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Friday, Sep 19, 2014
Rays

Boxberger is Rays’ ace in the hole

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— Brad Boxberger is quiet, funny and super witty, according to the scouting report provided by fellow reliever Cesar Ramos.

Don’t forget the mid-90s fastball and killer change-up, added bullpen mate Jake McGee.

When asked if Boxberger offered any feedback in spring training during his first meeting with the coaching staff, Rays manager Joe Maddon said, “Nope.”

Actually, Maddon said, “noooope,” in a drawn-out manner as if to imply getting the quiet, funny and super witty Boxberger to talk is like pulling teeth.

“He lets his pitching do the talking,” Maddon said.

And that, well, you know what that speaks.

“He makes baseball look so easy,” Ramos said. “Pitching look so easy.”

Boxberger and McGee have been the most reliable relievers in the Rays bullpen this season with Boxberger setting up McGee for the save on most occasions. Jake in the Box, Maddon likes to call the tandem.

Boxberger shrugs off the nickname.

Could be worse, he said, mentioning the Ricky Bobby of “Talladega Nights” handle Maddon used last season to describe Wil Myers.

McGee’s development into a shutdown closer even if Maddon won’t call him a closer was a few seasons in the making and took place in front of Rays fans.

Boxberger’s arrival was more sudden. Acquired in a trade with the Padres along with second baseman Logan Forsythe and three prospects for reliever Alex Torres and minor-league pitcher Jesse Hahn, Boxberger did not make the team out of spring training. On the day in camp when Boxberger was optioned to Triple-A Durham, Maddon announced the Rays sent a major-league pitcher to the minors.

He wasn’t kidding.

Since joining the bullpen April 14, Boxberger has been the closest to a sure thing you can get from a reliever.

Knowing he has a full-time spot on the pitching staff is the biggest key to his success, Boxberger said.

“It’s more comforting than riding the roller coaster back and forth (between Triple-A and the big leagues) and being able to stay here and get comfortable and be able to actually use all my talent on the field instead of worrying about what’s going on off the field,” Boxberger said. “Being able to stay 100 percent focused on the field is part of it.”

Boxberger announced his arrival May 8 against the visiting Orioles when he entered in the sixth inning with the bases loaded, no outs and the Rays down a run. Boxberger struck out the next three batters on nine pitches.

Opponents are 0-for-9 with six strikeouts and a double play while batting against Boxberger with the bases loaded.

“That’s not even limiting the damage,” Ramos said. “There is no damage.”

Boxberger has held opposing batters to a .143 average, second-lowest in the AL. Hitters are batting .050 against Boxberger when batting with two outs and runners in scoring position. Batters three through six in the order are hitting just .159.

And then there are the strikeouts. Boxberger is averaging 14.29 strikeouts-per-nine innings, a ratio that ranks ahead of Grant Balfour’s club-record 12.65 set in 2008.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Ramos said. “He’s going to go out there, face three guys and strike out two of them.”

Boxberger said he’s always been a high strikeout pitcher, though not quite to this extent.

“I never really think about it,” Boxberger said. “I go out there each day trying to do what I can do. I guess what happens is part of what I can do. I never really had any expectations of I want to do this, this and that. I just wanted to come in and do what I can do and help the team out.”

Boxberger’s latest bases-loaded jam occurred Friday against the Yankees. After allowing a single to Derek Jeter, the first batter he faced, to load the bases, Boxberger calmly struck out Jacoby Ellsbury with a 96 mph fastball. He then got to two strikes on Mark Teixeira with an 80 mph change-up before catching Teixeira looking at a 95 mph fastball.

Like Ramos said, three batters faced, two strikeouts.

Maddon said that was no fluke, and it stems from the great command Boxberger has with his change-up — Maddon compared it to the command former Rays closer Fernando Rodney has — and the confidence built from his first extended stay in the big leagues.

“He knows if he doesn’t have a great night he’s still going to be out there pitching again,” Maddon said. “I think when you know that, you have less bad nights because you’re just out there letting it fly.”

 

rmooney@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7227

Twitter: @RMooneyTBO

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