Balfour finding his groove with Rays
After being recalled from Triple-A, right-hander has been solid
ST. PETERSBURG -- Grant Balfour remembers the last few days of Spring Training well. As one of the Rays' final cuts, Balfour was sent to Triple-A Durham despite his solid spring, and the decision didn't bode well.
"It took a little while, took a week or so," Balfour said of dealing with the demotion. "I'm not going to say it was good, but it got me pretty fired up. Throwing the ball a little fiery."
The right-hander took Minor League batters by storm, allowing just one run in 15 outings for Triple-A Durham. By the time the Rays came calling for Balfour on May 30, he had amassed 39 strikeouts against just five hits, and held right-handed batters to .029.
"I have to believe we lit some kind of fire," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He's just been different. I'm seeing better strike throwing with the fastball, I'm seeing better location with the slider and then [I'm] seeing more emotion at the positive emotions. He's just like a different mate."
The Australia native certainly is.
Acquired from Milwaukee last year in a midseason trade for Seth McClung, Balfour struggled with command, issuing 16 walks in just 22 innings for Tampa Bay. His 6.14 ERA wasn't much to boot either, as the right-hander says he has been a victim of overthrowing in the past.
Since the recall, Balfour has made eight appearances -- seven scoreless -- and pitched his way to a 1.74 ERA.
"He's always had the stuff to have the success he's having right now," closer Troy Percival said. "But just being able to throw his fastball for strikes on both sides of the plate is a huge difference for a guy, especially with that velocity."
One of Balfour's biggest strikeouts for the Rays came in Tuesday night's series opener against the Cubs. Replacing Scott Kazmir with the bases loaded and two out in the fifth inning, Balfour got Chicago's Aramis Ramirez to look at strike three.
He silenced the Cubs again on Thursday, inheriting runners on first and third with one out and a two-run deficit. Balfour fanned Derrek Lee and retired Ramirez on a flyout to keep the Rays within striking distance.
"I must admit, being down [in Triple-A] time and time, going out there each outing, it gets a little frustrating," Balfour said. "Wondering if you are ever going to get up. No one wants to be in Triple-A, everyone wants to be here. So, when I got [the] chance, I definitely want to make the most of my opportunity while I'm here."
While the Rays currently have Carlos Pena and Al Reyes on the 15-day disabled list, the club could opt to keep Balfour in the 'pen and make a roster move elsewhere when the time comes.
"Obviously we would like to have him all year," Percival said. "Any time you get a guy who's capable of getting big strikeouts, that's something our bullpen definitely needs ... get you out of the big jam. He suits our bullpen really well."
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.