ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Grant Balfour needed only 13 pitches to strike out the side during the ninth inning of Thursday’s win against the Astros.
“The best he’s thrown all year,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I thought he was pretty impressive.”
Impressive enough to regain his role as closer?
“I think it’s going to be organic. It’s just going to happen,” Maddon said. “We’re just going to keep throwing him out there. If he just follows his lead from (Thursday), he’s going to be OK very quickly.”
One reason Balfour was moved out of the closer role was Maddon didn’t see him pitching with confidence. Balfour didn’t agree with that assessment.
“Nah. That’s just what he’s got to say,” Balfour said.
Balfour said part of the reason he struggled was his lack of consistent work, which is what happens to a closer on a losing team.
“So I wasn’t even getting a chance to do my job,” Balfour said. “But I wasn’t doing the job. I wasn’t pitching as well as I can, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it. You want to be doing your role and doing a good job in your role.”
Balfour said he let Maddon know he wasn’t happy with the demotion but said he wasn’t going to cause waves.
“We got a guy (LHP Jake McGee) who’s throwing the ball well and he put him in that role. That’s fine. I’m going to let him do whatever he wants to do,” Balfour said. “I’ve been around this game long enough. It happened to me once in Oakland. I blew two saves ... I thought it was a really short leash. I was mad, actually. Everyone’s human. You’re going to blow a save here or there, you know.”
In four appearances since he allowed five runs to Seattle and lost his job, Balfour has pitched five innings. He has allowed three hits, one run and struck out five. Balfour pitched 21⁄3 innings and retired all seven batters he faced in his first appearance after the Seattle game. None were as dominant as Thursday, when he showed some of his old swagger.
“Which I like,” Maddon said. “He’s the kind of guy, if he’s on your team you love it, if he’s on the other team you get upset with him. That’s the way it’s always been, that’s the way it’s going to be. But I’d rather he’d be that way, because I think he pitches a lot better a little angry.”
RHP Jeremy Hellickson (right elbow surgery) will pitch Sunday for Triple-A Durham. He is scheduled to throw six innings or 90 pitches, which would be his longest outing by far if he hits one of those goals.
This will be his fourth rehab start, and third with the Bulls. It might be his last, though.
Hellickson is on schedule to pitch one of the games in Friday’s doubleheader in Baltimore if he’s activated from the disabled list. Maddon didn’t seem too confident that will happen.
“There is nothing beyond that right now,” Maddon said. “We’ll play that one out and see how it goes.”
OF Kevin Kiermaier headed into Friday’s game with 12 extra-base hits since May 28, the date of his most recent call-up. Those are the most in the majors among rookies during that span.
Four of those extra-base hits are home runs. His four homers in 26 games tied 3B Evan Longoria and former Rays Bobby Smith and Elijah Dukes for the most in the first 26 games of a career by a Rays rookie.
Maddon said Kiermaier should become more of a power hitter as he gains confidence and develops as a major-league hitter.
“His hits indicate power. He hits the ball hard. He’s a strong guy,” Maddon said. “All that stuff’s in place. I think a lot of that has to do with him. Challenge him, and he’ll figure a way.”
The Rays signed LHP Brock Burke, a third-round pick, on Friday. They have signed 32 of the 41 players drafted, including all 11 taken in the first 10 rounds. ... Ireland Nugent, a 3-year-old from Palm Harbor who was fitted with prosthetics after she was involved in a lawn mower accident in April 2013, will throw out the first pitch before Sunday’s game. ... Chelsea Baker, a knuckle-baller who pitches for Durant High, was invited by Maddon to throw BP before Monday’s game.