Two-man race for final bullpen spot

Two-man race for final bullpen spot

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- The Rays' bullpen is coming into focus, and the final two spots are coming down to two guys, even though it looks like three.

Locks include Troy Percival, Gary Glover, Al Reyes, Dan Wheeler and Trever Miller. J.P. Howell appears to be the sixth guy, which leaves Grant Balfour and Scott Dohmann vying for the final spot.

Rays manager Joe Maddon narrowed down the competition about as far as he cared to prior to Thursday's contest between the Rays and Indians.

Maddon said that he had not told Balfour and Dohmann it was down to them.

"We have not really given them any kind of update in regard to who is still in this competition," he said. "I think they know that. And J.P. is still in the running for this bullpen also; he's done a pretty good job."

But ...

"It's kind of come down to those two guys," Maddon said. "The kind of pitcher they are is very similar. Though you would kind of make the case that Balfour might be able to be stretched out to more of a multiple-inning guy, I've seen Dohmann do that last year, also. Stuff-wise, velocity is about the same. Dohmann has a slider; Balfour's breaking ball is more of a slurve. Both have really good arms, very good arms. Both are great guys and they fit."

Both pitchers are out of options, so once cut they would have to clear waivers in order to be assigned to the Rays' Minor Leagues. And if that happens, it's likely either would get claimed. Each pitcher said that he would like to remain a Ray.

"What we've got going on here is a great thing," Dohmann said. "What they've brought in to go along with the talent they had last year, this young talent, what they have going on, it's very positive."

On Thursday, Balfour allowed one run in 1 2/3 innings, walking four and striking out three before leaving the game with two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth. Dohmann came in and got a flyout to end the inning, then pitched a scoreless seventh.

Balfour is now 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA this spring, while Dohmann is 0-2 with an 8.74 ERA. In 2007, Balfour went 1-0 with a 6.14 ERA for the Rays, and Dohmann went 3-0 with a 3.31 ERA. So on what criteria do Maddon and company plan to base their evaluation?

"This is going to be based on a lot of different things," Maddon said. "Not just Spring Training. I've had discussions with coaches yesterday; we'll have discussions today; we're just trying to make the right decision. It's not easy. We've finally come to the place where we have some difficult decisions to make."

Balfour said that he's always seen himself being on the team.

"Whether or not they see me being on the team is a different story," Balfour said.

Dohmann said that they are competing against opposing hitters.

"It's not against each other," Dohmann said. "That's not who we're competing against. ... There's so much talent in this camp, it's hard to narrow it down to two guys, but it's looking like it's winding up to be. And it is what it is."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.