Despite no action, Colome enjoys All-Star experience

Despite no action, Colome enjoys All-Star experience

SAN DIEGO -- Rays right-hander Alex Colome went on a "pitch diet" upon moving from the rotation to relief last July, largely eschewing his curveball and changeup in favor of a leaner fastball-cutter combo.

The decision to streamline has clearly led to results, as Colome represented the Rays at Major League Baseball's 2016 All-Star Game presented by MasterCard at Petco Park.

Although he did not enter the contest -- which saw the American League top the National League, 4-2, to earn home-field advantage in this year's World Series -- Colome was glad to be part of the festivities.

"It was really nice to be with [all the All-Stars]," Colome said. "To joke and play with guys from other teams. [I enjoyed talking with David Ortiz], [Robinson Cano], Edwin Encarnacion. We are friends."

And in looking at the big picture, the 6-foot-2 hurler realizes he's been well-suited for bullpen work.

"I like relieving," Colome said. "So much adrenaline. When they changed me from starting to reliever, it was not too easy. But I put it in my mind that I have to do it."

"Sometimes, I like to [still throw all] four pitches [that I used as a starter]," he added. "But, I [often only] need my cutter and my fastball [as a closer]."

Colome has relied almost exclusively on hard stuff this year, with less than two percent of his offerings coming in as offspeed pitches.

"The cutter and fastball go the same velocity, [and they help me be] more aggressive," he said.

Without question, that aggression has led to results. Since moving to the 'pen full-time on July 7, 2015, Colome has compiled a 2.23 ERA with a 10.3 K/9 rate -- nearly double his 5.7 K/9 mark before the shift.

"He is very aggressive, has a big-time fastball. … And he's got some movement on it, too," said Orioles outfielder Mark Trumbo, Colome's AL All-Star Game teammate. In five career at-bats vs. the Tampa Bay stopper, Trumbo is 0-for-5 with a pair of strikeouts.

The 27-year-old Colome has taken his game to even greater heights in 2016, with a 1.69 ERA and 19 saves in 19 tries. The latter stat represents a club record for successful opportunities to open a campaign, and the longest run by a Tampa Bay reliever since Fernando Rodney converted 22 consecutive saves from May 27-Aug. 13, 2012.

"He is well-deserving to be here," said Astros ninth-inning man Will Harris, a fellow first-time Midsummer Classic participant with a locker stationed beside Colome's. "You know, he's heck of a reliever. Good closer."

Colome, of course, didn't expect to be Tampa Bay's closer this year, but he has made the most of an opportunity that arose out of unfortunate circumstances -- an injury to teammate and expected fireman Brad Boxberger.

The AL saves leader in 2015, Boxberger opened this season on the disabled list after undergoing core muscle surgery in March. Upon making his 2016 debut on May 31, he immediately sustained an oblique injury that landed him back on the sidelines.

"I was surprised [to become a closer], you know," Colome said. "But when God has something for you, nobody take it."

The Rays' lone All-Star this season, Colome will leave San Diego a happy man.

"[I am] happy the American League won. We know we are the good [league]," he said. "It is nice to represent my team, the Tampa Bay Rays, at the All-Star Game".

If he continues to pitch as he did during the season's first half, he'll have more chances to do just that.

Zachary Finkelstein is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.