Rays Score 10 runs in Fourth Inning to Crush Astros
So here we are at Charlotte Sports Park taking in a windy and chilly day at the ball park. MLB Network is setting up and will be doing interviews throughout the game with fans and players down the right field line. I do not get MLB Network on my cable provider ( even though I have offered to play more), so if you see my mug on the television, leave me a comment. I did go down and chat a bit with Harold Reynolds before the game, and really like the way he is thinking about this team for 2009. But I do agree wholeheartedly that we will not sneak up on anyone this year, and that might be a good thing.
But while I am sitting here freezing a bit, I decided to go to www.houstonchronicles.com and see what kind of action they might be portraying for this game. What I found was a website poll asking people to vote for their top 10 All-Time Rice University players. Well, the Rays had one representative in their pre-selected 10 for you to choose from online. Jeff Niemann, the starter in today’s game was pre-ranked by the newspaper as the 6th best player out of Rice. What I found interesting is that team mate Wade Townsend was not even on the list, but third member of that great NCAA Championship squad, Philip Humber was listed. Also missing from the list was former Ray Norm Charlton, who I hear had a monster time as a Rice pitcher.
So here we are at Charlotte Sports Park getting ready for our only game against the Houston Astros this spring. The breeze has picked up a bit in the last 10 minutes, and might make for some interesting catches on fly ball hit deep into the outfield today. Starting for the howe town Rays will be Jeff Niemann, who has been pretty tough this spring on the mound for the team. He is fighting for that number 5 slot in the rotation that seems to be boiling down to him and maybe Jason Hammel at this time. But another great game by Carlos Hernandez could boost him name back into the thought process of the Rays staff before April.
Even after impressive outings by Wade Davis against the New York Yankees in Tampa, and yesterday in Jupiter against the St. Louis Cardinals might not keep his ticket from being punched for Triple-A Durham for the beginning of the season. But one thing is clear about Davis. He is a better pitcher this time around than a year ago. He has better control of his breaking balls and is getting pretty confident with that new change-up. He might not see the majors until September 1st, but after this year he might be another Rays that will be hard to keep down on the farm in 2010. Mitch Talbot had done a good job this year, but is not ready for the daily grind of the majors either in the Bullpen or the rotation. That should put those three guys in the mix for that last coveted rotation position.
Niemann took the mound today and gave up a lead-off single to Michael Bourn. The single was a slow roller to Jason Bartlett at shortstop that he could not get into his hand in time to get the speedy Bourn at first base. Bourn then decided to test Niemann’s arm and stole second base to put himself in scoring position early in the inning. Niemann settled down a bit and got Edwin Maysonett to strikeout. Darin Erstad then came up and hit a high towering fly ball to right field that Gabe Kapler took off the wall for the second out of the inning. Jason Michaels came up and Niemann quickly put him away by striking him out finish the inning.
Brandon Backe, the ex-Ray took the mound for Houston today and gave up a double to Bartlett to lead-off the game. Bartlett kept strolling farther and farther off the bag and finally Backe tried to pick him off at second, but the throw was a bit off and rolled into center field. Bartlett advanced to third and Backe received an error on the throw. Carl Crawford and Ben Zobrist quickly both struck out to give Backe control of the inning. Pat Burrell came up with Bartlett only 90 feet away for the early lead and walk to put men on the corners for Kapler. He could not capitalize and the Rays let two men on base, and let Backe get out of the first inning with no runs scored against him.
In the top of the second inning, Niemann went back to work and got Designated Hitter David Newhan for a fast out before setting down both Chris Johnson and Jason Smith with two straight strikeouts. With the 1-2-3 inning, it seemed that Neimann was in control of the game for the Rays. The team sent up Dioner Navarro to face Backe first in the second inning. Backe quickly got Navarro out on strikes and was setting a fast tone for the contest. Adam Kennedy, who was playing third for the first time in the majors, hit into a 4-3 out. Ray Sadler then came on and hit a rocket at about shoe level towards Maysonett who snagged the ball for the third out and send the Rays down 1-2-3 in their half of the inning.
The third inning saw Niemann take the mound again and he got Mark Saccomanno to hit a deep ball to center that was easily caught by Sadler. J P Towles, who will be counted on to win the catchers battle got fooled on a split finger fastball for an easy strikeout. Bourn then came up and walked to put a man on base with two outs. He again stole second base off Niemann and Navarro. The steal was his fourth of the spring. Maysonette hit a low liner down the third baseline that Kennedy had a bit of the glove on, but could not squeeze it in and it rolled down to left field. Bourn scored on the play and gave Houston an early 1-0 lead. Erstad then hit a fly ball to Sadler in center to end the inning.
In the Rays b
ottom of the third, Backe took the mound again and gave up a towering home run to Reid Brignac on the first pitch of the inning. Brignac broke an 0-11 mark this spring with the round tripper. Bartlett then hit the first pitch he saw to get on base for the Rays. Backe then walked both Crawford and Zobrist before leaving the game. Samuel Gervacio came in with the bases loaded and no outs. He walked Burrell, Kapler and Navarro to put the Rays in front 7-1 at the moment. Astros Manager Cecil Cooper had seen enough and replaced him with Polin Trinidad. He started out the same as the other two Houston pitchers, walking Kennedy and then giving up a 2-RBI double to Sadler down the left field line.
Brignac then came back up in the inning, and got struck out to stop the Rays merry-go-round. Bartlett, who finished the day going 3-3, then hit a single to right field to score another run for the Rays. Trinidad then got Crawford to strikeout for the second out of the inning. Zobrist then came up and hit a ball that split the Houston outfielders for a 2-run double. Cooper again came out to the mound and took the ball from Trinidad. He put in Jeff Fulchino who got Burrell on a called third strike to end the Rays rally. In that inning, the Rays sent 14 men to the plate and scored 10 runs on 5 hits and 6 walks.
The Rays sent Brian Shouse out for the fourth inning with a 9 run lead. Michaels started the inning of with a single and David Newhan hit a liner to right field that Kapler quickly came up firing towards third and got Michaels before he could touch the bag. It was a screaming throw that easily got the runner at third base. With Kapler fighting for the position in right field, this will show Rays Manager Joe Maddon that he has two great arms to platoon with in right field this year. Shouse got Chris Johnson to strikeout and got Smith to hit a fly to left to end the Houston scoring chances.
The Astros sent Fulchino back out in the bottom of the 4th inning. He quickly got an out on Kapler. Navarro then came up and hit a double to get himself into scoring position for the Rays. Kennedy then hit a squib hit down to first that Saccomanno took himself, but the play moved Navarro to third base. Sadler then came on and hit a RBI double to score Navarro and put the Rays up 11-1 in the game. Brignac came on and struck out to end the Rays fourth inning.
Saccomanno came out first in the inning and hit a ball back to Randy Choate, who had come on for the Rays. Choate got the ball and threw to first to Zobrist to get Saccomanno in time. Towles then walked to give Houston a base runner in the inning. Bourn then hit another short ball to Choate, who turned and fired to Brignac at second to force out Towles. Maysonette then commited the third out to get Chaote out of the inning clean for the Rays. Fulchino again came out for Houston and got Rays Olmedo on a grounder to second, Crawford on a grounder to shortstop for two quick outs. Zobrist then hit a hard grounder to short, but was also out at first in time to send the Rays down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the fifth inning.
The Rays sent Dewon Day out to the mound for the sixth inning and he quickly got Erstad to hit a grounder to Zobrist that he stepped on the bag to complete an unassisted play at first base. Michaels then quickly converted a second out and Newhan struck out to send the Astros down 1-2-3 for only the second time today. Promising non-roster invitee Bud Norris then came out for Houston and dominated the bottom of the sixth inning. He got Burrell to hit a soft fly ball to left field for the first out. He then got Kapler inside to hit a foul pop-up that Towles got without problems. He then struck out Fernando Perez, who is hitting only .167 this spring for the third out and another 1-2-3 inning for Houston pitching.
Jason Childers then took the mound for the Rays and Johnson led off the inning with a single to center field. Smith then struck out for the first out. John Gall then came up and hit a single to left field to move Johnson to second and put two Astros on base in the inning. Humberto Quintero then came up and hit a ball down to third that Chris Nowak stepped on the bag to force out Johnson, then fired the ball to Brignac to complete a double play and get Childers out of the inning. Norris came out again for the Astros and got Tim Beckham to hit a grounder to short that was quickly converted into the first out of the inning. Sadler then came out and hit another ball that was quickly thrown to first. John Jaso then came up and hit another ball towards short that was converted to give the Astros now 3 straight 1-2-3 innings against the Rays since their blow out inning.
Childer again took the mound for the Rays and gave up a lead-off single to Reggie Abecrombie. Maysonette then got another single to put two men on with no outs. Brian Bogusevic then came up and hit a short grounder to Childer who turned and fired to Richard at first for the first out. Matt Kata then came up and struck out. that was the end of the day for Childers as Maddon brought in 2008 Rule-5 pitcher Derek Rodriguez to finish out the inning. Rodriguez needed to have a good outing to keep himself in camp. He got Brain Esposito to ground back to him and he quickly got the ball to Richard to get the Rays out of the inning with no runs scored against them.
Danny Graves took the mound in the bottom of the eight inning for the Astros. Graves is the only Vietnamese-born player to every play in the MLB. He quickly got Olmedo to fly out to third base. Elliot Johnson then came up and hit a long fly to center field that Abecrombie got with no problems for the second out. Richard then came up and hit a deep ball to center that it seemed that Abecrombie has in his glove, but it was seen dropping to the grass for an error on the play. Matt Spring the
n came up as a pinch hitter and hit a RBI double down the third baseline to score Richard. Grave got Nowak to hit a ball to short that Maysonette quickly converted to stop the Rays rally. At this point, the score was 12-1 Rays.
In the top of the ninth inning, the Rays sent out Rodriguez again. He got Esposito to hit a soft grounder to Beckham at short, who quickly threw to get him for the first out. Smith then walked on 5 pitches and the Astros had man on for the third inning in a row. Gall then hit a single to right field to put two men on the in the last inning. Abecrombie then hit a single that scored Smith. But Rodriguez got out of the inning when Maysonette hit a ball towards Beckham, who tossed the ball to E. Johnson at second to force out C. Johnson for the last out of the game.
A couple of Rays players were working in unfamiliar position today, but none committed errors. Adam Kennedy was playing third base for only the first time in his major league career. He did have one ball squirt by him today, but he did man the hot corner today for the Rays. Zobrist was manning first today for the first time this spring and also did a great job defensively for the Rays. Brignac was again at second base and this might be a sign of things to come for the Rays. With Bartlett manning a secure shortstop position, Brignac might have to adjust to playing second in Triple-A to get a shot again in 2009 with the Rays.
Tomorrow the Rays do not play a Grapefruit League team. Instead they will have their only World Baseball classic tune-up game against Team Puerto Rican at Charlotte Sports Park. the team is expected to send Mitch Talbot ( RH ) to the mound tomorrow with Lance Cormier ( LH ), Winston Abreu ( RH ), and Chad Orvella ( RH ) scheduled to pitch in the Rays first night game, which will start at 7:05 pm.
The Puerto Rican team has a wealth of big name hitter and pitchers coming to Port Charlotte, tomorrow. They will be led by three excellent MLB level catchers in St Louis Cardinals starter Yadier Molina, National League Rookie of the Year, Geovany Soto of the Chicago Cubs and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. they will be catching pitches from the likes of Frenando Cabrera, Javier Lopez, J C Romero, Ian Snell and Javier Vazquez.
Some of the heavy hitter in the infield for Team Puerto Rico will be Carlos Delgado, Alex Cora, Andy Gonzalez and Felipe Lopez. In the outfield they will have Carlos Beltran, Alex Rios and Bernie Williams. this will be the first game type action for Williams since he left the New York Yankees in at the end of 2007. the team should have great hitting matched with good starting and relief pitching. They will play their first contest on March 7, 2009 against Team Panama in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Photo Credits today got to: Dirk Shadd of the St. Petersburg Times, and the Rice University Archives