ST. PETERSBURG -- A big piece of the bullpen's recent improvement has been the fact Rays manager Joe Maddon has finally been able to use Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney the way they were intended to be used, in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively.
Peralta retired the Red Sox in order in the eighth inning of Tuesday night's 5-3 win and then Rodney pitched the ninth, striking out the side to chalk up his seventh save of the season -- and looking very comfortable while doing so.
"I thought [Rodney] looked really good," Maddon said. "His delivery was better, it was cleaner. Everything was clean to the plate. It's been awkward just trying to get him out there on a regular basis. The save opportunities have not been there. We've either been winning big games or losing. And a lot of the stuff on the road when things weren't going well, we were trying to get [Rodney] in for his three outs and out. It just wasn't setting up well, but now he's setting up into more of rhythm.
"We're getting him out there on a consistent basis in save moments. Closers get that adrenaline moment going on and he needs that to be as good as he can be. I think all of those things are starting to fall into place for him. He definitely looks better."
Peralta noted there is a comfort level when the pair pitches in their intended roles.
"We like it," Peralta said. "Since I've been here, I've pitched the eighth inning, so I've kind of gotten used to it. It doesn't matter to me what inning I'm going to pitch. I have to be ready whenever they call my name, but actually, we kind of got this thing going, Rodney and I do. I pitch the eight and I do [well] and he goes out there in the ninth with confidence, and he does [well]."
The Rays had won six straight heading into Wednesday night's contest. Peralta maintained that winning has created a better climate for the bullpen's use.
"When you win one game and lose five, when you're out there you don't feel the same," Peralta said. "You're not the same guy. But lately, we've been pitching a lot and we've been doing well. The bullpen is finally what we've been expecting it to be. A really good bullpen."
Peralta noted that when Rodney pitches a lot, "he's going to be lights out. He's going to be good."
Rodney added: "I pitched well last night, but if I hadn't pitched in the last couple of games, maybe not so good. When I throw on one, two, three days in a row, I feel more comfortable. That's what I'm looking for. Last night, I want to be like that -- 94, 95 mph with good location."
The Rays' bullpen has not allowed an earned run in its last 16 2/3 innings, lowering its ERA from 5.29 to 4.38. The bullpen ranks fifth in Major League Baseball with 9.59 strikeouts per nine innings.
Lueke performing well in leveraged situations
ST. PETERSBURG -- Since Josh Lueke's recall from Triple-A Durham on Friday, he has made two scoreless appearances. Each time, the right-hander has come into the game with runners on base and stranded all three.
He arrived to St. Petersburg on Friday to take the place of Brandon Gomes, who went on the disabled list with a strained right lat. Lueke pitched that night against the Padres, and he notched two strikeouts and didn't allow a hit over 1 1/3 scoreless frames. On Tuesday night, he entered the game with two outs during the seventh in relief of Jake McGee with two on and he got Shane Victorino to line out to first base to end the threat.
"That first time we brought him out, he looked pretty good here, he got four outs," manager Joe Maddon said. "So the way that just set up [Tuesday], he was warming up to go in the sixth, and then I wanted to roll it over to Jake in the seventh. My only concern was the fact that he warmed up in the sixth that he would be all right in the seventh. So we called down there and he said he was fine.
"So there's a guy who's already hot, and it's the right spot, it's the kind of guy he needs to get out. And, of course, to be really good, everybody down there needs to contribute. So I thought, 'He can do it,' and I also thought, 'Let's see if he can do it.' And as it turned out, good at-bat by Victorino and we were fortunate the ball found the first baseman."
In 12 of Lueke's 14 appearances for Triple-A Durham this season, he had 29 strikeouts and seven saves in 12 games.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.