Closer Troy Percival was placed on the disabled list Thursday with what the Rays claim is a minor hamstring strain. It's no secret that after Percy, Dan Wheeler is the class of Tampa Bay's improved bullpen and the favorite for saves while the 38-year-old closer is out. How good is Wheeler, though? If the fragile Percival misses more than the 15-day minimum -- or goes down with a more severe injury in the future -- will Wheeler emerge as a long-term solution for the first-place Rays? Or is he merely suited for stopgap duty?
Wheeler saved 20 games as a part-time closer for the Astros in 2006 and 2007. His main competition in Tampa is 38-year-old Al Reyes, who saved 26 games for the Rays last season. Reyes has demonstrated good command the past few years but spent time on the disabled list last year with a rotator cuff injury and already has missed a month this year because of a shoulder injury. At his age, Reyes is neither a keeper-league commodity nor a potential long-term solution for the Rays.
The 30-year-old Wheeler, however, is both. A peek beneath his surface stats reveals closer-worthy skills: