Despite having a strong reputation for getting the most out of their relief pitchers, the Tampa Bay Rays do swing and miss from time to time. It would appear as though their gamble on Heath Bell is one of those misses, as the team designated the veteran reliever for assignment on Sunday morning. Nate Karns has been recalled from Triple-A to take his place on the active roster and in the bullpen, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
Bell had been acquired this past offseason as part of a three-team trade that also brought Ryan Hanigan to Tampa Bay. The right-hander has struggled mightily through his first 13 appearances for the Rays, posting a 7.27 ERA and 1.85 WHIP over 17 1/3 IP. He's allowed twice as many hits (24) as batters he’s struck out (12), walking a career worst 4.2 batters per nine innings. Expected to provide a veteran presence in the late innings, Bell has been a nightmare for the Rays. For an organization used to success in its efforts to revitalize the careers of aging relievers, Tampa Bay has failed to find that same magic with Bell.
Once among the more underrated closers in baseball, Bell’s stock has fallen significantly since he signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the Miami Marlins prior to the 2012 season. He’s made 155 total appearances since then, with a 4.91 ERA and 1.51 WHIP that’s bolstered by an alarming 10.7 H/9. He did save 34 games in that stretch but has since been traded twice, with his team picking up a significant portion of his remaining salary each time in an effort to facilitate the deal. Bell is still owed roughly $10 million this season ($4.5 million of which Arizona will pay), and it seems likely that he will go unclaimed on waivers. Karns has primarily been starting for the Rays’ Triple-A affiliate since coming over in his own offseason trade from Washington in return for catcher Jose Lobaton. He’s seen some underwhelming results through his first eight starts on the year, with an 8.20 ERA and 1.82 WHIP. Karns has been plagued by a poor walk rate (6.2 BB/9) and has had trouble keeping the ball in the park, allowing 2.1 homers per nine. The Rays have had a number of lengthy games in recent days, however, and could use the help in their bullpen following an extra-innings contest against New York on Saturday and a doubleheader against Boston just a few days prior. Tampa Bay is expected to use him in relief initially, but the team still plans for him to be a starter long-term and could end up sending him back down for another fresh arm within a few days.