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The Strike Zone

Rays' Alex Colome gets 50-game steroids suspension

Alex Colome made three appearances for the Rays in 2013, totaling 16 innings. (Frank Franklin II/AP)Alex Colome made three appearances for the Rays in 2013, totaling 16 innings. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

The regular season hasn't begun, but already, the Rays have chalked up a loss and the Joint Drug Agreement a win. Tampa Bay reliever Alex Colome has been suspended for 50 games for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

The 25-year-old Colome isn't a household name. Born in Santo Domingo, he signed with the Devil Rays in 2007 as an 18-year-old non-drafted free agent, and came stateside in 2008 after a season in the Dominican Summer League. Following a strong 15-start showing (1.66 ERA, 11.1 strikeouts per nine) at Low-A Hudson Valley in 2009, Colome cracked the top prospect lists of Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus the following spring, but a variety of injuries slowed his progress upward; only once did he throw more than 118 innings. He finally reached the majors last season, making three starts from May 30 to June 28, totaling 16 innings, but soon after being sent back to Triple-A Durham, he suffered an elbow sprain that turned out to be season-ending. While he came to camp ready to compete for the Rays' fifth starter job, he threw just one inning in the Grapefruit League before being optioned on March 8, but he figured to get called up again at some point.

According to the commissioner's office, Colome tested positive for Bolderone, an anabolic steroid primarily used to treat horses. Also known as Equipoise, it's valued in steroid circles for producing slower gains in mass than Deca Durabolin while having fewer negative side effects.

Colome is the first major league player to be suspended for a positive steroid test since Yasmani Grandal in November 2012. Fifteen players, including Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun, 10 of whom were on 40-man rosters, were suspended for their connections to the Biogenesis clinic last year, but none were due to positive steroid tests; meanwhile, Miguel Tejada and Troy Patton received suspensions after testing positive for amphetamine usage. Colome is the first Rays major leaguer to receive a drug suspension of any kind since Manny Ramirez in April 2011, though several of their minor leaguers have.

Sadly, Colome's suspension fits into an ongoing pattern in which Hispanic players are disproportionately represented among those testing positive. A 2012 study by the San Francisco Chronicle's John Shea, in the wake of the suspensions of Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon noted that 24 of the first 39 major league suspensions were of players born in Latin America. Wrote Shea, "Considering 24 percent of players on [2012] Opening Day rosters (207 of 856) were born in Latin America, the 62 percent of suspended players is wildly disproportionate."

Among those since suspended, Grandal, Tejada, Carlos Ruiz, and the majority of players suspended due to Biogenesis connections fit that description as well. Whether it's due to non-random "random testing," the ease of obtaining PEDs outside the United States, a lack of education with regards to drug policy or the poverty and economic disparity that changes the risk/reward equation for players from the region, it's a disturbing trend that suggests the game will never fully stamp out such drug use.

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