Finalizing 'pen may be Maddon's toughest call

Finalizing 'pen may be Maddon's toughest call

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Rays had few decisions facing them entering Spring Training. Basically they were deciding on some of the bullpen pieces, the bench and the fifth starter.

Of those calls, Rays manager Joe Maddon admitted that deciding on who will be in the bullpen will, by far, be the toughest call.

"I mean, who's not throwing the ball well?" Maddon said. "Not only not throwing the ball well, but who among them does not deserve to be in the big leagues? I don't know. We've already sent guys out who could pitch in the big leagues right now. So this is unique for me. I'm not just saying that, it's really, really tough."

What is known is that Grant Balfour will be the closer. Heath Bell, Joel Peralta, Jake McGee and Juan Carlos Oviedo (if he's ready) will be used in setup roles. After that, there's no telling who will surface on the roster from among a host of candidates that include Brandon Gomes, Josh Lueke, Juan Sandoval and Mark Lowe. While Cesar Ramos is in the mix for the fifth starter spot, he'll likely be the team's long man if he does not earn a slot in the rotation.

"We have a nice problem on our hands," Maddon said. "Part of that can be, you may end up sending guys back to Triple-A who are Major League ready. And that's always a concern. If you send a guy back who thinks he's Major League ready." Maddon paused and shrugged his shoulders. "But if a guy knows he's Major League ready. That's a difficult thought. So we have some really tough moments with this -- unusually tough. Just go through the whole litany of guys. They've pitched well. And they've had experience. And their makeup also plays here. So it's great, but it's tough."

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