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Rays hoping pen upgrade trickles down

Rays hope the new bullpen help takes some pressure off of their young starters.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published August 5, 2007


The Devil Rays acquired Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour, and called up Scott Dohmann and Juan Salas, to improve their bullpen immediately. But they also did it to make other parts of their team better in the future, to make their starters more confident and their hitters less concerned about what happens when they call for relief.

"We really wanted to improve our bullpen to better insulate our young starters," executive VP Andrew Friedman said. "All of our starters are young and still developing at this level. And we feel at times a starter may put a little extra pressure on themselves, trying to be a little more economical and make a perfect pitch as opposed to worrying about getting hitters out, so they can last more innings to preserve the win. Now they can breathe a little easier and go out and pitch their games and trust that our bullpen will hold it together a lot more times than not.

"A bullpen that is struggling probably has a more pronounced impact on the rest of the players' psyches than it translates into actual losses. Even the hitters are pressing a little more. It's always deflating to lose a game, but it's even more deflating when you lose late in a game instead of early when the offense has a chance to come back. I think it goes much deeper than you would think just by looking at the numbers."

TRADE TALK: ESPN's Jayson Stark gave the Rays a thumbs-up on getting Wheeler, writing "when your team is headed for the worst bullpen ERA in the past 50 years, any upgrade is a potentially humongous development." ... ESPN's Keith Law liked the deal, too, though he said Wheeler has "average" stuff and could be a "solid middle reliever." ... SI.com's Jon Heyman gave the Rays a C grade and rated them a loser, noting they need "a lot more pitching" than Wheeler. ... Foxsports.com's Ken Rosenthal ranked them a winner, saying "At least they're trying," and lauded Friedman for "stunning the industry" by getting Wheeler. ... Baseball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan said Wheeler was a "decent buy-low play" and that prospect Calvin Medlock, acquired from the Reds for Jorge Cantu, "might be interesting." ... The Hardball Times liked all three trades, called the Wheeler deal "another spectacular acquisition" and gushed that "Friedman is quickly moving up the ranks as one of the smartest baseball executives around."

RAYS RUMBLINGS: With the AL East facing the NL Central in interleague play next season, MLB should do the Rays' right and have the Cubs make their first-ever Trop trip with Lou Piniella managing. And isn't it time the Rays make their first visits to St. Louis and Milwaukee? ... The Rays new uniforms/colors/logos/name are likely to be unveiled sometime around the Bucs' Nov. 11 open date. ... Baseball America's Jim Callis says the "better Upton long term" is Justin. ... Boston Globe People page folks seem a tad too sensitive in calling out Rays radio men Andy Freed and Dave Wills for having "resorted to name-calling" in referring to Kevin Youkilis' "Bitter Beer Face" when he didn't like a call. (They could have just called him the big whiner that he is.) Should be interesting when Freed and Wills speak to the Bosox Club Aug. 13. ... Hard to say what impact MLB's new ticket reselling deal with Stubhub will have on the Rays given their current relationship with Ticketmaster. ... Rays people say there was no talk with the Rockies of a deal for utilityman Jeff Baker, much less one as reported for Wheeler.