Results tagged ‘ Brandon Gomes ’

Tasty 2014 Rays Media Guide Tidbits: Rays Bullpen

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As I have mentioned before, the day I get to check out the Tampa Bay Rays new edition of their Media Guide is a day filled with adventure, intrigue and maybe even a little whimsical fun. Glancing over the awesome moments of our brood of baseball buddies always bring to light moment uncaught by our eyes and ears in the stands and produce stats and figures we never really realized for our guys who battle upon the turf.

ku-xlargeSo I decided to stay in the hurler mode today for my 2nd installment of the special career notes and humanitarian efforts of our firemen down on the First Base line who we affectionately know as the Bullpen. Depending on the type of relief corps your team possesses, they can either give you a warm feeling or outright panic when a starter begins to show fatigue.

Lucky for us here in Tampa Bay our relievers have shown more pluses than minuses over the last few season, but glitches do happen. Also we do not know yet if the Rays will carry 11 or 12 pitchers going into the season, so I’ll just take a coin flip and list the 6 guys I think might comprise the ‘Pen and a few names to possibly watch this spring.

th (6)Jake McGee: Jake and his wife Morgan went a bit “Italiano” this past November visiting Venice, Milan and George Clooney’s hangout Lake Como. During Christmas Eve this past year, Jake and his wife also visited local foster families in Reno, Nevada and provided the kids with Christmas gifts.

McGee is 2013 ranked second in the M L B among reliever southpaws with an average fastball velocity of 96.3 mph. The mark was the highest among American League leftie relievers. McGee also posted up second among all M L B relievers with throwing a fastball on 93 percent of his pitches. Makes sense McGee has been working on a few additional pitches this off-season to keep hitters guessing in 2014.

th (7)Brandon Gomes: Took the LSAT after graduating from Tulane and if he wasn’t playing professional baseball, Gomes would have attended Law School and pursued a career in law or finance.

Even though Gomes only appeared 26 times in 2013 due to a right lat. Strain which sidelined him for 88 games, he did go 3-1 last season and split his season almost down the middle 14 games before/ 12 games after returning) between his injury stint. Could be a pitcher to watch this spring as he wants to show the Rays he is durable and consistent.

th (8)Cesar Ramos: He learned English at a bilingual preschool in Los Angeles, Calif. His parents immigrated from Chihuahua, Mexico 34 years ago seeking a better opportunity for their family. Cesar also has sister named Elena.

16 of Ramos 47 appearances in 2013 were 2 innings or longer which was the 4th highest number in the American League and most by a Rays reliever since J P Howell’s 23 in 2008. Ramos also secured his first M L B save after throwing 3 scoreless innings in Cleveland on May 31st.

th (9)Joel Peralta: Considered quitting baseball in 2002 following a demotion from Double-A Arkansas to Class-A Cedar Rapids while with the Angels. His older brother Frank persuaded him to stick with it and Joel responded by going 5-0 with 21 saves and a .95 ERA with the Kernels (THANKS Frank!).

Peralta led the majors in 2013 with 80 relief appearances, which puts in 2nd overall in Rays history behind Randy Choate (85 in 2010). It was Peralta’s 3rd straight season of 70+ appearances (227 over 3 seasons) and the cherry on top is Peralta led all M L B relievers with 41 Holds in 2013.

Rays-Heath-Bell-2014-600x337Heath Bell: Who knew the All-Star closer was also such a force in the kitchen? Bell made 24 gingerbread houses from scratch for his kids school. Heath hopes to meet Duffy, the Ace of Cakes this year when the Rays travel to Baltimore and would like to compete on the Food Network pastry competition show Sweet Genius someday.

Pitched in 69 games last season for the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was his 7th consecutive season of 60+ appearances. Ranked 3rd among M L B closers in saves (166) over the last 5 seasons. With Mariano Rivera now retired, only Philadelphia closer Jonathan Papelbon (173) remains in contention for the overall top spot.

th (10)Grant Balfour:  Most people might not know Grant’s father after completing his rugby career became a leader in developing and promoting Australian baseball and served as the G M of the Sydney Blue Sox before retiring last August.

Grant saved a career high 38 games last season with only 3 blown saves. Over his last 24 appearances in 2013, Balfour had a 92.7 percent save percentage, 4th best in the AL and in A’s team history. He beat out his own 92.4 percent mark set in 2012 for the 4th spot. Converted 62 of 67 (92.5 %) save chances over the past 2 seasons.

th (11)Juan Carlos Oviedo:  He might be one of the biggest question marks this spring in regards to the Bullpen. The team took a gamble on 2013 by signing him while he was rehabbing after a Tommy John’s surgery. They released him in the off-season, but quickly resigned him and invited him to spring camp. If healthy and firing on all cylinders this spring, could be a factor in the team’s Bullpen makeup and possibly send someone above away in a late spring trade.

Oviedo logged 92 saves from 2009-11. That total was 8th best in the M L B at that time and ranked him 3rd on the Miami Marlins all-time save list.

His last time pitching in a professional games was July 14, 2013 while with the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs. 

pageAs always, do not discount the names of Jeff Beliveau, Brad Boxberger, C J Riefenhauser, Josh Lueke or even Kirby Yates of not making noise in supplanting one of the above pitchers for a spot on the Rays 25-man roster. Even if none of these names make the final roster before Opening Day, their names will again be heard possibly at some point within Tropicana Field in 2014.

Also worth circling might be the name of Erik Bedard who might have a chance to fill the Rays long reliever role with their 2013 hurler. Alex Torres traded in the off-season. Bedard could also be a great fill-in starter in-house option for the Rays if he were willing to accept a non-starter gig in 2014.

Tomorrow we will hit the factoids concerning the players who should be deemed the starters in the Rays infield for 2014. 

“Mama Said There’ll be Days Like This”

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I guess The Shirelles had it right when they said….”Momma said there’ll be days like this”. It is one of those thing that happen to every pitcher at some point in their season, a game just gets away from you and no matter what you do to adjust or stop the bleeding, something springs a leak again and all you can do is shake your head at “ what could or should have been”.

David PriceThat the most honest and to the point reasoning I come to what transpired to Rays ace David Price and any other Rays hurler that took their tun on the Rays mound on Sunday. I mean usually one pitcher gets rattled a bit and someone comes in and reverses the course or stems the tide a bit, but for some reason Sunday it seems no matter if the Rays went left or right they had a obstacle in their way.

I’m just going to chalk this horrific outing all around to a pitcher who was on his game on Sunday and a team that was tired of being embarrassed and shut out by this Rays pitching staff. You know this type of game seems to get into some pitcher’s heads once thew runs and hit begin to fall they try and adjust a bit on their grip, location and then instead of good things happening, the bottom falls out of their game.

cleveland-indians-v-tampa-bay-20130407-124501-670Sure this is not a typical Rays outing, especially from Price, but the reality is this type of games do happen over the course of the season even to a guy who has a Cy Young on his home mantle. Some times things do sideways and you can not recover, and that seemed to happen to Price, Kyle Farnsworth, Brandon Gomes and Fernando Rodney all seeing their appearances become small disasters while Jamie Wright and Cesar Ramos got out of their innings unscathed and not permitting any run damage.

But this outing will have raise a few questions, with maybe one or two about Price. I thought he was trying to utilize his off-speed stuff a bit too much when things got dicey, but I also do not have the benefit of the Indians pitching report and possibly they are a team that showed some glaring weak spots in the breaking pitch department in the first two shutout wins, but on Sunday seemed to be waiting for some pitches and just launching them skyward.

There will definitely be a few muffled voices within the stands and fan base as to if Fernando Rodney is going through that usual “dead arm” sequence that sometimes hows up in Spring Training now in his first few appearances of 2013. But even if Rodney is suffering a bit with his delivery, do no fret, this is not a resurfacing of the 2011 Rodney that seemed to lose control at will and defeated himself on the hill.

201304071354500660776-p2And the third pitcher that might warrant a few odd opinions is Farnsworth who also did not seem at all settled and loose on the mound Sunday and might have some lingering effect he is trying to play through or might reoccur if he throw the bullet a bit higher in velocity. This is someone who prides himself on his craft and right now Farnsworth doesn’t seem to have all the materials he usually has at his side to fluster and confuse hitters.

This is not to suggest the Rays greatest asset, their pitching staff has concerns. It is just the plain truth that Sunday when the Rays sent their best to the mound, sometimes things do not groove in the right order, follow the norm and the unexpected rises its head up and introduces itself to your team. Maybe there is more life wisdom to that Shirelles song than we want to admit to at times. “There’ll be days like this my mama said”. 

Moore Finds His Groove and Posts a Beautiful Shutout Win

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If Tampa Bay Rays starter Matt Moore who is usually a slow starter to begin the season as he gains velocity and control gets even a tad bit better for his second start, he might throw the Rays second No-Hitter. Seriously though, the fact Moore seems to have found a nice balance against the Cleveland Indians on Friday night and allowed only 2 hit to go with his 8 K’s and took home the “W” in his first start of the young season.

cleveland-indians-v-tampa-bay-20130405-172823-107Maybe we can attest this change of routine to the fact Moore looked a little scruffy on the hill, not his usual clean-cut All-American cover boy self. Possibly Moore has taken a page from fellow southpaw David Price and just go with the flow and what the hitters give you and not stress the small stuff or missed borderline calls.

Or maybe it is really as simple as Moore took the mound during his Spring Training gigs like it was already the season and he used those 4 starts as his “early season” roller-coaster starts. No matter what the true reasoning is, it was great to see Moore showing great control, eliminating his walks and going6 innings while throwing an even 100 pitches. The pure fact Moore got to the 6th inning and helped the Bullpen is huge as it gave newly called-up reliever Brandon Gomes a chance to shine as well as give Jake McGee a solid outing to get that huge ERA starting it free-fall towards some sort of normalcy.

cleveland-indians-v-tampa-bay-20130405-192808-9463 times during his 6 inning stint Moore set the side down in order with only three hitters coming to the plate. And only during the top of the 3rd when Cleveland had 5 hitters come to the plate and advanced Mike Aviles to Third Base did a hitter reach third base. Moore even helped his own cause by pitching inside to Indians SS Asdrubal Cabrera who hit a weakly hit ball right to Evan Longoria who rocketed the ball to Jose Lobaton stationed at Home Plate to gun down Cabrera and keep the shutout intact for Moore.

cleveland-indians-v-tampa-bay-20130405-172837-183That is the kind of pitching that will elevate this team and keep them in ballgames. Playing to the oppositions weaknesses and strangling their run scoring opportunities by keeping the ball in the park, and on the ground. Of the 10 balls hit and put into play last night, 6 were on the ground and were converted with no problems at all. If Moore can keep playing to the Rays strength of a solid and well-oiled Rays infield defense, this is only the first of the wins for him in 2013.

Tale of Two Gomes

Each stood facing the other last night trying to do damage. Each was hellbent within himself to defeat the odds and place their names upon our lips of the baseball world for at least for 24 hours. In the end it was an old Tampa Bay Rays soul, current A’s LF/DH who won the cosmic interaction while his last namesake counterpart could only watch from the discomfort of the Rays dugout as Gomes #1 strolled around the bases after the eventual finally happened. One hoisted up by the universe as the victor while the other could only watch it all unfold. This is the tale of two Gomes, and by the end of the night, each would walk a different path.

Brandon and Jonny Gomes are not related, but last night both of their names were on our lips and minds for reasons that could be considered by many as polar opposites. Each confronted his namesake on the field last night trying to make their own versions of history, each wanted their name connected with a moment that would be talked about, who’s image would be plastered on television screen as the other look on in disbelief and wonder. Last night they were the “Ying and Yang” of Tampa Bay, each of their careers set to move in different directions.

We all knew as Jonny sauntered to the plate for his final appearance of the night against Rays pitching stalwart Joel Puerperal, this “Gomes” could change the playing landscape with a swing or by imposing his own brand of “throw-back era” hustle into the contest. In that moment when the ball met the bat and screamed all the way out of the park we remembered why Jonny was so beloved by us all.

His personality was simply that of a human cartoon character (in a good way), his curly shaggy hair removed for the first wave of Ray hawks, his energy and action synonymous with the energy and vibrant nature of the 2008 Rays and their “Magical Season”. He was a game-changer even back then. His emotional power rivaled his physical. His antics amused and confused us, but they were done with the right intentions. Some loved his reckless abandon while other thought it cost the team chances, you either loved him, or loved to hate him. Each had their own army of followers.

As one “Gomes” triumphed, another would in fall on his Rays sword. Brandon did not factor into the final demise of the Rays last night as he fought valiantly tossing 2 innings of shut-out baseball, but one to his 2 walks in tonight’s appearance came to his Gomes counterpart on 4 pitches, and might have set into motion some of the events that would conclude his Rays tenure, at least for now. Even before their 10th inning lead-off encounter tonight each Gomes was on a different path.

5 straight batters came to the plate and Brandon factored significantly in the innings outcome as Kila Ka`aihue bunted a ball into the air to him, Kurt Suzuki was struck by a pitch, then Daric Barton walked on 4 pitches. Suddenly Jonny stood 60 feet at Third Base with 1 out from inflicting his own sword upon Gomes. But Brandon regained some sense of composure and got Brandon Inge to strike out the n finally let someone else play as he pitched inside to Jemile Weeks and got him to tag a dribbler to teammate Carlos Pena who stepped on the bag and ended the drama.

But this outing, even thought it was triumphant in the end for Brandon set into motion some post game decisions, possibly fostered by his outlandish 7.71 ERA. That first Gomes-on-Gomes event of the evening would be their only meeting of the night as Brandon got 3 straight ground ball outs in 2 plate appearances for the Athletics as Jonny stared in from the On-Deck Circle. As Brandon walked from the mound to the dugout you have to wonder if he felt the “Gomes” energy shift towards the other dugout.

Jonny headed to the plate in the top of the 12 inning poised and focused on somehow finding a hole in Rays relief stalwart Joel Peralta’s game, hopefully pushing this contest towards a conclusion. In true Gomes fashion, with 2 strikes on him in the at bat, Jonny turned on a Peralta pitch and deposited it 354 feet into the Leftfield stands. There was an awkward moment during Jonny’s stroll around the bases a some in attendance clapped for him while others seemed perplexed as to if they should salute or Bronx cheer the effort, not knowing yet it would be the final dagger in the Rays winning streak’s heart.

In a second, one emerged as the game’s hero while the other felt more like Nero watching his city burn to the ground. Each played the game with extreme confidence, brilliant expectations, but in the end it was a mighty stroke that pounded the white sphere while the other Gomes could only watch from the confines of the Rays dugout. Who would have guessed at that moment one Gomes was set for glory, and the other destined for an extreme moon-lite car ride to the airport.

After the game Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman were nestled behind a closed door in discussions on options. Who would have guessed at that moment as one Gomes celebrated in a locker room not 50 feet from the other, his counterpart would be packing his belongings sent back to Triple-A Durham once again.

But that is the way it is with baseball. No matter if you are the hero or the goat, or just a bystander to the final blow, you never know your fate. This ended the chance of another Gomes-on-Gomes encounter in this series, but even as both pack for different destinations today, I have a feeling this will not be the last time they meet in 2012. We still have 7 more games between these two squads in 2012, so possibly this is not the end of the “ Tales of Two Gomes”………..To be Continued.

Gomes Looks Like the Odd-Man Out ….For Now

Sometimes the words speak for themselves. Earlier today both Rays Manager Joe Maddon and RP Brandon Gomes who was in the mix for that last spot on the Bullpen bench basically gave us a preview of the upcoming decision for that spot. Let’s take a gander at both comments, and you can see for yourself, Gomes just couldn’t get healthy and on his game in time to salvage a guaranteed roster spot heading into the season.

Both Maddon and Gomes seemed to be on the same wavelengths after Tuesdays contest against AL East Boston, with Maddon adding he felt Gomes who was coming off recent back surgery was “close, but not quite back to form”. Gomes himself mirrored those comments by stating “ I’m confident, I’m still very close to where I need to be.”

No matter if it is simply a question of familiar word play like potato, potatoe, tomato, tomatoe, the reality is both Maddon and Gomes know there is still some polishing and regaining strength yet until he is ready again for the MLB grind.

Gomes most likely will spend the first weeks of the 2012 season at Triple-A Durham. That in itself might be the best medicine for Gomes as he regains his game and waits for Durham Manager Charlie Montoya to call him into his office and tell him he is again on the way to Tampa Bay.

Todays performance where Gomes surrendered 4 walks, a single but at least got a pitcher’s best friend (double play) surely showed both Manager and player there is still some work to be done. And do not fret for Gomes, because you can bet Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey will get emails, videos and maybe even a few phone calls when Gomes shows his top stuff again.

But that is the life of a young reliever in the MLB. You can be up in “The Show” one day, then suddenly be heading for the green pastures in the farm system the next. Stability when you are trying to make a reputation is scarce, and good luggage can be your best investment.

But Gomes showed in his stint with the Rays in 2011 that he has the right combination of ingredients to be successful at this level with a a slurvy breaking ball (78-83 mph), a nice sinking 2-seam fast ball (86-93 mph) and a splitter (83-85 mph) which at optimal times can make a few knees buckle at the plate. But his stuff right is not on par with the likes of the heavy hitters of the AL East, at least not at this juncture in Spring Training.

And he is not sitting on his 2011 pitching laurels where he posted a 40 relief appearances over the season for the team after appearing 20 times for Durham before he was called up the first time last season. Tied for second among MLB rookies with 29 appearances after the 2011 All-Star break while also sporting 20 K’s and a awesome .202 opponents batting average. Ironically, Gomes made his MLB debut on May 4, 2011 for Wade Davis, who possibly pushed Gomes out with his move to the Bullpen for 2012.

Interesting side note, before his call-up last April, Gomes served as Durham’s closer collecting 6 saves in April while stitching out a 1.07 ERA and perfect 7-for-7 mark in save opportunities. He even bolstered his interest by the Rays after posting 40 strikeouts and only 7 walks in his 25.1 innings of work with a cherry on top of a .187 opponent’s average.

So as you can see, Gomes has the talent, the goods and the ability to again be back up here very, very soon. I would not be surprised with the way the reliever corps can sometimes be a revolving door that as soon as the team feels he is healthy and again showing his consistent approach to the plate, Gomes will again be pulling on his # 47 jersey. I would not be surprised if Gomes is again up with the Rays this May, with a shot at keeping his spot this time for the rest of the season. 

Hair Today….Gone Tommorrow… for a Great Cause

Some say Rays Manager Joe Maddon has made more than a few headlines for his follicle hair coloring statements over the past few seasons. From his steady head of gray to John Cash black to a more subtle but pronounced medium brown this Spring, Maddon has made his hair fashionable.

On Thursday Maddon’s “ hair moment” or in fact his “loss of hair moment” will proceed over an event that has seen it’s list of participants grow by the hour. Over 26 members of the Rays are set to see their locks fall to the ground and be swept away as a symbolic gesture of support for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. Dubbed “Team Rays” on their website, Maddon will be not only leading by example, but following the road set forth by another Tampa Bay sports icon, Tampa Bay Lightning F Vinny Lacavalier.

This is the same organization that Rays starter Wade Davis showed such support for in 2011 as he let a young cancer patient shave his head as he sat in a chair over the Rays dugout after the conclusion of a Sunday game. That was only one participant, and the crowd was amazing. Think of the magnitude knowing over 25 members of the team and the Rays staff will also sit in the chair and have their locks fall to the grass in support of this effort.

Rays participants set to join Maddon in the barber’s chair before the Rays Thursday afternoon contest in Port Charlotte include Rays pitchers: Davis, James Shields, Bryan Augenstein, Cesar Ramos. Jake McGee, Alex Cobb, Brandon Gomes, Matt Torra, Albert Suarez, Matt Bush, Dane De La Rosa and Rays rookie sensation Matt Moore.

Not to be outdone by the pitchers’, the entire Rays catching corps will also have their time in the leather chair as Jose Molina, Jose Lobaton, Chris Gimenez, Mark Thomas,Stephen Vogt, Robinson Chirinos and follicle-challenged Craig Abernaz will see their hair fly away in the Charlotte Sports Park wind before that days contest. Also making an appearance in the chair will be some of the members of the Rays right-side of their infield: SS Reid Brignac, 3B Jesus Feliciano, INF Elliot Johnson, plus Rays outfield members Matt Joyce, Brandon Guyer and the “Legend” himself, Sam Fuld.

A few well-known figures in the Rays coaching staff will also need more sunscreen this Spring as Third Base Coach Tom Foley and Bench Coach Dave Martinez will also be supporting this great charity. The Rays front office will also have a few hit the chair as Rays Senior VP of Baseball Operations Brian Auld, Sr VP Mark Fernandez, VP of Branding and Fan Experience Darcy Raymond, Sr Director of Corporate Partnerships Aaron Cohn,Manager of Corporate Sales Jake Hornstein and two Directors of Corporate Partnerships, Richard Reeves and Josh Bullock.

I think the paragraph on the pcfcutforacure website under “Team Rays” speaks volumes on why the team is so focused and excited about the event:

This is about being there for the kids and their families. We want them to know they are not alone. It’s a small gesture, but it is our way of showing support for them while gaining empathy for what they are going through. We have a saying posted in our locker room that says ‘Fortune favors the bold.’ As we go forward with this campaign we are doing so under the flag ‘Fortune favors the bald.’ As an organization, we are proud to support organizations and institutions like the Pediatric Cancer Foundation (PCF) and the Moffitt Cancer Center.”

This is the kind of event that bonds a team. Unified with a common thought and goal, it can be a great starting point of the Rays taking another step not only in their development as a team, but as a great inspiration to other teams around the MLB to follow suit. I commend Maddon and his troops for their commitment, their outstanding community involvement and support, and most of all for donating what some see as a status symbol but they see as only hair and a visual stamp that they support this organization.

If you want to help support this cause with a donation of your own, text CUT to 50555 or go to pcfcutforacure.org. Just as every snip of the scissors is a chance to change a life, every text can also be life-changing for someone.

 

 

Anxiously Awaiting the Rays Report Date

I do not know about you, but the next 14 days will surely seem like trying to get that last drop of molasses out of that stupid bottle. For as the climax and celebration of Super Bowl is finally beginning to get out of our ears and thoughts, now the baseball world begins to get their Spring priorities right and think of the American Pastime. With the last bit of cool crispness in the air, it will be time to pound a few dozen balls into newly oiled mitts and try out a few new pitch variations, and hopeful improvements.

14 days until the Tampa Bay Rays again try to mess up the status quo among the American League East. 14 days until we see what Rays starter Jeff Niemann has up his sleeve to make this team fall in love with him again and possibly jettison another piece of the Rays rotation puzzle to a destination unknown. Or will the magic that Rays rookie Matt Moore displayed in late September and October translate into a slot on the MLB roster, or a few months vacation in Durham until Niemann’s first anticipated soreness issue. This could only start a countdown for Rays SP Wade Davis too as teams are watching his every move as the Rays are surely going to have to make at least 1 painful starting pitching decision before the Rays Opening Day on April 6th.

14 days until we find out if new Rays RP Fernando Rodney will take a moment with Rays starter James Shields and try to get a fresh prospective and grip on his Change-Up. Shields would seem to be the perfect candidate for Rodney to chum up to considering his variable speed pitch is considered one of the best in the majors.

14 days until we see if the off-season was the time needed for Rays leftie J P Howell to again become “the Dude” providing long curves and a renewed vigor and vitality to his fastball, possibly topping 89 MPH by the season’s start. I truly hope and want Howell to have a revitalized Spring, or he might be re-named “ The Dud”. Along with Howell, there is considerable chatter on if the Rays will again hold onto 3 southpaws which could mean a trip to the minors or elsewhere for fellow left-handers Cesar Ramos ( no options) and Jake McGee (1 option).

14 days until we see who out of the Rays young backstop stable of Jose Lobaton or Robinson Chirinos want the Rays back-up gig and produce defensive gems and offensive dreams from a position with loads of talent, but lacking in MLB catching experience. That will also be the moment we see just how much in the gas tank for “the other Molina” Jose. Will he excel at the Rays weak spot in the batting order, or become another Rays casualty destined to watch the young bucks get the starts while he mends.

14 days until we see the sophomore effort of Hellboy take place. Will he again find his demonic rhythm that had everyone in baseball envying the upstart Rays? Can Hellboy improve on his walk to strikeout ratio, and more importantly improve on his ground ball ratio to let his great defense behind him help him gain victories and accolades. Will the young right-hander finally become comfortable in his 3-slot knowing he can be a series exclamation point behind the two top aces, Shields and David Price.

14 days until we see if Price can gain some consistency by not trying to change grips during a game and totally trusting the grips that got him to points in games without diverting from the game plan by toying with his art. 2012 will also be the season where Price can either gain a foothold on immortality by posting numbers worth of his new salary and being that stop gap starter that should be the Opening Day starter and player who can get that needed win.

14 days until we can see if the “B-brothers”, RP Brandon Gomes and ex-Fish Burke Bradenhop can secure roster spots with an impressive Spring. Also on our minds firmly in 14 days will be the talent escalation of the 2 “Alexs”, Cobb and Torres. Each throwing from a different side, but each wanting a roster slot and a chance to show their worth to the Rays this Spring. Coming into the Spring it seems Gomes has a clear shot, but as we all know, things can change before the calendar changes to April. All 4 players mentioned in this paragraph have minor league options, and the Rays could play a game of “mix-and-match” early on during the season with any of the 4 spending time both in St. Petersburg and Durham.

Also firm in the Rays Republic’s mind is the elbow health of Kyle Farnsworth who put up career numbers in 2012, but had a few episodes with soreness that some thought was a pre-cursor to possible Tommy Johns. 14 days the Rays will see if his off-season rehabilitation and strengthening program brought results or more of the same.

I truly think the Rays have aligned themselves with 3 closers now, who could all be used in certain situations and firmly close the door on the opposition. Farnsworth and Rodney might have the early nods, but I truly think Joel Peralta is going to be the thunder under the dome this season. I saw a spark of it late in 2012 when Farnsworth sat due to his soreness, Peralta showed beyond a shadow of a doubt he could inherit or be destined as the Rays closer. I thought he might ascend to that spot in 2011, but in-synch with Farnsy, the two became a consistent 1-2 late inning punch for the Rays.

14 days when I will be personally sad not to see former Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos giving off a loud belly laugh as he heads to the practice fields. It will seem odd, but new Bullpen Savant Stan Boroski not only has the credentials, but the familiarity with this Rays staff moving from his Assistant Pitching Coach role to an on-the-field mentor to the Rays staff.

14 days until we see if young catching prospects Nevin Ashley and Stephen Vogt can turn a few Rays heads, possibly moving their own name up the Rays depth chart with impressive Springs, maybe even outing one of the present favorites for a back-up role. Ashley and Vogt have the offensive chops to be with the Rays, but with the catching corps becoming clouded in 2011 with extra pieces and rehabbing players, they might have slipped out of the Rays minds as future weapons.

14 days until at 10 am the gates open and we embrace “officially the Rays 15th season in the Bigs. 15 years where coming into this point in the season there were tons of questions with few answers. This season there are tons of answers with clarifying questions dotting the landscape…for now. Port Charlotte comes alive when the team get back into town. The sky seems bluer, the air has a nice crispness to it and the grass awaits their footprints. 14 days until we can again firmly boast, and await our 2012 Rays. Look, already 15 minutes closer as you finish reading this post.

2011 is Almost in the Books, but What a Season to Remember.

Usually around this time of the year Tampa Bay Rays blogs begin to countdown their top moments of the season. It was a historic season by many aspects. The team posted their third trip in four seasons to the October party, but also we saw so many of the Rays post their own moments of wonder and amazement it has to have all of us giddy with emotion knowing there are less than 100 days before the fun all begins again for 2012.

We saw the emergence of “the Legend”( Sam Fuld), the formulation of the “Magic of Kotch” (Casey Kotchman) movement, and also saw the further maturation of the Rays top tier players David Price and Evan Longoria. We saw Sean Rodriguez move across the diamond to the 6-hole and show why he has always been a prized reward of the Scott Kazmir trade. Desmond Jennings came up and proved once and for all he is not a “Crawford”-clone, but has his own power, style and base-stealing magic.

Matt Joyce proved he had the stuff to hit left-handers, and Ben Zobrist again show the “Zorilla” style traits we all fell in love with during the 2008-2009 campaigns. From starters to Bullpen the Rays hurlers showed promise, unexpected magical moments and the durability of the staff graybeard as James Shields merited Cy Young consideration.

2011 was suppose to be a rebuilding season, but the only rebuilding the Rays did was on their reputation and solidarity to fixate on that post-season goal and drive towards it with vigor and vitality. This season will not go down in Rays history as the most productive on paper, but the 91 wins posted by this squad were 1 better than their rivals the Boston Red Sox and produced another champagne moment within Tropicana Field.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon instilled a “Find Another Way” mantra on his troops early this Spring and several players in the Rays fold responded by showing their abilities are on par with this league even if their MLB service clocks show minimal numbers. Jennings might have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt in 2011 he should be the heir apparent to the Rays lead-off hitter the Rays for 2012. Joyce finally got the at bats to prove he can be the Rays everyday right-fielder and run producer.

All five members of the Rays 2011 posted over 10+ victories with Shields leading the field with a 16-12 record. Not only did Shields lead his young Rays comrades in “W’s”, he also topped the squad in innings pitched (249.1 innings), strikeouts (225) and ERA (2.82 ). Filling in gaps within the season the Rays saw the promise of brilliance of Matt Moore, Alex Cobb and the late season relief pitching of Alex Torres.

Pitching definitely defined so many of these great Rays moments, but the bats did not remain silent during the carnage. We saw new closer Kyle Farnsworth struggle but post a career high with 25 saves, but we also saw the season toll takes it effect on one of the most intimidating players in the game. But the Rays Bullpen which featured 3 lefties for most of the season closed down offenses with RP Joel Peralta providing his own brand of set-up brilliance as well as posting 6 saves. From inning 1 to 9 this Rays team’s pitching tried to set the tone and bring home a win on a nightly basis.

Who will forget that Home Run hit by Longo to seal the Rays post-season against the Yankees on the season’s last day in extra frames about the same time ex-Rays LF Carl Crawford missed a dying quail in Baltimore to propel the Rays into the October party.

With that singled out win on the last day of the 2011 campaign, the Rays ended up posting their only winning September ever with a 16-10 record. It also secured the squad’s third straight 90+ win season, How pale does that starting 1-8 record look now in retrospect as corks exploded within the Trop’s confines and players and fans celebrated together.

Rookies earned their Rays letters this season at an alarming rate as Moore, Brandon Gomes,Torres, Jake McGee and Jeremy Hellickson combined to bring home 8 of those 16 September victories among them, further showing the promise and prosperity that should bring about more moments of celebration and excitement in 2012 for this talented 5-some. Each of these 5 hurlers definitely earned their Rays letterman’s sweaters complete with a shaving cream pie.

But even with the emergence of the rookies, some of the Rays players saw their season as constant reminders of the ever-changing MLB environment. Pitchers J P Howell and Andy Sonnanstine began the 2012 Spring Training with high expectations and a want to show their abilities for this team. Sonny ended up in Triple-A Durham for most of the season, and Howell who came on later in the season never seemed to find the right groove or positive upward momentum. But that is the joy of the New Year, resolutions can be made, and the past is just that…past.

The 2011 season has long been put into the record books, but 2011 is slowing winding down towards it’s last tick of the clock and should be remembered as a season of true fortitude, ever-present resilience and a combined team-wide confidence stemming from the veterans to rookies that this team could win on any given night.

But still if I had to pick a moment of clarity for the Rays, a scene that showed the drive, commitment and determination of this squad it was on the 180th day of the season, in the 12th inning Longoria proved once and for all he is the man to follow on this squad even before his 31st Home Run made human contact in the right field stands. So as we begin to enter the 15th season for the Rays, Sonny has found a new home with the Cubs, Maddon has darkened his hair a few shades.

Changes are still in store for this team before they cross the Port Charlotte, Florida threshold this Spring. Some players have solidified their spots on the roster while others have the Rays scouting and Coaching staff wearing out the erasers on their pencils trying to mesh and mold this squad to take that next step. Can’t wait for that crystal ball to fall in NYC soon because that will symbolize that 2012 is squarely upon us, and the memories of 2011 are just that…fond and precious memories.

If You Don’t Believe Now, Better Check Your Pulse



Words would just ruin the moment. Here is a photo essay of complied photos from the great AP photographers Mike Carlson / Chris O’Meara and Getty Images Photog  J. Meric  on the field and deep within the bowels of Tropicana Field  tonight. 




 

Last, but not least, the Home Run trot that began the celebration!



Spring Baseball Has Finally Sprung!

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Some days when you drive down to Port Charlotte,Florida to watch the Tampa Bay Rays during Spring Training, the ride seems like it take forever and a day. Somehow the miles seem to drag on, and by the time you hit the Torch Blade exit, you are already on the verge of being spent. But not today. Not on the day that the Rays officially start their 2011 season. Opening day in Port “C” is always a time to renew friendships, bask in the light that is the new season, and most of all, begin to work on the base for that great Summer tan.


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SpringOpener2011 016.JPGWith David Price set to hit the hill, followed by a Tall reliever that brings it from the clouds, mixed with the facial gold from the “Garfoose” master, Rays baseball has arrived in 2011. From the moment I hit the line near the gate today, the buzz was on the new blood and some of the old Rays. James Shields, also known this time of year as the privateer “Graybeard” is anxious to get his year started on Sunday, erasing the doubts and clouds from around his 2010 performance.


 

SpringOpener2011 011.JPGThen you have the young bloods like Chris Archer, Brandon Gomes and Cesar Cabal, each collectively fighting for their MLB life (Cabal), while Archer and Gomes most likely are just hoping to set a beautiful impression on Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Pitching Coach Jim Hickey as a secondary option if an injury takes down a starter or long reliever.


All three have a boatload of possible MLB potential, but we know one will definitely start in the minors (Archer). Cabal will be fighting for the right to stay with the Rays as a Rule 5 player that has to make the roster, or be offered back to the Red Sox. Gomes, who was part of the Garza deal wants to show his new employer that they made an intelligent investment in bringing him into the Rays fold. All three will get their chance to impress on this first day of action.


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SpringOpener2011 103.JPGThere is a buzz around the gates of the INF Elliot Johnson finally getting another chance to crack the Rays infield, even on a part-time basis. His game has been elevated, but will it be enough to stave off the advancements of veteran Felix Lopez who also wants that vital roster spot. This infield utility spot might have more than a few sets of eyes watching as it’s competition starts today. But most of the chatter circling the closed gates seems to be on who the Rays might choose as their Opening Day starter.


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SpringOpener2011 032.JPGDo you go with Shields, who has owned that spot for what seems like decades, or do you pass the mantle to Price this year? There are varying opinions on this, but my sentiment is to see if Shields rebuilds his arsenal, then make the educated decision. It can not be an emotional pick just because Shields is the veteran. It has to be for the overall good of the team, and for the player involved. If Maddon and Hickey feel adamant about the possibility of Price having the same success in the top spot as in the two slot, then it is a no-brainer….Or is it?


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SpringOpener2011 126.JPGThe potential of the number 2 guys in the American League East is impressive. Jon Lester in Boston, Brain Matusz in Baltimore, Phil Hughes in NYC and a possibility anyone from Scott Richmond to Brandon Morrow manning the 2-slot for the Blue Jays. The number 2 spot might be the essential spot to decide a series win or loss in 2011. The top slot might have lost a bit of it’s luster as the “terrible two’s” might be the 17-20 game winners this season.


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SpringOpener2011 048.JPGBut today is about Spring baseball. It is about the return of the game that left us wanting more in October. It is time to fill our collective bellies with the food of the game, get to know the new players, plus provide the first enthusiastic push of emotion heading into the March 31st Spring finale on the new AstroTurf in Tropicana Field.


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SpringOpener2011 198.JPGSure we want to see the new guys, but the old favorites and the guys who have teetered that thin line with the Rays might be another great storyline to watch in the coming weeks. Dirk Hayhurst, coming back from injury should make a play for one of the three potential unclaimed Bullpen spots.

 


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SpringOpener2011 207.JPGThe first day of live pitching for J P Howell might be one of the most anticipated events this Spring as the Rays reload their vacant Bullpen. The emergence of possibly someone like Matt Bush, who started his career as the first overall pick of the Padres, then had a few unexpected moments before making his rebirth as a reliever.


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Briggy.jpgThe stories are all there. Enough for writers from every corner of the Tampa Bay area to scope out, research and analyze until their eyes blur. But today it is all about the rebirth of the season. The first step towards not only competing, but putting the competition back on their heels. Some say the next three games against the Pittsburgh Pirates is a bit anticlimactic, but this young Bucco team is hungry to make the same Spring jump the Rays did in 2008 and 2010. They are hungry to see the “W’s” multiply.


SpringOpener2011 226.JPGSo I was sure to plop on the sunscreen and apply a bit of logic to a first contest that would have bugs and flats moments, but give us a sense of what to expect in 2011. This is a great young squad that should be a pain in every team’s plans in 2011. It is a team reloading itself for the potential of having another string of highly competitive years, with a full arsenal of budding MLB stars ready to knock on the door. This might be the beginning of a beautiful Rays era started on the mound today by one of baseball most likable young stars.



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Some would say that Price is auditioning for that Opening Day nod today, but I beg to differ. I honestly feel Price is showcasing the next wave of Rays talent that is bubbling just below the surface and want to make an impression on the fans to know their names. Guys like catcher Robinson Chirinos, outfielder Brandon Guyer and Sam Fuld. When the Rays finalize their 25-man roster in less than four weeks there might be a few surprises, and a few disappointments.


But it all begins today, with an expected sweltering humid Florida afternoon game, offset by the cooling notion that baseball is back. I do not know about you, but I have waited for this moment since October and I can’t waif for these rot iron gates to swing open….Let the Spring begin!

 

 

 

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