ST. PETERSBURG -- A big piece of the bullpen's recent improvement has been the fact Rays manager Joe Maddon has finally been able to use Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney the way they were intended to be used, in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively.
Peralta retired the Red Sox in order in the eighth inning of Tuesday night's 5-3 win and then Rodney pitched the ninth, striking out the side to chalk up his seventh save of the season -- and looking very comfortable while doing so.
"I thought [Rodney] looked really good," Maddon said. "His delivery was better, it was cleaner. Everything was clean to the plate. It's been awkward just trying to get him out there on a regular basis. The save opportunities have not been there. We've either been winning big games or losing. And a lot of the stuff on the road when things weren't going well, we were trying to get [Rodney] in for his three outs and out. It just wasn't setting up well, but now he's setting up into more of rhythm.
"We're getting him out there on a consistent basis in save moments. Closers get that adrenaline moment going on and he needs that to be as good as he can be. I think all of those things are starting to fall into place for him. He definitely looks better."
Peralta noted there is a comfort level when the pair pitches in their intended roles.
"We like it," Peralta said. "Since I've been here, I've pitched the eighth inning, so I've kind of gotten used to it. It doesn't matter to me what inning I'm going to pitch. I have to be ready whenever they call my name, but actually, we kind of got this thing going, Rodney and I do. I pitch the eight and I do [well] and he goes out there in the ninth with confidence, and he does [well]."
The Rays had won six straight heading into Wednesday night's contest. Peralta maintained that winning has created a better climate for the bullpen's use.
"When you win one game and lose five, when you're out there you don't feel the same," Peralta said. "You're not the same guy. But lately, we've been pitching a lot and we've been doing well. The bullpen is finally what we've been expecting it to be. A really good bullpen."
Peralta noted that when Rodney pitches a lot, "he's going to be lights out. He's going to be good."
Rodney added: "I pitched well last night, but if I hadn't pitched in the last couple of games, maybe not so good. When I throw on one, two, three days in a row, I feel more comfortable. That's what I'm looking for. Last night, I want to be like that -- 94, 95 mph with good location."
The Rays' bullpen has not allowed an earned run in its last 16 2/3 innings, lowering its ERA from 5.29 to 4.38. The bullpen ranks fifth in Major League Baseball with 9.59 strikeouts per nine innings.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.