Refining cutter secured closer role for Colome

Rays right-hander landed job by chance, but honed best pitch to keep it

Refining cutter secured closer role for Colome

NEW YORK -- Confidence and a cutter. Such is the essence of Alex Colome.

That confidence, and a quality cutter, allowed the Dominican Republic native to come out of nowhere in 2016 to assume the Rays' closer role and thrive.

As late as July 2015, Colome was pitching in Tampa Bay's rotation, with Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly and Matt Moore on the disabled list. After winning his first two starts in April '15, a tailspin sent Colome to the bullpen. And that's when things began to happen for the right-hander.

From July 17-Sept. 15, 2015, Colome posted a 0.29 ERA in 21 appearances. But he wasn't a closer until the beginning of the '16 season, when Brad Boxberger began the season on the DL. Though he had never closed, Colome stepped right into the role without a hitch.

"Last year, I didn't know what was going to happen to me as far as being the closer," Colome said. "Boxberger got hurt, and they gave me the spot."

Once in the bullpen, Colome pared down his repertoire to primarily fastball-cutter.

"Everybody knows I throw hard," Colome said. "But the big leagues is more than throwing hard. It's [about] good location. ... My cutter is better than my fastball."

Colome closes the door

Colome credits roving pitching instructor Dick Bosman for teaching him the cutter.

Since the beginning of the 2016 season, 90 pitchers have thrown their cutter at least 100 times, according to Statcast™. Colome uses the pitch 44 percent of the time, which is the ninth-highest rate. Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen is tops, at 89.09 percent.

Of those 90 pitchers, Colome has allowed a .238 batting average when the ball is put in play on his cutter, which ranks fourth best behind John Lackey, Carlos Torres and Marcus Stroman.

Colome gets a swinging strike on 25 percent of his cutters, which ranks as the best in the Major Leagues.

Colome's cutter has a quirky side, too. According to catcher Daniel Norris, the action on the ball can dive down or swerve across the plate, depending on the angle at which the right-hander releases the pitch.

Confidence and the cutter earned Colome 37 saves in 2016, and he already has three saves in three opportunities this season.

"Maybe our confidence has grown for good reason, because he's been so successful," manager Kevin Cash said. "Every time he's out, it's a pretty calming effect on the dugout and the players that are playing out there. He's just got a tremendous demeanor."

While Colome did not know exactly how he would be used in 2016, he knows he's the Rays' closer this season. That did not change his approach, though.

"I feel like I prepared myself 100 percent for last year, and I did the same this year," Colome said. "I feel like I can be better than last year."

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.