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Surprisingly, Colome still set to anchor bullpen in 2018

Pitchers and catchers report in just a few days and RHP Alex Colome is still the Rays closer. That might just be the most shocking story heading into spring training. Early in the off-season it was almost a sure bet Colome would be one of the first dealt. After agreeing to a $5.3M salary bump and avoiding arbitration, the 2017 MLB saves king heads into camp ready to continue his success as the team’s ninth inning guy.

So who will fill the spots ahead of the 2016 All Star? RHP Brad Boxberger was traded to the Diamondbacks back in November. RHP Steve Cishek is a Cub. RHP Tommy Hunter has signed with the Phillies.

Late last week it was announced that RHP Sergio Romo was re-signed by the team. Romo will be the savvy vet in a bullpen that will no doubt be heavy on young arms once Opening Day comes around March 29th.

Long relief

There are a slew of arms that could fill this role in 2018. RHP Chase Whitley was a key contributor last season but he’s now in Atlanta.

Let’s first start with RHP Nathan Eovaldi. Coming off Tommy John surgery is no easy task but the Rays picked up his option back in November hoping he can be productive. There is an outside shot he cracks the rotation. He’s been a starter in 127 of his 134 games in MLB. The Rays may ask him to take on a different role this season and this just might be the best spot for him.

RHP Matt Andriese is another who just might wind up the fifth starter. However, he’s very familiar with a bullpen role and has had success in relief.

The rookie ranks are packed with MLB-ready talent. RHP Chih-Wei Hu is the first that comes to mind. Hu had a couple stints with the club in ’17 and showed definite signs he’s ready to crack the Opening Day roster. RHP Andrew Kittredge pitched in 15 games for the Rays in ’17 and shined. RHP Hunter Wood could also get a look in the long relief role this spring, as well.

A lot was asked of RHP Austin Pruitt last season. He bounced from spot-starts to long relief and became a workhorse for the club. He’ll be back this season in likely the same role.

Middle relief/Set-up

It’s not likely both LHPs Dan Jennings and Jose Alvarado start the year with the team. Jennings avoided arbitration last month and is likely the favorite as the “lefty-specialist” in the ‘pen.

Flame-throwing, RHP Ryne Stanek, can hit triple digits. That’s always a weapon to have out of the bullpen and he might crack his first Opening Day roster if he has a good spring. Veteran RHP Chaz Roe is almost a lock to make the team pitching very well in his limited time last season.

RHPs Jaime Schultz and Diego Castillo are outside shots to make the team but both will no doubt be ready at Durham if/when the injury bug strikes.

Non-roster invites

Lefty Jonnny Venters, 32, is a remarkable story. He’s endured three Tommy John surgeries and hasn’t pitched in MLB since 2012. The Rays invited him to camp back in December and he might be the dark horse of the non-roster invites. RHPs Cody Hall and Vidal Nuno also have big-league experience. LHP Adam Kolarek pitched some last year with the Rays and will be looked at closely, as well.

RHP Dustin McGowan, just signed last week, could be a Tommy Hunter-type story if he can find a way to make the 40-man.

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