Yankees again use Duncan to Beat the Rays
Of course after yesterday Spring Opener where the Tampa Bay Rays only managed to get 4 hits in the entire game, I was looking for the Rays offense to maybe finally kick back into gear. Little did I know before the game that Rays Manager Joe Maddon had decided to leave a few guys at home working out at the Rays complex down in Port Charlotte, Florida. Among those left at home was Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena. I do not know the reasoning for the two guys to be left off the travel squad, but with a big game today against the Boston Red Sox, I am expecting it was done to have them fresh and ready for Friday’s game.
So when the Rays did come north to play the New York Yankees today at George Steinbrenner Field, I was not sure what kind of infield might be taking the turf for this first test of the year against our division rival. The crowd had it usual over indulgence of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez jerseys, but the smattering of the Rays blue and white jerseys could be seen in the stands. This is a huge departure on some spring training game where the New York faithful will sell out the contest before they even go on sale to the general public. So it was a great sight to see some of the away teams jerseys and hear the odd cowbell or two.
Before the game I saw a very interesting treat as ex-Yankee center fielder Bernie Williams came out to throw the ceremonial first pitch of the game. I can tell you he still looks like he could play in the outfield for the Yankees, and I bet he can still hit the cover off the ball. His pitch was a nice crisp little fastball to just past the right side of the plate. The man can still play, and I still wonder why he is not in a Yankee jersey this spring? By the way the first inning strted out for the pinstripes, he might as well pitched the first inning for them today.
The Rays decided to give a few of their recently signed veterans a chance to display their skills today. Rays minor league player Chris Richards got the start at first base instead of Willy Aybar today. But Aybar did play, taking the Designated Hitter spot today. Adam Kennedy a recent signee got a chance to take the field at second base and hit in the lead off spot for the Rays today. Also making his Rays debut was Morgan Ensberg at third base for Evan Longoria. Ensberg hit a single in the 6th inning today off Dasmasco Marte. Both players might not be on the Opening Day roster, but Maddon decided that for them to find a team , they need to show their stuff. Since the game was being broadcast on MLB.TV, it was a great way for other teams to be able to scout the two veterans without sending people to the park.
The Rays could have taken full advantage of some wild Yankee starting pitching in the first inning, but they could not capitalize and ended up letting Yankee starter Phil Hughes actually look pretty good in his outing without capitalizing on scoring chances during his wild moments in the first inning today. Hughes, who is trying to come back after a injury-filled 2008, did not help his cause to make the team as a starter or as a long reliever in the Bullpen. Hughes did not self implode, but he did hit 2 out of the first 3 Rays batters he faced today before finally calming down a bit and ended up throwing 2 perfect frames for the Yankees. Hughes threw around 33 pitches today, and after his first three batters actually looked more calm and collected on the mound.
The Rays countered today with another great starting pitching performance from Rays prospect Wade Davis. He actually man-handled the Yankees in the first inning sending them down 1-2-3, with the third out on a 94 mph fastball to new Yankee Mark Teixeira. Davis then came out in the bottom of the second and again came out with fire to get Alex Rodriguez to a 1-2 count before getting him to strike out to start the inning. Davis did not back down after that and then took Robinson Cano out with another 94 mph fastball to end up striking out 3 of the first 5 batters he faced today.
Then in the top of the third inning, Yankee left-hand reliever Phil Coke came in and threw two innings of ball and also blanked the Rays, but did give up the first hit of the afternoon to Ben Zobrist, who hit a single in the fourth inning. For his efforts, Coke ended up with the victory for the Yankees.
The Rays sent out reliever Chad Orvella to start the inning. Orvella missed most of 2008 with a shoulder injury and was trying to make an impression on the Rays coaching staff to try and cement a Bullpen position for 2009. His first pitch of the spring came back to bite him as Jorge Posada deposited the ball beyond the right field picnic deck for an early 1-0 Yankee lead. For his efforts, Orvella ended up taking the loss today after throwing only one inning. To his credit, he then buckled down after the homer and got the next three batters, which included Johnny Damon who was his only strikeout of the game.
For the bottom of the fourth inning, the Rays sent out Winston Abreu, who is trying to make the major league roster. Abreu did not fair well as he gave up three hits and a run during his two innings of work today. The Yankees counter in the fifth inning with reliever Brian Bruney who pitched a shutout fifth inning for the team. In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Yankees tacked on a run when consecutive doubles were given up by Abreu to Xavier Nady and Posada. With the Rays now down by two, they needed to find some offense in the top of the sixth inning. Last years Yankee Bullpen lefty specialist Damasco Marte then came in and gave up another hit for a single to Morgan Ensberg, who was playing third today for Evan Longoria. the Rays could not capitalize on this again today and the Yankees again dodged a bullet.
The Rays sent reliever Julio DePaula to the mound in the bottom of the sixth and the young Rays pitcher shut down the Yankees in his only inning of the game. Then in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Yankees non-roster invitee J.B. Cox, ended up having the worst outing for the Yankees today. He ended up throwing only 1 inning today, but gave up 3 hits and the lone Rays run in the seventh inning. Cox gave up a single to Elliot Johnson, who then scored on a Jon Weber hit that eluded the glove of shortstop Eduardo Nunez to put the Rays with in one run at 2-1. Rays non-roster invitee Ray Sadler then got another single and the Rays looked to be starting a small rally. But they fell short and settled for the 2-1 lead with two innings left to play in the game.
But when Rays minor League prospect Calvin Medlock took the mound, he ended up giving up three hits in his one inning of work, and also gave the Rays a slimmer chance at victory. Medlock gave up a three-run shot to Shelly Duncan to put the game out of reach 5-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning. Duncan knocked in Angel Berroa and Doug Bernier, who had both singled in the inning. The Rays then tried to mount a rally again in the top of the eighth inning, but Mark Melancon shut them down with one strikeout in the inning. the Rays sent minor league reliever Dale Thayer to the mound in the bottom of the eighth inning, and he also shut down the Yankees offense, which now had mostly minor league and non-roster invitees in the game. The Rays again tried to mount an attack, but were put down quickly by reliever Johnathan Albalardejo to end the game.
So the Rays ended up leaving Tampa with an 0-2 start to the 2009 Grapefruit League season. What was so remarkable in this game is that only one walk was issued by either team in the contest. That lone walk was given up by Phil Hughes in the second inning to Chris Richards. Even with the 0-2 start, the Rays have a few positives to take away from this loss. They can see that Wade Davis has been working on his third pitch, a change-up, and used it with great success today against one of the American League best off-speed hitting teams. Also of note is the fact that the Rays only struck out 5 times today, with not a single hitter whiffing twice for the team.
Rays catcher Shawn Riggans got the start again for the Rays and looked to have good command of the pitchers and called a good game behind the plate. This might be his year to fully show he can be a great play-calling back-up catcher in the major leagues. 10, 693 fans hit the stands today to witness the game against the Rays. I am not getting worried about the lack of hitting or even scoring by the Rays in their first two games. A few pretty odd moments happen in today’s game. Elliot Johnson scored the Rays first run of the spring, and was stared down a bit by Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli. You might remember in early 2008, it was Johnson who took out Cervelli with a shoulder high shove as the Yankee catcher was blocking the plate. Johnson ended up scoring on the play, but the action put Cervelli out for a few months and drew the anger of Yankees Manager Joe Giardi at the time. Also interesting is the re-emergence of Former Rays basher Shelly Duncan, who originally released by the team last season. Duncan came out today and did not taunt or even whisper towards the Rays bench. This might be a sign that Duncan has put the 2008 incident behind him and plans on making his statements on the field this season.
The team heads home tonight with a 1:05 pm start tomorrow against another American League East foes, the Boston Red Sox. The visitor’s will send pitcher Michael Bowden to the mound. Bowden only threw 5 innings for the team on August 30, 2008 against the Chicago White Sox. It might be a guy that the Rays can get to early and score some runs. The Rays will start right-hander Jeff Neimann as he tries to make his impression to get that fifth spot in the rotation, or a spot in the Rays Bullpen this season. Neimann needs to make an impression for the Rays to want to keep him in 2009, since he is out of minor league options, and would not make it through waivers if the Rays tried to send him to the minor leagues. Additional Rays pitchers scheduled to appear in tomorrow’s contest will be Jason Childers ( RH ), Jason Cromer ( RH ), James Houser ( LH ), 2008 Rule-5 draftee Derek Rodriguez ( RH ) will see his first Rays action, and Brian Shouse ( LH ).
To give some of the Rays fans notice for the Saturday game against the Phillies in Clearwater, the team has tenativly penciled in Rays prospect Mitch Talbot to get the start, with J P Howell ( LH ), Dewon Day ( RH ), Neal Frontz ( RH ), and Lance Cromier ( RH ) getting their second chances this spring to make lasting impressions on the coaching staff.
Photo credits for today’s blog go to: www.theStPetersburgTimes.com , and RRcollections.