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Loaded bullpen could be problem

Loaded bullpen could be problem
Marc Lancaster

ST. PETERSBURG - As the calendar flipped from 2008 to 2009 and the Rays assessed the areas of their roster that still needed to be shored up, the bullpen didn't appear to be a glaring weakness.

They still wanted a lefty specialist to replace Trever Miller (and ended up signing Brian Shouse just before spring training to fill that role), but other than that they seemed to have enough quality arms to account for the seven spots in their bullpen. So, naturally, they went out and signed some more.

"Depth is a good thing," said Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman.

Bringing aboard Lance Cormier in January and Jason Isringhausen after spring training already was under way created something of a numbers crunch even after the Rays learned Chad Bradford wouldn't be ready to start the season because of an elbow injury suffered during winter workouts. But the Rays alleviated it in the short term by trading Jason Hammel late in the spring and having Isringhausen open the year on the disabled list.

Sometime in the coming weeks, though, they might have to make some tough decisions. Isringhausen is in the midst of a rehab assignment and could be ready to go before too long, assuming the abdominal strain that kept him from his first scheduled appearance for Durham on Thursday doesn't evolve into a significant setback.

Bradford has a ways to go, but he is scheduled to throw to hitters today and could begin pitching in extended spring games later this week. Still, a return in early June is well within the realm of possibility for the sidearmer.

And then there's the matter of David Price, who has done the Rays a public-relations favor, at least, by getting off to a so-so start at Durham. At some point, though - you would think before the All-Star break - the phenom will be deemed ready for the majors. When that happens, yet another arm will be in the bullpen mix, be it Jeff Niemann or Andy Sonnanstine.

The rub, of course, is that there is no apparent room for any of those guys - let alone three of them - in the relief corps as it stands now. The group as a whole has righted itself after a rocky start, and it's difficult to pick out an individual worthy of getting the hook.

The newcomers (Shouse, Cormier and Joe Nelson) have been perhaps the Rays' most effective relievers through the season's first month. Dan Wheeler has had the toughest run of it early on but was extremely sharp Friday against the Red Sox, and Grant Balfour also has recovered after some shaky early outings. Troy Percival's health was a question throughout the winter, but he has looked fine on that front so far.

What are the Rays to do, at the very least when Isringhausen is ready? It's difficult to say. And the team isn't about to find that particular corner and back into it at this point.

"We have a decent amount of time between now and then, and things have funny ways of working themselves out," Friedman said. "We're obviously very mindful of it, but we think of it as a luxury and something that we haven't necessarily had in the past. I'm confident that things will work out in such a way that will give us the best chance to win a game, and that's really how we're focusing on it."

Photo credit: Tribune photo by CHRIS URSO

Photo: Newcomer Brian Shouse has been among the team's most effective relievers.

Photo: Jason Isringhausen

Photo: Lance Cormier

Copyright ? 2009, The Tampa Tribune and may not be republished without permission. E-mail

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: May 5, 2009

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