August 2009

The Z-Man Comes to Tampa Bay

I have to admit when I first heard that the Tampa Bay Rays had traded for catcher Gregg Zaun a bit of ease went through my body. Here is a guy who might not be huge in stature, he is listed at 5 ft 10 inches, a slim inch taller than Dioner Navarro. But the fact that Zaun plays like he is 6 foot 9 inches and 250 pounds might be a great boost for the Rays.

We finally got a guy behind the plate that will be effective behind the plate stopping balls in the dirt and also can be a major pain to opponents at the plate. All you have to do is just look at what he has done to the Rays in 2009 to see the potential for added offense.  Zaun went 5 for 17 with 4 runs and 3 walks while homering once with an RBI. You might say that this .294 average is not great, but he has only faced the Rays in 6 games and did that type of damage. Do you need further stats to show you it was a great move?

Okay, maybe you need to be convinced a little more. How about we look at his 2008 numbers and see just how effective this pesky catcher has been against the Rays, even during their Championship season. Zaun hit for a .300 average just during the 3-games series in Walt Disney’s Champion Stadium.

But the Rays did blank him at Tropicana Field in 2008 by getting him to go 0-5 with only a walk. But he always seems to be at the center of any scoring drive against the Rays, and he did most of hid damage in 2008 at home in Toronto. In Rogers Centre, Zaun went 7 for 17, with 4 RBIs and a run scored.  He batted .412 against the Rays with a .647 Slugging Percentage in the confines of his domed home. But this trade was done for other reasons too.

 



Greggzaun.com

In 2009, Zaun has only committed 5 errors in 316 total chances in 435.1 innings. He has caught 5 base runners this season, and has a .984 Fielding Percentage. These numbers are pretty similar when you stack them up next to Navarro’s 2009 numbers of 5 errors in 572 chances in 696 innings. And Navarro has caught 14 base runners and boasts a .991 Fielding Percentage.

Those similar statistics might be the biggest reason he is here in Tampa Bay right now. His numbers are very similar in comparison with Navarro. But he also has a few intangibles that overshadow Navarro. One of the constant complaints on Navarro has been the way he handles balls that scuff into the clay or hit in front of the plate. It always seems like he is not getting his glove down in time, or is not in position to block it effectively with his glove.

This can frustrate a pitching staff and can render the catcher a liability in a close game. Ball getting away from the plate, or even sailing to the backstop can be counter productive to stopping a running game by your opponent. Even tho Navarro has been effective in gunning down guys, his mishandling of balls in the dirt could have prevented runners moving up into scoring position.

Zaun is a workhorse behind the plate, and like Navarro, he is also a switch hitter. But beyond all of that, he brings a professionalism that has lacked since Josh Paul left the Rays. Paul was a great catcher as well as teacher while he was here with the Rays. Navarro is not the type to teach anyone since he still has things to learn himself. Zaun could be the answer to letting him grow without pressure knowing his back-up is totally competent to running the Rays pitching staff.


Nick Wass / AP

But above all, Zaun brings to the Rays a truly professional sense from top to bottom. Who knows who the imfamous player-to-be-named-later will be, but he will be a small player in comparison to what Zaun could do for the rays down the stretch. Another huge plus is his knowledge of the American League East hitters. That brings about instant credibility and a great asset behind the plate.

And also, I think he is the first player we have ever traded for who has a dedicated website to his talents on the web. Just go to http://www.greggzaun.com and you will be impressed not only by the graphics and the music, but by the sheer abilities this guy can bring to the Rays. From the posted videos to the music contained on the website it breeds excitement, and brings you wanting to know more about the guy.

I am truly excited we have a guy that will get behind the plate and throw himself all over the clay and turf to block pitches and get this team into a mode to win every night. This is not to mean that he will come in here and dominate or even replace Navarro. I think he was brought in to compliment the team and not push anyone aside right now.

I can not wait for Zaun to get back to the Trop so I can go up and welcome him here, plus ask him what his walk-up music will be here in Tampa Bay. Could he be staying with his old favorites “BYOB” by System of the Down, or maybe  “Limelight” by Rush. The guy is going to bring some light to the Rays that is needed right now.

Offensive power from the catcher’s spot is needed right now, and his current line of a .244 average with 4 homers and 13 RBIs might not seem like a huge upside, but his 27 walks pose problems for pitchers. That last stat might be the biggest improvement behind the plate. Navarro has only walked a total of 9 times this season.

Zaun, or the “Z-man” as fans have affectionately called him has been a huge part of the scenery in the AL East for a long time. With him now here in Tampa Bay it boosts a soft spot in the Rays offense and defense and makes for a more effective battery going into the stretch run.


Nick Wass / AP

Want to know just what kind of classy guy we are getting here in Tampa Bay? Here is a small sampling from his website on his favorite charity, Right to Play:

Thanks for visiting our website. We started this site for one reason. To help raise awareness and money for RIGHT TO PLAY. I first became exposed to the organization while playing for the Blue Jays, when my wife Jamie and Patrick Grey, a former Blue Jay employee, first brought it to my attention. It was clear to me that Johan Olav Koss, the Olympic speed skater, had truly built an incredible foundation. Their work around the world is timely and crucial to the survival of a generation. I urge you to check the RIGHT TO PLAY website and when ours is finished, give all you can. The children of the world are counting on all of of us to do our part in saving them.

I am so excited to have this guy playing for the Rays. not only is he a great guy on the field in terms of his hustling style, but he is a major player in the community and would be a great asset to the Rays Foundation. Plus, I think he is the first player we have ever acquired who has a web presence besides Rays reliever Brian Shouse.  Mix that with his colorful catcher’s helmet that mirror’s the NHL goalies, and you get a guy with a great zest and love for this game. Can’t wait for him to get behind the plate in the Trop.

Seattle….The Renegade’s Way



Man, I envy this Rays team for the next three days. Not only are they in one of the cleanest towns in America, but they are in a place that I have had a deep love affair with my entire life. But it is over 3,127.66 miles from my doorstep right now to the city limits of Seattle, Washington. The Emerald City of the Pacific Northwest is a special oasis for me where rainy days can bring 37 inches of rain in a year, and you get the bonus of both sea and mountain backgrounds that are just breathtaking to the eyes.

It is a slice of paradise I Fell in love with as a child, journeyed to as an adult, and hope to move for good within the next 10 years. I know, I know. I was born here in Florida, so  why would I give up tropical paradise for the sea and snow? Simple answer for me is I have been a subjected to 100+ mph winds and wild heat that can bake the paint right off my car for almost half a century. So I want to live in an area that has one of the milder climates in the world.

Where temperature variations are frequent, and misty, cloudy days are not frowned upon like here in Florida. I want to live in a place where there is always a chance of a little drop of rain and surprisingly, there are only a few days a year where the snows falls amongst the city streets.

I mean ever since I was a young kid coming out to the Naval base on the Whitbney Island with my father to see my brother who was an Executive Officer on a nuclear sub, or working on his alfalfa farm as a teenager during the summers I have had a love for the area’s floating bridges and daily sights of Mt Rainer and Mt Baker out of the house windows.

I still remember hitting the slopes of Mt. Baker in late August to slide down the snowy slush for my first adventure with the frozen mixture.  But then things like the  pine and fresh cut wood smell in the air or the tasting of the royal cherries right off the tree can send me to the moon.


RRCollections

 

And hey have a love affair with baseball in this area. From the Triple-A Tacoma Rainers to the feisty home dwellers of  beautiful Safeco Field, the Seattle Mariners, this region is a baseball haven. One of the Rays ex-Bullpen Coaches, Matt Sinatro, who is currently with the Chicago Cubs has a baseball facility right here in this region. 

So it is about time that I list some of the great thing the guys can do in their off time while they are out in Seattle, or at least some of the thing I would be into doing if I was there this weekend. People forget, that the Tampa Bay Baseball group was in the process of buying the Mariner’s when the local government stepped in and saved the sale of the team buying promising a new stadium and development in the SODO (South Downtown) district.

First off, if you are a music fan, this town can be a haven for lovers of all different types of music. You can go celebrate like Sir Mix-a-lot and his crew on Broadway right to the west of the Space Needle and stop at Dick’s and get you a burger to die for.  This is the region talked about in his classic video, “Posse on Broadway.”

Or if you want to pay your respects to those who have fashioned some of today;s music tastes, you can visit the final resting places of Jimi Hendrix in Renton or maybe Bruce Lee and his son Brandon Lee.  And while you are out there, you can visit the Troll under the Bridge in Freemont. This awesome sculpture is actually fashioned within the underneath support of a highway bridge in the small town.

But even as the team get up in the morning while they are staying in downtown Seattle at the Westin on 5th Avenue they can always stroll on down and take in an Underground Tour which  starts in Pioneer Square and will make them aware of some of the odd characteristics of this town, and maybe you will get a ghost sighting at the old bank vault. Seattle was originally built at sea level. And this brought about some interesting plumbing problems during high tide.

For that reason, all of the early homes had their bathrooms on the second floor of the house to avoid a messy clean-up once a day based on the tides. Also, after an early fire in the city, the city officials decided to build their new town above the fire rubble and produced a lower town that was steeped in darkness both by activities and by the building above them.


ArchieMcPhee.com

Or maybe they are just thirsty and want to travel out to the Red Hook Brewery, which has its home base here in Seattle. The company, which crafts different types of beer was started in this are in 1981.  Red Hook started in an old transmission shop and moved 20 miles east of the city where they still have Tuesday Night Trivia at the Forecaster’s Pub located right off the brewery. 

Or maybe Hard Lemonade is your thing? You know that Seattle is also home to Mike’s Hard Lemonade, which was first made here back in 1999 after they moved the operations from Lakewood, Colorado to Seattle.

But then you have local food icons like Beth’s where the team can all join in to take on their signature 12-egg omelette and hash browns, or maybe sit in the Pope’s Room at Buco de Beppo near Lake Washington. But then there are local icons like Ivar’s. where the fish is so fresh the fish slaps you before you eat it.

But there is a host of ethnic variety from Turkish food at Bistro Turkuaz to Catfish Corner on Cherry Street that brings back the Southern charm of soul food to this Florida boy. Icons like Mario Batali has his family’s deli Salumi in this town, along with some of the local flavor of places like Flying Squirrel Pizza Company founded by ex-musician Bill Coury.

It would take me 10 years to sample all the different types and styles of dining in this town. I mean small breweries like Pyramid Brewing, which is within the shadow of Safeco field, or the small  brewhouses like Circa that make a Sunday brunch of Hawaiian sweet-bread
French toast. The region has all the great flavors and tastes of the world hidden within 30 miles of the center of the city.

But one of the wildest meals I ever had while in Seattle was at Senor Moose Cafe in Ballard, just north of the city hub. It was nestled within car dealerships and construction sites to give you an odd feeling you were in the wrong neighborhood, But it has some of the best and wildest Mexican combinations on earth. I personally recommend the eggs and cactus, which tastes like green peppers to me.


RRCollections

 

The region is a gold mine for seafood, and you can get some of the finest and freshest in the world off the docks or, in the local  Farmer’s Markets. But he granddaddy of them all is Pikes Market located right on the ridge of the town is within walking distance of the monorail that goes up and down the Seattle slope towards the World’s Fair location. Everyone knows their “Public Market” sign that has been emblazoned on movies screens and backdrops for years. But it is within the confines of this small market that is found one of the true gems of this city, and my personal favorite fast food.

Just mention the name Prioshky-Prioshky to a local or even someone and their mouth will water. They do not do sushi, but does the Eastern European classic pirogies that are to simply die for………totally. the last few times I have gone out to Seattle, I have brought back a dry ice box filled with 10 pounds of their tasty morsels to Tampa Bay.

Simply worth the trip to just taste one of them.  But there is a huge combination of places in the market that are great, like Taxidogs, or even I Love New York Deli that does the mile high sandwiches just like Katz’s Deli in NYC. Oh, and be sure to visit the Spoon Man and tell him the “Florida Cracker” said Hello. I loved this guy and his unique take on music from raps to old boogie-woogie with just two spoons. Classic entertainment.


RRCollections

Enough with the food, I have to mention a few great thing you can do before I get off this blog and have to go run a mile or so to get over the urge to fly out there tonight. But the area is teeming with great sightseeing adventures too, like the site of the 1980 World Fair that houses the city’s icon, the Space Needle, or go out to Ballard Locks and check out the salmon steps put into the lake’s lock system to keep them jumping to their spawning grounds just north of the city.  Or maybe take a Duck Tour and see Microsoft’s Bill Gates compound from the lakeside.

But my  “green” moment highlights was my visit to Gas Works Park project where the local government turned the old coal-to-gas processing plant back into a park for the community. It has a unique boilerhouse that has been converted into public picnic shelters and a huge hill perfect for flying kites and rolling down the hillside ( yes, I did a few rolls).

I was once told by Jane of “Confessions of a She-Fan” I should work as a tourism guide because I take great pride in telling all of you about the places that have stayed with me in my life. I am just someone who values beauty and the essence of what makes a smile carry on for days, months and years. I hope my little preview of one of my favorite baseball town did not bore you too much.

Seattle is one of the town that has stayed in my mind for what seems like forever. It is a perfect meshing of technology and culture, with a spice of ethnic individuality and pride. But first and foremost, it is a town that enjoys its quirks and odd variety of attractions. Ask anyone about Archie McPhee’s store and the eccentric gadgets in that store like the Pig Catapult. It is like a Spencer’s Gifts shop on PED’s.

 


RRCollections


I hope you can some day hit a baseball game at Safeco Field ( my favorite park) and stroll around the city a few days. Just like the charm of San Francisco, Seattle can take you away from stress and responsibilities for a few minutes with just the aroma of the freshly brewed coffee along the storefronts. Off days for a baseball team can be either a day of rest, or exploration.

I hope that both can be done by the Rays during this critical road trip before one of the most important home stands of the season. So guys, take in some of the nightlife at places like Cowgirls (a Seattle-style Hooters), world famous Lava Lounge, or just kick back at Doc Maynard’s for live music and some old Seattle charm.  Or maybe the answer is Rendezvous, which has it own theatre for pulp films, concerts or even a team-oriented event.

Whatever your taste in anything, I bet you I can find what you need in this town during your travels here. From crafted beers made daily to sending a  fresh slab salmon back home, this town has what you need, what you desire, and will make you smile for years afterwards just by its vibe……Trust me on that…..I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express off of I-5 when I was last there.

 

Price is Starting to Shine like a Penny

 


Chris O’Meara / AP


When  former Vanderbilt University pitcher David Price was first selected by the Tampa Bay Rays a few years ago as their First Pick in the amateur draft you knew the guy had something special about him. The way he beamed when he smiled for the camera, and the confidence and the demeanor of the guy, you wanted him to almost go straight to the major leagues. You had a feeling about this kid that if anyone could make it, Price was the real deal.

But no one who has ever come out the Rays farm system has ever had this kind of fanfare even before they had played their first game in Class-A ball. Because of his fantasy-like experience up with the Rays prior to the 2008 playoff surge he came into 2009 with some high expectation put on him by the so-called experts and Fantasy poets. The guy was basically given the 2009 Rookie of the Year award without even setting foot on a Major League field. That is a huge amount of pressure and false expectations put on a guy who has shown limited time up in the big leagues.

And it is not like Price has fallen on his face or even seen sent back and forth to the minors with the Rays this year. When the team did finally bring him up to the majors he was voiced that he would be here for good baring an injury and would mature and grow as a starter at this level. And it was not like they put him down in the minors as a punishment or even a deterrent, but as a better way to get some additional help with his control and mechanics before he was out there for everyone to see when he finally came up to the major leagues.

The Rays did everything in their power to keep him down in the minors to correct some controls issues and make his change-up major league ready. So when they finally made the decision to bring him up, I thought it might be a bit too early. But Price did struggle early, which is completely understandable.  It is rare for a pitcher to just get right into his teams groove and set the world on fire from Day One. But the media had anointed him the next Rays savior even before Spring Training.

All during the spring, reporters would throw out daily “Price” questions and were anxious to know of he was being considered for the fifth rotation spot. Price did look impressive at times in the spring, but you could also see that he needed to polish a few things before firing the ball in Tropicana Field every fifth day. So the Rays finally decided on March 25th to send him back to Triple-A Durham for a few months to mature and refine his pitching mechanics. And Price like a true professional went back and put in his time and effort and became a model player for the Bulls.

For Price, the beginning of 2009 truly did not feel like the excitement and the drama of last October. He did come out of the gate after his promotion to the Rays with mixed reviews.  But how do you improve on his 2008 success when he came up late in the season and posted a 1.95 ERA in your 5 games. Can the hype be so large that we all forgot this is a guy who flew through the minor league system in one season and arrived in old Yankee Stadium for his MLB debut. Did we really expect him to toss the bar even higher so early in his career?

Well, if you ask me, we did put a bit of false expectations on the guy that he would be the reincarnation of Cy Young winner Cliff Lee so early in his career. Not that being like Lee would be a bad thing, but Price was still tooling with his change-up when he finally got here to the majors. And his rise and fall in recent outings shows that he is a pitcher who is still searching for his perfect groove right now. But there have been signs of light that have trickled and have shown bright as day into the Florida night for this guy in 2009.


Reinhold Matay / AP

Price was fighting with his control early on in the season, but also was able to combine some long outings for the Rays this season. But Price seemed to save his best effort of the season for last night’s game against the Boston Red Sox. In this critical American League East contest he went 6 innings and gave up 6 hits, but his two runs allowed were on homers by Victor Martinez and Jason Bay.

But these pitches were mistakes that can be easily corrected with the viewing of the game tapes to see if his breaking balls were hanging in the strikezone, or if he missed his mark badly with the pitches. The illustration of him standing up to the pressure of the moment and coming out on top speaks well to hid future on the mound. It is hard sometimes to learn a new pitch, or even adjust your mechanics o the fly knowing you have 5 days until your next start. But so far he has done just that and has improved in small ways with every start.

But  hidden inside that win last night for Price to even his record to 5-5 was the fact of his control in the game.  Price showed massive improvement in the category of walks.  For 13 starts this season Price has taken the mound and you did not know what control issues if any he would have that night. But last night he again, for the third time this season came out of the game without issuing a single walk to the opponent. That is a major step forward for Price, and is an example of how is is maturing with every start this season.

But there were also a few things working into his favor last night during his start against the Red Sox. Price was 4-1 at home this season and had posted a 2.67 ERA.  This was a complete opposite of his road woes this season, which currently has Price at 0-3 with a 9.23 ERA. So the confines of the Trop. were a perfect setting for him to again shine on the mound for the Rays. But he also has been showing more progress on the road too. He took a no-decision in that wild shootout up in Toronto on July 25th during that largest comeback by the Rays in their history.


Charles Rex Arbogast / AP


But it has not been all a bed of roses or thorns for Price this season, but he has the odd distinction of being the starting pitcher in both the games where the Rays had their biggest comeback in history (Toronto) and had their biggest blown lead (Cleveland) this season. It has been a virtual Yin and Yang for him in 2009. But the fact he has allowed two earned runs or less in 7 of his 13 starts shows that progress is being made by him this season.  And combining with fellow Rays Rookie Jeff Niemann, they both were the first pair of rookies to defeat Roy Halladay in a season, and they did it within a 11 day span.
 

And the Rays offense has rallied around the rookie going 8-5 in his starts this season including wins over C C Sabathia, Johan Santana and Halladay.  They have supported the young pitcher to a 6.6 runs per nine inning mark that would rank him 6th in the majors if he had enough innings to qualify. But even with all that positive vibe starting to flow right now there is a few things to worry about with Price. His 18.9 pitches per inning ranks him second among AL pitcher with at least 50 innings this season. That is one of the issues this young pitcher has been battling this season. But in last nights game against Boston, he only needed 10 pitches to get through the first inning.

The upside to Price being in the rotation right now is starting to unfold. He has now issued only 5 walks in his last 5 games. His control is beginning to shine through, which could be very beneficial to the Rays down the stretch. Among 65 AL starters with as many starts as Price he is ranked fifth in strikeouts per nine innings (8.55) behind Tiger Justin Verlander, Red Sox Jon Lester, Mariner Erik Bedard and Royal Zack Greinke. He is beginning to turn the corner towards his ascent into becoming a known starter in the AL.


Chris O’Meara / AP


And let’s put a nice cherry on the top of his season right now. When Price took the mound for his first start in Tropicana Field this season against Francisco Liriano and the Minnesota Twins on May 30th, he earned his first win of his career in the regular season, and also became only the third Rays rookie to post 11 strikeouts in a game. the last time that happened was back in September 10, 2005 when fellow Rays starter Scott Kazmir did it against Toronto. 

The 1980′s group Timbuk 3 did a song called, “Future’s So Bright, I Got to Wear Shades”.  Right now Price is beginning to ride a wave of good fortune and awesome results.  For the Rays to get into position for the 2009 playoffs, they will need Price and Rookie Jeff Niemann to improve with every start and stay consistent on the mound. For Price it might be the time for him to push towards the top and become the starter that the Fantasy gurus have dreamed about since late in 2008.

“Dead Ball” Found near Bobby Ramo’s bag.


Dirk Shadd/ St Petersburg Times

I
am one of those people who love to learn something new every day. It
can be a simple as a new recipe for pasta, or maybe even a simple way
to save money on my car insurance, but the information is given out and
I like to decipher if it can be used in my every day life.

But
every once in a while I have the opportunity to learn a different
interpretation of the rules of baseball. I mean I even went online
about 10 minutes ago and purchased a 2009 MLB Rule Book from a online
bookstore so I can have it on my desktop ready for easy and future
reference.

And you might ask why I did such an
adventure today. Well, if you saw the eight inning of the Boston Red
Sox versus Tampa Bay Rays game, you already know the answer to that
question. It was a play that I begged to differ with at the moment, but
put into a secondary reference,  it made total sense to me and was the
right call at the time.

Let me first run down the play
from my perspective about 5 feet from where the play happen from my
little nook and cranny in rightfield of Tropicana field. At the plate
Rays hitter Willy Aybar puts a perfect bunt down along the third
baseline. Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard picks up the ball with his right
hand and attempts to throw the ball to Victor Martinez at first base
for the out.

The ball skids underneath his glove and
trickles down into the right field corner in front of the Checkers
Bullpen Cafe where it takes a odd right turn after rolling over the
Bullpen mound and sit up against Bullpen coach Bobby Ramo’s equipment
bag. Not in it, but against it. So Red Sox rightfielder J D Drew being
the guy he is immediately throws his hands up both in the air imitating
a football touchdown signal.

This is to furiously
motion to First Base Umpire Tony Randazzo  that the ball is in a dead
situation and that he can not get to the ball in a timely matter. I was
talking to a Rays outfielder after the game who mentioned that if a
ball goes into an unusual place, or hits into an odd-shaped cubbie hole
or under a outfield wall they are immediately instructed to throw both
hands up.


Steve Nesius/ AP

Well
Umpire Randazzo in his correct wisdom and great knowledge of the rule
book, immediately agrees with Drew after coming down a good 15 feet
down the line from his spot on the first baseline. He did not step to
the bag, or even merit a discussion if it had indeed been in the bag at
any time. The ball was ruled dead by him also putting up the same
double arms above the head signal. Case closed, discussion over, time
to confer with the other umpires to award bases and get the play right.

The
disagreement I had with them at that time was that when Umpire signaled
the ball dead, the Rays Ben Zobrist was rounding third base and heading
to home for a possible 3-2 Rays lead. What I did not understand at
first was the way that rule was being interpreted on the field. Of
course when you are in the stands you do not get a great explanation
to the play, or even a rule to search up on the Internet at that moment.

But the rule in question was MLB Rule 7.05 G and it goes like this:

 Two
bases when, with no spectators on the playing field, a thrown ball goes
into the stands, or into a bench (whether or not the ball rebounds into
the field), or over or under or through a field fence, or on a slanting
part of the screen above the backstop, or remains in the meshes of a
wire screen protecting spectators. The ball is dead. 
When
such wild throw is the first play by an infielder, the umpire, in
awarding such bases, shall be governed by the position of the runners
at the time the ball was pitched; in all other cases the umpire shall
be governed by the position of the runners at the time the wild throw
was made.
 

So
let me see here. The element of Bard throwing the ball past Martinez is
applied in this rule. The Umpire in his view saw the ball in a place
that was deemed ” not of the field” and called for a “dead ball”
situation. Because of this “dead ball” situation, the runners are given
two base from the beginning of the play, not the signalling of the
“dead ball.” So in essence, the runners are given two bases from their
initial starting points before the play began.

That
means Zobrist is awarded third base, and Aybar is situated at second
base, but it is not a ground rule double. Okay that makes sense, it is
the same rule as if the shortstop had taken the throw in his normal
position and threw the ball over Martinez’s head and into the stands.
Both are considered “dead” at the moment the ball leaves the friendly
confines of a usual playing surface.

Considering some of
the odd and unusual calls tonight by the Home Plate Umpire Jerry
Layne on balls and strikes, and the first impression of this play, it
was viewed for a bit as a “Boston advantage” play until this rule
surfaced on the Internet for all of us to see for ourselves. 
Considering how this game was going, I thought i might still be there
right now (1:58 am) and be heading home with the rest of the people
after Last Call at our favorite saloon.


Steve Nesius / AP

It
was a play that frustrated me until I got a second opinion on it from
Rich Herrera of the Rays Radio Network right after the game wo told me
the umpires got it right and to be sure to listen to the post-game show
on the way home so he could explain it in deep, dull detail. I have to
admit, I did not have my camera tonight, or I would have snapped off a
few pictures to show right where the ball was situated.

But
I understand now that players are drilled with the facts that in
Wrigley Field, if the ball hits the ivy and even if you retrieve it
with little struggle to throw your hands up high in the air. The same
thing has happened to the Rays a few seasons ago in Baltimore when the
ball just nestled under the outlaying of the outfield plastic coating.
It can be a home field advantage, but this time the opponent got to
play the cards.

I do not have issues with
Drew trying to get it called and not moving the bag to the side and
throwing the ball. I do not have issue with the call in general, but
sometimes I do wish I could see the rule on the big screen or maybe
have some sort of vocal acknowledgment so I can understand without
cursing and pointing.

I guess I was lucky to be on
Twitter at the time and got the scoop from the Red Sox faithful like
Julia @ Werbiefitz who let me know what was going on in NESN-land on
the play. So there is a fast and hopefully simple exclamation of that
odd and confusing play in the eight inning tonight/today/whenever.


Brian Blanco / AP

It
is 2 am and if you have seen a picture of me, I need my beauty sleep. I
will throw up some more bad facts and figures from this game sometimes
during the day tomorrow. For the Rays this was a plus/plus win with
pulling a game closer to the Red Sox in the AL East, and picking up a
game on the Texas Rangers in the AL Wild Card race. Things will get
interesting tomorrow since both Bullpens basically emptied themselves
in this contest.


Sink or Swim Time for the Rays

 


Jim Prisching / AP

I am beginning to think I will need to bring some Dramamine to the game with me this week. Considering the offensive wave swells the Rays ship the last few weeks it is a common place to feel a hint of motion sickness. The Rays recent offensive rollercoaster is beginning to feel more like an oceanliner stuck out to sea in rough weather than a smooth ride along the Tampa Bay area’s Intercoastal waterways. Change need to begin now to right the balance of the ship before it is too late.

For this team to even visualize a remote boarding pass to the 2009 Playoff islands, it  will have to become a more consistent and reliable scoring vessel. People it is past that “Crunchtime” phase. With less than 60 days left in the season it is past the “do not worry yet” phase of the cruise.  And it is surely time to make a some changes before the ship begins to take on water (losses) and we are all left watching it sink under the waves.

Not meaning to make it so dramatic that this team is  headed for disaster like the HMS Titanic, or even the USS Minnow, but consistent run producing and timely hits are the ballast needed right now to secure this ship’s balance. I know Rays Manager Joe Maddon like to take these games one game at a time, and that is admirable from a deck officer’s standpoint. But right now this team needs a shakedown cruise more than any battleship in the MLB Navy.

They need to re-focus, re-energize and re-evaluate their  short term goals right now. The horizon is getting darker by the moment because of their  shifting of powers among the other fighting ships in the Rays division. Those “it’s only one loss” optimistic thoughts of the last few months are now biting at our stern to almost push us to a “win at all costs” mentality. But to even go all-head full speed right now, a few subtle and responsive changes need to be made to right the ship and keep all of us sailing into the first days of October.


Paul J Berewill / AP


Maddon spoke last night of going on a long bike ride today around the Tampa waterfront before heading to the ballpark. Hopefully some fans have decided to put posters and suggestions along his bike path to help him along with his thought process.  There are a few things that could help this team tremendously in the coming months. Some are right in front of us, but have not been made. Others might take a bit more finesse.

The first  measure to undertake is the shifting of power at the Rays Designated Hitter and First Base.
This idea might not go over well at first, but even to use it only a weekly basis then take the data in and then proceeds from there might be the right course of action. I am not making either Pat Burrell or Carlos Pena walk the plank, but might give them some needed time to refocus and find that fighting spirit we saw so much of in 2008.

The Rays have a huge asset in Willy Aybar. He was one of the unsung heroes of 2008 for what he did in his limited roles during the season. But he was consistent and reliable, which is missing right now at DH. I heard it said once when I was in Kuwait that a good leader can make decision on the fly, can make a drawback into a victory with good though processes and though out moves.

Well, here is my devised plan for good or evil to get the Rays ship balanced and ready for the fight. Take Aybar and his ability to play both the DH and first base roles and combine them into a well executed plan. Since Maddon is such a spreadsheet and sabermetrics fan, use those figures pertaining to Pena and Burrell and formulate a plan of using Aybar at either position to utilize his switchhitting  bat.

In essence, if Pena has a weak average against a pitcher, let Aybar take the first 6 innings of work at the plat and at first base, then make a defensive change after the opponent’s Bullpen get involved in the game. By using Aybar in three at bats a game where Pena might have shown weakness against that pitcher in the past, you could produce three chances to succeed.

Do the same with Burrell. If Aybar has a good showing against a pitcher in the past, and Burrell is struggling against him, then Aybar should get the nod right now. You can always insert Burrell into the lineup later in the game to still get him at bats. Basically, I am asking Maddon to go with the hot hand right now. Be it a back-up, a starter, or a guy struggling to get out of a rut.


Steve Nesius / AP

Let’s take tonight’s Red Sox starter Jon Lester as an example.  If you take the two games that Lester has faced Burrell and Pena this season you will see the opposite ends of the hitting spectrum. Burrell has gone 2 for 5 (.400) against Lester this season with 2 RBI. But Pena has gone 1 for 6 (.167) with 3 strikeouts, plus a HR and 2 RBIs.  Bit to throw a monkey wrench into this one, Aybar has not gone to the plate against Lester in 2009.

But take into account that during the 2008 regular season Aybar did face Lester in 2 games. In those contests he went 2 for 6 (.333) with 2 doubles and a run. So while we are bring up Aybar’s 2008 stats, lets check out Pena’s stats against Lester. Pena went 2 for 7 (.286) with a double and a HR against him. With those facts in mind, it might be a good idea to start Aybar at first base, give him a few at bats, then switch Pena as a defensive move later in the ball game.

Burrell has shown some offensive might against Lester, and it could trigger a nice showing by him tonight. So let’s play Devils Advocate here and check out the statistic for Weds. night Red Sox starter against all three players. Brad Penny did not play for the Red Sox at all in 2008, so Aybar and Pena do not have any data against the right-hander for that season.

But in 2009, The Rays have already faced him twice this season. Burrell has gone 1 for 6 (.167) with a RBI and 2 strikeouts. And in almost a mirror image, Pena has also gone 1 for 6 (.167) against Penny this season with a double an RBI and 2 strikeouts. Again Aybar has not had an at bats against Penny so far in 2009. In this scenario you could use him at DH in the game with the possibility of using Burrell either as a pinchhitter, or put him in at DH after a few innings for Aybar.

The 5 and 6 hole in the lineup right now needs a bit of tweaking. In the opening 3-game set against the Yankees, that the Rays lost two of those games, Burrell and Pena went 2 for 21 in the series. Add onto that the 10 strikeouts and only 1 RBI produced and
you see a dark hole beginning to form in that spot in the lineup.

Now against the Kansas City Royals in their 4 game set the pair did look a bit better, but still below par. In that series the duo went a combined 6 for 23, with 6 RBI and decreased to only 9 strikeouts in the series.  But to overshadow both of their days was the fact that Aybar saw action in all three games in which he went 3 for 8 with 3 runs scored and 2 RBI.


Steve Nesius / AP

What was even more impressive from Aybar was the fact he hit a homer on Monday afternoons game from each side of the plate. So to say that Aybar is not a needed piece right now for this Rays vessel is to have a false sense of security that the ship will right itself with no changes. Aybar getting a chance at the wheel might just be what this team needs right now.

Things happen for a reason. Sometimes they happen for us to adjust out thinking to steer clear of impending dangers. But other times they happen to make the trip more enjoyable and more smooth for everyone involved. So hopefully as Maddon was cruising over the bridge into Davis Island today some kid had a sign that said, “Let Willy Aybar take the Wheel Skipper”. And with that hopefully it can bring about change, a shifting of the ballast, and bring this Rays season back into its natural balance.

WWYD = What Would You Do?


Steve Nesius / AP

For some reason I kept waking up last night because of a weird and unsual dream. I was standing in rightfield yesterday during the beginning of the eighth inning and I heard the smack of Royals catcher John Buck’s dying quail hit to right. I sat there a second and then went in full speed to scoop the ball backhanded and give the Royals their first out of the inning.

The play was met with a huge round of applause and I could see  B J Upton out of the corner of my eye coming over to cover behind me in case the ball dipped past me towards the wall. How do I know this was a dream? Because on that play in real life that afternoon, Upton was still situated in centerfield watching it unfold instead of moving towards Gabe Gross to back him up.

Which made me wonder WWJD or What Would Jonny (Gomes) Do? You know with the no-hitter on the line a player like Gomes, or Gabe Kapler or even Jose Guillen would have done whatever they could to try and keep history going for James Shields on Sunday. But would it have been the right move? Would it have been baseball savvy to put it all on the line just then without regard to the conscequences, or wold that have been baseball foolish?

You know a majority of the Tampa Bay area is thinking just this same scenario right now. Do you make the big play and maybe surrender a run if you miss the ball, or do you play it safe and secure at least a chance to get out of the inning with no runs. There are several schools of thought here, and there might be a few more expressed by the end of today on this blog.

But the first point of this all has to be if your centerefielder was coming over to protect you if the ball did squirt out and away from you. In that case, the answer is simple. Upton basically was a bystander on the play and did not even make a motion towards rightfield before, during or after the play. The second point might be if Gross could have effectively gotten to the ball in stride before it hit the turf.


Jim Prisching / AP

On this point I am  sure he could have gotten to the ball, but it is more comfortable for a player to go back on a ball instead of come towards the infield. Just because the ball is in front of you doesn’t mean it will an easier catch for you to make. Some guys play with reckless abandon in the outfield, just like that group mentioned above. Gomes, Kapler and even Bubba Trammel would have tried to secure the brief bit of history for Shields.

Which brings me to my second point.  Did Gross just do the fundemental defensive moves and not cause more damage in the inning? First off, let’s remember that Gross is one of the better rightfielder in the American League. His arm is on par with some of the best, and his accuracy can not be taken for granted. With that in mind, the aspect of throwing action to the wind is not in his DNA.

As an ex-quarterback you know he has be drilled with the fact of ball control since a young age. Even in the game of baseball ball control, or making the right play can be viewed in many different ways. But the reality is that he did what might be considered “vanilla” or boring by some people, but it kept the runner off of second base. For that it was the right play at the right moment.

The debate will rage for a few days, or the next Rays win until it will finally begin to disappear from the Rays fan’s minds.  In my dreams last night I did not miss the ball, but if I did, would it have caused more damage than good?  Or would it have been the same result. We do not know what would have happened now, but the fact remains that with either action, the result might have just delayed the result a bit.

Everyone has been taught differently in Little League as to what to do in that situation. I was lucky enough to have good fundemental coaches’ who would of had me do the same hing as Gross did yesterday. But then I did have a Pony League coach who loved the dramatic and would have yelled because I did not leave my feet on the play.


Gail Burton / AP

Both sides will be aired on blogs and in articles in the next few days. But what you have to ask yourself is if the play was done right, or if it was a calculated move to assure the end result. So WWYD, or What Would You Do?

Rays Can’t close the deal for Shields


Steve Nesius / AP

Oh, somedays it just doesn’t pay to be a Rays pitcher. Even if you are on the top of your game, it can fail with just a small mistake, or even a mis-guided play. Some people have been throwing Rays starter James Shields under the bus recently, but if you really look at his statisitcs, he has been pretty consistent all season.

It is just seems he has been the victim of the worst run support in the American League. Coming into today’s contest against the Royals, The Rays offense has only given Shields 2.59 run support in his 22 starts this season. The team has a 10-12 record when he starts a game, and Shields is so much better than his 6-8 record this season.

The guy has thrown 146.1 innings coming into today’s game, but had things fall apart on him defensively. He had everything going for him today and even after he strolled off the mound to a standing ovation from the home crowd, the only thought in his mind was on what could have happened. Yeah, what if Gabe Gross had done the same thing White Sox outfielder Dewayne Wise did for Mark Buehrle not so long ago.

What if? What if might dominate his mind for more than a short span. You see Rays Manager Joe Maddon wants his guys to think about a game for 30 minutes, then forget it and get ready for the next one. But I have a feeling this one is going to linger on Shield’s mind a little longer. Some people have the  avant garde opinion that Gross should have done everything humanly possible to grasp that ball and save the moment. Even if it meant him leaving his feet and snagging that dying quail fly ball in front of him in the 8th inning.


Steve Nesius / AP

Other people will view it as a defining moment catalyst that brought on the  lax in the defensive unit for the next few plays that ultimately cost the Rays, and Shields a win. You have to see both side of that ball that dropped in front of Gross. If he dives and makes the play, he is on “ESPN’s Baseball Tonight”, and viewed as a sunky hero that went beyond common judment to make a difference in the game. 

If he doesn’t ” go for it” or try and make the difference in the game, it will be viewed as a defensive decision based on the probabilites of disaster if he misses the ball and it rolls around in the outfield waiting for B J Upton coming over for it. You would then have Maddon  be the first to not question the play. Some will call it a perfect defensive play by one of the best rightfielder in the AL, but others will find fault in it because it led to a loss.

But that single by catcher John Buck, who was hitting only .227 at the time was quickly releived by pinchrunner Ryan Freel. Then the wheels began to come off this wagon for Shields, and he could do nothing but watch it happen.  Alex Gordon hit a squibbler in front of the plate and Rays catcher Dioner Navarro tried to take out the lead runner, but instead overthrew second base and Freel ended up standing on third base. Shields got Mitch Maier to a 3-2 count before finally producing a RBI single to centerfield.

Gone now was the shutout and the last three hitter had gotten good wood on the ball against Shields. But Mark Teahen pinch hit for Yuniesky Bentancourt and popped a simple out to Evan Longoria to take some of the pressure off Shields. He could breath a bit now knowing it was not over yet. Then the play that would define the Rays loss actually happened.


Steve Nesius / AP

Maier was caught in a simple run down between first and second by Jason Bartlett and Carlos Pena and was shifting to and from second base when Gordon becan his trek to the plate. Bartlett was shifting his weight and was off balanced when he threw towards Navarro and home and could not get the ball on line and Gordon scored and Maier moved to second on the errant throw. It made the score 2-0 at that point and proved to be the difference in the ballgame.

In the previous three plays the Rays had committed two errors that deflated the enitre effort of Shields that day. It is not often that the Rays defense has a struggle, and it was not a pretty thing to see in person. But Maddon could see his starter beginning to unravel on the mound by emotion, not his pitching. So he went to the Bullpen and Shields was greeted by a huge chorus of support from the home crowd.


Steve Nesius / AP

James Shield came off the field today after 7.1 innings of work and a total of 107 pitches. It is a pure gamble sometimes when a games gets that late and you are chasing a dream peformance. Shields did struggle a bit in the first inning, but he adjusted and kept the Royals off the board. But he did stride and slide and scramble to try and make some Rays history today. This was a fantastic effort by Shields and the only loss was to a Gatorade cooler that was stupid enough to be near him as he left the field.

But you can understand it. But you also felt for the guy. This game always seemed to be just out of his hands a bit from the first inning on, but the Rays also could not give him the run support again. It is sad that two of the Rays best pitchers, Shields and Matt Garza have had to pretty much shut people out to win games this season. Wake up offense! You are missing some awesome pitching performances.

For everything the defense has done for the Rays pitchers this season, this was the one that will hurt the most. Not only did it rob us of a special piece of Shield’s history, but it also rob us of a memory that will never be forgotten. Not of the no-hitter, but of the fact they would again come off the match and get a chance to survive this latest struggle.

But it did not happen. So, what would you have done?
Would you have thrown yourself to the turf and hope it was enough for the catch, or would you have played it safe? That will be the debate tomorrow. Myself, I might have gone for it all on that play. I might have don
e evrything humanly possible to give Shields a chance at immortality. But then again, I am a gambler and never take the odds into account.

It will not define the Rays season, or even put them in a bad situation right now, but the honest truth is every loss from now on will take 2 wins to erase it. As my favorite movie line from The Program goes, “It’s time to put the women and children to bed and got get dinner.” It is the time to win, the time to set sights for the top again, and defend your teammates to the end. Don’t you agree?
 

Daughtry Short Photo Blog


RRCollections

Okay, anyone who knows that I have a soft spot for rockers. It might be the lifestyle I drew up with, or it might be the lifestyle I always wanted in life, but a good hard rocking song can get me fired up everytime. So last night in the latest edition of the Rays Concert Series they invited former America Idol fan favorite Chris Daughtry and his band, Daughtry to the Trop. for  a FREE after the game concert.


RRCollections

What was really exiciting is this was the first stop on their concert tour for 2009. They had been in Hamilton, Ontario only two days earlier still doing their final prep work before they got on a tour bus and headed to St. Petersburg, Florida for the beginning of their tour. This is the third time they have been on tour after their original tour made an appearance in the smaller venue of the State Theatre in St. Petersburg. During their second tour they were truly blessed to be the opening act for Bon Jovi.


RRCollections

The band spent the first part of the Rays game against the Kansas City Royals up in a suite just above the Maddon’s Maniac logo just above Section 136 ion the right field section of the Trop. The band and Daughtry would occasionally come out to the rail and smile and wave to the fans below. A young Rays fan even threw up a blue cowbell for the band drummer Joey at one point in the game. They also took in some of the rituals of the Trop such as the blue cotton candy that Joey had purchased during the game.


RRCollections

During last night’s the band did a mixture of their second album material and some of the great hits off their first album. The song “Crashed” had a different feel in last night performance, and wasa softer version of the previously recorded hit.  The band did end the night with the song that has come to identify the band in the last two years. “Home” also had a great feel to it and he did throw some extra octaves into it and it thrilled the crowd both on the stadium floor and in the stands.


RRCollections

Some of the band did hang out after the concert and mingled with Rays fans before finally being whisked away to the Vinoy. The band will make their second appearance tonight at the House of Blues in Orlando. The only negative to the enitre night, but I can give him a flyer because the show was so good was the fact he reffered to the city as “Tampa” in his Twitter video last night. But that might also be connected to the fact he was on the tour bus heading to O-town and might have seen a “Tampa” sign along I-275 before he made the video. So let me end this short photo blog with the two Twitter videos sent out by the band before and after the concert last night.

http://www.twitvid.com/player/16FD1

http://www.twitvid.com/player/ABD70

Ex-Brave Jeff Bennett comes to Tampa Bay


RRCollection

Just when you think you can figure out the Tampa Bay front office ad what they might have on their minds they go and pull a complete rabbit out of their collective hats. Since the demotion of Rays reliever Joe Nelson, the team had a player in mind the entire time, but needed to make a sound judgment call on who would be the guy to go either to Triple-A Durham or be Designated for Assignment last night.

The team signed ex-Braves reliever  right-handed pitcher Jeff Bennett ( #47) to their roster before the start of their 4:10 game today against the Kansas City Royals.   The team also released James Houser today and Bennett will be placed on the Rays 40-man roster. Bennett comes to the Rays with a 2-4 record and a 3.12 ERA in 33 appearances. As we speak he is currently doing a side session under the watchful eye of Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey.


RRCollection


The Rays have not issued an offical press release yet on the roster move ( 2:08 pm), but when you are in a Rays BP jersey with your name on it, and you are doing a side session with the team’s Pitching Coach, it is only a matter of time. Bennett last appeared against the New York Yankees on June 24th and went 1.1 innings and gave up 2 hits and an earned run in the appearance.

Rays Reliever Joe Nelson is Durham bound


News.Yahoo.com


After last nights game the Tampa Bay Rays optioned Rays reliever Joe Nelson to Triple-A Durham. Considering that Nelson’s errant throw towards Carlos Pena in the top of the ninth inning spawned the Kansas City Royals last run of the night.  Nelson was pitching to Royals second baseman Alberto Callaspo and was only behind him 1-0 at the time he put a short hopper down to the right of the mound and Nelson picked the ball up and one-hopped it towards Pena.

Pena made an attempt to smother the ball, but it still wiggled out towards the first base stands and Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist got the ball, but Callaspo had advanced to third base by the time the Rays maintained some sense of order in the play. Zobrist quickly threw the ball to home to secure that the run would not score on the play. But after Mike Jacobs pinch hit for catcher Miguel Olivo and struck out, the Royals still had two out to play with in the contest. Brayan Pena then hit a sacrifice fly to leftfield, and the ball was deep enough for Callaspo to tag up and score without a problem.

But this was just the latest in a series of rough outings for Nelson in the last several weeks. Even though his ERA has shrunk in his last 10 appearances, Nelson has been the victim of some troublesome counts and unexpected wildness lately.  In his last 10 outing he has 8 innings of work while surrendering only 5-hits and 2-runs during that span. But his walks-to-strikeout ratio during those 10 appearances is 10/6.  A reliever basically lives on his walk-to-strikeout ratio, and this one is leaning a bit towards the wild side of the equation.

One unusual note is that Nelson is a former Royal having pitch for the team in 2006, and went 1-1, with a 4.43 ERA and 9 saves for the team. But the catalyst for tonight’s action might have been started last Saturday when Nelson came in the 12th inning and loaded the bases with one out. He did manage to get out of the inning scoreless and received his 3rd save of the season. His 7 home runs surrendered this season is the third worst mark in the AL for a reliever, but he has only given up 1 HR in his last 19 appearances. Even with his unsteady inning tonight, he did lower his ERA from 4.12 to 4.02 in this game.

Nelson told Marc Topkins of the St. Petersburg Times tonight after he learned of his demotion, “”It isn’t the first time,” Nelson said. “Hopefully, I’ll be back in September, and see what happens. You’re never happy about it, but it’s a business. It’s how the game is. It’s not (manager Joe Maddon’s) fault. Pitch better if you want to stay in the big leagues, that’s all it comes down to.” 

The Rays will make a corresponding move in the morning, but I am leaning towards them  maybe bringing up ex-Ray Jason Childers, who notched his fifth save of the season for the Bulls tonight against the 2008 Governor’s Cup winner Scraton/Wilkes-Barre.  Childers is currently 8-3 with a 3.92 ERA in 42 appearances this year. He also has 7 holds this season and 45 strikeouts.

Another player who could make the grade back towards the Rays could be Dale Thayer, who has been up with the Rays twice so far this season and is 0-4 on the year, but has 14 saves for the Bulls. Thayer recently went back down to Durham after the Rays activated Brian Shouse off of the disabled list at the beginning of this home stand.

We probably will not know the actual player selected to come up to the Rays until about game time tomorrow.  Mainly because tomorrow’s game is being broadcast on Fox Television, it will be a 4:10 pm start time and the player will arrive sometime after the game has started on Saturday.

Wednesday Nights game against the Boston Red Sox has been selected by ESPN as one of their broadcast games that night. This will be the second game in 5 days that the Rays will be on National television. Tomorrow’s game is to be broadcast on Fox starting at 4 pm.


 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 274 other followers