Rays “Company Man” Keeps his Silence
Sometimes the simple game of baseball can be so complex and so covert it would surprise you to find out some of what you have seen with your own eyes was not even planned that way. Spring Training games is the time for Coaches and Managers to tweak the game plan, possibly tinker with a pitcher’s delivery or mechanics hoping for a positive outcome.
Then suddenly something just seems to go so horribly wrong, and no one is the wiser. The pitcher takes the eventual storm from the blustery outing, but underneath it all, something might have been afoot.
This happened recently during a Rays Spring Training game and neither the Pitching Coach, Manager or even the Rays player involved ever revealed that a undercover pitching mechanic change was behind the whole fiasco. Spring Training games are the perfect time for pitchers’ to try and address a pitching angle change, or a shift in their mechanics without the general public being able to focused on it.
With games not being televised, sometimes these pitching changes can go completely under the radar, unless you know what to look for, or possibly the opposite. Sometimes a pitcher has a tendency while learning a new grip, angle or even pitch to telegraph that pitch, and then the scoreboard lights up like a pinball machine.
This recently happened to one of the Rays most silent partners, reliever Andy Sonnanstine as he got rocked hard and heavy in Spring Training game against the Baltimore Orioles. During a prior Rays Bullpen session there was talk of changing a bit of Sonny’s delivery, and both parties in question decided to work on the change and possibly use it during his recent spot start.
Some might say the 2.2 innings posted by Sonny was disaster, but underneath it all it was not about the 5 Home Runs, two by Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis. For Sonny to even stick with the game plan and the pitching change and not throw it all by the wayside when trouble hit the fan says a bunch about the confidence Sonny has in the Rays staff’s ideas.
It is easy to second guess the change, or even try and want Sonny’s head for giving up 6 early runs in the contest, but Spring is the time for teams like the Rays to try these hidden magical moves when series victories, divisional standings or even just absorbing a “L” is not a huge hindrance.
Can’t say I would have had the same mental fiber and confidence in the change as Sonnanstine to stay with the plan, but that is why the Rays staff have always liked him on the roster. He is one of those “throw-back” hurlers who will pitch his arm off if it will get his team a win or help in the long run.
But still, did the Rays staff really have to stay with the pitching game plan after the first inning saw 3 quick Baltimore blasts and a 4-0 deficit. When a pitcher is putting himself out there trying something new, you would hope the Coaching staff would have a short leash with the change and get the pitcher out of there before their confidence level hits rock bottom.
Same thing happened to James Shields in Toronto in 2010 when he got rocked hard by the long ball and stayed out a bit longer than anyone, even Shields expected. You want to second guess, you want to rant and rave, you obviously want success in the end. Spring baseball can sometimes be reminiscent of Recon Ranger training.
There are covert offensive weapons being fortified and trained (rookies), secret strategy meetings and maybe even a clandestine BP session or two going on. But the end result is that sometimes what you see during the Spring really is half the story.
But that is what Spring baseball is all about. It is not all about the wins and losses, those stats do not transfer to the regular season and do not guarantee even a good season.
Sure I would have loved for someone from the Rays staff to say that Sonny was working on something and it did not work. Possibly give the Rays faithful some hope that Sonnanstine is not experiencing some pitching problem, but trying some adjustments, or fine tuning before the season starts April 1st.
But then that would make me guilty of baseball espionage by me trying to decipher the who, what when and how without a veritable flashlight to see into the darkness. Plus it might cost me my Little Orphan Annie decoder ring, or possibly my membership in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen… Okay the last one was a stretch.