Tampa Bay Rays RHP Kyle Farsnworth has the closer’s job, and he says it doesn’t matter to him that he doesn’t have the title.
"It’s no issue at all," Farnsworth said Wednesday, the day after picking up his 10th save for the Rays in their 5-4 win against the Rangers. "I just go out there and just pitch, and that’s the only thing that matters to me."
Manager Joe Maddon opened the season with a closer-by-committee approach after the loss of last year’s All-Star closer, Rafael Soriano, via free agency. But without making any proclamation, Maddon has entrusted the job to Farnsworth, who has all 10 of Tampa Bay saves and has been used in game-finishing situations in 18 of last 20 appearances.
As if making it official might jinx the success, Maddon said he still isn’t ready to call Farnsworth the closer.
"It’s all semantics anyway," he said, smiling. "Let’s just leave it alone."
Farsnsworth, signed as a free agent after going a combined 3-2 with a 3.34 ERA last year for Kansas City and Atlanta, had 27 saves in 12 seasons coming into this year. He has been the best reliever in a rebuilt bullpen, pitching to a 1.50 ERA (18 innings) and blowing only one save.
THe 35-year-old had 27 saves in 12 seasons coming into this year. The Rays signed him as a free agent after he went a combined 3-2 with a 3.54 ERA last year for Kansas City and Atlanta last year.
What’s more, Farnsworth has walked only one batter. It was bases-loaded walk to Michael Brantley in a 5-4 loss at Cleveland on May 10.
"He has been really pitch-efficient with a well-located fastball, cutter and slider," Maddon said. "It’s been a combination of location, velocity on the fastball, break on the cutter and putting it where he wants to. He’s just been really sharp with his command."
The Rays aren’t getting much love in the early voting for the AL All-Star team.
In the first balloting figures released Wednesday, three-time All-Star Evan Longoria was third at 3B, Ben Zobrist and Johnny Damon were fifth at 2B and DH, respectively, and Sam Fuld and B.J. Upton were 13th and 15th among OFs.
RF Matt Joyce, who entered Wednesday leading the majors in hitting at .370, was not in the top 15 among outfielders.
Longoria, who missed 26 games with a strained left oblique and is hitting .240 with four home runs and 12 RBIs, had 588,463 votes and trailed New York's Alex Rodriguez (945,127) and Texas' Adrian Beltre (755,551).
Casey Kotchman (sprained right ankle) missed a third consecutive game Wednesday, and Maddon didn't sound optimistic that he'll be available tonight in Seattle.
He said the most likely scenario is that Kotchman will be available Friday, but he won't start that game against LHP Jason Vargas, and that he'll be back in the lineup Saturday.
Kotchman is hitting .361, and his unavailability Wednesday prompted Maddon to drop Damon from second to fifth in the order to make sure there was protection for Joyce in the third spot and Longoria in the fourth.
"He would have presented to our lineup differently today by just being available," Maddon said. "But not being available, we had to do different things."
When RHP James Shields last faced Seattle RHP Felix Hernandez at Safeco Field on April 23, 2009, the Rays lost 1-0 on a leadoff home run by Ichiro Suzuki. Shields (5-3, 2.15 ERA) will oppose the 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner (5-4, 3.19) tonight at Safeco in the opener of a four-game series.
"I've faced him a bunch of times in the past, and it's been kind of a battle," Shields said. "I remember losing 1-0 and giving up the home run to Ichiro on the second pitch of the game. I ended up throwing an eight-inning complete game and got the loss.
"It's a tough battle. He's pitching really well right now. I'm going to go out and pitch my game, and hopefully we can scratch a few."
Shields took the loss in a 7-3 defeat against Cleveland in his last start Saturday, but in his previous start May 22, he pitched a four-hit shutout against the Marlins on the road.
The Rays are starting a 12-day, 11-game road trip that will take them from Seattle to Anaheim to Baltimore to Detroit for a makeup game. It's the team's first 11-game trip since Sept. 7-17, 2009, when it went 2-9 at New York, Boston and Baltimore and fell out of the pennant race.
Maddon said LHP David Price will pitch the opening game of the L.A. Angels series Monday. The team hasn't announced its plans for rookie RHP Alex Cobb, who started and gave up three runs in 61/3 innings in Wednesday's win. . . . Damon went 1 for 4 and has reached base in 27 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the AL and second longest in the majors. . . . Upton went 1 for 18 on the six-game homestand.