Much praise has rightly been heaped upon a Rays rotation that has endured the loss of three members this season, yet continues to impress. The support the rotation has received from the bullpen has been nothing short of exceptional.
It is a bullpen, pieced together in a variety of ways, that has not allowed an earned run in 30 innings over nine games heading into a key four-game series in Baltimore starting Thursday night. The Rays are two games behind the Orioles in the American League East.
Since the start of the season Robert Stephenson and Jake Diekman were, respectively, acquired in a trade and signed as a free agent. They have been vital pieces in a bullpen that recently lost the services of right-handed set-up man Jason Adam due to a left oblique strain.
Stephenson, a 30-year-old righthander with a 4.91 career ERA with three teams prior to being acquired by Tampa Bay from Pittsburgh on June 2 for minor league infielder Alika Williams – now in the majors with the Pirates — has been no less than lights out. He recorded his first save in a Tampa Bay uniform when he struck out the only batter he faced, Christian Vazquez, to nail down a 5-4 win at Minnesota on Wednesday. That ran his string of scoreless innings to 11 while having struck out 21 of the last 36 batters faced. He has a 0.70 WHIP with the Rays.
“I feel like we all build off each other,” he said, following the game. “Everybody is throwing the ball really well and everybody wants to hand the ball off to the next guy. I feel like everybody has done a really good job of doing that.”
Diekman was released by the White Sox on May 6 after posting a 7.94 ERA in 13 appearances. The Rays signed him four days later and the 36-year-old lefty has a 2.50 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 44 appearances.
Stephenson and Diekman are not alone when it comes to the bullpen’s success of late. Thirty-three-year-old Shawn Armstrong, in his second stint with the Rays after being signed to a minor league deal in May 2022 when the Marlins cut him loose, has not allowed an earned run in his last 15 1/3 innings (through Wednesday) over 11 appearances.
Armstrong, who spent the final two months of the 2021 season with the Rays after being acquired from the Orioles in a cash deal, missed the first two months of this season with a neck injury sustained in spring training. The righthander has a 0.81 ERA and 0.82 WHIP.
The man sealing many of the Rays’ wins has been pretty stingy himself. Pete Fairbanks has allowed only one earned in his last 13 appearances (12 2/3 innings) while picking up two wins and eight saves (one blown save) in that stretch. On the season, Fairbanks has made good on 23 of 25 save opportunities.
Colin Poche and rookie Kevin Kelly have combined for 16 wins. The former’s 11 victories (2.22 ERA) are second all-time by a Rays reliever (Ryan Yarbrough won 14 of his 18 games in 2018 in relief, mostly in a bulk-inning role). The latter has five wins and has not allowed an earned run in five appearances since coming off the injured list (ankle) September 1. Not bad for a Rule 5 selection who had to make the team out of spring training or be returned to Cleveland.