09/17/08 1:05 AM ET
For the Rays, the more, the merrier
Boston (89-62) at Tampa Bay (89-60), Wednesday, 7:10 p.m. ET
By Brittany Ghiroli / MLB.com
"Do you know any builders?" reliever Grant Balfour said. "We need an extra bench."
Jokes aside, the fiery right-hander's statement has some truth behind it. With 11 arms in the bullpen, the Rays relievers are a well stocked -- if not overcrowded -- bunch.
"We're basically sitting on each other's laps out there," Jason Hammel said.
But the reinforcements are certainly welcome, as lefty David Price and right-handers Mitch Talbot and Jeff Niemann help add to the always-scheming manager Joe Maddon's options out of the 'pen. Although Maddon plans on using the young trio of pitchers predominantly as "beginning or end guys," the new arms will eat up innings and alleviate the strain on some of the Rays' more seasoned relievers.
"It's tighter on the bullpen bench now, but we make do," Dan Wheeler said. "The last couple games, we actually had to use a couple [newer] guys, so it's definitely helped the guys that have been here this year getting all these innings [off]."
Wheeler has a staff-leading 66 appearances out of the 'pen already this season, while J.P. Howell's 84 relief innings are second most in the Majors. The addition of Price, who tossed 5 1/3 innings on Sunday, and Talbot, who went three innings on Monday, will be invaluable down the stretch.
"No question, this time of the year, that does help," Maddon said of the expanded roster. "You are not going to burn out people that you don't want to get up and throw in a game like [Monday] night or even [Sunday's] game in New York."
Saving the bullpen arms contributes to performances such as on Tuesday night.
Following six strong innings from starter Andy Sonnanstine, Balfour entered the game in the seventh and retired all four batters he faced. He was followed by Howell -- who put up 1 1/3 scoreless innings -- and Wheeler, whose critical two-out strikeout of Jed Lowrie halted Boston's bats in the ninth.
"Tonight, it was all about pitching," Carlos Pena said, following the Rays' 2-1 win. "It was amazing how these guys kept coming, really attacking the strike zone and gave us a chance. And the next thing, you know, we got a rally going and we won the ballgame."
The Rays will look to follow the same recipe heading into Wednesday's finale, and they could use a wealth of strong arms to notch a series "W" against their divisional foe.
"When you call down there and a guy comes in, you have a pretty good idea what to expect," Maddon said. "And that's a nice feeling, and that's the difference [from last year]. They've been spectacular."
And they will need to continue to be if the Rays are going to clinch their first winning season series over Boston since 1999. Tuesday's win gave the Rays a 9-8 edge in games vs. the Red Sox this season, and the club enters Wednesday's game 8-1 in the previous nine matchups at Tropicana Field.Pitching matchup
TB: RHP Matt Garza (11-9, 3.60 ERA)
Garza will start for the Rays, even though he is pitching on three days' rest after pitching against the Yankees on Saturday night. In his last start, Garza allowed three runs on six hits and walked three en route to a no-decision. Garza is 3-1 with a 3.54 ERA in five career starts against the Red Sox, and he's 7-3 with a 2.74 ERA in 14 starts at Tropicana Field this season. BOS: RHP Tim Wakefield (9-10, 3.92 ERA)
Like a true veteran, Wakefield bounced back from his worst outing of the year (1 2/3 innings, seven runs) on Sept. 6 to produce perhaps his best outing of the season against the red-hot Blue Jays on Friday. The knuckleballer went eight shutout innings, allowing just three hits in a 7-0 win. Wakefield hurled 94 pitches in the outing, making a potent Jays lineup seem unable to start any type of rally. Tidbits
With the addition of rookies Talbot, Niemann and Price, the Rays' bullpen has tabbed Talbot with the "honor" of toting the snack-filled backpack out to the bullpen. Hammel, who was relieved of his duties when Juan Salas joined the club, was elated that the wealth of youngsters meant his retirement from the job. Although 22-year-old Price -- the top pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft -- is the youngest member of the bullpen, he had several more days of Major League service than Talbot, thus avoiding the title. ... All Major League Baseball clubs will release their 2009 schedule on Wednesday. ... ESPN has picked up the Rays-Twins game on Friday, making it the club's 13th nationally televised game this season, while Thursday's opener vs. Minnesota will air on ion-TV. ... Pena's home run in the seventh inning on Tuesday night was his 15th homer since the All-Star break, eclipsing his mark of 14 from the season's first half. ... Tuesday's win also kept the Rays in first place, avoiding what would have been the first time since the All-Star break that Tampa Bay wasn't the American League East leader. Tickets
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Thursday: Twins (Glen Perkins, 12-4, 4.40) at Rays (James Shields, 13-8, 3.50), 7:10 p.m. ET
Friday: Twins (Nick Blackburn, 10-9, 3.89) at Rays (Edwin Jackson, 11-11, 4.33), 7:10 p.m. ET
Saturday: Twins (Kevin Slowey, 12-10, 3.66) at Rays (Scott Kazmir, 11-7, 3.50), 3:55 p.m. ET
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.