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Rays carefully playing matchups in relief

Rays playing matchups in relief

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ST. PETERSBURG -- Ever since Troy Percival went on the disabled list May 22, the Rays have not had a closer. And with the chances of Percival returning seemingly remote, the Rays will go with a bullpen-by-committee approach.

Under said scenario, Rays manager Joe Maddon is guided by one principle: "It's all matchups."

"I mean, I'm not ready to move it beyond matchups right now," Maddon said. "When you move it away from matchups, you're building to one guy. And we've always based things on a high-leveraged moment. I don't want to miss a moment in the seventh or eighth inning that allows the game to get away from us trying to save somebody [for later]. We're not built that way right now."

Maddon said his biggest concern is to not abuse any reliever by having him warm up and then not use them.

"When you get a guy hot more than one time and don't pitch him, that's almost like you did pitch them," Maddon said. "The part of matching up a bullpen that becomes more difficult is that thought. And I want to be very careful with that."

Entering Tuesday night's game, the Rays' bullpen had a 5-7 record with 13 saves and a 3.83 ERA, so the numbers are rounding into the form the organization had hoped to have entering the season.

Veteran right-hander Dan Wheeler, who has a 1.42 ERA over his past 16 outings, said that a bullpen-by-committee arrangement will keep a bullpen on its toes.

"Obviously, on every team, you would desire a ninth-inning guy," Wheeler said. "For us, I think it's a unique situation where we have multiple guys who can go out there and get the job done.

"I think any one of us can go out there and get the job done, whether it's the sixth or ninth inning. For us, it just raises our game a little bit."

If Maddon goes with matchups, members of the bullpen are likely to find themselves in different roles from time to time.

"I'm fine with however it's gone all year, other than my performance," said Joe Nelson, who had an 11.57 ERA in his past 12 appearances entering Tuesday. "[Maddon] loves matchups. And there have been times when I haven't been throwing well, and there have been three lefties up and he says, 'Go get him.' ... So, yeah, there's a new order, but it's been pretty much the same thing all year. He's pretty much told me that against lefties he's as confident in me as any lefty we have. I'm fine with that."

Randy Choate had his contract selected from Triple-A Durham on May 25, and by the weekend, the veteran lefty picked up his first and second career saves. Choate said every team is looking to find a closer, but such a prospect is often easier said than done.

"Every team wants that guy they can count on every time in the ninth," Choate said. "But simply put, there are only a handful of guys. There's only one Mariano Rivera. There's only one Trevor Hoffman. You're not just going to go out there and find them all over the place.

"Those guys are few and far between that have that dominant stuff and can handle the ninth inning and get those kind of saves on a day-in, day-out basis."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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