Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Tampa Bay Rays successfully transition Alex Colome to the closer role

Colome (L) leads the American League in Saves
Way back on July 28, 2000 the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays completed a trade with the Oakland Athletics. The D-Rays sent away a pair of arms in Jim Mecir and Todd Belitz, and in return received a Double A right-hander named Jesus Colome.
Colome had a big arm, with pitches clocked at over 100 miles per hour. He made his big league debut with Tampa in June of 2011 as a reliever, beginning what would be a 10-year career in Major League Baseball.
Colome left via free agency, signing with the New York Yankees. He would end up pitching again in the big leagues with the Washington Nationals, Milwaukee Brewers, and Seattle Mariners. Jesus retired following the 2010 season at age 32, but would show up for a 2012 stint in the Mexican League.
A year later, the Rays would debut another Colome at the big league level. This one was Alex Colome, the nephew of Jesus. The younger Colome had signed out of the Dominican Republic as an 18-year old in March of 2007.

DEVELOPMENT AS A STARTING PITCHER

Alex would be developed as a starter by the Tampa organization. He put himself on the prospect map by going 7-4 over 15 starts with Low A Hudson Valley in 2009. Colome registered a 1.66 ERA, allowing just 46 hits over 76 innings while striking out 94 batters.
By 2013, a year after Jesus wrapped his pro career in Mexico, a 24-year old Alex was making his big league debut, still as a starting pitcher.
At that point, the Rays rotation was loaded. It featured 27-year old lefty David Price, winner of the AL Cy Young Award the previous season, and 26-year old righty Jeremy Hellickson, the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year.
Youngsters Matt MooreAlex CobbChris ArcherDrew SmylyNate Karns and Jake Odorizzi were all aged 25 or younger. All had either debuted in Major League Baseball or were knocking on the door.
Colome would receive three starts in the 2014 season, but the Rays brain trust was already contemplating a switch to the bullpen. His two relief outings that year, however, yielded poor results. Colome surrendered six earned runs on seven hits over five innings.
On May 1, 2015, Colome was promoted again to Tampa, and immediately inserted into the Rays rotation. He received 13 starts over the next two months, putting together a 3-4 record with a 4.70 ERA. He allowed 73 hits over 69 innings with just a 44/24 K:BB ratio.

SWITCH TO THE BULLPEN CLICKS

With Archer, Odorizzi, Karns, Moore, and Smyly, as well as 25-year old Erasmo Ramirez around to handle the starting load, it was again decided to switch Colome to the bullpen. Again he struggled over his first couple of outings.
But then something clicked. From July 17 through the end of the 2015 season, Colome made 28 relief appearances, allowing just 30 hits over 37.1 innings with a 2.17 ERA. He struck out 42 batters and walked just seven in that time, allowing just a .229 Batting Average Against.
Colome had found the role that would prove to be his meal ticket. The following year of 2016 saw Colome become a member of the American League All-Star Team for the first time.
Taking over as the Rays closer in mid-April, he would register 37 Saves with a 1.91 ERA over 57 games that year. He also had an overpowering 71/15 K:BB ratio over 56.2 innings in which he allowed just 43 hits.
In the spring, Colome was part of the Dominican bullpen during the World Baseball Classic. He made five appearances, allowing two runs on two hits over 4.1 innings while striking out five.
This year has been another successful one out of the Rays pen for the now 28-year old. His 43 Saves lead the AL by a wide margin. His ERA is up at 3.02, and his K/9 has dropped from last year’s 11.3 to the 8.0 mark this season. But much of that comes from a poor late-June, early July stretch.
Since July 6, Colome has saved 21 games over 25 appearances. He has surrendered just four earned runs in 25.1 innings pitched, for a 1.42 ERA. His Batting Average Against is a miniscule .187 in that time, and he has 22/6 K:BB mark.

FUTURE BRIGHT FOR RAYS AND THEIR CLOSER

Colome is likely about to realize the fruits of his successful transition to the closer role. After making just over a half-million dollars in each of the last three seasons, he will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this coming off-season.
Rays manager Kevin Cash is happy to have Colome to turn to at the end of games when Tampa has a lead.
“He’s a special player,” Cash said recently per Marc Topkin for the Tampa Bay Times
“What he does to close out ballgames, whether it’s 7-8-9 (hitters) or the teeth of the lineup, the way he buys into whatever we ask him to do makes it really easy to manage guys like that. That team-first concept, he really sets a tone. The way we used him early in the year (over multiple innings), there aren’t many closers that are too keen on that idea. Alex was, what do I need to do. I’m glad he’s having the season he’s having.”
The Rays were in playoff contention for much of this season. Despite playing poorly since early August, they remained in the AL Wildcard race until recently. Tampa Bay hasn’t been to the postseason since 2013. Colome’s development as a reliable closer is one more piece to their future contending puzzle.

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