Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Rays turn to rookies Jose Alvarado, Ryne Stanek to turn up heat in bullpen

ST. PETERSBURG — Evan Longoria has seen it plenty of times over the years from the batter's box, and the view has not been especially enjoyable.

"One of the things we always say is that when you're facing these other teams and they have three, four guys at the back end of the bullpen throwing 95-plus, there's something to be said for that. It's just not a very comfortable at-bat," Longoria said.

"And now we've got some guys down there (in the Rays' bullpen) that can definitely throw the ball hard."

Faced with injuries and inconsistent performances making their already beleaguered bullpen even more of season-ruining concern, the Rays made an uncharacteristic and risky decision a couple of weeks ago in calling up left-hander Jose Alvarado, just 21 and with only nine games of experience at even the Double-A level but armed with a blazing fastball.

Then last weekend they made another, perhaps not quite as bold, move, summoning Ryne Stanek from Triple A, 25 years old but with less than a season's experience since being moved to the bullpen, though also with high-velocity weaponry.

And they haven't been shy about using those two in higher-leverage situations in their ongoing — and frustrating — search to find a reliable way to get the ball to closer Alex Colome.

"There was kind of a need with injuries or whatever," manager Kevin Cash said. "There was a need."

Philosophically cautious in handling young pitchers, the Rays previously would at least try to break them in gently. But with few other options, in part from not doing more during the winter to boost the pen, the Rays went this way.

"Generally, I think that's probably the best way to go about it, to try and use some caution," Cash said. "But we got into a situation here 10 days, two weeks ago, where we were maybe scuffling a little bit and just figured, let's try these guys."

It was — and still is — a gamble on the Rays' part that the dynamic duo can handle the pressure, the spotlight, the higher level of competition.

But those big fastballs pushing triple digits coming from big bodies can help.

"When you've got powerful arms like that, you would assume the margin of error is a little greater," Cash said. "I know we've asked a lot of Jose Alvarado, and we're probably going to ask a lot of Ryne Stanek here these upcoming games."

So far, the two have done pretty well.

Since allowing three runs in his May debut, Alvarado has rolled off six straight scoreless appearances, impressing as much with how he has done it.

"He doesn't act like a 21-year-old," Cash said. "There's no panic. … You don't see a lot of guys come from Double A or be 21 years old and be able to home in on the strike zone like he's showing us he is capable of doing.

"That's kind of the irony; we didn't know. We knew he had the power. We knew he had a good breaking ball. We didn't know what the strike throwing was going to be. And he's really done a tremendous job of throwing a lot of them."

Alvarado, with help from team translator Wendi Tripp, said the key to taking the "incredibly huge step" has been remaining focused and that the experience of pitching two years of winter ball in his native Venezuela for La Guaira and then in the World Baseball Classic helped immensely.

"Every time I pitch, I go out there with a purpose," he said. "You still do what you know you've got to do."

The sample size is smaller with Stanek, but the results are encouraging, with two appearances in the eighth inning of close games, retiring two of the four batters he faced and hitting 100 mph on the stadium board in Cleveland.

"We're going to use him," Cash said. "I don't think we're in a position to sit there and coddle anybody when they come up. We need big outs, and if we think he's the best matchup, we'll go to him."

Stanek, who tuned up with Triple A pitching coach Kyle Snyder after an unimpressive spring, said he is ready for whatever opportunity he gets.

"I'm pretty happy with the changes they've made," Longoria said. "It' probably one of the first times I've felt like, at least in the recent past, we've actually shuffled it as much as we have and given some younger guys an opportunity to come up and kind of show what they can do."

So far, it has been a pretty good show. Just don't blink.

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @ TBTimes_Rays.

The dynamic duo

The Rays have turned to a pair of hard-throwing rookies to try to solidify their bullpen. Some inside scoop:

LHP Jose Alvarado

Age: 21 (turns 22 Sunday)

Height/weight: 6 feet 2, 245 pounds

From: Maraciabo, Venezuela

This time last year: Just promoted from Class-A Bowling Green to advanced Class-A Charlotte.

Did you know: Enjoys hunting 3-foot iguanas (he says they taste like chicken) and paca, a large rodent (13-30 pounds) in Central and South America, with a slingshot. … Has 4-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son. … Is second-youngest player in American League after Royals INF Raul Mondesi. … Signed with Rays as a 16-year-old.

RHP Ryne Stanek

Age: 25

Height/weight: 6 feet 4, 215 pounds

From: Born in St. Louis, grew up in Kansas City area

This time last year: Starting at Double-A Montgomery

Did you know: Despite his family being longtime Cardinals fans, he was named after Cubs Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg and is third Ryne to make the majors, joining Sandberg and RHP Ryne Duren. … Was taken 29th overall (from Arkansas) in 2013 draft, with a compensation pick for Braves signing OF B.J. Upton.

Rays turn to rookies Jose Alvarado, Ryne Stanek to turn up heat in bullpen 05/18/17 [Last modified: Friday, May 19, 2017 12:24am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Bucs-Dolphins: Things to watch in Sunday's 1 p.m. game

    Bucs

    TAMPA — Can the Bucs pull off back-to-back wins with a backup quarterback? Win a game on the road for the first time this season? Politely hand the unnamed trophy for the state's worst football team back to the Dolphins?

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) throws an interception during the second half of an NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  2. Bucs' belief in Jameis Winston has been shaken

    Bucs

    TAMPA — Belief is the biggest attribute a quarterback can bring to his team. Belief in his talent. Belief in his commitment to winning. Belief in his ability to bring everyone together and have his voice lead the path forward.

    In this Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017, file photo, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston stands on the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals in Glendale, Ariz. Winston is being investigated for allegedly groping a female Uber driver in 2016. The Buccaneers quarterback has denied the charge on his Twitter and Instagram accounts.  (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)
  3. Gerald McCoy or Ndamukong Suh: Who would you rather have?

    Bucs

    In the crowd-pleasing sports-talk of game of "Who Would You Rather Have?'' there might not be a more perfect match-up than this.

    Gerald McCoy vs. Ndamukong Suh.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) takes a moment before the first defensive series of the first quarter of the game between the New York Giants and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017.
  4. Gerald McCoy to Ndamukong Suh: 'Let them remember us'

    Bucs

    TAMPA — In the spring of 2010, one of the biggest debates the week leading up to the NFL draft was which defensive tackle would be selected first? Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy.

    Ndamukong Suh was selected one pick ahead of Tampa Bay's Gerald McCoy in the 2010 NFL Draft. The two Pro Bowl defensive linemen meet Sunday in Miami when the Buccaneers face the Dolphins, but McCoy insists "there's never been a rivalry." (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
  5. Cannon Fodder podcast: Bucs-Dolphins preview

    Bucs

    Greg Auman has a final preview of Sunday's Bucs-Dolphins game in Miami in his latest Cannon Fodder podcast.

    Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry (14) earns a fist down on a reception during a game against the Oakland Raiders earlier this month at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. [Al Diaz/Miami Herald/TNS]