All Rays relievers ready for late innings
Skipper Maddon trusts any of his hurlers to protect leads
OAKLAND -- Despite a slow start, the Rays' bullpen is coming along, which should be expected given the composition of this year's group.
Since becoming manager of the Rays in 2006, Joe Maddon has constantly expressed his desire to have a bullpen with at least four guys he could be comfortable giving the ball to with the score tied or the Rays ahead in the late innings.
Now his entire bullpen is composed of that type of reliever with Troy Percival, Dan Wheeler, Brian Shouse, Grant Balfour, Joe Nelson, J.P. Howell and Lance Cormier.
While everyone in the group pretty much has a role, Maddon said he would be comfortable with any one of the group finishing up a game -- even Cormier, the designated long man.
"I'm good with Cormier, man," Maddon said. "He's shown me nothing but good stuff. He's a strike thrower. The cutter and the curve ball are excellent pitches. I like him. I think he can be that, yes."
Cormier concurred with Maddon's belief that all of this year's bullpen members are capable of being even, or ahead, guys.
"I believe every single guy we have down there can pitch," Cormier said. "And that puts [Maddon] in a great position, because he can go with anybody. He can rest guys who need rest instead of having to worry about that.
"Guys have roles, we know who is going to be in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. It's going to be Wheeler, J.P., Balfour, and Percy. Those guys are there. But the games have to play themselves out. You never know what's going to happen."
Veteran closer Percival also believes that this year's 'pen is well-equipped for any situation.
"Which is comforting to know, because we're going to play a lot of close games," Percival said. "And the eighth inning's important. Seventh inning's important. And if I'm down, you've got options like you saw last year.
"We don't have guys down there who are going to be scared. We're not going to be perfect. We may not be the most overpowering bullpen. But you're not going to have anybody who's going to be intimidated by any situation."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.