Since being activated June 29, the 29-year-old has done nothing but impress. Boxberger’s first game back came on the road June 30 against the Baltimore Orioles and he struck out the side on 13 pitches.
After locking down the Los Angeles Angels Friday night with a perfect 1-2-3 ninth inning and getting the last out in the eighth Saturday, the former closer has been lights out. Boxberger is 6-for-6 now on giving Rays manager Kevin Cash exactly what he needs.
The return couldn’t come at a better time, either. Tampa Bay climbed to five games over .500 after taking two of three in Anaheim but bullpen reliability is not something the team has enjoyed through 93 games.
A healthy Boxberger provides some stability to that unit, but the “healthy” part is a big key. Multiple injuries robbed Boxberger of about four months from last season and most of the first half this year. He went from an All-Star closer who led the American League with 41 saves in 2015 to a player with a questionable future.
Six appearances into the comeback, Boxberger is showing no ill-effects from his latest ailments. He’s yet to surrender any hits or runs in 5 1/3 innings over six appearances. The work includes seven strikeouts and three walks.
Adding encouragement is that Boxberger’s stuff is right where it’s been throughout five-plus Major League Baseball seasons. He relies primarily on a fastball-changeup combo and there’s been no dip in velocity from his low-to-mid 90s heater.
Boxberger’s return to the bullpen is one of a few moves the Rays have made in recent weeks. The same day of Boxberger’s activation, the team designated right-handed veteran Danny Farquhar for assignment and brought up left-handed rookie Adam Kolarek from Triple-A Durham. Farquhar was retained and sent to Durham earlier this month, Kolarek remains in the Rays bullpen with a 4.50 earned run average in five appearances and Tampa Bay designated righty reliever Jumbo Diaz for assignment following Sunday’s 4-3 loss.
Diaz’s struggles continued this weekend in Anaheim and his second straight poor outing resulted in the DFA. The 33-year-old was saddled with the loss after putting the tiebreaking run on base in the eighth. That run and the eventual game-winner came home when Kolarek replaced Diaz and served up a first-pitch, two-run homer to C.J. Cron.
Kolarek stayed in to get the final two outs of the inning, but first-pitch location proved difficult in two appearances against Angles batters. Cash brought the 28-year-old in to relieve starter Jacob Faria with two outs in the seventh and the score tied 1-1. Kolarek plunked right fielder Kole Calhoun with his first offering and Cash came back out to get him.