The Rays’ bullpen received a brutal blow today, as closer Brad Boxberger landed back on the disabled list with a left oblique strain, which Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweets will sideline the right-hander for anywhere from four to eight weeks. The club will re-evaluate Boxberger in one week’s time and get a better sense as to whether he’ll return toward the shorter or longer end of that spectrum.
Boxberger, 28, led the American League with 41 saves last season and posted a 3.71 ERA with 10.6 K/9 against 4.6 BB/9 in 63 innings of work. Prior to yesterday’s appearance, Boxberger had missed the entire season to date while recovering from core muscle surgery that he underwent in Spring Training. He’ll now head back to the DL with just two-thirds of an inning under his belt in the Majors this season (plus 5 1/3 frames that came on a minor league rehab assignment). Boxberger’s return was expected to be a boon to a Rays bullpen that entered play Wednesday ranked 20th in the Majors with a 4.08 ERA. Fellow right-hander Alex Colome has stepped up quite admirably to fill in the closer’s role with Boxberger on the shelf, racking up 12 saves with a pristine 1.23 ERA, 11.9 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 in 22 innings of work.
The Rays, of course, thinned out their bullpen in an offseason trade that sent lefty Jake McGee to the Rockies in a trade that netted outfielder/designated hitter Corey Dickerson, and they also traded Kevin Jepsen to the Twins at last season’s deadline. As such, Tampa Bay has spent the entire season without the trio that anchored their relief corps for the entire first half of the 2015 campaign. The Rays, as it stands, aren’t clear-cut sellers, but they’re nine games out of the division lead. If the team does end up selling off pieces later this summer, Boxberger’s injuries could remove one natural trade chip from their hand. Conversely, if they fight their way back into the playoff picture, the bullpen seems like a potential area of focus for president of baseball operations Matthew Silverman and his lieutenants.