Rays use Big Bats to beat Twins

                      

              Rays 7,       Twins 1


Jim Mone / AP

Same Score, Different Result.

It was  as Yogi Berra used to say, “Deja Vu all over again ” last night in the Metrodome. It had been a little over 24 hours since the Rays last saw a 7-1 score posted on a scoreboard, and this time they had the lead. Funny how 24 hours can also signal a change in a team in almost every facet of the game. In last night’s win over the Minnesota Twins, the Rays did situational hitting, aggressive baserunning, and waited on their perfect pitch at the plate to overtake the Twins 7-1 in the first game of their last series ever at the Metrodome.The Rays used their  past winning combination of great hitting and aggressive base running to earn their 8th win of the season.

But they did get some help from the shoddy catching performance of Twins catcher Jose Morales, who had to chase numerous balls around the huge backstop in the Metrodome last night. Both of his passed balls played a key role in getting Rays runners into scoring position. In the win, the Rays posted only their 17th win in 29 tries against the Twins at their domed home. But since September 6, 2006, the Rays are now 10-6 against the Twins, and are looking for two more wins in this series to win only their second series of the year before returning home for 6 games. The Rays scattered only 9 hits around the Metrodome,but several extra base hits did the most damage tonight against the Twins.

But the Rays did get some incredible hitting from the big boys in their order tonight as Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, and Pat Burrell went a combined 5 for 11 on the night with 5 RBI’s and 4 run scored for the Rays. This is the type of offense that the Rays envisioned when they signed Burrell in the off season. It had shades of the old “Hit Show” from the Rays past, but these guys can hit, unlike some of those hitters of that past era. The potential of these three in this lineup is off the charts in projections, but only the power hitting of Longoria and Pena had shown themselves before tonight. If the Rays do seem to harness this collective energy from the trio, it could be an early sign of things to come in the summer months for the Rays. But then again, the emergance of this trio might just be the thing the team needs to gain more confidence during their long first few months of consecutive games.


Jim Mone / AP

J. B. Stands for “Just Bashing”

I have to say I am liking this trade between the Minnesota Twins and the Rays more and more since the 2007 off season. In that trade, it seemed like Jason Bartlett might have been a last minute throw-in, or maybe even a secondary character in that trade, but since the beginning of 2008, he has been the heart and soul of the Rays middle infield. The guy is playing above his pojections in every sense of the word. He was said to have only adequate defensive skills, but he has paced this Rays defense into one of the American Leagues best defensive units since that trade. He  was aaid to have no speed and a limited bat according to scouting reports. Little did they know of his potential growing after his arrival in St. Petersburg, Florida.

He has only turned that into one of those pesky guys who you hate to have come play your team with his timely hits and aggressive base manners. He has easily become the best shortstop the Rays have ever had in their franchise history, and that current .371 batting average is not too shabby by any measures of the word. Heck, he is even above his 2008 home run pace by 200 percent after he hit his third homer into the first row of seats in left field in the top of the ninth inning. I am beginning to think he feels great in his Rays skin, and is beginning to assert himself accordingly. His offensive and defensive rise might just get him  a few glances come All-Star ballot time, and he totally deserves the shot at the event this year. I know he is my shortstop selection on all 25 of my entries.

Here is a nice kicker to the story on Bartlett and his former team. Since he came over to the Rays,he is hitting .391 against his former team. Last night, Bartlett again posted a 2 for 4 night with 2 runs scored and 2 RBIs. With his average now up to .371, he is tied for 10th in the American League in hitting with team mate Evan Longoria. Both hitters still have a shot at having the best month ever by a Rays player to start the season if they can maintain their averages above .366. In last night game, his RBI single to center field in the fifth inning scored Dioner Navarro, who also singled to lead-off the inning for the Rays.

Bartlett might be hitting number 9 in the Rays lineup, but he is surely an extra lead-off man at the bottom of the order. Where ever the team has seemed to hit him, at the top spot, number 8 or in the 9-hole, he has responded this season with timely hits and being a  real pest on the base paths. And here he was not even the spotlight player on his November 28,2007 trade to the Rays. Bartlett has done nothing but shine bright ever since that time, and makes you now think he was the gem the Rays wanted all along.

             
              Jim Mone / AP

Niemann Again Impresses Us

I am again wondering why I was drinking the media’s kool ade on Jeff Niemann this year. Maybe it was the past minor league situation where his health and his pitching never seemed to synch correctly for the Rays. Maybe I have lingering night mares of those first five batter in Baltimore, or maybe I have put the 6 foot nine inch guy under the microscope so hard, I can see into his birthmarks. I have to say that I am beginning to think the Rays were totally correct in keeping the giant and letting Jason Hammel find greener pastures in Colorado.

Niemann did look good in Spring Training, but sometimes the spring can be a bad time to evaluate a pitcher’s future. Since that five-man wrecking crew episode, the guy has donned a stellar 2.53 ERA over his starts, and has looked great out of the wind-up. With that said, he has seemed to be in trouble when he does have someone on base. With that in mind, maybe he should do all his Bullpen session and side work from now on in the stretch instead. That would give him more of a comfort zone when he is pitching out of that mode with guys on base, and maybe he could even find a fast way to the plate to avoid base runners teasing him on the base paths.

Now I know that a guy 6 foot 9 inches takes a ling time to get the ball to the plate, but there are solutions to this. Too bad we do not have a Inter-League series against the San Francisco Giants this season. I think if he talked on the side with Randy Johnson, one of the original “giraffes” in the present rotations, he would and could feel more secure and confident on the mound. I am not even going to try and put myself in his place. First I might get a nosebleed from the height ( just kidding, maybe), but I have never been a pitcher.

But Brian Anderson, the Rays Assistant Pitching Coach and Television Commentator told story last night about future Hall-of-Famer Gregg Maddox and how he used to always do any of his  weekly off the mound pitching work out of the stretch to make himself more comfortable in this type of pitching. That might be an easy answer to Niemann’s problem. He might not feel as comfortable and confident not letting his wingspan flow out as he does when he releases the ball in the classic wind-up motion. This might just be a small adjustment to you and me, but a guy of giant height, it might be a huge change in motion and mechanics.

The end result is that Niemann right now is throwing the ball better than most of the Rays staff. His ERA has quickly come down from a lofty 10.13 ERA after that April 11th contest in Baltimore to a more  impressive 4.43 ERA after tonight’s win, his second in a row for the Rays. And do not forget, during his last start, Niemann was no-hitting the Mariners through 4 innings, one of his best pitching performances as a professional. Confidence and becoming more secure in his “Rays” skin might be coming for the tall rght-hander. His emergance on the mound will be a great addition to the Rays staff in 2009.

           
                  Jim Mone / AP 

Monday Mumblings and Muses

****  Carlos Pena is currently leading the majors in home runs this season with 9. His  2-run shot last night in Minnesota was never in doubt once he took his swing from a lazy knuckleball from Twins reliever R A Dickey. Pena is now only two homers short of Jonny Gomes 2006 record for April for the Rays. And Pena only need one more to tie Jose Canseco’s 10 home run mark set in 1999.  This is the thrid time in his career that he has had at least 9 homers in a month as a player. He did it first with 13 homers in September 2007, and then again with 9 in August 2008.

****  Former Rays Jason Hammel took the mound for his first start for the Colorado Rockies. He ended up getting rocked early as he only went 3 innings last night and gave up 7-hits and 5-runs in the start. He only survived 78 pitches, but the Rockies did bust through and take a 12-7 win from the San Diego Padres. Hammel left with the score 4-2 in favor of the Padres, but in the bottom of the third and fourth inning, the Rockies plated 4 runs in each frame to secure their second stragith win, and their seventh of the season.

****  It is time for the 2009 Rays to begin to start some streaks of their own. Prior to the start of this season, the Rays won their first season opening series for the first time since 2002. From that point they have struggled and never secured another series win. This current streak of not winnig five straight series is their worst stretch since the summer of 2007 when they did not win a series from June 25 to July 15th.  In 2008, the Rays never lost more than two consecutive series the entire year.  

**** With the Rays beginning the year playing 22 of their first 35 on the road, it is important that the team improves upon their almost .500 mark on the road from 2008. Also weighting heavy on the Rays minds is the fact they are playing 40 of their next 41 games in a row for the first time in franchise history. In 2008, the Rays played only 17 of their first 51 games away from Tropicana Field. So in order for the Rays to again take their place at the top of the American League East, they will have to become extreme road warriors in 2009.

 

8 Comments

I definitely picked up Jason Bartlett a little while ago in Fantasy and I am loving it.
Melissa
http://clemsongirlbaseball.mlblogs.com

I know,
I was going to try and trade with you about Bartlett, but I did not think I had any one you wanted at that time.
He has been the silent killer for the Rays over the last year or so. You do not see him as flashy, so he goes a bit unnoticed until he slices a single up the middle.
He is our shortstop samurai.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Rays – I’m surprised at the slow start by TB. I really think the team is better then their record currently shows. I’d be lying if I said I was disappointed with their start (Sorry – you know who I like in the AL East!) – but I don’t see this going on for much longer.

Julia
http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

I look at this series as the calm before the storm.
We do not have to get amped up for the Boston series, that is a gimme.
But the Twins can also do more damage to us than we imagine if we let them take this series.
Getting to finally move upward should be the order of the day. Tonight’s game is going to be another barn-burner with Lariano and Shields.
Hopefully we do not have another “King Felix ” moment tonight.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Carlos Pena is this season’s Superman. Wow. What numbers! And when I say “deja vu all over again” it has nothing to do with deja vu and everything to do with 100 beautiful women and 3 ugly ones.
–Jeff
http://redstatebluestate.mlblogs.com/

I have to say Jeff, you a way to visualize things.
I have never let myself think of the ugly women, I just think of them as the waitress, the drive-thru girl, and the cashier at the 7-11.
Wow, that is going to get me in trouble.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

I’m really not looking forward to facing Niemann the next time our teams go at it. He sounds scary.

- http://janeheller.mlblogs.com

When he walks to the mound he reminds me of those lunky basketball players that used to just kind of lumber down the halls and change light bulbs for the janitors.
I think the term is “gentle giants”, but I am not sure.
He is a great guy, and is learning fast up here. Considering he has less than 10 major league starts, he has improved tremendously in the last 4 starts.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

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