ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays are trotting out the members of their closer committee one by one.
In the three ninth-inning opportunities since manager Joe Maddon announced the team would be taking a closer-by-committee approach, three different relievers have closed out the game. Juan Carlos Oviedo was the latest beneficiary, picking up the save in Tampa Bay's 5-4 win against the Orioles Monday night.
Oviedo entered the ninth with a two-run lead and gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Delmon Young before retiring the side to pick up his first save of the year.
Jake McGee, who saved Sunday's game against the Astros, might have had a chance to work the ninth inning for a second straight game. But Grant Balfour put two runners on in the eighth with the Rays ahead, 3-2, and Maddon went to McGee against the heart of the Baltimore order. McGee walked Chris Davis and gave up a game-tying infield hit to Nelson Cruz, but stranded the bases loaded with a strikeout and a groundout to short.
"If Balfour went 1-2-3, it was gonna be perfect for Jake in the ninth," Maddon said. "But it didn't work out that way and you just can't save him -- that's the classic example of, if Jake's the 'closer,' then you don't use him right there and all of a sudden that game gets away."
After Jerry Sands got the Rays back in front, 5-3, with a pinch-hit two-run homer in the bottom of the inning, Oviedo replaced McGee for the ninth. But Maddon said that if it had been in September, during the season's stretch run, he might have left McGee in.
McGee said when he started warming up at the beginning of the eighth inning, he wasn't sure if he was going to pitch the ninth or not. He said he was getting ready for specific batters, not a specific inning -- the hitters he faced have trouble with the type of high, hard fastball McGee throws.
In particular, he said, he thought Maddon wanted him for a lefty-lefty matchup with Davis, who was due up fourth in the inning.
"I wasn't sure if I was gonna go out for the ninth or not," McGee said. "I think he wanted me ready for Davis. Especially after they got the first hit -- then I was like, 'All right, I've got to face Davis with runners on.'"
Balfour and McGee were the first two relievers to pick up saves out of the committee. Balfour, despite losing the official "closer" title last Monday, got the first crack, working the final 2 1/3 innings in the Rays' 6-3 win against the Cardinals on Wednesday. McGee got the next save, pitching a scoreless ninth on Sunday to preserve a 4-3 win.
McGee has been the Rays' best reliever this season -- he has a 1.44 ERA and 0.83 WHIP in 34 appearances, 31 of which have been scoreless, and opponents are hitting just .168 against him. Maddon has called him the team's "one true All-Star." But the Tampa Bay manager is still not locking McGee, or anyone else, into the narrowly-defined "ninth-inning closer" role.
David Adler is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.