The Tampa Bay Rays have decided that 2013 All-Star closer Grant Balfour will no longer be the team’s ninth inning man. Joe Maddon made the decision on Monday after Balfour’s disappointing performance on Sunday afternoon’s game against the Seattle Mariners.
Balfour retired the first two batters that he faced in the top of the ninth inning, and was one pitch away from sending the Rays to the bottom of the ninth with an even score of 0-0. Brad Miller tripled against the closer, and opened the floodgates to what would become an extremely ugly outing. Balfour then surrendered a walk and single, followed by a two-run triple by James Jones. After that, he walked Robinson Cano and allowed a two-run double by Kyle Seager. The five runs were more than enough for the Mariners, sealing a 5-0 victory.
After two tremendous years as the closer for the Oakland Athletics, it is very surprising that Balfour has struggled so much this season. In 2012, the right-hander went 24/26 in save opportunities and had a 2.53 ERA. In his 2013 season, he went 38/41 with an ERA of 2.59.
His numbers this year have been far from his very solid numbers of the past. So far, Balfour has blown two of his eleven save opportunities, and is 0-2 with a 6.46 ERA. The frustrated closer vented to the media after Sunday’s game, saying “I think I upset the baseball gods or did something wrong. I’ve never given up five runs in my career in an inning and I’ve done it twice this year”.
The big question now is who will replace Balfour as the Rays’ go-to-guy in the last inning from now on. Joe Maddon claims that the Rays will use a closer-by-committee system now that Balfour has lost his job. Maddon does not want to assign a specific player to the role, but Jake McGee and Juan Carlos Oviedo are two potential options that could get a lot of time closing out games. Maddon also said that he believes that Balfour will get another chance to prove himself in the role at some point later in the season.
This is just another of the many setbacks that the Rays have been forced to confront this season. Like their starting rotation, the Rays’ bullpen was expected to be one of the most enviable in the league. They now find themselves without an every day closer, which could cause serious problems down the road. It can do a lot of damage to a club’s confidence when they do not have a surefire guy to finish out games for them. Maddon has got to hope that somebody can step up and prove himself as a reliable closer, or that Balfour can regain his confidence and help the team down the road.
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