Results tagged ‘ Al Reyes ’

Checking in on some Ex-Rays this Spring

 

 

 
 
 
I mentioned in a blog a few months ago that they Tampa Bay Rays had changed a bit when 10 members of the 2008 American League Pennant winning team either left via trade or were not resigned by the team. Well, I was sitting here today and was wondering what might have happened with those guys after they left the team in the off season. Well after doing a bit of research, I can tell you pretty much what they have been up to with their posted statistics as of last night ( March 20th). 
 
 
 
Some of the guys have fallen off the total Major League Baseball radar, but a few are having the type of spring that the Rays envisioned them having when they were with the club.  I guess the best one to start with is the one player who left via a trade this off season that was greeted by some with cheers and other with the true ability of filling one of the team’s biggest holes with a future budding star. When the trade first went down, I was not totally with it, because I envision a breakout year for this pitcher once he gains some control and confidence on the mound. But with his team tying 14 wins in 2008, I was expecting a little more out of him this spring.

 


 

 
Edwin Jackson is currently in the hunt for a spot on the Detroit Tigers starting rotation. I think he has a good shot to make the final 25-man roster even if he is not a starter this year. His ability to start and relieve make him an enticing pitching piece to the Tiger puzzle. If the Tigers can not agree upon a closer, you might even see him taking a few turns late in the game on the mound to further make the Tiger’s mouths water. But this spring, he has posted a 0-2 record in his 3 starts. He has thrown for 9 innings and given up 4 hits and 7 runs. The worst part is he has surrendered 3 home runs this spring, which was his downfall last season.  He has not gained total control in his pitch command yet evident by his 6 walks and 8 strikeouts. 



 
 
Cliff Floyd was again as free agent after the Rays declined his option on November 3, 2008. At the time, Floyd was considering the same surgery as  B J Upton, but decided to rehab his injury instead. That might have been a great idea as the former Rays Designated Hitter is hitting a robust .381 this spring with a .667 Slugging percentage. He is also still seeing the ball well at the plate getting 4 walks this spring. The only downfall is that he has been mostly DHing with the San Diego Padres, and during the regular season he will either have to play in the field, or be just a bench player for the team most of the year. His 2 doubles show he still has some ability left in his old legs, but it is his power ( 1 HR, 5 RBI’s) that will get him a chance with the Padres. 
 

 
Eric Hinske was one of the Rays major finds in 2008. He was signed for a simple $ 1 million dollar contract and only hit like he was making over 3.5 million. Even in his limited at bats, he made them count for the Rays and was always a constant positive influence in the clubhouse.  But the Rays did not try and resign him and he moved onto the Pittsburgh Pirates who were seeking outfielders. This spring, on Feb 26th, Hinske suffered a left ribcage contusion after smacking into the wall at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. Until recently he has been held out by the Pirates as a precaution, but is now starting to get at bats and time in the outfield. His average is not “Hinske-like”, as he is only 1-7 right now, but his .400 On-Base Percentage shows that he still has a great eye at the plate and will be an asset to the Pirates in 2009.
 
 

 
Gary Glover was the kind of reliever that you either loved or hated with the Rays. He had an up and down love affair with the fans, and his pitching with the team never hit a consistent point. But after being released by the Rays, he cleared waivers, but refused a assignment to Triple-A and became a free agent on August 2, 2008. He signed this off season with the Washington Nationals and is currently throwing some great ball for the squad.  Glover is currently holding a 0-1 record with a 1.80 ERA in his 4 appearances for the Nationals this spring. In his 5 innings he has only given up 4 hits and a solo run. He has seemed to gain a bit more control as he has only 2 walks and 5 strikeouts in those 5 innings. 
 
 

 
Al Reyes and Kurt Birkins are two relievers for the Rays that currently do not have any ties with a single Major League Team. Reyes was designated for assignment by the Rays and was not claimed, but he refused an assignment to Triple-A and was released as a free agent on August 18, 2008.  He did sign with the New York Mets organization and did have a small part in the New York Mets minor league system before he was released on September 18, 2008 by the parent club. He has not been invited or appeared for any club so far this spring. Birkins was released by the Rays on August 29, 2008. He did not get picked up by another club that season and is currently not on a Major League Baseball roster.

 

 

Rocco Baldelli
 
did not have his 2009 option picked up by the Rays on April 1, 2008. The Ray decided to not exercise the option because of his growing health concerns with his fatigue syndrome illness. But Baldelli made huge physical and medical advancements and finally joined the Rays roster in September in Seattle. He performed amazingly for the team in the final month of the season and was a pivotal player during thei
r first playoff run. But the team decided to not pursue Baldelli and he signed with his hometown Boston Red Sox instead. Baldelli is being viewed as a fourth outfielder and occasional DH for the Red Sox. He has been used in 8 games this spring, and had gotten 24 at bats, which produced 5 hits, and 2 doubles and 4 RBI’s for his new Red Sox team. It is still a bit unnerving to see him in the Boston red jersey after his entire career as a Ray.
 
 

Trever Miller was another player who had his option declined by the Rays on November 3, 2008. But Miller, being a lefty specialist did not hang out long on the unemployed list as the St Louis Cardinals came fast to sign him to a two-year contract. But with their hunt for a closer for 2009, he might be a few reps trying to close out games in the late innings this spring and during the beginning of the year for the Cardinals. So far this spring he has appeared in 8 games and has an 0-1 record. He has posted a 3.86 ERA and given up 8 hits and 3 runs in 7 innings of work. He has hit 2 batters and also gotten 6 strikeouts in his limited pitching performances this spring. He will be a valued member of the Cardinal Bullpen when they leave Florida and head north this April.
 

 
                         

 

Jonny Gomes
has been called many thing when he was with the Rays. He has been an inspirational figure, a feared man at the plate, and a great guy to have in your clubhouse. but the Rays decided to non-tender Gomes on December 12, 2008. Gomes is now fighting for a outfield position with the Cincinnati Reds, and is making quite an impression on Reds Manager Dusty Baker. He is considered to be fighting with Chris Dickerson for the left field spot in the regular lineup. Gomes had made quite a case for himself this spring hitting  for a .286 average, with a .679 Slugging Percentage.  He has appeared in 17 games and gotten only 28 at bats, but has produced 8 hits, 2 doubles to go along with 3 homers and 10 RBI’s for the Reds. I can not see the Reds going north without Gomes this April. He has the ability and the confidence to again be a daily member of a MLB squad.
 
 

 
Scott Dohmann was the last pick for the Rays Bullpen out of the mix in 2008. He beat out Grant Balfour, who was none to happy to begin the year in Triple-A. But Dohmann did not keep his consistent pitching and was finally jettisoned as the Rays put him on waivers on May 14, 2008. He did clear waivers and was sent to Durham, where he stayed the entire season throwing great ball for the Durham Bulls. But this past off season, he became one of four pitchers to sign contracts with the Japanese Baseball League. He ended up singing a one-year $ 650,000 guaranteed contract with the Hiroshima Carp.
 
 

Tim Boggart, who was the Rays Quality Assurance Coach also left the team this off season. In that post he sat basically in the Press Box and overlooked the Rays during the game and watched for subtle gestures or even player movements that might tip off the opposition to what the Rays had planned on the field or mound. This was the first time the Rays had instituted this type of position, basically acting as a internal scout during every game. In the off season he accepted a contract to take over the Third Base Coaching position with the divisional rivals, the Boston Red Sox.
 
 

So the Rays have changed a bit between the last game of the World Series in Philadelphia and today. But the spirit and the confidence in this team have grown from the signings of relief pitchers Jason Isringhausen and Joe Nelson and Brian Shouse. The Bullpen, which was one of the true Rays strengths in 2008 has been fortified with a bevy of better situational and late inning guys. The Rays took care of their right field needs by signing Gabe Gross and acquiring Matt Joyce from Detroit for Jackson. But the signing of Pat Burrell to replace Cliff Floyd might have been the biggest indicator of the Rays commitment to getting back and finishing the job in 2009. It is going to be a rough and tumble year, but the team seems set to again strive for excellence, even with a few pieces swapped out from their 2008 model.
 
 
 
 
 
Photo credits:   1) RRCollections
                            2) Associated Press ( S. Rakocic )
                            3) www.tbo.com.sports
                            4) www.sarasota.com
 
 

Rays Top 5 Goals for 2008 Revisited

 

 

The Tampa Bay Rays  went into 2008 wanting to gain respect and admiration in the major leagues from teams and fans. The main objective was to be competitve and to show that the Rays belonged in the rough and tumble AL East. 

 

No one could have imagined that the team would be raising the AL East and AL pennant flags in their home Opener against the New York Yankees in 2009. Most people had the realistic goal of a .500 season and a puch hard towards the playoffs. What transpired was the same majoc and karma that made the 1969 Mets and the Florida Marlins darlings of the baseball world.

 

We had a team that believed in itself to the point of pulling off amazing endings and outstanding feats of sweeping some of the best teams in baseball at home. The Rays proved that if you can believe, you can achieve. The following list is the Top 5 goals that I set for the team in March of 2008. Yesterday I blogged about numbers 6-10, today is the time to see what reality did to the Top 5:

 

 

The 5th goal I put on my list was the idea of starting lineup leading off with  3     “lefties.  In the beginning of the season, the Rays had a  up-and-down bout of     success and failure with their lefties’ by committee lineup arrangement. Akinora Iwamura, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena had the talent and the ability to take over    the lineup, but the opposition right-handed pitchers’ were stacked against the trio.

 

 

Finally, Rays Manager, Joe Maddon inserted B J Upton into the 3-slot and the cycle was broken. Upton began to see  alot  more  pitches to hit in 2008. He did a  remarkable job both at the plate and on the base paths for the Rays. He did not       have a banner year because of a nagging shoulder injury sustained during an early series in Baltimore in May.

 

 

But Upton did pace the Rays when they needed help and finished 2nd in the stolen base race in the AL. Upton then moved up to the 2nd spot in the lineup to be the meat between the Aki and CC sandwich. It further helped him evolve in the lineup and he became comfortable and relaxed in the position.

 

 

The final success to the banishment of the 3 “leftie” regime came near the end of the season and the playoffs. With the team more balanced in the lineup, the Rays had the flexibility both on the field and on the bench to matchup more effective with any team.

 

 

Upton and Longoria both benefited from the 3 lefties in the lineup with more         right-handers going to the mound against the Rays. The leftie revolution might not have been a success, but the experiment also proved to the Rays that they had  great options up and down the lineup and the bench.

 

 

The fouth goal had to do with extensions for the anchors of the team. Unknown to the general public, during the last week of Spring Training, the Rays and the agent of Evan Longoria were working on a long term deal to contractually secure the budding star for years for the Rays. The deal was suddenly annouced the day   Longoria was called up to the Rays, but was in the works for some time while he was down in the minors at Durham.

 

 

It secured a hole in the infield for the Rays for at least 5 years and also gave both sides a feeling of confidence going into 2008. Scott Kazmir also got a extended  deal right before the season started and it also secured a valuable piece of the starting rotation for years. James Shield was also secured for an extended contract   and gave the Rays a bit of relief that their top 2 pitchers were under contract for several years.

 

 

Carlos Pena has a sealed deal for 2009,  in whole, only Jason Bartlett, the team’s 2008 MVP is the only person not under contract for 2009 who plays in the infield.  He is in his first year of arbitration and the team might be working on a multi-year  deal to keep him in a Ray’s uniform until they can decide about the shortstops they have in their minor league system. 

 

 

Behind the plate, Dioner Navarro is in his first year of arbitration , and he did alot to   be sure he will get a nice raise in 2009. With the improved year he had behind the plate, and at the plate, Navarro has done nothing to diminish the vast upward swing   on his stock with the team. I will go deeper into who is up for arbitration in another blog.

 

 

 

Goal number 3 seemed a bit out of line when I first wrote it in 2008, but it proved to    be a monster move for the team. To say that the team needed a healthy rotation   would be a monster in our division sounded a bit far fetched, but it was a true key to 2008 and its success.  Not counting the early glitches in Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza’s season, the Rays had a fantastic run of luck by having all 5 of their starters’ the entire year.

 

 

Not only is this rare, but it is almost unheard of that a team could go through most of the season with the same 5 day in and day out. There were aches and pains and displays of emotion throughout the year, but  a treu key to this year was the fact they stood on the mound daily and did not give up starts. The consistancy of these 5 guys lead to a flow and a confidence in each other to fulfill their goals everytime they hit the rubber.

 

 

All 5 starters’ went over 10 wins this year, and even the guy who everyone outside     the organization thinks is the weakest link, tied for the team lead with 14 wins. To have that kind of production out of a lineup where the oldest stater is 26 years of       age is outstanding. The future of this franchise is based in the fact that they could    have these same 5, or a variation of the 5 for the next 4 years on the mound for the Rays.

 

 

 

The second goal of the year is really something that all teams hope and wish for………Health, health, health. What is so amazing about 2008, is the fact that      injuries did happen and the team did not miss a step in the field or at the plate.     When Kazmir and Garza went down early both before the season, and in it’s first weeks, the Rays pitchers’ took up the slack and gave it 110 percent. Jason Hammel  and Jeff Neiman came on and threw their best in the absence of the team’s top pitchers.

 

 

In the infield, Willy Aybar came to the Rays with a sorted past, but you would never know it by the way he played in his limited roles all around the infield in 2008. He was one of those true finds that can help a ballclub reach the next level. It did not matter if Carlos Pena went down, or Evan Longoria, Aybar brought his “A” game   every night both at the plate and in the field.

 

 

In the outfield, when Carl Crawford was out nursing his groin and then his operation  on his hand, Eric Hinske and Justin Ruggiano came out and tried to fill the gap as if Crawford had not even left. They played to mix reviews, but did an admirable job and proved the depth of this team’s minor league system. When Fernando Perez came up to fill in for B J Upton after an injury, his athletic ability and his speed did not even make you miss Upton.

 

 

Perez became an instant favorite of Rays Manager Joe Maddon for his work ethic and his willingness to learn and help the team. But he area that sealed and  secured itself even when injury hit was the Bullpen. They saw multiples guys go down this year, from Gary Glover and Al Reyes, to their closer being shut down  several times during the year.

 

 

These guys just bucked up and took it all in stride and closed the wounds and     played their butts off. J P Howell became a fixture in the Bullpen, and became one of the best lefties in the game as a reliever in 2008. Grant Balfour also became a force in the Bullpen and his antics on the mound became legend in the AL. All year long people stepped up and were successful for the team out of  the Bullpen.

 

 

 

The number one goal of the team in 2008, was set in motion early by Maddon.    Mindset can be a effective tool to the confidence and emtion of a ballclub.      Maddon’s formula of 9=8 has been around the globe by now.

 

 

The theory of 9 men in a lineup playing 9 total innings would eqaute into one of the 8 playoff berths in the MLB.  A simple philosophy, but it goes even beyond that theory. It is also expanded by Maddon that if they got 9 more wins from the pitching staff, 9 more wins from the offense, and 9 more wins from the defense and Bullpen, they would be able to secure a playoff spot.

 

 

The combined 27 extra wins along with the 69 the team had in 2007 would add up to 96 wins. Wow, consider that for a moment, Seriously here, going inot their last game against Detroit on Sept 30th, the team had a record of 96-65. Did Maddon really think he would or even could imagine a increase like this in one season.

 

 

In 2008, there were moments where mondset played a huge part in the team’s     success. The All-Star break actually might have come at a perfect time for this team after getting shutdown by the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox in straight road series. The break from playing actually might have played into a positive for the team becuse it gave them all a time frame to forget and forgive the bad results and take on the second half of the season with vigor and vitality.

 

So here we are with the final 5 goals of 2008  examined and I feel that this team is indeed ready and willing to try and make another run at the AL East in 2009. The worst thing the Rays have to adjust to is not being the underdog anymore. Mindset might be the first goal again next year as the Champions are always on the top and people love to knock off the big guys.

 

 

 

Middle Reliever “Wish List ” for Rays Hot Stove Simmerings

 

 

 

Just wanted to let my fellow MLB bloggers and the rest of the world know about a huge soda promotion happening only this Sunday.  Dr. Pepper, one of the biggest producers of soft drinks in the world will be giving everyone in America one 20 oz Dr Pepper product FREE on Sunday.

 

This is because of a promise the company made during 2008 that if the band Guns & Roses were to release an album in 2008, Free soda for everyone. So starting at midnight on Sunday, you can go to the Dr Pepper website at www.drpepper.com and get a printable coupon for your FREE soda.  The only bad thing is that it is limited to  1 soda per household………….bummer.

 

 

 I seriously feel that one of the owrst jobs in the majors is to be a relief pitcher.  Think about it, you have to ready within a minutes notice and have to be abreast of the entire lineup and how they are hitting a certain pitch at all times during every game. And above all of that you have to be able to get loose fast and go in when you might not be totally loose and ready to throw.

 

It is a thankless job, but one that the Rays have proved in 2008 can be inproved in just one year. The Rays went from haviong one of the worst Bullpen ever in the majors, to posting a huge improvement and a great ranking in 2008. One of the reason the team got to the post season was based on their improvements in the Bullpen and the versatility fo everyone in the Bullpen to swap roles without problems.

 

So my “Wish List for 2009″  for our Bullpen might be  a bit small, but it could always get better. Every year you have to do some form of upgrade to your pen, or batters’ will figure out the pitchers and then you have problems.

 

There are 10 former Rays in the mix as free agents in 2009 in the major leagues. Guys from former starters Tanyon Strutze ( Dodgers), Casey Fossum ( Tigers) and Doug Waechter (Marlins). All 3 of these guys have positives that could land them again with the team, but I thiunk that the Rays Bullpen have moved beyond just filling positions now and can compete every year with some of the best Bullpens in baseball.

 

                    

 

We also have such guys as 2008 Rays, Gary Glover ( Tigers), Al Reyes ( Mets), and Scott Dohmann( Durham Bulls) looking for teams in 2009. I really do not see any of these guys getting another stay in Tampa Bay. I think that Glover is just a bandaid type of guy you can use with injuires on your staff, and Dohmann is just not the right guy for the Rays anymore.  

 

Dohmann made the 2008 roster and we sent Grant Balfour to the minor leagues. Where Balfour made the adjustments and did the work on his pitches, Dohmann did outstanding for the Bulls, but is not the sort of guy we need in 2009. Al Reyes, well he simply has not gotten the giddy-up back on his fastball since his first injury and might not even be healthy now.

 

The you got guys that have been gone from the franchise for a bit like Lee Gardner ( Marlins), who had a huge upsdie a few years ago and fought to be the team’s clsoer, but did not have the killer instinct needed to pull the trigger for the Rays. Or you guys like Todd Jones ( Tigers) who have retired, but might try to come back for a last paycheck. Jones was only here for a Spring Training run, but he did go on to produce for the Marlins and the Tigers after leaving the Rays.

 

                     

 

Then you have the enigma that is Jorge Sosa. He left the Rays and had a few great seasons rolling with the Braves, Nationals and Mets before inploding and becoming a liablity to your staff. He was released by the Mets and signed by the Mariners’ to a minor league contract only to get hit with a 50-game suspension for a drug related offense. He had a great future in the game, but might have resorted to help to get back to the majors. I wish him luck and more if he can get himself straight.

 

 

Okay, the only ex-Ray I want for my staff is also one of the guys that is hot right now in the MLB. Joe Biemel (Dodgers) is a great pitcher who has gotten better since we traded him to the L A Dodgers a few seasons ago. The guy is a leftie (plus) and he hit his marks in the strike zone ( plus).  His stuff is not overpowering, but his hard slider can do in the best hitters in the league at times.

 

Other guys that have hit my “Wish List” have a bit of an imtimidation factor to them. Doug Brocail ( Astros) is a huge leftie that can a hard fastball and a really hard breaking curveball. He can also sometime bring an amazing slider and a nice changeup and has been one of the most consisitant relief pitchers for years in the MLB.

 

 Ron Villone ( Cardinals) has a unique sliders that can cripple a right-hander at the plate. Mix that with his fastball and changeup and you have a effective reliever. He does sometime show his fastball by a head-jeck motion to the plate, but he can be unhittable at times.

 

                          

 

But the 2 lefties that I would “wish” for the Rays are actually guys that we have looked at and wanted to trade for in 2008 during the trade dealine. Will Ohmann ( Braves) is my number one choice as a leftie addition to the Rays Bullpen in 2009. The guy is a baller and can get the job done period.

He brings to the Rays a slider that he throws often, and for good reason. His slider breaks bats, and that is a great guy to have on your staff.  He can either be your leftie specialist or get a few innings for you. That type of versatility could means alot to the Rays in the late innings in 2009.

 

My other leftie of choice is a guy who has bounced a bit around the league and is no stranger to Rays batters’ Darren Oliver ( Angels) has imporved yearly on his pitches and might just be hitting the peak of his potential in the next year or two. He has found most of his success recently as a long reliver, but is also poised to go head-to-head with the big boys in the American League.

 

Oliver has been a pest to the Rays in the past with the Angels. Oliver has improved to the point that sometimes his moving fastball can miss bats at times. It has a great last second drop to it that confuses hitters and can be a great out pitch for him. He also has an above average slider, curveball and changeup to round out his selections.

 

When you think of righthander relivers, you think of guys who can pull the trigger and bring the heat to the plate. The Rays already have one guy like that in Grant Balfour, but to add at least one more pitcher who can throw heat would be a huge plus to the Bullpen. 

 

                         

 

One guy who comes to mind is the mind master, Julian Tarvarez ( Braves). He has a a great sinking splitter and a lurking slider that doesn’t have the bit it did in recent years, but is still a plus pitch when it is on. His mound antics can get you a bit upset at him, but he is a professional who can get you the outs and the innings along with the drama.

 

Another rightie that peaks my intrest is young Jamey Wright (Rangers). He is still learning at the plate, but has a up side to him that could be huge in the next year. He does get a few too many walks, but his moving fastball and biting curveball have shown mass improvement in 2008. He is also showing a great changeup that looks more like his fastball before it tails away from hitters. Mix in a daily improving cutter and you got a great reliever in the making just looking for the right team.

 

Juan Rincon ( Indians) has always had great stuff, but off the field situation in the past years have made a few clubs doubt he might be a 162-game guy. But to his credit, he does have still have three quality pitches to throw at guys, but he might be losing velocity on them.

 

Another guy who has peaked my intrest is Russ Springer ( Cardinals). He has been around a long time and can still bring it to the plate.  His cutter can bore in on righthander hard and leave them thinking it is outside the strike zone. He has a nice 12-6 curveball that he likes to use to get guys to swing and miss on alot at the plate.

 

He would be more of a temporary fit for the team. More for his experience and his knowledge than to be there long term, but the guys did improve under the watchful eyes of Trever Miller and Troy Percival last season. Maybe another veteran is the key to the lock for the Rays Bullpen.

 

                                

 

But the prize that I want as a rightie for the Rays Bullpen is a guy who has rattled the Rays cages a few times and is a great clubhouse guy. I think that the addition of Kyle Farnsworth ( Tigers) wouls send a rattle through the MLB about the Rays having2 of the best competitors on the mound in Balfour and Farnsworth.

 

Farnsworth is not shy and will throw up and in if you are crowding him at the plate. That is something the Rays did not have last year, a guy who can throw 97 plus to “buzz the tower” on guys leaning in on the plate. He would be a great tool to use against the Red Sox and Yankees batters’ who like to stick their heads and arms over the outside corner of the plate and dare you to pitch them inside.

 

Farnsworth brings to the table a  a really nasty slider and a knack for lack of control, that I think is more an act than a huge part of his game.  He also has a 4-seam fastball that can dart away from batters and his fastball is his trademark, sometimes hitting the upper 90′s without a problem. 

 

My second “Wish List” reliever with a right hand that has gotten better and better in recent years is Jorge Julio (Braves). Something I am finding alot this off season is the huge amount of ex-Braves out on the free agent market. Julio first caught my eye years ago when he was a young Orioles reliever. He has the fastball and the mound persona to make yo take notice of his pitches.

 

Because he has been on 7 teams since 2005, most people think it is for lack of effort. I think this guy is just a high powered pitcher that gets lost in his fastball sometimes. I think Jim Hickey, the Rays Pitching Coach can control this guy and show the league he is a quality pitcher.

 

His high 90′s moving fastball has gotten alot of baseball GM’s to take a chance on him, and time might be running out on him. But, his slider can be altered by his delivery point, and I think it has been a problem spot for him because of the change in delivery points. He might seem like a project guy, but he has a huge upside and might be worht at least a Spring Training Invite to check him out.

 

Well, there you go with my list of lfrt and right-handed relievers for my “Wish List” for the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays need only a few select guys to put into place to secure a solid Bullpen unit. An additional two or maybe three pitchers could make another huge impact on the team’s success in 2009.

 

 

Rays Pound Tigers 9-3

 

 

Rays 9, Tigers 3

 

 

When the gates opened on Saturday, the first 10,000 fans got to get a B J Upton figurine and a chance to get his and Carl crawford’s autographs before the game. Also in attendance was Hall of Famer Monte Irvin in the Ted William’s Museum area signing and taking pictures with the fans. Irvin is looking in pretty fragile state, and sat in his wheelchair most of the signing. I hope it is nothing serious, we have lost alot of great elder baseball statesmen lately, and the smiling Irvin would be a true loss to us all.

As I enterd the Trop., a member of the marketing team gave me my figurine and told me it was a special one. He told me to find him later and tell him what is so different about it.  I saw on the figurine outer box that it had a limited edition numbering and a base plate that said, “B J Upton 2.”

Mine did not have that numbering, or the lettering mentioned above. Instead, it said “Bossman Junior 2. I will put a picture of it up on my next blog near the bottom for the skeptics. As you might know, Boss man Junior, or B J, is in referrence to a family nickname for Upton that started with his father, Manny, who is Bossman Senior.  It will be a treasured collectible along side my Rays old on deck circle, and the original proof of the stadiums plans that I got from an old construction company a friend’s father owned that did original work on the Florida Suncoast Dome/Thunderdome/Tropicana Field.

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Evan Longoria and Jason Bartlett put on a hitting fireworks show last night before the L L Cool J concert. Longoria went 3-5 in the contest with 3 RBIs, and is now raised his average to .280 for the season.

 

 

                    

 

 

Longoria hit his 26th double of the season in the 2nd inning and scored Carl Crawford from second base on the play. Longoria ended up on third advancing on the throw home.  Longoria also singled to left in the 4th inning and scored Akinora Iwamura to put the Rays up 6-2.

Ex-Rays Casey Fossum was pitching for the Tigers’ when Longoria connected on his 21st homer of the season in the 6th inning.  Longoria currently leads all MLB rookies in homers with 21.

His 21st homer also tied him with Jonny Gomes for the Rays’ rookie record for homers in a season. Longoria also leads all MLB rookies with a .528 Slugging Percentage, 195 total bases, and 50 mextra base hits on the year.

 

 

                   

 

Jason Bartlett had his own hitting fireworks by going 3-4 with 2 runs scored in the game. Bartlett connected on his 11th double of the season and spread out two other singles throughout the game in the 2nd and 4th inning. Bartlett also reached base on a error in the 5th inning. for his only non-hit time on base last night.

Bartlett is hitting .325 since June 13th.  Bartlett is currently 8 for 9 in  steal attempts at  third base this season. He was thrown out tonigt for the first time by Tiger’s catcher Brandon Inge. 

 

 

               

 

 

Shawn Riggans, starting for Dioner Navarro tonight had an interesting start to the game. In the first inning, Tiger Curtis Granderson struck out swinging, but Riggans dropped the ball. His throw towrds first took the glove off of Carlos Pena and Granderson was safe at first base.  Granderson ended up benig the front part of a double play in the inning. Pena’s glove was shot a good 5 feet to the infield side of the turf by Riggan’s throw.

Riggans had another interesting play in the bottom of the 6th inning. Riggans hit a beautiful shot to left that scored Willy Aybar.  Tigers’ leftfielder, Matt Joyce made a perfect throw to the plate to try and get Aybar, but did not get it there in time.

Riggans was trying to stretch the play into a double and advancing to third on the throw, but was caught in “no-man’s land” and was tagged out by shortstop Edgar Renteria.  Great thought, bad execution.

 

 

                   

 

 

Andy Sonnanstine did not pitched a great game for the Rays, but the Rays again surrounded him with clutch runs and spotted him an early lead in the game. Sonnanstine lasted  6 innings and threw 2-hit, 2-run ball for the contest.

He had several innings where the Tigers were getting to him, but great defensive plays behind him kept him in the game and help secure his 11th victory of the season. Sonnanstine also had 6 strikeouts in the game while throwing  102 pitches.

 Sonnanstine has allowed 3 earned runs or less in 9 of his last 11 starts this year, and his .625 win percentage prior to tonight’s game is the best in Rays history for 15 decisions.

 

                                

 

 

Rays Reliever Al Reyes came on in the 7th inning and gave up 3-hits and a lone run for the Rays. Coming into tonight’s game Reyes has pitched in 5 contests since coming off the DL and has a 6.75 ERA. Reyes has pitched 4 innings and has given up 6 hits and 4 runs since his return.

 

 

In other great plays tonight, B J Upton hit a nasty looking ground rule double that snaked over the centerfield wall in the 2nd inning. Upton scored later in the inning to put the Rays up 3-0. It was Upton’s 24th double of the season.

Gabe Gross threw a rocket to third in the after Miguel Caberra doubled to right and gunned down Carlos Guillen in stride.  It was Gross’s 5th outfield assist this year. Gross also got an RBI in the 4th inning when he walked with the bases loaded to put the Rays up 7-2.

Carl Crawford went 1-3, but scored 2 runs and got 2 RBI’s on the night for the Rays. He has hit safely in last 7 games, and is 10-26, with 2 doubles, 5 triples, and 4 RBIs.

 

Of course, tonight’s contest was a sellout,and is the 8th sellout of the year for the team. Tonight’s game is also the second fastest game to sellout in Rays history, behind the first game in franchise history on March 31, 1998.  Both of these sellouts were against the Detroit Tigers.

The Tigers also hold another bit of Rays history all to themselves. They are also the only team we have ever had a home double header against in our short history.

The Rays 42 home wins leads the majors and broke the previous record of 41 wins at home set in 2004, and 2006. The Rays are also 15-1 in front of 30,000 fans or more this year.  

 

 

 

 

Rays can’t Finish series on a Winning Note

 

 

Royals 6, Rays 1

 

Rocco Baldelli is currently doind a rehab assignment with the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits. Balidelli has been doing mostly DH duties before hitting rightfield for the past two contests.

On Saturday night, Baldelli played the outfield for 5 innings, and reported no ill effects from his time out in the field. This might be great news for the Rays, who are searching for a right-handed bat to compliment the Rays truggling offense.

 Alot has been made of the Rays trying to secure a rightfield via a trade, but several teams are making high demands of at least a MLB ready prospect and another high-end player to even consider trading their top players.

the wild part is that Andrew Friedman might have the answer just up the stateline a few hundred miles in Montgomery. Even if Rocco is not in perfect shape to man the outfield every day, Justin Ruggiano has been hitting .307, and hit a critical homer in Durham’s win over 2-0 win over the Louisville Bats Sat. night.

It is expected that Rocco will make the journey up the minors ladder to Durham in the coming weeks, then the Rays will sit back and make a decision on maybe using him or Ruggiano to fulfill the right-hande bat problem.

I think either would be a great story for the Rays, but a emotional and “feel Good” story would be Rocco going out and patrolling the outfield again for the Rays. Rocco has not played in the outfield for the Rays since being injured in 2006.

 

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Andy Sonnanstine is currently leading the Rays in wins with 10 this season. The bad part is that Sonnanstine has now gone 3 straight outing without a win since last beating the Royals at home, and is stuck on his double digit win total.

Sonnanstine threw only 6 pitches befoe finding himself behind in the game against the Royals. Mike Aviles hit a solo shot to put the Royals up 1-0 early in the contest. Sonnanstine now has an identical home and road record for the season (5-3).

 

             

 

After Aviles shot, Sonnanstine did not allow another Royal hit until David DeJesus’s double to lead off the 4th inning.  Sonnanstine went 6.2 innings,giving up 5-runs on 8-hits and struck out 2 for the game. 

 

Al Reyes came on in the 6th inning with the Royals up 3-1. Al quickly  a wild pitch that moved all the Royals’ baserunners up before surrendering a 3-run home to Billy Butler to increase their lead to 6-1. Reyes threw 15 pitches and allowed 2 hits in his short relief appearance.

 

 

 

 

Carlos Pena extended his on-base streak to 29 games with a 2-3 day for the Rays. Pena singled to right in his first at-bat in the second inning to keep his streak alive. He also had a double to deep right, and was hit by a pitch in the 8th inning. Pena is currently hitting .238, and has gone 6-10 in the last 3 games, with 2 doubles, 2 homers and 3 RBI’s.

 

 

                       

 

 

The Rays split the 4-game series with the Royals and will travel to Toronto tonight to take on the upcharging Bluejays. Toronto has won 6 of their last 10 game to pull within 8 games of the Rays.

The loss moved the Boston Red Sox to within 1 game of the AL East lead. The Red Sox will open a home series against the LA Angels on Monday night. Boston won the last game against the New York Yankees to stop the Yankees’ streak at 8 straight wins. 

 

Boston’s series with the Angels along with the recent implosion of Manny Ramirez should make at least a ripple in the Red Sox pond over the next few games. It has been reported, that if the Red Sox can find a suitor for Manny, he will waive his 10-5 trade veto to complete a trade to another team.

This  distraction could be great news to the Rays. With the Red Sox players siding in their respective corners concerning this situation, it could splinter the clubhouse a bit and maybe give the Rays an edge they need right now.

Knowing that there is internal bickering with their nearest competitor could make the Rayf focus more on the issue at hand. They need to win more than 50 percent of their final games to insure at least a Wild Card spot in the playoff.

90 wins will probably not be enough for the Rays to secure a spot, but an extra 5, or 95 wins could be a firm foundation to give the team their first playoff berth in team history.

With the Rays coming home to the Trop for 6 games, it is urgent to win as many at home as possible to lighten the load on the road the rest of the way through the season. After the Rays homestand, they will be going on a 10 game in 11 days roadtrip that will swing through Seattle,Oakland and Texas.

After that trip, they will only be home for 3 days before taking off again for a tough 3 game road series in Chicago against the White Sox.  After the Chicago series, the Rays play 21 straight games against their AL East opponents.

 

 

Pena goes Deep for Rays Victory

 

 

Rays 5, Royals 3

 

In the past, my Sat. night’s when the Rays were out of town did not include Rain Delays and sitting their watching alternative Tv shows. I used to hit my old watering hole about 8-ish, or after 5 innings. Usually by then, you knew what kind of outcome was coming for the Rays.

But, in this playoff-drenched year, you never know what Rays team is going to show up on any night.

Could it be the offensive minded juggernaut who scored at will a few weeks ago, or the runs challenged little cousin we have seen here in KC this weekend. The Rays now have to get up as much for the little guys they are suppose to beat, as the giants in the AL.

In the coming weeks, the little guys are going to decide this pennant race. The Rays used to be in the spoiler roles for playoff bound squads. Now, they are in the crosshairs of teams wanting to shoot the upstarts back to earth and home in October.  We forgot to bring our “A” game against the “little guys”, and the teams we are suppose to beat are beating us to the punch.

We are now the team that should dictate what our record and rise up accordingly. But I think we might not have that strong a opinion of our own worth just yet. We know what talents we have, but are not using or abusing our own goods to succeed this year.

Maybe people are right, maybe we are just scratching the surface and will not be the monster this year. We still have over 60 games to prove the world wrong, but the path is uphill and the Rays have seemed to be on a slippery slope on the road lately

I think the Rays need to finally put that game face on 24/7 and grit it out for the next 60-ish games and show that this team is the one to delegate the playoffs this season, and not be the last one invited to the party.

Time to RSVP Rays, are you up to the test?

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One of the foundations of this teams playoff run this season has been the play of Carl Crawford. In the last few seasons, Crawford has rasied his average and steal totals every season. This year might be the first year he is not going to keep pace with that stat, but Crawford  for the first time in his Ray’s career is not being asked to carry this team.

That has raised some questions into Carl’s heart for the Rays’, or passion for the game. I do not think there is any question that the reason Carl is more aggressive at the plate is that he sees, and knows that this is a turning point year in his baseball career. Not because of contract situations, but because of expectations of the team and himself are finally meeting each other.

For the first time since he put that old Ray’s jersey on his back, he knows that this team can win, and that he can be a cornerstone for that feat.

Crawford recorded two triples last night in a contest that was delayed and dominated by  extreme weather and outstanding defense by both squads.  Crawford went 2-4 last night with 2 RBI’s to help the Rays win over the Royals.

 

 

 

Crawford has his 7th multi-triple game of his career. Carl joined former Royals great George Brett in 3rd place since WWII in  multiple triples games. Willy Mays currently hold the record with 10 multi-triple games in his career. With Crawford’s increase offensive power, that record is sure to fall in the future.

The triples, numbers’ 80 and 81, move Crawford past Hall of Famer Arky Vaughan ( 1939) to become the first player since Vaughan to reach 80 triples before his 27th birthday. C C had been 1-35 in his pervious 8 road games for the Rays.

 

 

 

Scott Kazmir pitched the first 4  innings for Tampa Bay, before a rain delayed the game for an hour and thirteen minutes. Upon completion of the delay, Kazmir threw one more inning before retiring for the night.

When Kazmir came back onto the mound after the delay, his pitches seemed a bit more crisp and  his placement was better. In his 5 innings, Kazmir gave up 2-runs on 7-hits and got 5 strikeouts.

Kazmir came into the game with a 3-4 record on the road, with a 4.10
ERA. Kazmir lifetime had an 5.90 ERA against the Royals.

 

Carlos Pena has been considered a keystone to the Rays push for a winning .500 season and a possible playoff berth. Pena is riding a current 29 game on base streak. It is the longest streak in the majors this year. Pena also hit his second homer in the 9th inning las night to put a cushion on the Rays victory over the Royals.

Pena’s 2 hits in both of those games gave him his first back-to-back multi-hit games this year.  Carlos has been 5-31 in his last 9 games.

Pena’s 17th homer of the season, led off the 9th inning for the Rays, and gave a much needed insurance run for the win.

 

 

Trever Miller, Al Reyes, and Dan Wheeler came on and blanked the Royals before Troy Percival took over in the 9th inning. Miller had better control in his inning, and might have corrected the small error in his delivery that caused him such problems in the Rays’ homestand.

Percival came on in the 9th innig and recorded his 22 save of the season. The save (346) puts him 1 save away from tying Randy Meyers for 8th on the All-Time save list.

Troy’s 9th inning started with Gabe Gross’s misplay of a Russ Gload fly ball that bounced off the Royals Bullpen Wall and allowed him to reach thrid on the play. E German then came up and singled after going to a 2-2 count against Percival. Gload scored on the play and put the Royal to within 2 runs of the Rays.

Percival then retired the next 3 batters, all on hit balls to record the save for the Ray’s 61st win. Percival has made 4 appearances since his return off the DL and is 3-3 in save opportunities for the team. He is holding opponents to a .175 average this year.

 

 

In the 2nd inning of the game, the Rays did an impressive job of moving over the runner and getting a run. It is the type of run producing action that the Rays will have to duplicate often if they plan on staying atop the AL East for much longer.

The inning began with Calros Pena waling to start the inning.  Willy Aybar then came up and bunted Pena over to second base.  A Dioner Navarro single put Pena on third with 1 out in the inning.  Eric Hinske picked up an RBI when he grounded out to second, and Pena scored for the Rays.

Perfect execution of a common National League style of play to get runs on the board. The Rays need to institute this type of situation more in the coming games to help produce and consistantly record runs for the victories. Leaving men on base has been a huge problem for the team this year, and is a great achille’s heel that must be fixed before any playoff dreams can be fulfilled.

 

 

Heads up to all you L L Cool J fans. If you do not get your tickets soon for the Aug 2nd game against the Tigers, you might not be able to see this Rap Giant’s show at the Trop. Tickets are going fast, and when they reach that magical number, the game will be a sell-out.

I think you might see the game sold out by Thursday of this week. The contest will also be a giveaway night, with the first 7,500 fans getting a B J Upton figurine. The figurine features B J  sliding into a base and is a great collector’s item. The night is also African-American Night at the Trop and will be saluting the African-American accomplishments throughout MLB’s history.

So get your tickets early before you have to watch the Youtube videos of this great concert event.    See you at the Trop.

 

 

 

Rays have Sweep Brooms broken by Jays

 

 

Blue Jays 9, Rays 4

 

 

Sundays are usually full of kids running the bases, and adults trying to gain a few minutes of calm after the kaos of chasing said kids for 9 innings of a game.  You always see the Rays’ pitchers come out and toss a few minutes getting loosened up for the game.

 

Most of the staff comes out and either do a side session with Pitching Coach Jim Hickey, or just gets stretchedfor the game by doing some casual long toss, then some guys wander over and give some of the fans autographs.  I usually pop open my laptop and check out the daily Rays Pregame notes to see if anything interesting pops out at me.

 

Well, today’s edition had an interesting note.

 

Troy Percival had just been brought back to the active roster, and Gary Glover has been put on the 25 day DL for a  mild calf strain. What is so interesting is the fact Glover is tossing the ball not even 10 yeards from me at this very moment. And he is not showing any signs of pain or pulling back at all. He is squatting down and taking pitches, and seems to be in normal sprits. I have a feeling, the press release got to the Internet faster than the coaching staff got the word to Glover.

 

At gametime, there was no Gary Glover on the bench, or walking with the guys to the back  Bullpen clubhouse behind Section 140 in the Trop. Glover usually follows the group of Trever Miller, Dan Wheeler and Troy Percival into the back area to stretch, relax and just focus for the task later in the game.  I know teams use this kind of mirror tricks all the time to keep a guy who is out of options, or think are still very much in their future plans.  But couldn’t they at least pulled Glover before going out and stretching, and showing their cards to the fans and the media?

 

 

A year ago today, Edwin Jackson was going for only his 2nd win of the season by pitching 6 innings against the Yankees. That game saw the Rays post 14 runs for Jackson in his winning effort.  Only his second win.

 

And some fans’ are tense and eager to throw him away this year and he was going for his 6th today to even his record at 6-6. And do not forget, Jackson lost 2 decisions to blown saves earlier in the season. With those 2 wins, he is  almost on level with James Shields and Matt Garza for total wins.

 

Jackson pitched  4.1 innings today, and is only the second Rays’ starter to not got 5 innings in the last 34 starts. Jackson seemed to stay out of trouble early today with doubles plays in both the 1st and 2nd innings. But the damage had already started in the 2nd, when the Bluejays scored their first run of the game on Jackson.

 

Jackson went to the mound today seeking his career high 6th win.  Edwin was also pitching on 10 days rest, the largest  pitching gap in his career. The Rays are 8-3 when he lasts 6 innings, but 0-7 when he leaves the game early.  People seem to forget, this is the same Jackson who ealier in the season had 20 scoreless innings, and had a 2-0 record for the team. 

 

Unlike Scott Kazmir and Andy Sonnanstine, Jackson is a converted outfielder who took up pitching in the minor leagues. He is going about the same path as an ex-Ray who did pretty well on the World Series stage. Astros’ Brandon Backe was also a converted pitcher who helped the Astros get to the World Series and pitched a classic 1-hitter in his only start.

 

I think with the improvements over last year, and the constant adjustments he is making on the mound, Jackson is becoming a better pitcher every time he goes out to the mound for the Rays.

 

 

Evan Longoria has done more for this squad this season then the statistics show. He has garnished extreme attention from the MLB community for his defense, and for his power at the plate. Longoria hit a grand slam in Sat. night contest that is going to be a huge highlight on the Rays 2008 season review clips.

 

Longoria, hits his 18th homer of the season in the 3rd inning, was only a small part of the action for the Rays in the 3rd.  Toronto starter John Parrish got in trouble early in the inning by Akinora Iwamura reached on a infield single to start the inning, and removed on a force out at second on a B J Upton single.

 

Upton then stole second and went to third on a throwing error by Parrish on a pick-off play at second. Carl Crawford grounded out to first, but Upton scamped home to bring the score to 3-2.

 

Parrish, then in the span of 6 pitches gave up the homer to Longoria and Carlos Pena, his 15th of the season. Pena;s homer traveled 425 feet and hit the second pane of windows in dead centerfields’ restaurant before coming to rest on the turf. All Rios did was look up at Pena’s blast, knowing he did not have a play on it. These two blasts put the Rays up front for the last time in the contest 4-3.

 

After a Marc Scutaro 3-run homer in the 5th, Jackson exited the game losing 6-3, Jason Hammel and Trever Miller pitched the next two innings giving up 3-runs on 3-hits to sink the Rays into a deeper hole.

 

Hammel pitched 1.2 innings and  gave the Jays’ run on a Rios liner to right. Miller then came in and relieved Hammel and walked 3 straight Jays’ hitter before Adam Lind hit a Sacrifice Fly to score the final Jay run and push the lead to 9-4.

 

A bright spot for the Rays saw Jonny Gomes playing in rightfield and he made several great plays out there and contributed at the plate. Gomes hit a ground-rule double down the leftfield wall that had Lind, playing leftfield stunned that it did not go out on the fly. Gome also walked in the game and  this game began a series of starts where Gomes will see more action due to mostly left-handed pitchers starting for the in-coming Oakland A’s. 

 

Upton and Gomes also stole bases on Sunday, with Upton collecting his 28th of the year, and Gomes getting his 7th of the season. Upton is currently 3rd in the AL.  Gomes is also 7-8 in steal situations this year.

 

Al Reyes and Troy Percival pitched the last two innings for the Rays, each having good outings.  Reyes, who had been rocked a bit the previous night, went 1.2 innings and thre 10 strikes on 15 pitches. This stat tends to show maybe Reye was shaking off the rust last night and might still have a good 40 games left in his arm this season.

 

Percival saw his first action since coming off the DL and pitched the 9th inning for the Rays throwing 17 pitches, with 12 being strikes. Percival did give up 1 hit to Scott Rolen and hit Kevin Mench. But Percival got Greg Zaun to ground out to Ben Zobrist, who threw to Pena for the 3rd out of the inning.

 

From the end of the 3rd inning, the Rays did not score any runs in this ballgame. In the 4th inning, Gomes walked and stole second and went on to third on a throwing error by Zaun. Gomes  then tried to score on a Zobrist fly to shallow centerfield and was thrown out at the plate by Rios to end the Rays threat.

 

In the 5th, Crawford doubled to deep center and Longoria walked before Pena popped out to second to end the inning. In the 6th, Willy Aybar singled to lead off the inning, and stole second on a wild pitch by Jays reliever  Jason Frasor. The Jays then retired 9 straight Rays to garnish the victory.

 

As you can see above, the Rays had scoring opportunities the rest of the game but did not capitalize on them.  The Rays stranded 5 baserunner in the game, all 5 in scoring position at second or beyond.  

 

  

 

Rays escape with Victory # 57

 

 

Rays 6, Blue Jays 4

 

 

Last night, MC Hammer rocked the Trop with his songs and his high energy dancers. This group had all the energy of 3 Energizer bunnies with some pink fluff to spare. It was one of the best visual concerts I have even been to in my life.

 

Hammer had his music programmed, so he did not have to move around band members or stage equipment. The entire stage for set up for “Hammertime”, and he delivered a lights out show for the Trop fans.

 

I was especially looking forward to a old sone called, “They put me in the mix.” It is a great song with some expanded bass and awesome backbeats. It was also a favorite of mine when I was a skaterat a long time ago.

 

 

Last night’s game was a pitcher duel as expected. We all knew that the first pitcher to blink and show some form of weakness would be the loser in this contest. And the game lived up to it’s billing totally. Toronto ace, Roy Halladay was consistent on the mound for 6th inning.

 

In the Rays bottom of the 6th, the game took a turn for the Rays when Ben Zobrist led off the inning with a single to left. Akinora Iwamura then pushed a bunt single down the third baseline that hugged the white chalk before resting in fair territory for another Rays’ hit. It was Aki’s 15th infield hit of the year.

 

Carl Crawford put down another bunt single to the pitcher to load the bases and set up the drama for Carlos Pena. Pena responded by driving a single to the opposite field and score Zobrist. With the Rays up 1-0, and the bases again loaded Evan Longoria came up and on a 0-2 pitch drilled a grand slam to left.

 

With the bases empty,  B J Upton reached on a infield single to thrid, while Dioner Navarro put down another beautiful bunt to get on for the Rays. Zorbrist ended the Rays inning by grounding out to first.

 

 

B J  Upton had another caught stealing last night against the Blue Jays. Upton, who leads the majors with 12 caughts stealing situation this season, was out significantly on the play.

 

I have said it before, sometime this team give too much leeway to Upton on his baserunning decisions. Most of his baserunning blunders have been self-imposed  because of ill advised leads or bad jumps. But this steal was a perfect example of the cather knowing his tendencies and reacting to them without a flaw.

 

                            

 

Cliff Floyd  has gone 6-20 in the last 6 games. He has also srated in 5 of the last 10 games, and with a single on Friday night, snapped a 0-20 streak  with men in scoring position.

 

Floyd expanded on his streak by 1-4 with his 7th homer of the year. The homer would provide a cushion for the Rays later in the game. Floyd has a .340 average lifetime at the Trop.

 

 

Rays starter Matt Garza pitched 7.2 innings of 2-hit shutout ball before giving the ball to the Rays bullpen. Garza got 6 strikeoyut on 102 pitches to get his 8th win of the season.

 

Garza pitched a brilliant game mixing his pitches against the Jays and retired the first 6 batter to face him before Scott Rolen singled to leftfield.  Garza then retired the next 12 Toronto batters before giving up a single to  Matt Scutaro to start the 7th inning.

 

Garza was replaced by J P Howell in the 8th inning. Howell got ther last out of the inning and was replaced by Trever Miller to start the 9th inning.

 

The 9th inning turned out to be the big inning for the Jays. Miller, who had come on to relieve Howell gave up two  quick hits to put Adam Lind and J oe Inglett on second and third with no outs.

 

Miller was replaced by Al Reyes, who had just come off the DL with shoulder tendonitis on Friday night.  Reyes quickly gave up a single to Marc Scutaro that scored both Lind and Inglett.

 

Then Reyes got Alex Rios to pop out . Reyes then serving  up a ground-rule double to  Matt Stairs to right that hopped over the short wall  by the Bullpen Cafe’ area. That put Scutaro and Stairs in scoring position with 1 out.

 

Dan Wheeler came on without a huge amount of warmup time and got Rod Barajas to ground  out to second base. The play scored Marc Scutaro and the Jays slimmed the Rays lead to 6-3.

 

Wheeler then gave up a double to Lyle Overbay that scored Stairs and cut the lead again to 6-4. Wheeler then got Rolen to foul out to Navarro for the last out and secure his 4th save of the year.

 

All in all, it was an intersting game for the Rays. For the first time in a while, the Bullpen did not come through for the team and gave up 4 runs in less than an inning. But the Rays defense stiffened and got the 57th victory of the year for the squad.

 

The Rays did show that they are overcoming their problem with hitting with men in scoring position, but still left  7 men on base, 3 in scoring position.

 

Last night’s come-from-behind victory was their 25th of the season, which is ranked 6th in the AL. The Rays also improved to 17-11 in 1-run games, only the Ranger at 19-11 have a better record than the Rays in the major leagues this season.

 

Since the Rays swept the Jays at Disney World April 22-24th, they are 20 games over .500.  They entered that series in 5th place in the AL East at 8-11.

 

 

Rays break Pitching Duel for Win

 

 

Rays 2, Blue Jays 1

 

 

We learned a few very valuable facts last night at the Trop.

It would take 264 million gallons of gasoline to fill the Trop, and people will go absolutely nuts for gas.  The Rays and Hess Express gave out 23,706 $5 dollar gas cards last night. To top it all off, if you had  known the above number, you could have won $1500. worth of liquid gold.

The second thing we found out, is that the Rays formula for winning still works. Simple plan of putting the bat on the ball, and transferring the ball from glove to glove can get you wins.

Simple actually, but recently simple seemed oh so hard and foreign to the team. But an injury replacement player gave the Rays their life support for another day. 

 

                                     

 

Best thing about the bottom of the 7th inning, you can stretch out a bit and get ready for the Rays surge to a victory. Most nights we have not had to wait so late in a game for such drama, or have we?

There is something about the Rays and having 2 outs before we can get something going. And tonight was no different. After Cliff Floyd and Dioner Navarro posted out for the Rays, Eric Hinske drew one of three walks issued by Toronto starter A J Burnett last night.

This set the stage for Ben Zorbrist to come up and swing at the first pitch he saw last night, and deposit it in the rightfield stands for a 2-1 Rays lead. Before his homer, Zorbrist had gone 5-30 (.167) since coming back up for the Rays.  Timely hits have been the life and death of the Rays this season. It was Zorbrist’s 4th homer of the year for the Rays.

 

Grant Balfour has been a huge clutch guy for the Rays since he came up from Durham on May 29th. He has appeared in 16 of 39 games since his call-up. Balfour last night earned his 4th save of the season and has now  fanned 36 in 23.1 innings. Grant has fanned 36 of 87 ( 41.3 %) batters face this season. 

 Balfour had another perfect 9th inning to preserve the win for the Rays, who moved back into a tie with Boston for the lead in the AL East. With Boston playing the tough L A Angels, it is a chance for the Rays to pick up valuable games and wins.

 

 

           

 

 

Jame Shields won his first start of the second half to up his record to 8-6 for the Rays. Shields pitched 7 innings of 4-hit 1-run ball while throwing 105 pitches. Shields is now 5-0 lifetime against the Bluejays. Shields is also now 5-1 since he came off the suspension for the Boston brawl in June. He currently ranks 3rd in the AL with a 2.13 ERA at home.

 

 Some people in the crowd were mumbling that Maddon should have let Shields finish the game, but Maddon has October in his foresight, and a rested Shields is a valuable commodity come playoff time.  Also, Shields is the oldest starter on the Rays staff this season at a young 26 years of age.

 

By limiting his pitchers now, Maddon can orchestrate a manuver where his staff will not be going through a “Dead Arm” period come playoff time. This is a new concept in the Rays terminology sine we have never been in contention this late in a season.

With the pitchers only going a set number of pitches or innings, the staff will not be totally drained and fatiqued come the end of the regular season. Even with a expanded roster in September, experienced arms might be the key to the Rays getting the needed wins to push for a playoff berth and beyond.

So kudos to Joe and his staff for beginning to think like a team in contention and starting to conserve his young staff’s valuable assets.

 

The Rays have 2 of the top 5 guys to get caught stealing in the AL right now. B J Upton is number 1 with 11 CS, while Carl Crawford is sitting at 7 this year.

 

 

 

Last night, Carl Crawford did not even get time to settle in at first before he was caught in a rundown play between first and second base.  A J Burnett caught Crawford shuffling his feet towrd second, and got him off balance enough to force him into a run down for an out. It almost looked like Crawford was looking at his shoetop right before Burnett threw the Ball to Lyle Overbay at first base.

Akinora Iwamura also was caught stealing ( 3 ) second in the 7th inning after a fantastic bunt single down the third baseline. Aki set a ball perfectly down the line at thrid that hugged and tugged the line, but stayed fair all the way to the bag. It was Aki’s  15th infield hit of the year.

 

Dioner Navarro went 1-2 last night with a double to deep left center in the 2nd inning. Navarro  threw out Alex Rios trying to steal second in the 6th to end the inning for the Bluejays. Navarro is coming off a fantstic All Star game appearance where he had several key plays and threw out a base runner.

 

The Rays before the game reinstated  pitcher Al Reyes to the roster. A roster move did not have to be made since the Rays sent Reid Brignac back to Durham after Sunday’s game in Cleveland.

 

With Evan Longoria (22), Dioner Navarro (24), and Scott Kazmir (24), the Rays became the first team since the 1986 NY Mets to have 3 players under the age of 24 on the All Star roster. 

All 3 played significant roles in the AL’s 4-3, 15-inning win in Tuesday.  Kazmir became the 7th youngest pitcher lifetime to win an All Star game.  Longoria’s ground-rule double in the 8th inning was the first RBI by a rookie in an All Star game since Tom Tresh in 1962. Navarro contributed a outstanding throwe to second to throw out a NL runner, and also got a key single in the 15th inning for the AL.

 

 

Rays First Half Report Card 6-10

 

 

 

On March 31,2008, I wrote a blog with goals and needs for the Rays this season. Reasons 6-10 of the “Top 10 Must Happens” for 2008, are listed below. Tomorrow I will post reasons 1-5 before the Rays take on the Toronto Bluejays at the Trop.

On to the list:

 

                               

6). Our Prospects need to improve……..just incase:

Our franchsie has been blessed with a great amount of minoir league pitching and position players. It is considered by many to be one of the best stocked systems in baseball. Pitchers like David Price, Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson might not get to the majors this season, but make a great backload of talent and trade bait for the team.

Price is the one member of the pitching prospects who might crack the major league roster before Septembers’ call-ups. He has been brilliant in the minors, going 4-0, with a 1.83 ERA at Double-A. For his short career, Price is currently 7-0 for the organization.

Another guy who might be up here in September is catcher John Jaso. Jaso can hit for power and is a great communicator behind the plate. He is sure to battle for a back-up role next season for the Rays.

 

Grade……………………………………………..A-

 

 

Go to fullsize image         Go to fullsize image    Go to fullsize image

 

7). Rightfield guys have to be consistant and kick butt:

 

The pre-season arrangement of Jonny Gomes, Eric Hinske, and Cliff Floyd did not materialize completely as planned for Rays Manager Joe Maddon. Floyd’s knees are not good enough to get him out there, and Gome’s bat is great, but not consistant enough to place him out there on a regular basis yet.

The complete surprise of it all is the outstanding play of Eric Hinske. Hinske was fighting for just a roster spot in the spring, and now could be another huge piece of the puzzle for the Rays down the stretch run. His bat has been massive, and his outfield play is adequate for the Rays. He does have great clsoing speed in the outfield, but not playing there regularly for a few years, he has shown some rusty moments in right.

Another pleasant surprise has been the trade for former Brewer Gabe Gross to the Rays. It gives some stability in the late innings, and Gross’s bat has been productive for the team in numerous occasions. Both these guys have been a plus, plus for the squad this year.

 

Grade……………………………………………B+

The only reason this is not an “A” right now is the simple problem of  no right-hande bat to help the lineup. Gomes had done a great job when he has been incerted into the lineup, but he is not an everyday solution for the team. The Rays are currently looking into trading for such a bat, but at this time, the players named might be too costly to obtain for a short period of time. Rocco Baldelli has a darkhorse chance of maybe playing this year for the Rays, and could be the guy for the position.

 

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8.) The 1-2-3 Setup guys have to secure the game:

 

With the time Al Reyes and Troy Percival have spent on the DL this season, the Rays have stayed on contention this year. It was thought at the beginnig of the year, that these 3 guys had to gel into a unit to be a force in the backend of the Bullpen. With Percival and Reyes out of the lineup, Wheeler and Grant Balfour have stepped up and transformed the Bullpen into a consistant unit.

With the emergence of J P Howell as a lefty setup guy, the Rays have a two-pronged attack to get to the 8th or 9th innig and let Wheeler or Balfour get the save opportunity. Both Percival and Reyes are to be back in the fold in the coming weeks. This will further cement this unit with experience and strength down the stretch this year.

 

Grade……………………………………..A for effort, A for being one of the best Bullpen  ERA turnarounds inthe last 50 years.

 

 

Photo: Cleveland Indians' David Dellucci, right, sides home past Tampa Bay Rays catcher Dioner Navarro to score on Ryan Garko's bases-loaded double in the third inning of a baseball game on Saturday, July 12, 2008, in Cleveland.                 Photo: Tampa Bay Rays' Dioner Navarro breaks from the box on a two-run double off Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Masa Kobayashi in the eighth inning of a baseball game Saturday, July 12, 2008, in Cleveland.        Photo: Houston Astros Miguel Tejada scores for the National League past Tampa Bay Rays catcher Dioner Navarro on a sacrifice fly in the eight inning by San Diego Padres Adrian Gonzalez during Major League Baseball&39;s All-Star game at Yankee Stadium in New York, July 15, 2008.     REUTERS/Mike Segar  (UNITED STATES)

 

9). Catching has to hit a new high this season:

 

Rays Manager Joe Maddon wanted it, the fans wanted it, and Dioner Navarro gave it to us. Navarro is having a breakout year where he has not batted below .300 at any point this season. To further illustrate his upward moves, Navarro was also recently selected to his first All Star game.

Match that with the renewed leadership with this youg staff. His take-charge attitude, and his great game-calling skills, and we have finally seen the catcher we had hoped Navvaro would be last year.

To compliment him, back-up Shawn Riggans has not bee silient either. With limited time, he has also showed great improvement at the palte and behind the dish. Riggans hightlight has to be catching the 1-hitter by Matt Garza in Miami against the Marlins.

 

Grade……………………………………………….. A+     Extra Credit points

 

 

 

10). Akinora Iwamura must feel at home at second base:

 

I saved the best for last and did not even know it here. Aki has been nothing short of brilliant at second for the Rays this year. He is only the second person in MLB history to play his first season at 3rd for over 100 games, and then play 2nd for another 100 game to begin his career. The last guy…………….Ryne Sandberg.

Aki has seemed poised and relaxed out there with Jason Bartlett, and has been a great pivot man for the double play for the Rays. He only recently committed his 2 errors at the position, tops in the AL.

 

Grade………………………………………………… A

 

So that is the bottom half of my pre-season wants and needs by the Rays in 2008. I am glad to see we are only 1/2 game behind Boston, and I look forward to the team beginnig their first stretch run on Friday night.

Do not forget, all fans attending the game on Friday night get a $5 GAS card from Hess Express. So if you have a group of friends wanting to see the Rays, bring them out and get  a card for everyone in your party.

Also Friday night is $1 Hot Dog night at the Trop.  You can feed yourself a tubesteak for a buck and still have enough for a free frosty beers.

See you at the Trop…………………………

 

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