ST. PETERSBURG — Tampa Bay pitcher Grant Balfour lost his role as closer after his ninth-inning meltdown against Seattle Sunday. Rays manager Joe Maddon said he will go with the closer-by-committe for the foreseeable future.
“We’re going to take a little bit off his plate right now and get him going in the right direction again,” Maddon said. “Here’s one of the most consistent relievers over the last couple of years in the big leagues. It just hasn’t been working. It just hasn’t been working yet, and it will.”
Right-hander Juan Carlos Oviedo, right-hander Joel Peralta and left-hander Jake McGee will rotate through the ninth inning. Maddon said Balfour might find himself in that role, but stopped short of saying Baflour will regain his job once he rights himself.
“I’m not making any kind of those statements,” Maddon said. “I’m sure that can happen, but I’m not going to promise anything.”
Balfour said before Monday’s game that he is throwing the best he has all season. On Sunday, he struck out the first two Mariners in the ninth inning and was 0-2 on Brad Miller before allowing a triple that started a five-run outburst. All four of the hits Balfour allowed came with two strikes on the batter.
“It was that close to being a non-issue,” Balfour said before Monday’s game.
But it is an issue, and one reason could be Balfour’s reluctance to use his fastball. He’s thrown it 55.4 percent of the time this season, down from 64.9 percent of the time last season according to FanGraphs. The average velocity of the pitch is 91.5 mph, which is nearly two miles slower than it was last season.
“We go well beyond (velocity) and the characteristics of the fastball are still what they have been, which means it’s still an effective pitch,” Maddon said, so I think part of the inconsistency there is probably that he hasn’t thrown his fastball more.”
Maddon said Balfour might be influenced by the speed of the pitch on the scoreboard instead of focusing on how hitters react to it.
“The hitter will tell you how good your fastball is,” Maddon said. “The hitter will always tell you what’s the right pitch and the wrong pitch to throw.”