Rays Rely on a Bullpen With a Simple Aim: Throw It Over the Plate


Diego Castillo, who earned his third postseason save in the Rays’ 6-4 victory in Game 2, is a product of the Tampa Bay farm system. But most of the relievers have a story like Curtiss’s — given up by other teams and acquired for a bargain price.

Fairbanks, who has had two Tommy John surgeries, had a 9.85 E.R.A. in the majors before the Rays acquired him in July 2019 in a trade with Texas. Ryan Thompson, a right-handed sidearmer, joined the Rays in the minor league Rule 5 draft while recovering from Tommy John surgery in the Houston farm system.

The last three relievers the Dodgers used on Wednesday — Joe Kelly, Alex Wood and Jake McGee — would have earned more than $22 million combined in a full 2020 season. The Rays’ postseason bullpen includes one reliever with a salary above $600,000 — the veteran lefty Aaron Loup, one of five active relievers who started spring training as nonroster players.

Loup retired all three hitters he faced in Game 2, with two called strikeouts — one on a fastball, the other on a curve — before Castillo pumped three strikes in three pitches to fan Chris Taylor to end the game. Nick Anderson and Fairbanks had started the bullpen relay, combining for nine outs before Loup. None of the relievers allowed a walk.

Anderson, who started his professional career in an independent league, intrigued the Rays with his ability to throw fastballs up in the zone. Since they acquired him in a trade from Miami last year, Anderson has struck out 49.3 percent of all opposing hitters, the best ratio among major leaguers with at least 20 innings pitched. He has wobbled a bit in the postseason — his E.R.A. this year is 4.85 — but the Rays have won in seven of his eight appearances.

“It almost feels like when he goes out there, he’s just striking everybody out and then going in the dugout; it’s that easy for him,” said Blake Snell, who started Game 2 but didn’t pitch enough innings to get the win. “Having a guy like him is big for our team, because he comes into any situation, from the fifth inning on, that’s going to be the most crucial point of the game.”

It should not seem odd or radical, Cash said, for a team to use its best relievers whenever a high-leverage moment arises. Whomever he calls, he has a stable of strike-throwers in reserve — and no apologies for finding a new way to win.


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