July 2009

Reality Check: Pat “The Faucet” Burrell

 


Ben Margot/ AP

I think it is time people. I am in a mood of discontentment and astonishment into the  further downward spiral that has taken over the hitting of Pat “the Faucet” Burrell. You have gone from a slugger who was celebrating with a World Championship, to a guy struggling to hit above the .250 mark this season. It is time for an Intervention. It is time for the stark truth with nothing held back and the hopes that the reality of the situations  basic shock and awe turn him towards a state of offensive recovery.

You are currently pulling this team down with him now, and that is something I will not have happen without recourse. I will not let a sinking ship devour this team and take them from playoff consideration. This is a pefect spot for the notion of “put up or shut up” right now. It is the time of the season when good teams churn out wins, and the bad teams just try and play the ‘spoiler” role. Pat, the Rays played that “spoiler” role for 10 seasons, and we did not like it then, and we hate it even more now that we have tasted the fruits of success.

Do we really need to show you that tough love concept to get you to  buckle down in this offense. Do I have to go all “Philly” on you and boo and jeer to get you so frustrated you want to succeed again. The hard-nosed, hard shell Philly faithful were not always your fans in the past. You had a chance to gain a new set of admirers here in Tampa Bay, but that might be wasted by a sub-par batting average. Maybe it is time to put out the stone cold demeanor and stark reality your signing might have been  mistake. Come on Pat, prove me wrong, I dare ya!.

Have you considered this Mr Burrell, that before your Busch Gardens inspired corkscrew up and down hitting streak that you have not performed even to within a 10th of your contract price. There are guying hitting in the minor leagues for under $ 65,000 a year that would run circles around you right now, and would kill to be in your shoes.

We had a guy here once named Vinny Castilla. Ask him how it felt to have a losing team’s crowd boo him on the field at the beginning of a game. Ask them how he seemed to give up before the first pitch because of the vocal barrage that hit him at third base in the top of the first inning. You are so lucky to not have to go out in the field and get met with a blanket of boos and jeers before you step to the plate the first time in the game. You have had the Rays dugout as your personal cocoon to keep you from the boo-birds who can not stand to see another DH candidate hit under .250 for the season. You just have to pop up four or five times a game from that warm environment……..must be nice.

And we are all over this urban legend that the switch from the National League to the American League is such a drain on your swing and batting persona. Get over it Pat, because we are totally over it.  We gave you until the All Star break as a courtesy, now it is time to shine. We got your fellow Rays teammate Gabe Gross last April 24th in a trade with the Brewers, a NL team and he did okay for his first season.

He made up for his lack of bat power with contact hitting and spectacular plays in right field. Oh, and he only hit .209 in the NL before coming over and hitting .239 in the American League. What Gross did that you seem to be missing is put his head down and concentrate on his hitting, and some memorable shots began to happen for him. And his season seemed to blossom in August, which is just one day away right now. 

What  great Rays feats have you done besides your game-winning HR on July 7th against Toronto for your first walk-off hit as a Ray. How can that even compare with  the year Gross in 2008. Well, coming into August, Gabe had hit only .215 for the season before he went on a bit of a roll and rocked to a .293 average just in August 2008.  That also began a time where he showcased a few special Gross inspired moments with the Rays. Yes, it was only August 6th when he hit that 437-foot 2-run homer that started the Rays rally against Cleveland.

Or maybe it was the fact that 14 of his 38 RBI last season either tied or helped the Rays take the lead. Or if you really want me to add insult to injury, maybe it was the fact that Gross hit 4 HR and 11 RBI in that month to help propel the Rays towards their first playoff run.  That is almost as many as you have so far in 2009, and he did it in one month. See Pat, you only have to look down the bench for a guy who was in the same spot as you in 2008. But Gross put in his licks at the plate, and the ball began to fall for him. Baseball is a simple game. You hit the ball, you catch the ball, you throw the ball. Everything else is just repetition.

Now this is not to mean you are a quitter or even remotely considering mailing in the rest of the season. But the reality is that both you and Carlos Pena right now are pulling this offense towards a bad  spiral in the abyss. The hole that you both are presenting in the 5 & 6 spot in the line-up are beginning to wear this club down to the bone. The guys above you and below you have done their jobs, and some of them are having banner seasons. But the middle of the batting order is a dead zone. Oh, do not think I am not angry right now Pat, but I am trying to kill you with kindness in hopes it snaps you into the right frame of mind.

Remember that Castilla dude I mentioned before, well he also tried to mail in the season and the Rays cut him like a cancer out of their team. And that was when we were a losing team. Why should we allow some one who can not even hit his weight to still take up valuable at bats when you have a hitter like Willy Aybar sitting next to you chomping at the bit for a chance to play. Last season Aybar took full advantage of his spot roles and became a instant success in the Rays system. Do you think he is not wondering why he is not getting some of your at bats? I know I wonder that at times.

You really need to go down there and shake Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s hand. Because I know if this was still a ‘Lou Pinella” based ship, you would be below deck scrubbing the pewter instead of holding a 34 inch bat in your hands. Do I really have to tell all these people and the baseball world why I have renamed you “The Faucet”. I was hoping you might get going and I would not have to vocally throw it out there time and time again why you deserve a new nickname. Oh, I am saving “The Bat” for when it is right, but right now, the other one is so perfect for you. Just think of me as your friendly Roto-Rooter man.


Jim Prishing / AP

“The Faucet” is because you can go very Hot and ex
tremely Cold at any moment during a game or series this season, but you never remain warm for too long. I guess the word “streaky” fits you like a glove right now. And I will be the first to pull back your old nickname if you can just put the bat to the ball to manufacture some offense.  Last time I thought you were hot you embarrassed me when I put it into a blog you were “heating up.” You went on a tear of 6 strikeouts in the next two games and slumped further into the abyss.

You started out the season on such a high note hitting your first Rays HR against the New York Yankees in the home opener. There was excitement in the air from the banners going up into the rafters and the anticipation of the new season. All was good in Burrell-land. But then the stark reality hit and you did not get your second Rays homer until your old team came here during the Inter League schedule. Your old team mate Joe Blanton served you up a mistake breaking ball that you hit out for only your second boomer of the year. Worst yet, you went 33 games and 104 at bats between homers after averaging 33 homers a year for the past 4 seasons.

And now as we are about to hit the stretch run, and you are coming off a July where you are hitting only .232 since July 5th. That might be a Burrell improvement for 2009, but it is taking down the hopes of  a Rays second playoff berth. And for that I can not let you slide Pat. We yearned for that excitement again. And you are a key piece to getting that chance again. August is a new month, and can be a good starting point for you to improve and show that you are the Rays type of player.

Sure you might work hard on and off the field beyond our eyes, but it is what we see between the lines that matter to us. You might have the admiration of your teammates and the staff, but we do not see that side of you here. We have seen the reserved and simply weak side of you so far in 2009. Oh, I want to throw you under the bus so bad, but we need you right now. We want you to make us admit we were wrong. We want you to show us that you got the guts and the glory still within yourself.

We want that Burrell that was advertised to us in the  Phillies statistics over the last 4 years. We want those averages of 99 RBIs and 103 walks to show their faces. We want to see the guy that only trails the Nationals Adam Dunn in walks over the past 4 years with 413 bases on balls. We want to see the same desire and passion that got you noticed in Philly after you were drafted in the First Round out of that quiet school in Coral Gables,Florida. Show us that University of Miami swagger again that we have seen for years from their athletes.

Be true to the fans, and be true to yourself and all will be fine.  In the 39 games since you came back off the DL we have seen basically shortstop numbers out of you. And I do not mean Jason Barlett-type numbers. You have hit only .209 with 4 HR, 6 doubles and 11 RBI. Those are not the type of  power numbers a guy hitting fifth should produce. It is a no surprise that the guy hitting in the eight spot, Dioner Navarro is kicking your butt at the plate, and he is having a down year.


Steve Nesius / AP

Your average with runners in scoring position is .292 this season. Not great, but it is showing you have had opportunities to drive in runs and produce. You just have to put some Scotch bonnets into the mix and flame up that average a bit to show that you have the killer instinct. Either that or let Aybar take your at bats and do not let the Rays suffer with you. As a key signing this off season, it is your duty as a teammate to leave it all out on the field every night. I have to admit Pat, some nights it seems that your English Bulldog Elvis has left a firm example of your at bats on the Field Turf. 

If that is to imply your bat leave a doggie residue, then so be it. This is the time to shine. One more game and a new month is upon you. I am not telling you to take tonight off, but to start the ball, get the hits and show the hustle  we know is within you and the crowd will again cheer. If not, that smattering of jeers during the Yankee series will just fester and grow until it can not be stopped by hiding in the dugout. It is time to man up and produce Pat.

I can not say it any other way. It is not like you are going to refund any of your salary back to the team because of your downfall. And it is not like we expect you to hit .750 the rest of the season either. Get some good hits, run well executed plays on the bases and the game will flow back into the positive for you. If you can not do it for yourself, do it for the kids in the stands that still believed in the Burrell magic. Do it for the women who have swooned when they saw you at Fan Fest only to be disappointed that the object of their affection is heading towards the bottom. 

Do it for that guys to the left and right of you in the dugout. You know they are giving 110 percent every night and they have failed too this season but have not slacked off in the least. And last, do it for Elvis. That is right, do it for your English Bulldog. If it means bringing him to the game like you did in Philly  the second hafl of the season every night, then outfit the car so you can do it. Westy will find someone to dog sit him for you. Heck, I will watch him if you like……but he better like french fries.


Brian Blanco / AP

But most of all, do it for yourself. You got that beautiful ring this April in Philadelphia during a ceremony you flew in especially for that day. You got to hear the cheers and the noise that winning can spawn. You got to taste and smell what winning can do for you and a team. But most of all, you got to see why you have worked so hard all those years. If you can not do it for anyone else listed above, do it for yourself.

You do not want to be 60 years old and wonder if you could have done better. I know I did not go out of the game on my own terma and I see regrets and mistakes all the time I would change in a heartbeat. You especially do not want to sit back after the 2009 season and bask in the negative and let it consume you. It is time to shine.

Come on Pat, I do not want to really get upset and fully call you out onto the carpet again this season. This was a mild, nice intervention compared to the first two drafts of this blog. Maybe it is because I still believe the season is far from over. Maybe it is because I faith in my heart until it is plucked out by my sense of reality. If you can not do it for anyone else, do it for yourself Pat. You and I both know the drive and passion it takes to win. Now all you have to do is apply a little elbow grease, spread your stance a little bit and drive the ball. The rs
t will follow……trust me.

My Interview with Victor, the Caveman from GEICO

 


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Prior to the fifth inning of last night’s “rubber match” against the New York Yankees I got to sit down and do a short 1-on-1 interview with an Cleo award winning icon.  No, it was not actress Kate Hudson, but it was someone we have gotten to know and have enjoyed watching for their lighthearted humor in their  classic television commercials. I  had the honor to take about five minutes with Victor,the Caveman and we chatted in the newly painted vibrant orange Checker’s Bullpen Cafe  during the top of the inning about life, art and the constant similarities of fame and recognition (or that was the idea).

Rays Renegade: Victor, thank you for taking the time during  this thrilling game tonight to chat with me. It is amazing that you can give me some of your valuable time today to chat here in this great setting just off the Rays Bullpen area. So what do you think of the Rays home? It does have some wild things about it.

Victor:   First off, let me thank the Tampa Bay Rays and their cowbell wielding fans for the opportunity to take in such a great game environment and check out this techno 1970′s style indoor stadium. It is amazing that it is always 72 degrees in this white dome. And it has a Teflon coating like the paint on my Corvette, and you can see the  bright sunlight through the top. Simply Amazing! But why is it tilted? Did someone not put a firm foundation in one end?

Rays Renegade:  Well, Victor, thank you for that. It is our home, even with it imperfections. It is actually a economic factor put into the original design of  6.5 degree tilt in the building to recoup some of the construction and decreases the volume of air under the dome by 16.8 million cubic feet by taking a lean towards the outfield fences. It is said to save massive amount of energy and electric because of the funky shape. Plus this structure is built to withstand winds up to 115 mph during a hurricane

Victor:  Hey, I dig funky man, but this place is just insane with the catwalks and the Rays tank, and even that guy in the Centerfield Street crashing through the building by the taco stand. Speaking of funky, you ever see me dance moves video. Classic Jazz hands moves man, you would love it! Oh, and check out that video of me on “the View” with the ladies. Whoopie was loving me that day.

Rays Renegade: Uh, yeah. The Rays Touch Tank is actually in conjunction with the Florida Aquarium over in Tampa to let kids and adults get the joy of petting over 20 real live cownose rays without fear of the bards or shuffling your feet in the sand. I am surprised they did not let you up into the catwalks during BP to just survey the place from a different angle? You know the center bottom of the cupola is about 225 feet above the playing surface.


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Victor:  Dude, that was not going to be in the cards. I am not the kind of guy to go swinging up in the rafters. Man is meant to be on terra firma, not up in the fabricated steel of a lop-sided building. But anyways, did you see those fake and negative drawings on the wall at the Outback Steakhouse over in the Third Base Food Court?


Rays Renegade:
What are you talking about? I thought those were Aborigines drawing depicting life in the Australian outback country. Do they have a negative imagery we do not know about? and why do you know that again? Come on Victor, you know something here.


Victor:
First of all, just because I have long hair and a beard doesn’t make me out to be a scientist or master in the ways of archeology here. I put in my long hours at the salt mines working just like the rest of Tampa Bay.  And by the way, I am a practicing Paleolithic investigator that specializes in the art and culture of the “wild men” theory brought about in the 17th Century by Thomas Hobbes. I dig his theory on materialism.

Rays Renegade: Oh, you mean the British philosopher Thomas Hobbes. I never knew that the art of philosophy can bring about a job description, but I guess anything is possible. So you dabble in the fine arts and ancient cave drawing? How is it you got to know a thing or two about that Era of life?


Victor:
What is with the sarcasm there buddy! Hey, I am someone who is investigating the meaning of life “without civilization” that Hobbes taught back about the time of the English Civil War in 1642.  That during the Middle Ages these “wild men” were often unshaven and grew massive beards and long hair to define who they were in society.  And that their unusual appearance led to them wielding sticks and club for protection and their survival in cave dwelling was for safety, not pleasure. It was a dark time to be different.


Rays Renegade
:  Sorry, did not mean to rattle your cage about your ancestry. But what about those drawing in the Outback booth again? And why do they seem so “fake” or unoriginal to you?


Victor:
Not meaning to be so over dramatic, but that old commercial series we did for such a long time will not die. And I have spawned some trust and security issues because of it. Again, thank you for not asking about that advertising part of my life.
Okay, the drawing are really not badly racial or utterly fake in nature, they just portray the “corporate” settlers of the region eating Blooming Onions and Steak N ‘Srooms instead of cooking and killing their prey like their ancestors. It is another example of this advertising mumbo jumbo to look like an authentic ritual drawing that is basically a subconscious advertising tool by the corporation that spawned the Outback name. It is a symbolic drawing of people eating……..fast food.


Rays Renegade:
  Wow! I usually come to a baseball game to watch history unfold, not explore the deep. dark secret of Corporate America.  I guess I will look at that wall a bit differently from now on. Thank you for that. So, have you been around this area before?


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Victor:  Well, I had distant relatives who lived here a long time ago and spoke highly about the seafood and the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but this is my first time outside my area of the country. Back where I live, we do not get these balmy days with a shower in the afternoon and evenings.  It actually has been a wild time seeing a sunset to the west, and a lightning storm to the east. Amazing stuff, and you guys hide beneath a dome from it all.

Rays Renegade:  Okay.  That is a whole ball of wax in itself. The “Dome or no Dome theories”. With all of that in mind. Victor where do you cal home, you know lay your head at night and look up at the stars and dream?


Victor:
  Oh, there is that sarcastic wit I was told about with you. Are you trying to imply that I was born in a cave somewhere amongst the Catskill Mountains of New York or that I am a descendant someone in the hills of Kentucky or Tennessee, or that I have a striking similarity to some of the fans here tonight wearing pinstripes?


Rays Renegade:
No, that is not my intention, but since you brought it up, you are not from the region of New York or New Jersey then?  You strike me more as a guy from South Philly, maybe even from Chinatown. So where does Victor call home?

Victor: I live in the metropolis of New York City, but I am not a guy who lives in the Bronx, Brooklyn or even Queens. Because of the  continuing success of the advertising campaign and their residual checks, I can afford to live life to the fullest. Why don’t you just call me a Soho kind of guy, you know the bohemian, the relic, the “caveman”.  I live on the Lower East side, but I am a closet Mets fan.

Rays Renegade:  Man, chill. I am just seeking the truth, nothing else.  I just felt that you were hiding something from us here. The truth shall set you free Victor. Dude why are you seeming so paranoid right now? Do you feel like someone is watching you?
Oh My Gosh. Dude, you are on camera right now on the Jumbotron. So with this I have to ask, have you even won anything at a sporting event before tonight?


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And at that defining moment, the Interview was definitely over for the night. Not because Victor or myself were totally at odds with each other with our questions and answers, but as he had just looked up after my last statement and he saw he was nightly winner of the “GEICO Fan of the Game”.

And with that he went a bit hyper on me and began to run  around the Cafe area towards the playing field and he eventually flew over the 3 foot blue wall and streaked towards the GEICO advertisement in rightfield. At that point he flung his fists in rage at the plastic  GEICO sign covering the outfield wall and fell to the turf in a heap of frustration and defeat before security began to storm towards him.

It seems that the pressures of being both a caveman and a celebrity had done its part on him tonight. As the security guards took a hold of him and were  physically dragging him from the field all I could hear him mutter over and over again was the phrase “Why could they have not just stayed with the animal theme. Why us!”

So as they lead him off the field and towards a holding cell deep under the cavernous walls of Tropicana Field I wonder what would become of Victor. As he came off the field you could notice a distinctive change in his appearance and in his demeanor. He spoke briefly of the demons and resentments within him, but was this a cry for help, or a reassurance of the way his people have been singled out in recent years.


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He had become more primal, more like, a caveman. And it was a pity. I still had a few interesting questions on his local appearances in this area, and what is in his immediate future. But for right now the future might be a little chat with the fine uniformed members of the St. Petersburg Police Department,and the Rays management team, then depending on the outcome of that chat, maybe a short ride to another location.

I hope to some day get a post-incident interview with him to talk about the event and clear the air once and for all about the unusual behavior that bared more resemblance to his ancestors than he ever imagined. There was so much more to him than just that short interview. The commercials only show a small side of his people and their struggle for acceptance within our society. For Victor right now, life is more like a reality show set to a Sit-Com soundtrack instead of living large and in charge.


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Trader’s, Here’s Your Sign!

 

Comedian Bill Engvall has made a long career noting the usual and unusual that myself and our neighbors here in th South do every day in his classic comedy routine and song “Here’s Your Sign”. But I think it would be so much better if we could all 30 MLB clubs right now to even post some kind of sign somewhere in the ballpark where the fans and the other teams can see it to even have a faint idea of what is going on as we come into turn 4 of the Trading Deadline. Yes, I just made a NASCAR reference………….Here’s your sign!

I mean this is the time of the year where we want to know if our team is “Closed” for business and basically set for the last run of the season, and that other teams should not even waste their AT&T rollover minutes, because we do not want to wheel and deal to ruin the chemistry of the team. Who is truly to say who is a “Buyer” or even a “Seller” right now without a For Sale or even a Closed sign dangling off the GM’s desk or mounted somewhere near the owner’s box of a stadium. If need be, we can always go down to the stadium receiving dock and get some cardboard, a sharpie and make the sign for you………..Here’s Your Sign!

But then there are teams that acting like they are game meister Monte Hall and have options from behind the curtain in a suspected trade. They are not being totally upfront and showing their true cards right now. I think that is the option being handed out in Toronto right now.  They want a King’s Ransom for a “Doc”. Is it worth it? Can it be done without crippling my farm system for 4 seasons? And will they throw in a parting fit if we leave the sweepstakes as losers? If you think they will offer minor league pieces as consolation prizes………Here’s Your Sign!

But how can we tell if a team is just teasing the market or just might be testing the waters?  Maybe a sign in glitter and gold leaf made on a sheet of pewter would indicate it is going to take a blockbuster deal. Or maybe just a simple Lowe’s/Home Depot bought “Clearance” sign if you are just shaving some dollar signs off your budget and want to look frugal doing it. Or maybe you are in the running right now for quality,not quantity. This type of team could sport a “In Search of…” sign with a big enough space for other teams to fill in the blank with their guys names who are on the block. But then again, you could be upfront and just list your shopping list and make it easier for team to showcase talent for you. And for those teams……………Here’s Your Sign!


And that is the hard thing to read at this juncture in the Trade Deadline. You hear multiple arrangements with several teams for the same guy. It is not like the guy is a slaughtered steer that can be portioned off and deliver to prospective buyers without anyone knowing the difference. Teams have poked and checked out the “meat” to be sure they are getting their dollars worth. Some teams have even been bold enough to say they are on the fence right now as to their indication to be on the buying or selling end of the market. Well, you better decide quick Mr Man before the market flies by you and you are stuck with that $ 3.5 million reliever you wanted to sell so bad this summer. If you get stuck holding onto him because you are shy……….Here’s Your Sign!

Okay,let’s take the Player du Jour, Cleveland Indian pitcher Cliff Lee as an example here. And I did not pick him because I like his first name. He currently has about 5 teams that are kicking his tires trying to find the right combination of talent and maybe even money to pick him off the “For Sale” rack in the Indians Team Store. And there is a standing line of teams that are eager and willing to fork over a bevy of prospects, and maybe a MLB ready guy to get the  former AL Cy Young winner. But what if this is a ploy by the Indians front office to pick and choose their trade partners for the Fall, and not  at this moment. If that is the true actions, then I have no problem saying to you…………Here’s Your Sign!

And just the fact that Lee makes every staff in the league, even Boston’s better by just walking into the clubhouse should be an indication of the power that this guy can have on the last two months of the season. But don’t you think there should be a sign around his neck like the  options sticker on the back window of a car telling you what it is going to take for you to drive him off the lot and into your rotation? I seem to think that the requirements and the needed players to complete a deal anymore depend on how many times an hour the phone is going to ring in the GM’s office. If the interest is heavy, the price goes up. If it is light, well then he becomes a bargain basement piece.
Since when should a baseball player or even a car be subject to the amount of calls or responses via the Internet to the price. Well, that kind of dealing did make the guys who started E Bay millionaires……………..Here’s Your Sign!

We know certain teams that are in the “Buyers” market right now. Anyone within 5 to 6 games of the division top spot or Wild Card is clamering to find the pieces to boost their squad towards the champagne wishes and Skoal dreams. And I am totally fine with that. Hitting the playoff is a financial windfall for some teams, while others it is just a rite of passage. We know that the Red Sox, New York Yankees and the Rays in the AL East are looking for pieces to twist the standings in their favor over the next two months.  But why is there not a sign somewhere on either Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, Yankee used car salesman Brian Cashman, or the quiet, silent guy in the corner, Rays VP Andrew Friedman’s neck? Why is there not a neon sign, or even a message board imprinted on their shirts to broadcast their intentions this week.  Wait a minute, GM’s showing their intentions to the public. Oh heck, I deserve  a sign for that last idea…………..Here’s My Sign!

But come on people, do we not want to know if our team is seriously going for the gusto, or just doing a Public Relation posturing move. We all know someone has to lose, but sometimes a team will thrust its nose in there with no intention of giving up the top choice cuts for a player who might just be a rental for the rest of the season, or who might financially ruin the upcoming year’s payroll. Perception might be the biggest winner or loser this week.  We all know that Boston and New York are 100 percent buyers with an intention to put distance between themselves and their two biggest rivals.  If they did not want to push towards the top……….You guessed it, there fans would hand deliver their signs…….Here’s Your Sign!

Maybe in the past teams in the AL East top spots might stay pat if they felt the chemistry of their teams were strong, but there is a huge bucket of cash sitting there come playoff time from concessions to ticket sales that motivate moves that two years ago might be viewed as unsound. So you buy into a player/pitcher that will help you gain 3 to 5 games. But unlike the past, those games might be the difference between a Wild Card and a Divisional title. So you nibble some from column A and maybe steal a sliver from column B to keep those players out of the competition’s fold. Some call it a shrewd business strategy, others call it raiding the cookie jar…………Here’s Your Sign!

So if you are a team like Tampa Bay who is looking for a Filet Mignon on a meatloaf budget, or maybe even a Boston or New York who will do anything to keep a guy off your foes rosters, this is the time of year to be a salesman. Sometimes these guys need to dress up in those loud suits with the bold ties and come straight at use and tell us what we need. You know the type. The guy in the used car lot that come up to you telling you “I think you would look great in this car”, and you wonder what he said to the other 30 people who looked into the windows at the interior. This is the time for deals and disappointment. Someone has to win, someone has to lose. But thank goodness they do not have a sign for that yet……….or do they?   Here’s Your Sign!

Flirting with the Lady

 


Steve Nesius/ AP

Everyone within the baseball circles have met this groupie. She is one of those obsessed fan-types that can either cling to your team for a single game, or even make a run by staying attached at the hip with the entire team for about a week to 10 days and make everyone around her feel like a million dollars.

She has been known to spark parties or bring down all levels of excitement with a total loss of emotion, confidence and even a sense of what is happening at the time. She is one tough lady,and for that reason right now, the Tampa Bay Rays need to keep her tight and happy right now.

I mean this lady in the past week or so has taken even this team to the highs of a 4-game road trip where even before the last out, you did not know the outcome of the game, to getting smacked so hard with a reality check all they could do is watch as a miracle 18th Perfect Game unfolded in front of the team as they assembled at the dugout rail.

Some say the team was gracious during the event and down-right classy in their moves and statements following that game. I am thinking it was more shock that the lady decided right before game time to wander over to the other dugout and got real chummy with White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen and his team.

And even after the Rays did leave the Windy City with the series victory not in their hands, this fickle lady hitched another ride with the Rays up to Toronto where she again showed them promise and excitement before finally teasing them in the last game with another unusual loss.


Steve Nesius / AP

And at this time of the year this lady can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. And right now she is straddling the fence so tight she might get splinters before the week is out. But she also can be a bit unpredictable even changing sides along with her friend Mo at any moment within the game. Some might not call her fickle for what she can do to put a false sense of security into so many, then pull the rug out without notice or reason, but that is just how she is, and she is fine to live her life that way, and treat people with a bi-polar kind of  excitement and sorrow.

I know I have eluded to her name for a long time in this blog. Maybe that is to save some special treatment from her. But maybe it is because right now with 2 3rds of the season already gone, I think we need her more than ever right now. But you got to admit, the last road trip was billed as “the most important of the season” for many reasons. There was also talk of it being ” the road trip that might define the season.”

That in itself is a bit daunting if you think about it. And this lady had a huge part to play in how it was going to be remembered. But those phrases also showed a bit of fear and  a sense of impending doom because this lady has not been firmly in our camp this season. Oh, she has wandered in and out, and made for some exciting stories and adventures, but she has not taken roost within the Trop., and has not adorn the team as she did in 2008.

I mean last night against the New York Yankees in a home stand some people are also throwing out the “must have” logo because of our 5 games against divisional foes, people are already climbing the seats just to see if she is again attached to this team. Last night she was not in our side of the stadium, but she was here in all her glory. But I think for one night she might have been caught up in the spotlight of seeing Kate Hudson’s smile beaming over the rail of the Visitor’s dugout. But tonight is another story. 

I think she will give the Rays the final answers within the next few days. She will either smile on them for victories, or just bat her sad eyes at us in defeat. But everyone in the stadium is subject to her charms and attitude. She is as addictive as Swine Flu right now, but as deadly as a Black Widow spider.

But her poison can cure as well as kill. I think it is time I introduce all of you to this lady. She is everywhere, maybe even within your team right now, but she spreads herself thin some days, but other it seems either you or your competitor has her firmly in their grasp.


The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word karma as: “The force generated by a person’s actions to determine the natures of the person next existence.” Now I am not a huge believer in the Eastern mystic or religious philosophies, and I am surely not versed with the realms of Buddhism/Hinduism, but I can believe in that essence of something beyond us making some of these wins and losses happen right now.



Steve Nesius / AP


I am not going to ramble into the college teaching of existentialism, which is basically the philosophy of individual existence and personal responsibility for free will in the absence of certain knowledge of what is right and wrong.  I barely remember the words much less the actions and reactions of the realm of self-awareness that holds doing the right thing as a high regard. But what else can you put into words to say what is going on right now with the Rays?

Why not hit the realization that something beyond our simple mind’s eye could be playing with their destiny cards and deciding the Rays fate this season. Is it so out there to think that karma doesn’t exist, and if it did, why not be used by a team like the Rays that play the game the right way and always strive for more day in, and day out on the field.  But  if you believe in good karma, you have to also believe in bad karma, it is  the natural balance in this world.

And could that be the only reason for some of the things that happened in the game last night? We all know that  at a point last night if Carlos Pena had hit one over the fence with two men on last night it would have brought the Rays back to within one run, or a 7-6 game at that point. But karma decided she sis not want it to go like that, so she made Pena do his thing by striking out and di
sappointing the home crowd.

I never said she was a good woman, sometimes the serpent in her can just be….well evil. But maybe the Rays were not playing up to the karma gods attention and they were again in awe of the guys in gray last night. So they decided to tweak the system a bit and throw in a money wrench by making the Rays show just how much they wanted it last night.

Did karma decide to wake the Rays up last night? Or will today’s game be the one that awakens the demon within karma? Well, since I am writing this before the game, it has yet to be played out upon the course of human events in this universe. But if I see karma in the stands, I am going to sit on her until she promises to stay with us until October.

Man, I am starting to talk like Rod Sterling.  But isn’t karma based on the basic cause and effect ritual of forces beyond our control?  Could the Rays have already gotten their allotment of karma-phala, or “fruits” from the mystical lady. Now that I am into this, I might as well try and explain a bit about my concept of karma.

You see, it was explained to me by a college professor in East-West Humanities that we as humans produce karma in fours ways in our daily lives: 1) through thoughts, 2) through words, 3) through actions that we perform ourselves, 4) through actions other do through our instructions. So there we go, we have the team complexed into a ball to submit their personal karma through item numbers 1-3, while Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his staff have the directive of item number 4, which is their game instruction to the team.



Steve Nesius / AP

Let me tell you right now I am spinning around in my blue seat trying to really get a grip on this unforeseen mystical power that we want to believe in and cherish it on our side. And maybe the Rays did have a huge burst of good karma in Kansas City and had a bit left over for the first few games in Toronto. But we might not have known we had a limited amount of this fruit, or we might not have picked it so fast, or so often this season. 

Today might be the day that the Rays will have to pool those “happy thoughts”. From this day forward, the Rays actually hold their destiny in their own hands the rest of the way through the season. With two series against divisional foes New York and Boston right here at home, the Rays can pick up ground and establish themselves again in 2009 as the team to watch out for the rest of the year. If not, it is going to be a long 60 games until the end of the season.

I am sorry, but I want to believe in karma and the belief system that good begets good…yada, yada, yada. But I have a bad agnostic streak that pops up every now and then. I know it is the Rays race to loose, and maybe this karma thing does have a great influence on the whole thing. But so does faith and belief in something, and it is not mired within religious boundaries. Heck, we could even throw the aspect of luck into this equation and maybe make more sense of it all.

We all know that James Shields has not been the luckiest pitcher this season. He has thrown more than a few awesome games that went down in flames in front of him without provocation this season. And he has also seen other starters have the showing of their season with him on the other side of the mound. But do we throw that all into a powdered mix of karma, faith, luck and determination and add the miracle elixir of destiny and fate to the cocktail, or do we just believe and hope for the best.

I do not know about you, but I am sitting here right now with three rabbit’s feet, playing “Good Luck Charm” by Elvis Presley on my Itunes, and carrying an amulet of Field Turf II taken from the carpet of Tropicana Field. I am not letting something invisible take control of this game. Not not me, I will fend off the trolls and goblins with my holy water made from the Colorado mountains and brewed in Golden, Colorado. Unless I drink it all.

I will wear my lucky Rays boxer shorts and that T-shirt I wore for 3 years playing football and watch this game knowing that my mojo for this team is good mojo and is worthy of the Rays. I will carry my new Talisman which I received from the Rays during “Championship Week” this season, and has been re-configured to fit my finger. I will rub that AL Championship replica ring until it becomes dingy and rounded, for that is my hope for the season.


So what if the mystical lady of karma is beginning to play a few tricks on us. So what if we are now seeing some of the dark karma come together and take us to task. It is the faith of people like myself and the rest of the Rays Republic that can make this destiny seem more like fate again. 

I might not be able to give Scott Kazmir any extra energy today, but I can send positive energy towards him and hope it isn’t intercepted by Derek Jeter or Nick Swisher.
We need these next two games to gather momentum before the Royals again take the field at Tropicana Field. For a great series ending here against the Yankees and a fine showing  with the Royals puts us back in the catbird seat. 

I will sleep with my head facing the north, spin three times before walking into the kitchen, whatever is considered good and responsive to get the aura angel back in our good graces. For I am just one fan, just a small piece of the cosmic karma universe that can send impulses and transmissions towards the heavens with good intentions for this team.

God, I hate talking about stuff like this because it give me the creeps it just might work.  But sometime you just have to think outside of the box and believe in things that you never did. I mean in 1970 when I was a kid, I never believed that cell phone would be smaller than a Buick. I also never believed we would have a Major League Baseball team within traveling distance to my home.


Steve Nesius / AP

Faith, trust, belief. That might be the three tools that will define the rest of this Rays season. But the rabbits foot and the music and the superstitions I have at games only add to the charm of believing 110 percent in the dream again. So here you go Karma. As fickle and as judgmental as you want to be this season, you can not doubt one thing……. this team is fun to watch even if you just sit back and relax.

So with that, it is 2 pm and the first pitch is still 5 hours away. Sit back karma and enjoy the ride. I have to do a bit of flirting right now with a special lady. She has to again believe in the Rays way and that this team can fulfill and surpass her expectations and ideals. And I do not have to sit there and remind her that if this nex
t 60 game ride is anything like 2008, she will have to buckle up and get ready for a wild and crazy time in which she is going to love from start to finish……trust me!

 

Pitching Strategy…. My Way

 


Kathy Willen/ AP

If you are anything like me at the game, I tend to think and re-think the game a lot from the comfort of my blue chair out in the Baseline Box seats. Sometimes the simple fact that a Pitching Coach has come out of the dugout, or is  still sitting there contemplating a move and letting our guy on the mound get lit up can drive you nuts. You want  something positive to happen, but sometimes you are not rewarded at all.

And if you are at home, there is the added dimension of the broadcasters and hearing the cheers and jeers in stereo that can drive you simple batty as to pitching situations. So today I decided to maybe just give you a few situational pitching ideals and beliefs I have gathered  since I first picked up a ball over 40-some years ago.

Now I am not professing to be a professional pitcher, and my ideas might be as bad as some of the current MLB Pitching Coaches we all second-guess every day and night, but it might it might also enlighten some of us with some extra information before we yell and scream for the Bullpen to “get someone up” next time.

 
I know it is a hard position to be a MLB Pitching Coach. I know I could never do it for a living, but sometimes even the best of them needed to be questioned for actions, or even non-actions in a game. Most post-game interviews are with the team’s Manager, not the Pitching Coach who might have errored in leaving someone to bake on the mound, or pulled someone early. And Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey’s “pitch to contact” style is either viewed as a success or a failure depending on your pitching viewpoint.

But Hickey’s position is actually a “no-win” situation. Mostly for the pure fact that if a guy goes out there and performs fantastic, you never hear a question towards the Pitching Coach, just the Manager. But either way, we as fans always have a few questions in our minds on why or how a certain pitch or situational pitching scenario unfolds in a game.  Keep in mind here I am not trying to portray myself as a pitching guru or saint here, but I am going to try and give a fan-based Pitching tutorial.

I  still have foggy recollections and vivid memories of situational strategies that I was taught when I was much younger, and could throw a lot harder. So without any further delay, lets begin my little  journey into the simple basics of some pitching strategies. Former Chicago Cubs closer Steven Ellis uses to say that the best way to pitch was to “keep the batter uncomfortable at the plate.” Sounds like a simple method, but isn’t pitching suppose to be more than just about throwing a baseball across a keystone-shaped plate?


Brian Blanco / AP

Well to most people that is the basic aspects of the game they see with every pitch. They want it over the plate and not biting the corners or even high and tight on the guy. Most people want to see the power-against-power up there at the plate like gladiators with the better players coming out on top. But that is not always the way it ends during an at bat in the major leagues. Sometimes luck can ruin a perfect pitch, or a shattered bat can deliver an infield hit.

So we always wonder what some of the basic fundamentals or game day thoughts that might go through a pitcher’s mind while he is out there on the mound.  Some of the simple ideals of pitching can become complicated if mixed up and turned sideways by a Pitching Coach.

Baseball is a simple game, it is us so called ‘experts” that make it more difficult.  So here are a few of my personal ideals on how to be effective on the mound. These ideas have come from  the coaches and instructors I have known since my first days of Little League at Northwest Youth Center in St. Petersburg, Florida to the college ranks. Every one of them had a different spin on the philosophy of pitching. These are just a hodge podge of those instructions that have stayed within my mind in regard to pitching all these years. Some are very simple, but just like KISS, keeping It Simple Stupid can make you a 20-game winner on the mound.
 

1) You always want to make the inside of the plate yours. You have to make the batter anticipate the inside pitch, so you attack him inside and make him respect your fastball or breaking ball.

2) Show your off-speed stuff early in the game. Now you do not get in there and throw a massive amount of them because then the hitters can get gauge your timing and you are then asking for another ball from the umpire… a lot. But your curveball, change-up, sinker and slurve can help you dictate the game.

3) Always be careful with your change-up. Just because you think it is the right pitch, you have to also adjust to the fact he might be guessing right too. Just because it has worked for you all day doesn’t mean he is not now sitting there waiting for it again. The slower it comes in, the faster it will go out if he gets it right.

4) I was always partial when I was younger (over 14) to throw a curve ball on occasions during 0-2, 1-2, and 2-2 counts. The only reason I did this was that the hitter was usually waiting on a fastball to strike him out. Not that I did not mix it up at times, but it was just my personal pattern. Develop your own style.

5) With runners in scoring position, I tried to not let the batter get a good read on my fast ball. A  badly placed fastball can unload the bases just as quick as a well placed ball for a called third strike for that last out. You are not the only one playing this “guessing game” here, the batter is also trying to get the right answers to get his guys home. Also never think you are smarter than the hitter, you might have just been lucky today to this point.

6) Changing the eye level or height of your pitches can be more effective than changing the speed. A fastball low and inside followed by a curve up by the chest changes the batter’s perspective on your pitches. It can also open up the outside corner for a nice breaking ball to get that out. Always leave him guessing.

7) I personally loved to throw a 2-seam fastball on either the first pitch, or during counts like 1-0,2-0,2-2, or 3-2. It might seem predictable, but if placed right, it should be an effective pitch. To me a breaking ball on 3-2 is too risky unless you have no one on base at the time. Better to
go down in flames with your best stuff than gamble on a breaking ball hitting the plane outside on a full count.


8)
One of the worst thing a pitcher can do on the mound is get predictable, even with his first pitch every at bat. By changing the eye height of the pitch and hitting the corners of the plate you can put doubt in the hitter’s mind, and that is your best weapon to defeat him every time. If you have him guessing or confused, you have already won half the battle.

9) Everyone always hear the phrase “throw up a zero”, but it is important for  team confidence to shut down an opponent after they either score, or you have scored in the game.  The confidence of the guys behind you will make them more relaxed and want to make plays for you. A confident defense is ready to make outs.

10) This might be the most important one to me.  Always re-adjust, re-focus and make the hitter re-think past at bats when you are facing them the second time, or even third time through the batting order. Just because you threw a slider for a first strike last time up doesn’t mean you should do it again. Pitch the game wisely, make him guess right to get anything off of you today. Do not reward his memory by giving him the same pitch twice at the same part of the count in a game.


Chris O’Meara /AP


Well, those are just my personal 10 simple ways to develop a simple pitching strategy for the game. I am not a Pitching Coach, or even a Little League Coach. I am simply a fan who has loved the game since my first glove at Christmas at the age of three. But even if I am not a coach, I can see good and bad patterns and errors. With teams in the major leagues now watching video tapes and analyzing pitching charts on every starter, it is getting harder and harder to surprise teams now.

But if your team does employ these basic pitching ideals it can make the rest of your day  at the ballpark flow better. Worst thing about pitching, you can hit all your spots that day, be hitting the glove perfectly and still lose the contest. But that is why we play the game. If it was so simple we would have people like you and me out there hitting and playing the game until we were too old to pick up a bat or field a ball.

So some of us become those “off-the-field” coaches who can ruin even the best games of some of our players in our own minds. I enjoy reading some of these blogs where people question a pitching situation, or even a pitch selection or substitution. I just hope this short list can give some people a hint of more insight into pitching.

Sometimes even a 10-year pro pitcher can forget the basic and he gets drilled in an inning. I do not know who said it, but baseball is a game where we reward people for hitting the ball a third of the time. And that is so true. Baseball is simple, but it is the fans and sometimes the coaches and players who can make it seem more difficult.

So with that in mind, I am getting ready to head on down toward Tropicana Field tonight and watch the first game of the three game series with the current American League East division leaders, the New York Yankees. The only reason I am making a big thing of that is that if the Rays do get some “mojo rising” during this series, that current position in the division will change. But you can bet even tonight, Yankee starter A J Burnett will employ all or most of those 10 pitching strategy fundamental ideas listed above in the ballgame. You can bet on it.

Recent Seattle-Cleveland-Tampa Bay Trade Rumors

 


Steve Nesius / AP

Usually when I get a call at 5 am EST in involves the following items: money, a bail bondsman, or a ride somewhere. But this ring tone told me it was from a far away source, a pretty good drive and leap away. It came from the west coast, and in Seattle it was only 1 am PST in the morning. So with a million things racing through my mind that could be wrong for this person to be calling me at this time, baseball was not very high on the list at that hour.

So I answered the phone to a loud scream of : “Tell me it is true, Frickin (I cleaned the language up) tell me this is a true rumor. you see, while most of us were sleeping on the east coast, the websites and the bloggers on the other side of the country were just getting settled into their homes after a blowout by the Cleveland Indians over the Mariners. So as they were driving home or even listening online to the M’s flagship radio station KIRO 710 AM was spilling out some fodder that the Rays, Tribe and M’s had something cooking on the back burner.

So I decided to check my first reliable source by popping onto the website www.seattlepi.com/mariners and seeing if the bloggers had gotten a hold of such a rumor. Now I was not even aware of the players involved yet, but I did have reason to believe the two coming to the Rays would be the hot and much wanted starter Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez.

And so I hit the M’s blog section and was greeted by the following headline: “Potential huuuge deal w/M’s, Tribe and Rays”. What was so amazing is that at this time two of the team involved in this trade were currently in a 3-game series in Seattle. What was even more amazing was the 4 other players linked to this rumor. The Seattle side of the equation had former starter/reliever/closer and current Triple-A player Brandon Morrow and back-up catcher Jeff Clement going to the Indians.


Ted S. Warren / AP

On the Seattle side of the trade aspect they were getting rid of a pitcher who needed a change of scenery and who could re-invent himself correctly with his next team. The M’s had used Morrow in every pitching situation and never let him get totally settled into one segment of their pitching staff.  Clements was another guy who was stuck behind two starters and was learning to play first base to get his bat into the line-up down in Triple-A. He had played for the M’s in both 2007 and 2008, but lost out this season to back-up Rob Johnson because of his MLB experience.

Both guys needed a break from the M’s way of doing business, and the trade route seemed like the perfect answer. But because the Rays needed a third party to get some of the needed pieces to Cleveland like a catcher and a quality pitcher who could assume any spot, both Clements and Morrow were perfect candidates for the possible trade. But what had the M’s bloggers all giddy and excited. What member of the Rays might have fallen into their laps and gotten such a great response.


Chris O’Meara / AP

Well, the Rays were willing to send left-handed starter Scott Kazmir and shortstop prospect Reid Brignac to the Emerald City. But early on in this trade situation, some wires did get crossed, and some mixed signals did get thrown out over the web. At one point this afternoon, Tampa Tribune sportswriter Marc Lancaster had to get some needed information to calm the Rays faithful. Here are a few of his Tweets from Sat to explain the Brignac episode:

@TBORays “Reid Brignac pulled from Durham game before top of third inning. Definitely a potential trade chip, so something might be up”


@TBORays From what I can gather, doesn’t sound like a trade is imminent with Brignac. Still not sure why he’s out, though.

@TBORays Word from Durham is Reid Brignac was pulled from the game for not hustling to first base.

@TBORays Per Durham manager, Reid Brignac will play 2nd game today. Right leg was bothering him.


So after that I decided to do some detective work and see if
www.cleveland.com was sporting any interesting gossip. But all was silent on the Indians local papers website and in the blog regions. Hopefully by morning we will know more about what might be going on with this entire situation. But before I go, let me also let you in on some of the speculation coming from another source in the Seattle area.


Brian Blanco / AP

It seems that Geoff Baker, who writes for the Seattle Times also had gotten wind of this potential trade. So I wandered over to wwwseattletimes.nwsource/marinersblog and took a look at what he was saying about the potential trade. Here is a small sampling of his take on the whole trade situation concerning all three teams:

“Here’s something to think about, completely my speculation right now, but showing you how this stuff works. Let’s say there really was a three-way deal in the works between Tampa Bay, Cleveland and the Mariners and that Zduriencik was going to acquire Brignac and Scott Kazmir in a deal that would send Brandon Morrow, Jeff Clement and pocket change to the Indians. Maybe the M’s were all set to pull the trigger and that’s why Brignac was pulled.”

That does make sense, but also what make more sense to me is that Scott Kazmir needs a fresh start somewhere. I can see him having a 2010 that would rival Edwin Jackson’s current season up in Detroit. Sometimes you just need to get away and let the stress flow to begin again. And that is what both Kazmir and Brignac need right now. Solid foundation and a chance to play again at their top levels. For Kazmir to be away from Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey might be the best medicine for him right now.

He has not gotten the program fully that Hickey is trying to teach in Tampa Bay. Kazmir was a success here  ion Tampa Bay before Hickey was hired in November 2006. His style is more centered on “contact” or spot pitching sytle to minimize offensive damage. It is not a system Kazmir can not learn, it just takes away from his power pitching side and makes him rely on location and change of speed on his pitches. 

Brignac is stuck behind a log-jam that is only going to get more crowded at Triple-A, and this opportunity would give him more of a chance to show his stuff at the major league level. With current shortstop Jason Bartlett hitting over .350, and back-up Ben Zobrist becoming the super uber sub of the American League, Brignac is stuck waiting for a chance because of injuries and not abilities. In Seattle he would have a chance to show his stuff and even get noticed by other teams the rest of the season.

And last, but not least is the upgrade the Rays would get with a quality catcher who can also hit for average and power that is currently lacking in Tampa Bay. Sure there might have to be some attitude adjustments before Martinez comes to show he is here for the team and that his “Old Man” comment to Rays Manager Joe Maddon was just in the heat of battle. But the pitching upgrade of Lee could easily be the difference in getting a chance at a playoff spot in 2009.


Duane Burleson / AP

And if all else fails and it is not a success, you know teams will be eager to entertain a trade with the Rays for Lee in the offseason if they feel he is not a solid fit to the rotation for the team. But I still do not see this happening without a single Rays farm system player going to Cleveland. The guy that has been mentioned most in trade chatter has been pitcher Wade Davis. But like Kazmir and Brignac, he has been  a bit stymied the last season waiing for his shot at the MLB level.

No matter what happens between now and the end of the trade deadline, you can be sure you will hear more of these names flashed around on the bottom of your television screens. The tell-tale sign of something brewing behind the scenes in Seattle might be if Cliff Lee doesn’t start on Sunday against the Mariners. If this happens, it is a fair indicator that someone might be making a huge push at getting the former Cy Young leftie for their own……..hopefully in Tampa Bay.

Rickey Sprints into Baseball Hall of Fame

 

 
 

 

For the next few days people from all over the country, and maybe the world, including a bevy of sportswriters will be writing about their favorite Rickey Henderson moments either in stories or in his wild collection of memorable quotes.  Henderson along with former Red Sox Jim Rice will be offically inducted today into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Now I will not be there, but you can bet I will as close to a television set as possible during the 2009 Induction Ceremonies to hear the speech that might either shock or amuse baseball for the rest of the year.

 

 

Everyone with in and outside of baseball are curious on how Rickey Henderson will refer to himself in his speech, and if he is going to introduce himself. Well, I actually do not think he will introduce himself, but will he pick a opponent like a catcher, or maybe another famous basestealer to do the honors for him today?

 

 

But even with the selection of Henderson earlier this year, there are a few things that have me still scratching my head about his selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The biggest surprise to me is the fact that he did not garner more than 94.8 percent of the vote. Now I did not think he was going to challenge Tom Seavers 98.8 percent, but thought he might hit the 96 plateau without a hitch. Could my idea of how well recieved he was in the MLB be a bit inflated, or do some of the baseball purist maybe see this as a time to punish him for his ‘third person” theatrics.
 

 
So why did some people not put him on their ballot? Didn’t this guy change the way we look at slap hitters and guys who put the ball down the line for drag bunts and infield hits and didn’t he usher in a new generation of basestealers in the MLB? Come on people, the guy who is the MLB career leader in runs scored and stolen bases by a huge margin is nothing more than a scrub to some BBWAA voters.

 

 

Maybe some of the voices are right, maybe we need to tweak this system a bit and weed out some of the naysayers who look more at off the field actions than on the highlights accomplished on the field. There is a difference in being a purist in your columns and heart, and maybe displaying a flaw like voting against a guy who deserves a spot based on your opinions of his career.

 



 

 
Is there any argument that Henderson  because of his power and  uncany ability to get on base ,could change a games complexity with a  single hit or a walk? Do you think that he might be the model for the induction of speed demons in the lead-off spot and not buried down in the 7,8, or 9 slots in a lineup? And do you think that Henderson might have viewed himself like a cartoon character to actually not be bothered by the critics and naysayers who thought he was a destroyer of the game? People use defensive mechanisms for many things, maybe he was before his time in not letting drama and strife destroy himself or his career.
 

The answer to all three questions is  a huge YES.


Henderson did change a pitchering staff’s mind when he was on base. It brought  into the pitchers’ mind that he could steal a base on any pitch, even a pitch-out. It did not matter if it was a 100 mph Fastball, change-up, curve, it made no difference to Henderson, any pitch was a good pitch to steal a base.  His power made you respect his plate discipline enough to not try and finesse a pitch up there, or you would be getting a fresh ball from the umpire. Henderson went to the plate 10,961 times in his career.

 

 

 


During his career from 1979 to 2003, Henderson had 3,055 hits, which in its own right should be a good consideration for the Hall of Fame. He hit 510 doubles and  66 triples. I think those numbers might have been a lot higher if he did not get more of a thrill in running and stealing bases on any pitcher that took the mound. I could see him pull up at first or second base just so he could play that cat and mouse game with a pitcher then steal the base on him and give him that grin from the bag. He might be one of the first base runners to actually try to use mind games to disturb a pitcher on the mound.

 
In his career he had 4,588 total bases.  He stole a grand total of 1,406 bases, and only got caught 335 times during his career. That seems like a low mark to be caught stealing, but Henderson made the act of stealing a base into an art form during his career. Think of the totals he would have left with if he had been active in the MLB, even at his advanced age. 
 

 

 

 


From 2000 on, he only appeared in over 100 games with one club. While he was with the San Diego Padres in 2000, he appeared in 123 and still stole 25 bases. But during his last year in the MLB, Henderson was mostly a bench player for the Los Angeles Dodgers and only made it into the game 30 times during the season. He did however steal 3 bases that year in his limited role.  But have to remember, not just did he have a few gray hairs by then, but defenses were setting up for him knowing he was in the game to get into scoring position and maybe score the winning run for his team.

 


 

 

I truly feel that the arrogance of stealing a base, along with is knack for sliding around the tags is the reason players like current Tampa Bay Rays speed demons Carl Crawford owe their basestealing careers to Henderson. Before Henderson made it an offensive weapon to truly steal a base with gusto, Lou Brock was the only other base stealer to command as much attention when on base.  But Henderson did something none of the other base stealers ever did, he tried to bait pitchers into balks and mis-throws to the plate based on his ability to steal and to take an edge off the team’s pitching game.

 

Henderson changed the lead-off position. Here was a guy who had 2,190 base on balls during his career, and could bring a new dimension to the game with four pitched balls. Every walk he was ever issued looked more like a doubler to him because he could steal a base and get into scoring position at any moment. Henderson also could hit the long ball. Lost in a lot of the translation into his base stealing is the fact he did hit 297 home runs in his career, mostly from the lead-off position. So as you can see, New York Met’s shortstop, Jose Reyes also owes a big round of applause to Henderson in making it fashionable to get dirty stealing bases in the MLB.




 

 

Now for why Henderson always talked about himself in the third-person. Some people have commented that it was a defense mechanism devised by someone for Henderson because it made his character on the field different than the man in the clubhouse after the game. It left him into a secondary world to rant, rave and just be “Rickey” while he wore the team’s colors. This might or might not be true, but if you really think about the image of being able to put your work suit on and take the punishments and the abuse while you are working, then shed those insults, opinions and wild lies when you toss them in the clothes hamper to be washed, it make a bit of sense.
 


Who among us would not relish a secondary personality or a persona that we could use at work and toss aside and forget the troubles and strife in a moments notice. This might not be the true reason for his third-person antics, but it does make good conversation for the next few months. But the antics and the stories concerning Henderson are many and both base in legend and in folly. 
 


But one of the best ones I ever heard was from a Oakland area sports story that told the story about the Oakland A’s front office finding a financial mistake in their bookkeeping. It was  showing that the team had a million dollars more than it was suppose to have in it’s coffers. After a series of check and double checks, it was concluded that they had only one conclusion to this error. A member of the Athletics management went down into the locker room and found Henderson and asked what he did with the $ 1 million dollar check the team had issued to him. Henderson remarked that he put the check under glass. Never cashed it, never even thought of the down the road consequences of the actions, just did what “Rickey” would do. 

 


 

 

I have a story of my own about Henderson based in 1984. I was a newly drafted snot nosed kid who came out to see a friend, Scott Hemond who was catching for the Oakland A’s at the time. I was in the locker room after a game and saw Henderson right before he left for the night. He was dressed to the nines, and I strolled up and introduced myself as a friend of Hemond’s and just wanted to tell him what a joy it was to watch him play baseball. 
 


He remarked how ” Rickey was happy he liked his personal style of play, but that Rickey did not like  to associate with friends of catchers’.”  It took me a second before I started to laugh and then remarked that was why I like “Ricky”, he was wihtout a doubt not predictable or even in the same league as the rest of us.   I saw him a few hours later when we went out to dinner, and Henderson came over and finally shook my hand and sat for a few moments talking to Hemond and some other players’ at the table. 
 


He finally got up and remarked to me, ” I hear you are fast?” I told him I could hold my own between the hash marks and on a  440 yard track. And then Henderson remarked,  ” Guess you never tried to push the bases around.” I only remarked that I played baseball from about 6 years old to college, but was never a demon on the base paths like him. Henderson in perfect “Rickey” form just muttered, ” There is only one Rickey, and he is leaving the building.”  I let out a huge belly laugh and pointed to him acknowledging his comment.

 


 


He was right, there is only one “Rickey.” No matter if you loved the way he played, or hated him for the flamboyant personality. The ability of this guy to get into a team’s head mentally made for a really exclusive career.  Thank goodness he is not the only one getting inducted on that Summer day. After his speech we will all need time to collect ourselves and get serious again. I do not know who will introduce him at the podium, but maybe he should research his stolen bases and find the pitcher he stole the most bases off of in his career.
 


The moment that guy steps to the mic, I will be glued to the television set watching him. Not since Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken Jr gave their speeches when inducted have I waited for such a moment to happen. Those two men gave memorable speeches for different reasons. But you know that the world, and the entire baseball community are awaiting the final appearance of “Rickey” in all his glory and gruff. It will be an historical event that you do not want to miss.  Got to remember to TIVO that introduction.


Competitive energy goes Haywire

 


Jim Presching / AP

I am a very competitive person. I at times insanely dedicated to playing football and baseball as a kid growing up as I am now as an adult doing something at home like video games with friends. It is a mild personality defect that has been drilled into me since I was just about 4 feet tall. I was always told to hit harder, sweat more and push myself to the  outer limits of my body. That sort of routine after awhile gets ingrained into you and it becomes a part of your basic personality.

It doesn’t matter to me if you think it is a bad or good trait, it is there for everyone to see  and I do not think it can be reversed. And at my age now, my body and my mind are finally playing tricks on each other. For years I have still been able to match up against the neighborhood kids in some street football, but over the last year, my body has decided that is for the young, and not the guy who beginning to show gray on his temples and get winded after 15 minutes playing the game.

And I take that same sort of insane passion with me into my Fantasy sports and even with my  Rays Renegade team. None of this was more evident yesterday afternoon than when I saw my Fantasy guys go belly-up.  I saw my team, which has 6 Tampa Bay Rays players on it begin to take a free fall towards a final 1 for 37 mark last night, or a miserable .027 batting average for the day. You see, I can not longer play the game like I did in college, professionally, or even in the backyard, so these simple games of skill and have now become my battlefields.

And it is hard for me to sit there and hope for a rebound effect, or even simply just take deep breathing as a relief for the pain. My mindset for so long has been fine tuned to want more than the usual. It has been primed for confrontation and geared towards defeating any enemy, friend or foe.  Heck, I do not even go to a friend’s card games at his local tavern because I am afraid of my competitive streak.

So yesterday while I was watching a two-fold implosion, one on Sunsports/FSN-Florida, and the other on my small laptop screen I was venting some extreme clouds of fire from my belly. Smoke was clouding my judgment, and small embers of rage and disappointment ravaged my stomach. I had never seen such carnage before with my team in the crosshairs, and I frustrated me to the extremes.

Anyone who was on Twitter yesterday knows I was within a fine hair of melting down and imploding myself online. Oh, I do not get nasty and go all four-letter words or even attempt to curse, but the pent up frustration did make me re-write my Tweets about three times before I sent them. But this was a different competitive edge.


Jim Prisching / AP

It had a different feel to it for me, or so I thought at the time. I guess all those years of playing and scrambling had finally gotten me to this point. I was so upset by the end of that game that I knew I could not take phone calls, could not take emails, and especially could not encounter people who would rehash the game with me. I put a huge sign on the fridge door to leave me alone or there would be a firestorm of Nerf products coming at you that would rival a  Confederate cannon bombardment during the battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

I was in no mood to celebrate one of the biggest pitching accomplishments because it had happened to my team. And with that I sat in the dark for about an hour and thought, and thought and thought, hey I forgot to bring food and drinks into the room. So I wandered out the back door and drove to the grocery store. There I got a few Pepsi products, a Cuban sandwich and a few things to nibble on later that night.

And wouldn’t you know it, the two guys in front of me were chatting about the Perfect game. It was at this moment that I finally came to the realization that I had a problem. I still had the fire in my belly and that pain in my head from losing. That the lessons learned a long time ago might be mis-guided now and out of date. And that is a hard thing to admit. I am older, but not wiser in this area. And I know I am not the only one. I think about friends of mine who still play competitive softball or coach Little League and wonder if they still have that acid belly pain and yearning to smell the win and avoid the bitter aftertaste of losing.

I began to wonder as the two guys were starting to put down the failing efforts of the Rays in that game, and were laughing at the Rays efforts. The little devil in me wanted to throw down and take them both out with vengeance..with authority… with angry power.

 
And then I wondered if they even knew about Dewayne Wise’s late inning substitution and if he was not there, these guys would not even be talking like this. I wonder if they knew that 5 times in that game Rays hitters got 3-2 counts on Mark Buehrle and he made his magic happen. That even into the Rays last at bats in the ninth inning, that they were still trying to find a way to win. That Rays catcher Michel Hernandez got Buehrle behind in the count 3-1 before taking a strike looking, then swinging at a pitch for the second out.

Three outs before Buerhle and the White Sox were to celebrate, an outfielder had to make the play of the game to save his masterpiece. Two outs from the end he had to show he was the skilled pitcher we always knew he was by prying a walk out of Hernandez’s hands, and in the end, he dominated one of the better hitters in the American League by getting Jason Bartlett to hit a ball to short for an easy third out and end the game.


Jim Prisching / AP

The entire last inning or so people on Twitter saw my responses, and I think they saw the aggression and the frustration come to a boil, or maybe they thought I was playing. Here is just a few of the rambling out of my collective soul during that final bunch of outs:

RaysRenegade Pat ‘the Faucet” Burrell almost ended the suspense. Game of inches with that drvie down the 3rd b line. Perfectly turning my stomach rotten.

RaysRenegadeWhere is my lighter fluid? Neidermeyer dead, Marmalard, dead, DTX Death Mobile gassed up. White tube sox…….flaming as we speak! Imperfect


RaysRenegadeMark Buehrle is no Billy Chapel. Sorry this is not a re-make of “For the Love of the Game.” Kapler, Hernandez, Bartlett..my $ is on Bartlett.

RaysRenegadeHoly Crappo! Dewayne Wise just came off the bench and goes up over the wall to steal Kapler’s HR.

RaysRenegadeI am not going to act like those NY fans in the movie..I am pissed! I saw Derrick Lowe throw the first no-hitter against the Rays. No No NO!

RaysRenegadeThank goodness I do not have a dog! It might be the 18th Perfect Game in MLB history, but the TV is off! Shut the door,I am not in the mood.

RaysRenegade@MLB I was tweeting like a canary. Kudos to Dewayne Wise for saving the special gift. But it will take me a day to congrats to Buehrle.

RaysRenegadeSeacrest out!

And here is the last Tweet I saw before I left Twitter last night:

RSBS@RaysRenegade i assume it’s just sleep for you now

You have no idea what was venting through my ears at that time. People who have never played at a high level of sports think that a coach comes into a locker room calm, cool and collected after a game like that. Well, most do not.  At least mine never did. From Coach Charlie Pell in college to Coach Kush while I was playing ball in Indy, losing was not an option, it was an excuse for not winning.

I really do not think that New England Patriot Head Coach Bill Beleichick strolled into the locker room after an 11-5 season, and missed the playoffs and sent his team off with a hardy ” we just missed boys” speech. If he did, that will be the end of that dynasty chatter. 

This evil energy gnawed at me for about 4 hours last night while I watched shows I had on the DVR saved from Monday and Tuesday night. Competitive spirit and  a yearning for the best and the top shelf do not just transcend sports, they support it.

I am wondering if there is a support group of former athletes or competition junkies that meets in my little town. I am not upset by the Rays losing this game, I am not so angry because it was the Chicago White Sox, or much less a great pitcher like Buehrle, the final essence of all of this is that it was a Perfect Game. 

I mean I was in Boston  on that cool April night when Red Sox starter Derrick Lowe no-hit the Rays and I was upset, but not to this level. It did bother me for the rest of the night, but not to the extreme this one is clawing at my heart. Maybe I have finally hit that wall, that invisible part of life where reality beats up the image of my team. 
Maybe it is finally time for me to seek professional help to combat the effects of this over-competitive libido before it kills my love of the game(s).

Nah, that is just crazy talk.  I will be fine until the next time we have this sort of performance from the Rays. But I am confident it will not happen to them again in my lifetime. There have been only 18 Perfect Games in the history of the game. To be a part of one of them was great, but thank god it did not happen at home. You do not know what kind of reaction you might get from the bandwagon faithful.

Do I still feel the same about the Rays….sure. And my Fantasy team will rebound. I might get popped out of first place this week, but I will fight back and regain my spot by the time the playoffs come around.

But this one did hurt. All the way down to the middle of the core of my competitive spirit. It fractured my perception and  ultimate foundation of my team, but they will be fine and will fight on. No one died. No one was injured, the games will start again tonight. I will again be on Twitter ready for tonight battle and post a few, or more snippets during the game.


Jim Prisching/ AP

I will again be full of the competitive fire in my belly to support my team. I guess what really got to me was the fact that this was it for our games against the White Sox this season unless we both meet in the playoffs. No chance at redemption, no chance to try and duplicate the feat again in 2009. But what might have been the epicenter of all the anger and rage might be as simple as this team did not deserve to go down like this, but you can not stop history, you can only contain it.  

But then again, I think I need to make a call right now to  a Rays support group. I need to go to a place where people like me can go to grow again and get rid of these ugly feelings bottled up in my belly. I hear they have just that sort of group down at the Red Room in Largo, and the leader of that support group wears a big blue wig and serves cold Coors Light.

I think I need an infusion of other Rays fans right now. I think I need a spirit transfusion stat before I melt into the carpet. Maybe they are meeting tonight at 7 pm. Maybe I can get help during the Rays versus Jays game tonight……..just maybe. Hopefully Roy Halladay did not watch this game and wonder…….


Niemann is my early AL Rookie of the Year Candidate

 


Jim Presching / AP

The deeper this Tampa Bay Rays season goes,the more the “Tall Texan” seems to grow on you. When you see how easy it is to call out Rays starter Jeff Niemann and he causally just comes over and chats with you while he continues signing a multitude of autographs for what seems like forever, and  he still has that smile on his face the entire time. And you see a small level of discomfort and bummed out look when he has to turn and head into the clubhouse with people still calling his name.
 

He is one of those reason the Rays are within striking range of the New York Yankees right now to again try and regain their spot at the top of the American League East division. And here is a guy who at the very end of Spring Training had to fight tooth and nail for a final spot on the roster that in prior years he might have had by mid-March. But since the 2008 success, a lot has changed in Rays-ville, and the “gentle Giant” is one of the great stories of this season.

I mean he truly did not know until almost the last possible day that he would regain the fifth rotation spot until his competition got traded away to the Colorado Rockies. But all during that time there was chatter and rumors that he too was under the trading microscope maybe heading to San Diego, Colorado, or maybe Pittsburgh. The competition for that final spot was so intense this season that even a guy who might have made the rotation on 20 other teams might of had to find alternative solutions to stay in the major leagues.

And how great do you feel right now if you are in the triad of Rays Manager Joe Maddon, Pitching Coach Jim Hickey and Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman right now that you kept the Tall Texan. Sure you might have labored over the decision and might even have second guessed yourself after the first start or two, but quickly you also saw a small glimmer of hope and beauty in the way Neimann was taking the ball every fifth day and making magic happen on the mound.

I mean take the fact he had a 2-1 record with a 6.32 ERA in Spring Training this season and it might look like a feasible reason to consider him for the last spot in the rotation. But if you really look close at his statistics, he was in a five-way tie on the team in wins,  his 6.32 ERA in the spring was better than the Rays Opening Day starter, Jame Shields who had a 8.16 ERA.  Unlike Jason Hammel, Neimann did not start a single game this Spring, but did get into 6 contests and still made enough impression to get two wins.  But his 15.2 innings of work was the fifth best on the team, and his 17 total his given up this spring were better than Matt Garza (26), Shields (19), Scott Kazmir (22) and Hammel (25).


RRCollections

From the edge of Spring Training, he knew he had everything to prove, plus everything to lose in the coming months for the Rays. He had to have his stats put next to Hammel and David Price for comparison, and in the end might have gotten the job by proxy to the shagrin of some in the franchise office. But I do not see it that way at all. Neimann had struggled in the past with injuries, and in 2008 he had his best season as a professional because his health did not let him down at all that year. So this season was going to be a test of not only his health, but his pitching ability.

But the best part was this was not his first time up in the major leagues thanks to a short stint after Garza went down right after Opening Day in 2008, Neimann got some needed experience and struggled and also showed some great improvement to stay on the minds of the team the entire year. So it was no surprise that he was one of the possible pitchers brought up by the team after the Durham Bulls were eliminated from the IL Playoff picture in 2008.  The man a few people have commented on could be the twin brother of Toys R Us icon Geoffrey (Giraffe) was to get more of a chance to show his stuff in 2009.

And his first start this season at Baltimore showed that he still had a ways to go to be an effective pitcher, or did he just go into the game maybe a little over prepared and actually took himself out of that game by trying to think of adjustments on the fly without a good thought process in his mind. After his first start he had a balloon ERA of 10.13. He had only lasted 5.1 innings and had thrown 94 pitches in that game. The one shining light out of that performance was the he settled down after that disastrous first inning and blanked the Orioles until he left the ballgame.

But from that start he gained a lot of experience, and gained even more of an insight of what it was going to take to be a great pitcher in this league.  So at the end of the month of April he had gone 2-2 with a 4.43 ERA. He had rebounded from a two-some of tough games against the Orioles and the White Sox to put together two great wins against the Twins and Mariners.  In both wins in April he threw 3-hitters, and also saw his command  starting to come together. So with a even keel from April, it was imperative that he have a good month in May so solidify the Rays decision on him. 

In May, he went a combined 2-2 again in six starts and showed improvement by starting to see his walks-to strikeouts ratio get more into control.  He had a few blips of problems during a May 2nd contest against the Boston Red Sox at home, where he lasted only 3 innings and surrendered 6 runs on 7 hits. He only lasted 76 pitches into that contest, but his pitches for strikes was starting to show a closer trend towards an acceptable level. In that start he threw 46 strikes to his total 76 pitches. Neimann was beginning to understand how to win in the majors.

And during the rest of May, he surrendered less than 2 runs in every game but one. In that contest on May 18th against the Oakland A’s, Neimann did give up 4 runs in the contest, but he also got some great offensive support from the Rays and posted his  4th victory of the season.  He threw 110 pitches in that game, the most of the season for him. But the end of the month was not kind to him as he was limited to 3 innings in a rain delayed game in Cleveland that he had thrown 3 innings and had only given up a single run before the tarps hit the field.  He had only thrown 53 pitches in that game, but 34 had gone for strikes. He was beginning to show his improvement every time out from that point on in 2009.


Steve Nesius / AP

June also seemed to start great for him as he made 5 starts in the month and posted three
victories.  His 3.10 ERA for the month was the best he had posted as a professional, and he also had thrown 29 total innings in the month, the most since he had come up with the Rays. On June 3rd, Niemann tossed his first complete game shutout of his career during a home contest against the Kansas City Royals.  In that game he also seemed to have great command as he  struck out 9 batters and only surrenders a solo walk in the game. But in the next contest against the Los Angeles Angels he did have a bit of a setback only lasting 3.2 innings while giving up 5 runs on 7 hits that night.

June seemed more like a roller coaster ride for Niemann as he went to highs and lows before finally equaling out during a June 29th contest against the Toronto Blue Rays in Rogers Centre. In that game he went 7.1 innings and threw 100 pitches while giving up a solo run on 4 hits.  This was also the only time besides the first game against the Orioles that he had issued more walks than strikeouts. But it did not matter in the end as he took his seventh win of the season from this game. So at this point he was 7-4 and people were beginning to talk about the young Texan.

If June seemed like his month to shine, oh were people going to enjoy his July. So far this month he has only made three starts, but he has posted two wins in those starts to have the most wins so far as a Rays starter in 2009. July got started off a bit rough when he only lasted 3 innings in a game out in Arlington, Texas against the Texas Rangers. It should have been a bit of a homecoming for him, but the Rangers roughed him up early and he only lasted 47 pitches and gave up three runs in the game. It was not a pure disaster, but it did show him some room for improvement, and to get more first pitch strikes on the batters.

But after that contest, in his last start before the All Star Break, Neimann threw one of the best games of his career to that point against the Oakland A’s at home on July 10th.  This was the second start of the season for him against the A’s, and in his last start he lasted 8 innings and gave up four runs to the A’s hitters. But tonight he went 9 innings to post his second complete game shutout of the season. He threw a season high 118 pitches and got a standing ovation from the crowd as he went to the mound in the top of the ninth inning.  After that contest, while being interviewed on FSN/Florida, Niemann got the traditional shaving cream pie from Rays catcher Dioner Navarro.


Brian Blanco / AP

But that was not the cream on top of the pie yet for Neimann in July. After not starting since that July 10th game until last night, he was on 10 days rest when he took the mound in Chicago last night for his first start of the season against the White Sox. Neimann had saved his best for last ( so far) this season. Last night against the White Sox he posted 7 strikeouts and issued zero walks.  This was the third time this season he had not issued a walk in a game, and the second time in the last three starts. He was beginning to exert control on his game on the mound, and he lasted 8 innings last night before he was finally pulled before coming out in the top of the ninth after throwing  exactly 100 pitches. The Tall Texan made his presence known, and for the month has a 2-0 record with a 2.25 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 3 starts.

So this brings about some scuttlebutt and chatter now that David Price might not be the guy to watch for the Rookie of the Year award right now with the Rays. That Neimann might have stolen a bit of the preseason thunder directed at Price. And what is wrong with that? How many other teams outside of Toronto have had two rookies basically come forward and contribute so much for their teams. Neimann is currently holding a 3.44 ERA, which is pretty amazing considering after the first start it was a bulging 10.13 ERA.  And a pleasant surprise for the Rays is the fact he is now 6-2 away from Tropicana Field with a 3.84 ERA. 

In the month of June and July he is 5-0 after posting a 4-4 record in the first two months of the season.  He has started 17 games for the Rays this season and has seen victories in 9 of those starts. For a rookie, that is impressive to me. Going into last night game he was tied with Detroit Tiger starter Rick Porcello for the most wins by a rookie pitcher this season in the AL. And not lost is the fact that his next victory will tie Rolando Arrojo for the Rays rookie mark for wins with 10.  And is it an odd connection that the night before they honor the 1998 team with their technicolor jerseys on “Throwback Night”, Neimann threw his complete game shutout.

I actually find that pleasantly exciting. The kid has been mired in doubt and intrigue the last few season as to his durability to play at this level, and this season he might eclipse the rookie record for victories in a season, and move it well beyond the present 10 win mark.  He has now won 5 straight decisions and has lost only one decision since the first week of May (@ Cleveland/ May 28th).  And even if he not on the mound to get a decision for the wins, the Rays have won 11 out of last 12 of his starts, and are 13-4 in all his starts this season.  And to put an exclamation point on his season since May 13th, he has a 6-1 record with a 2.51 ERA and has not allowed a home run since May 23rd when he gave one up to Dan Uggla in Landshark Stadium.

The above statistics can only help to establish Neimann right now as the team’s candidate for the Rookie of the Year award. Some might still feel it is Price’s award to lose, but Neimann right now is putting up all the right numbers to be within eyesight of the award. But considering he is only the 7th Rays pitcher ever to throw at least two complete game shutouts. Arrojo threw two in his rookie season in 1998. No other pitcher in Rays history has thrown three complete game shutouts in his career.  But that record, like Arrojo’s rookie win mark might be tested this season by Neimann.

And considering the impressive crowd he is now being mentioned with as the only holders of complete game shutouts this season, it reads like a “Who’s Who” in the MLB. The Royals Zack Greinke, San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum, Cardinal Joel Pinero and Red Sox Josh Beckett are the only other guys to throw 2 so far in 2009.  You want some more impressive stats?
 

Hmmmm, he is also the fourth rookie this decade to throw two complete game shutouts joining Dontrelle Willis (2003), Jeremy Sowers (2006) and Hiroki Kuroda ( 2008).  And he is only the second rookie to throw both of his before the All Star break, the other was former Rays Arrojo in 1998. 

But then again, the Tall Texan has also been the recipient of some of the best run support in the major leagues by his teammates. The Rays are scoring 7.71 runs per 9 innings for Neimann. That works out to only the second highest percentage among ML qualifiers, and first in the AL. And to say he has been matched up against only fifth starters this season is a crock. He beat Roy Halladay in Toronto on June 29th, when he went 7.1 innings.  Sometimes being the fifth starter on the team can get you unique experiences for growth and excelling in your performance. I think it is more of Neimann finally feeling he belongs up here
and feeling more at ease on the mound. 

The winner in all of this are the Rays and the fans. In a spot in the rotation that people fretted and wondered about from the first game, Neimann had shown he is a solid member of the Rays rotation, and could be for a long time. Some people point to 2008, when Edwin Jackson also was the fifth starter and posted 14 wins in the season. So far Neimann is ahead of Jackson’s 2008 pace, and could be the new Rays total victories in a season leader by October. But the season still has over 60 games to play, and anything can happen from now on.

But one thing is for sure, the Rays are a better team with Neimann on it. Where early in the season people spoke aloud of the outlandish decision to keep him, now those same people are clapping and praising him for his wins and performance. Hey, the guy might just be the Rays second Rookie of the Year winner, and keep the tradition alive for one more season in Tampa Bay.  But I am going on record as saying when they ask me to put my stamp on any rookie who I think deserves the award, the first statistics I will look at in comparison is to Neimann’s numbers. And so far, no one is holding a candle to the Tall Texan.
  

Price is Alright

 


Jeff Zelevansky / AP

People are beginning to run theories and equations all over the web about what is going wrong with Rays uber prospect David Price since he came up to the Rays on May 25th. In his first start against the Cleveland Indians he lasted 3.1 innings, but the discussions were not about him losing that first start, but on the 5 walks he allowed against a team that is patient like the Rays at the plate. Price came up here basically anointed after the stellar performance he had for the Rays in the 2008 playoffs.

Fans were waiting for the Rays top prospect who during last season’s Spring Training predicted, or hoped he would be at the major league level by the end of the year. And his escalated move towards the Rays from Class-A ball to finally landing on the Rays roster seems a bit rushed at times. So the Rays did the prudent thing this Spring and decided he needed some polishing and work on his command before they were going to throw him into the fire with the big club. And that is pretty understandable, but the fans seemed to have other plans for the big leftie.

Now that Price has had 10 starts in the majors, and has come away with some positives and negatives, maybe this is a good spot to try and check the barometer on how Price’s early career wins and losses might effect him this season. We all know the guy can throw the ball with the best of them. You only have to look as far as his recent  July 9th start against the Toronto Blue Jays at home to see what he is capable of at this level. In that contest he went toe-to-toe with  American League uber starter Roy Halladay and held his own the entire game.  The southpaw threw 6.1 innings of 6-hit 1-run ball and also posted 7 strikeouts during the afternoon game.

He started to show that with the pressure on high and tight he could be relied on to make the right pitches and be in the right frame of mind.  But that might not have been the case during his first start on May 25th in Cleveland where he only lasted 3.1 innings and showed a small control problem by walking 5 patient Indians hitters.  Most people remember this game as the one where the Indians came back and scored 11 unanswered runs, not for being Price’s first start in 2009. In the contest he started off a bit wild by walking lead-off man Jamie Carroll, and gave up a double to Grady Sizemore, but he gained his composure and struck out the side on 17 pitches after that and looked to be on the good road.


Charles Rex Arbogast / AP

But in his first four inning lead-off situations in the Cleveland game he let three  lead-off hitters on base. This was not the defining moment to the loss on that night, but it gave a small light to a situation he would have to watch and adjust to all the way to last night’s contest. From the May 25th game where he let 3 out of 4 lead-off hitter reach base, to last night when he let 5 out of the 6 lead-off men reach base, it was a slight flaw in his game plan that has derailed him before. In his win against the Blue Jays just before the All Star Break, Price  let 3 out of the 6 lead-off batter get on base, but he adjusted and got the second man to the plate to either strike out or hit into a double play to take some of the pressure off him.

But unlike the Toronto game, last night against the White Sox he got victimized by the second and third hitters because of the pressure of the man on base.  Last night during the third inning is a great example of what is happening to Price right now. He gave up a Ground Rule Double to Scott Podsednik to lead off the inning, then Alex Ramirez got a single to rightfield to put two men on base. Price did get Jermaine Dye to strike out, but then threw one strike to Paul Konerko before he turned on the next pitch and drilled it to leftfield for a 4-1 lead. Not to be lost in the shuffle is the fact that Podsednik did it to Price in the first inning too. He got Price to lead off the inning with a walk and after moving to third on a steal attempt and a throwing error by Michel Hernandez, he came in to score the first run of the game on Dye shallow fly ball to right field.

Twice in last night’s game the lead-off hitter,Podsednik was responsible for effectively getting on base and then scoring against Price.  But this is not the first time this season that someone has had a big inning on the young leftie. We only have to go back to July 4th, in Arlington. Texas to see another example of a lead-off man wrecking havoc on a pitcher. In that game in the first inning the lead-off man for a change was not the culprit, but the next three in the order did ruin Price’s Independence Day. After lead-off man Ian Kinsler struck out, then Michael Young  and Marlon Byrd in the space of ten pitches had both walked to put two men on base. Price then got  a quick strike on Andrew Jone before he hit the next pitch into the leftfield stands for an early 3-0 Rangers lead.

 

Let’s throw another example out here before I try and seek or prognosticate some kind of reasoning here for the troubles. Price also had the same situation when the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies came to town during the Inter League schedule this year. In that June 23rd contest during Price’s 4.1 innings of work  3 out 5 of the Phillies lead-off men got on base against him. But to his credit, two of those men, Jimmy Rollins in the first inning, and John Mayberry in the third inning got on base because of defensive errors. 

But again it was a case of some early first inning problems that initially got Price in this game. After Rollins got on after a Evan Longoria error, Shane Victorino walked and Chase Utley made him pay with a double to deep centerfield that scored both men. In this start, the two runs in the first inning were enough to put Price on the losing end of the contest. In this game the Rays would eventually lose 10-1, with Price being hit for all 10 earned runs. But even with all of the early scoring off of Price so far in his first 10 starts, the leftie has also shown some fantastic moment of clarity and judgment.

Good example is the June  start against the Florida Marlins at home in which he let the lead-off man, Chris Coglhan on base with a walk, then Emilio Bonifacio on after an infield single to short, but regained his composure and retired the next three Marlin hitters to get out of the inning. He then came out in the second inning and sent the Marlins down 1-2-3 to show some spunk to the home crowd.  In the third he got two quick outs before letting Bonifacio walk and it would cost him. Price then gave up a single to Hanley Ramirez that scored Bonifacio and Price surrendered his only run of the ballgame.

From that point on, Price walked three more hitters throughout his start, but none of them came back to haunt him and were stranded on base. He was showing some of the guts and determination needed to survive in the major leagues. Some might look at Price’s 2
009 record of 3-4, with a 4.86 ERA as being a bad thing. But then other will look at the wins he has gotten against the Marlins, Twins and Blue Jays as stepping stones into the future. Seriously, how many people really expected the young gun to come out and truly go 10-0 in his first 10 starts?


Reinhold Matay / AP

I know there are some in the Rays Republic who dreams and wanted that, but the 3-4 record is really not as bad as it all seems.  In that span Price has gotten some really valuable experience and useful pitching techniques for the future. He is just beginning to get the major league strikezone imprinted into his mind and should begin to turn the corner in the next few starts. Everyone wants him to win, me included, but it is not always possible for that to happen. But in his recent troubles, you can point to two things that get him into situation every time.

First problem is with keeping the lead-off hitters to stay off the basepaths. In all 4 of his losses to Texas, Philly,Colorado and the White Sox, this has been a key element to his downfall. Mix that in with giving up a total of 9 walks in those 4 games and you get a ingredient for losing.  His walk total of 33 in 50 innings is a great indicator of some control issues, or just him trying to paint the black on the corner of the plate too much at times. Either way, when his walks go down you will see a more effective and more consistent guy on the mound.

And that take time. I really thought his break-out season was going to be 2010, and that is still a huge possibility for him. He might just use the rest of this season as a time to adjust his change-up and his slider to meet the needs of the game instead of trying to just fire it past people then leaving up a hanging breaking ball that he sees going into some fan’s hands in the game. The kid is magic, you can see it when he has everything going right for him on the mound. But the reality here people is that the guy is still learning to pitch at this level. His time in Triple-A in 2008 and 2009 have been a training ground to him coming up and performing this season.

He might have been a pre-season favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award, but right now he has to again win over David Price before he can gain the attention of us and the rest of the country. He could again be that guy on the mound if the Rays get to the 2009 playoffs, and he can again be the dominating pitcher he was in the lower levels of the minors and in college. Adjusting at this level sometimes has to be done during the game and not during the next Bullpen Session with your Pitching Coach. But I know he has the right stuff, and with it he is going to be the most successful drafted player out of the Rays system as a pitcher.

But for him to get to that next level, two thing have to happen. He has to just pitch and not analyze or even second guess himself on the mound. He will give up bad hits or innings. To just come out every half inning and view it as a new beginning might be the hardest part. Society dwells on things as a general rule, but as a pitcher you have to put it behind you and strive for more. I know that is probably easier said than done, but it a true sense of what Price has to do to take the next step. His control will come in time. Umpires will begin to give him borderline pitches if he consistently hit that mark.

But basically, for Price to be a success in the major league only one thing needs to happen. He needs to go after hitters from the get-go and establish himself early in the game. By not letting teams get early leads on him or rattling his cage he can develop a game plan and dominate. Sometimes I believe we put too much pressure on these guys to be “the man” way before they are ready to assume the role. For Price to reach that level of stardom the baseball world has already anointed him with he has to simple pitch his game and be consistent. The Rays have a shining gem in Price, let’s not dull him up before his time. 

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