullpen, starting with the closer. Balfour knows what he's doing at the end of the game, but he just hasn't really gotten in the groove. Part of the equation is the fact that the save situations haven't been flowing in a fashion that he's been able to find a rhythm. Brandon Gomes has been in a funk lately with the home runs he's surrendered, but I like his stuff and he never seems afraid of a situation. Joel Peralta falls into the same category of never being intimidated by a situation. Newcomer Juan Carlos Oviedo is showing some promise, too. I believe that a big part of the problem has been the number of innings the bullpen has had to tackle, because the starters have not been pitching deep into the game on a consistent basis. Once that begins to happen more often, I think you will see this year's group of relievers settle into their roles and succeed.

Are the Rays done this season? I'm so disappointed; I thought they had such a great team on paper. What do you think has gone wrong? Can it be fixed? Or is it time to sack the bats and look toward 2014?
-- Larry R., Tampa, Fla.

When I looked at this team's roster heading into Spring Training, I thought they had one of their best teams. But things haven't broken right for them in the early going. Obviously, losing Matt Moore for the season dealt a big blow. Losing Cobb on top of that made matters worse. And one more downer: If they lose Ryan Hanigan for an extended period of time because of his hamstring issue, that will be another bad blow.

Fortunately for the Rays, this isn't a season where another team is running away with the American League East. Let's see what happens when Cobb returns and when Jeremy Hellickson returns. Based on what Tampa Bay has done in the past, you can count on Evan Longoria eventually going on a tear that should ignite the offense. There are still 117 games left in the season -- a lot can happen. And if any fan base should understand that, it's the Rays' fan base, given what they experienced in 2011, when the team entered September nine games down in the standings and still managed to reach the playoffs.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for

Tampa Bay Rays, Grant Balfour, Brad Boxberger, Alex Cobb, Kevin Kiermaier, Jake McGee, Cesar Ramos