Results tagged ‘ Brian Shouse ’

Choate is Alone on Leftie Island

 


Steve Nesius/AP

Being a fellow left-hander (writing) I can show compassion and a bit of empathy with the current stage that Tampa Bay Rays reliever Randy Choate finds himself in after a few disastrous early 2010 escapades on the pitching rubber. With the Rays letting former lefty-specialist Brain Shouse go following the 2009 season, and the early Spring shutdown of fellow reliever J P Howell, life has not been easy for the Rays lone leftie in their Bullpen.

But you also got to think of the extra stress and responsibilities thrown upon Choate from the first day of the 2010 season to be “the Man” when it comes to leftie situations and that his mixed bag of results have come with limited options for Rays Manager Joe Maddon.

 
And the situation gets more and more complex when you look at the other possibilities within the Rays Bullpen where only certain right-hander even have any remote possibilities of getting left-handed batter out with any measure of confidence. Choate is like a lone man on a deserted island with not even a lifeboat or ship in sight right now. Choate simply has to “sink or swim” right now, and I am betting he will end up looking like Michael Phelps again before all is said and done.

Left-handed relievers are a rare breed in Major League Baseball, and held as a commodity unlike gold by some teams like the Rays who have always tried to salvage and use left-handed relievers to their advantage. But right now with the struggles of Choate, and Howell still about a month away from rejoining the Rays, the left-handed duties are looking more stressful by the day.

 
RRCollections

And before Choate’s recent problems he was considered a great asset and possible weapon against left-handed batters. But after appearing in 5 of the Rays first 9 games and only surviving 2.1 innings while surrendering 7 runs on 9 hits for a 27.00 ERA, Choate needs to stay out of his head and eliminate any other internal damage. And watching him pitch, you do not see any tell-tale sign of him either signaling or telegraphing his pitches, but this is not the same reliever who posted a 3.47 ERA for the Rays in 2009.

 
And Choate was extremely effective out of the Rays Bullpen appearing in 61 of the Rays final 115 games in 2009, which was the third most in the American League during that span. But more surprising was the fatc it was his first true season in the Major Leagues after providing only 23 innings over the previous 4 MLB seasons combined before his break-out after coming up from Triple-A Durham on May 25,2009. And his effective nature on the mound was quickly embraced by the Rays as only 9 of his inherited runners scored on him that season and led the Major Leagues in one-batter relief appearances facing just one batter in 29 of his 61 appearances. Choate became a specialist the Rays relied on and expected great thing from in 2010.
 
And who can forget the 5 saves he earned as a member of the Rays “Closer by committee” set-up in 2009 facing a total of 8 batter in those closing situation, and retiring all 8 hitters. Choate was on the fast track for a left-handed reliever as he held opponents in his first 10 appearances of 2009 to only a single hit and a 0.42 batting average in 8 innings. Even more impressive was Choate’s Opponents batting average against him with two outs and runners in scoring position.

In those situations, Choate posted a .111 average which was a superior mark for a reliever. Overall in 2009, lefties hit .144 against Choate while right-handers managed a robust .321 average. He was definitely a lefties weapon for the Rays, and a right-handers dream at the plate. So was it really surprising after Choate posted a 1.13 ERA in 7 appearances this Spring while also showing some signs of control issues with 3 walks in his 8 total innings. But nothing showed the signs of what would happen to him so early in 2010.

Choate looked effective in his first two appearances against the Baltimore Orioles at home when he threw for 1.2 innings and threw 12 strikes in his 17 pitches. Choate seemed in line and ready to provide great leftie situational relief appearances. But then on April 10th against his old team, the New York Yankees, Choate last .2 innings and 24 pitches but walked from the mound after giving up 5 hits and 4 runs to boost his ERA towards 15.43. And sometimes these situation happen during a season, but little did we know what was still on the horizon for Choate.

 

 
Mike Carlson/AP

Then again he took the mound against the Yankees on April 11th and this time lasted only 6 pitches while giving up 2 runs on 2 hits, one being a 2-run shot by Yankee catcher Jorge Posada in the sixth inning. That ballooned his ERA to 23.14 for the season and some concerns quickly mounted as to the lack of left-handed depth on the Rays Bullpen roster. Worst of all is the fact that both sides of the plate have feasted on Choate early this season with both left-handers ( 3 hits, 4 runs) and right-handers ( 6 hits, 3 runs) each showing high level of effectiveness against the Rays lone leftie option.


And with Wednesday nights 2-run shot by Baltimore left-handed pinch-hitter Luke Scott, Choate has now given up 2 Home Runs in back-to-back appearances. He gave up a total of 4 Home Runs over his 61 appearances last season. The event also boosted Choate to a 27.00 ERA, which have some within the Rays Republic both nervous and skittish about his effectiveness early this season. But the Rays do have a few viable options within their farm system right now, but might not consider them because of injury concerns or certain players needing more of the minor league maturation process before they are maybe considered later in 2010.

Sure there is the “waiver wire/ air miles traveler” leftie R J Swindle who seemed to be on a rollercoaster ride between Milwaukee, Cleveland and Durham for most of the end of 2009 before finally coming back into the Rays fold this Spring But Swindle is currently on the Durham Bulls Disabled List and he needs to show some relative progression towards health and pitching stamina before the Rays could even consider him a left-handed option this season. Swindle might be a viable option late in the season, but right now he would just be a liability.

And currently the shelf is mighty bear in Durham for left-handers as only big man Heath Phillips is the only other leftie on the Bull staff, but Phillips is actually a Bull starter and is not even adjusted towards relieving, even at the Triple-A level right now. And even at Double-A Montgomery, Darin Downs is still not ready for the aspect of promotion as a leftie reliever, and leftie Jake McGee who most Rays fans thought might have the fats track to the majors as a reliever has been stretched out and will again be a starter for the Biscuits.

So the Rays farm system has no viable options at this time to adequately bring up a left-handed reliever. But the free agents and trade aspects are there for a possible deal if the Rays lose their confidence in Choate before Howell returns in mid-May.

 
There are surely trade partners and even a few free agents like former Rays left specialist Brian Shouse sitting by the phone wondering if the Rays will go outside the organization for a leftie addition to their roster. And besides Shouse, there is always someone like Toronto Blue Jay Scott Downs who has AL experience and might be affordable to the team, but might not be available to team within the American League East, even this early in the season. Or there is always the Pittsburgh connection that might be willing to part with Javier Lopez or Jack Taschner with the right bait dangled by the Rays.
 

 
Mike Borcheck/ SPTimes

 Whatever the future holds right now for the Rays, they have to be concerned since their only option to facing left-hander is basically in a pitching funk. Fellow Rays relievers Lance Cormier and Grant Balfour have 0.00 ERA against left-handers this season, but they have only faced 4.2 innings of work against lefties in 2010 and it might not be an adequate measure as to their overall seasonal effectiveness.

It might seem a bit ‘ackward” and “goofy” right now for the Rays Coaching staff to have their total vote of confidence on their lone leftie right now, but then again….lefties have been fighting this leftie-rightie fight for a long, long time and are still in the right baseball frame of mind.

 

Looking Back on my 2009 Rays Resolutions

 


FSNFlorida.com

Sorry I have been able to post anything since New Year’s Eve, but things have been a little upside down in my little slice of the world. Not going to get into it, but if you know me, you know the restricted economical parameters of my lone wolf existence.

I was thinking last night about turning the pages back to my post back on January 1,2009 where I listed my  2009 New Year’s Rays Resolutions blog and see if my quarter-tossing guesses and totally dillusional dreams for the Tampa Bay Rays had either mysteriously evaporated or suddenly materialized for the team.

We all know just how difficult it is sometimes to partition our post-baseball lives  to readjust back into our normal lifestyles with the absence of games nightly. And with my 2009 resolutions coming just a few months off the heels of the Rays first playoff push in team history, I am more than a bit curious to see if now those resolutions might have been a bit over zealous, or might have struck true center and be totally in line with the team’s seasonal performance.

But even if I did get a bit over excited and tranform my hopes and dreams into slight misguided illusions, isn’t that within the vein of the competitive spirit of the fan, who always  wants to see the birght side of life in regards to their team?  We all want to trust and believe that bigger and better things are always on the horizon for our squads, even as the skies turn suddenly dark and the wind begins to howl.  You want to believe in solidarity of the true existence of the team dream. 

You have to actively possess that unrelentless faith that the “much needed” team weapons will somehow materialize like that weird frost upon your car windshield in the morning, or that the Bullpen will again be a brickwall to your team’s lofty and ever-rising ride of success. So lets take a short jaunt back about 365 days and formally check out my bubble-headed prognostications to see if any of my 2009 resolutions for the Rays might have actually had some merit to them, or the whole thing was just dust in the wind.


Mike Carlson / AP 

2009 Resolution 1:

Find a right-handed bat that can help the offense take it to the next level.

Wow! This resolution could go a few different directions at the same time. But the true fact is that it might all actually depend on if you want to throw Pat Burrell’s 2009 fiasco into the pot here. I have thrown Burrell under the bus enough times during 2009 for this resolution to actually take on water and headed for the briny deep waters near Egmont Key.

But lost in the shuffle was  the fact to totally look at the last two prior Rays season performances at the Designated Hitter spot and seeing that Burrell’s stats were really about average for the Rays. But that pure instance doesn’t get him out of Elvis’s locker room doghouse because Burrell was brought onto this squad to boost a sagging offense and  was paid hansomely for his efforts.

I am willing to give him a slight partial pass here due to his neck situation that might have thrown a confidence and concentration monkey wrench into his “game shape” for 2009. Burrell did show some offensive firepower, but we are starving to see it on a more consistent basis, and it will be demanded of him in 2010.  Not lost in all of this negativity is the fact he did produce 14 homers in the season, but they were all hit against right-handers, so Burrell definitely needs to readjust and refocus this off season to come in and conquer in 2010, or he will be considered a huge bust maybe in the company of Vinny Castilla.

Resolution 2:

Find a southpaw reliever to compliment the Bullpen.

This simple resolution might have actually been achieved by the Rays stockpiling a few left-handed  experienced relievers at the Triple-A level prior to the team’s 2009 Opening Day. We did have southpaw lefty-specialist Brian Shouse primarily on the 25-man roster as a leftie specialist, but like Burrell, Shouse had his own series of ups and down via the injury bug in 2009  amd might not be considered a totally successful signing by the team.

And because the Rays hide a few options in their minor league system, when Shouse was put on the diasabled list on May 25th with a left elbow strain, it opened the door for a former Yankee reliever to come up and dramatically change the late inning game from the left-side of the mound. Randy Choate seemed at times to be a man on a mission and gained more and more confidence as the Rays 2009 season progressed. You can not discount his  stellar .141 batting average against left-handers, or even his 5-for-5 perfect mark in save possibilities for the Rays this past season. 

Just when the Rays  were craving a clutch performer after a few unforeseen blown save situations, and a quickly downward spiraling in relief performances, Choate came up to appear in 61 of the Rays final 114 games. To throw a huge exclamation point on Choate’s 2009 performances, before  his call-up by the team in 2009, Choate had appeared in 196 games and had never produced a save. Choate definitely did not choke for the Rays in 2009.


Mike Carlson/ AP

Resolution 3:


Get 1 of the 2 best young players on your team a contract extension.

This was one of the 2009 resolutions that I thought would  definitely get some extreme attention by the Rays front office at some moment in the 2009 season. With the team stressing they are “borrowing on tomorrow” right now with their increasing payroll demands, you thought Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman might chart a clear map on this one as a top priority to supplant a possible unforeseen huge arbitration dollar figure, or a series of multiple arbitration seasons by a number of players to substancially see a rise of ever increasing salary demands without a solid prediction for the Rays future payrolls.

I thought for sure the Rays first comfirmed target here would be to entice Rays starting pitcher Matt Garza  to a contract extension for “services rendered”, and to reward him now for the huge upside he could provide the Rays in the next three years. Sure everyone wants to bring up moments with his emotional and temper situations as fodder to not extend him, but lost in that mumbo jumbo shuffle might be the pure fact he has the ability to be the first pitcher to post a no-hitter for the Rays.

As of today, there is no sign of this evolving into a multi-year scenario before he goes for his 2010 arbitration hearing. Garza’s abilities on the mound in 2009 could easily boost his salary from his $ 433,300. in 2009, to an estimation of $ 3.5 million through arbitration. And you would have thought it prudent and responsible of a money conscious Rays to maybe nip this escalation in the bud and give him a deal comparible to the contract James Shields signed in 2008, but there are no clear signs of that happening any time soon for Garza. And Garza is only the first in a ever increasing line that includes centerfielder B J Upton and reliever J P Howell to secure some financial stability over the next three seasons for the team.

Resolution 4:

Sign Jason Giambi already.

I actually thought Giambi might have been a great addition to the Rays, and we know this whole scenario never materialized, so this might be a short resolution explanation. Even though Giambi did go on to play over 102 games in Oakland before heading onto the Rockies post season roster, the “Giambino” had a subpar season and actually did not even hit the low average plateau achieved  by Burrell with the Rays in 2009.

It is actually funny to think Giambi hit worse than Pat “The Bat” Burrell, but then again, both did do a few mis-timed stints on the disabled list this season and neither seemed to get into a solid flow at the plate. In hindsight, 2009 might actually turn out to be Giambi’s last chance to play full-time with a potential off-the-bench position staring him in the face for 2010 and beyond.



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Resolution 5: 


Keep the team chemistry up high and the success will come again.

Here is another resolution that might totally be up to your own personal interpretation on the Rays 2009 season. We all know the stories of Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s great inspirational speeches and motivational quotes that are meant to boost and inflate confidence like a balloon, but this Rays team did seem to miss a huge chunk of clubhouse chemistry in 2009.

Some say it was the departure of type-A personalities like Eric Hinske, Cliff Floyd and Johnny Gomes took a huge presence and electric feel out of the clubhouse. But even with the two bigger than life cartoon characters of Gomes and Hinske gone, there still was the increasing confidence and emotional moment stature of “El Presidente” Carlos Pena. And  you have to admire the guy for trying to step it up a few notches trying to fill those big shoes left by the trio, but Pena was only one guy, and could only beat the drum so loud in 2009.

Most of Pena’s teammates seemed to be relying on themselves and their close knit groups formed within the team to boost their confidence and act as support systems throughout the season. The Bullpen definitely had their own “vibe” in the clubhouse, and the Rays starters seemed to have their own “inside jokes” throughout the season. Dioner Navarro took the role of the “shaving cream pie” bandit in 2009, and even got Madddon during one post-game interview on television.

And the Rays did try and promote their road trips like a Carnival cruise night with events like the “White Party” and “Cowboy Up” during roadtrips.  Some had great success, and a few might have been better left in the closet. One idea did seem to backfire a bit on the Rays. Maddon, being a huge Johnny Cash fan, had the inspirational idea of the “Ring of Fire” all-black traveling party during the Rays push towards the playoff in 2009. But from the first moment Maddon came out of his Manager’s office in the Rays clubhouse sporting that jet black hair, the idea seemed headed quickly like lemmings to the cliff.

Not sure why the idea ended up backfiring to produce a loss spiral that quickly deflated the Rays playoff hopes like a lead balloon. The Rays ended up losing 11 out of their first 13 games in September. Adding insult to injury was the disasterious timing of imploding against their American League East foes for the rest of the season. From the first dark-haired moment on August 19th by Maddon,the Rays posted only 3 wins against Boston and New York in their 13 games during September/October.
 

I actually think I went 1-4 in my quest to throw some early logical explanation into 2009 prior to the season. Sure we all want to think that  as fans, we truly have such an underlying persona that we can make people hit the ball or even throw a bit harder, but in reality, we can only encourage and become louder in the stands hoping that more positive results take root on the field.


Chris O’Meara / AP

Even if my 2009 resolutions did fall on hard times, the Rays season was filled with great unexpected moments and showed  more than a few times those glimpses of unforeseen promise that makes you proud to follow the team. Even the best at “predicting” seem to get it wrong most of the time, so my first dive into the resolution pool did not produce a total failure, but did produce a few questions. For we got to see baseball played again in the Tampa Bay area during 2009. We got to again gather as an extended family to root, boo and even console each other after some great games in 2009. 

I have always been one of those firm believers in that you “win some, and you lose some” mentality both inside and outside of the sporting world. I mean if I really believed everything that has been written about teams just in our own division, then I would pack it up after April 1st and throw out that immortal Chicago Cubs line, “We will get ‘em next year!” But I go into day like this first one in 2010 thinking we have as good a chance as the other 30 Major League Baseball teams to hoist that golden trophy to the heavens this October. And who knows……….

 

 

3 Options Decisions loom for the Rays

 


Bill Koustroun / AP

Within the next few days the Tampa Bay Rays will have to make some critical decisions on three members of the team.  They will have to either consider accepting or declining club options on three members of the 2009 roster. Carl Crawford ($ 10 million), Gregg Zaun ($ 2 million) and Brian Shouse ($ 1.9 million +incentives) all are currently being looked at forward and back, and inside-out for pluses and minuses by the Rays. And more than likely, only Crawford could end up the only club option is picked up by the Rays.

Crawford’s $ 10 million option is pretty comparable on the open market with outfielder who are within their prime and he is considered a value at that price right now. And the announcement during the last few weeks of the season that Crawford would be willing to talk about even lowering that price tag and extending his contract again must have had the team giddy with glee.
 

But it is the other two club options that might be more of a time consuming decision by the team. Because if the Rays accept either option, it might send into effect a landslide of changes for the Rays roster even before Spring Training.

And of the two club options, it seems to me that Zaun has done a great job with the Rays starting rotation and  getting acclimated to the Rays system in his short time with the squad. I consider him an upgrade in the catching department both behind the plate and in the batters box for the Rays. And if the team does pick up his option,  it will possibly be a signal to current starter Dioner Navarro that he might have a rough road going through arbitration this year and might even be considered a possible Rays non tendered candidate?

Zaun’s .259  batting average is 40 points higher than Navarro’s season ending .218. But an interesting point might be that Navarro had his highest batting average( .231) on April 13th, while Zaun has hit .289 since joining the Rays and .308 against right hander since the trade. And if you look at their defense, Zaun wins that battle hands down. Zaun is a jack-in-the-box behind the plate attacking every ball in the dirt and trying to smother or keep them in front of him. He might have only thrown out 11 of 51 base runners this season (21.6 %), but it is only slightly below Navarro’s (23.8 %) mark for the season.


Chris O’Meara / AP

So this decision might be more if the Rays want to have an aging catcher (38 years old) behind the plate and might make a decision on the Navarro era with the Rays.  And considering Navarro is up again for arbitration this season, could his  salary which has been estimated at around $ 2.5 million be an upgrade over Zaun’s abilities. And considering that Navarro’s agent made it a habit to pester the Rays front office with phone calls and emails showing his clients stats, maybe the Rays will turn their back on Navarro and look elsewhere for catching help.

I see the Rays picking up Zaun’s $2 million option because it might be time to make a change for the Rays. Catching was not a huge disadvantage for the team in 2009, but a upgrade and a change in personnel might be needed right now. And Zaun is a veteran presence the Rays need to support and work with this young pitching staff and fine tune them a bit more in 2010.  

And the other option  to be considered by the Rays might have actually been decided before the season was even concluded by the way Brian Shouse portrayed it me when I gave him congrats for reaching his incentive numbers. Shouse gave me the off-the-cuff indication that he felt he might not be with the team, but held out enthusiasm and hope for a different scenario.

Considering the team lost Bullpen members Chad Bradford, Troy Percival and Russ Springer who close to go to the free agent market, the Rays Bullpen will again be a work in progress going into Spring Training. And considering that Shouse did prove to be an effective left-handed specialist for the Rays, this decision might come down to  his option amount and if the team think that leftie reliever Randy Choate can perform in this role in 2010.

Choate is arbitration eligible, and might command only about $ 1.2 million in arbitration. And if the Rays do indeed decide to keep Shouse, Choate might be considered trade bait or even non-tendered. And here lies the difficult decision for the Rays. Shouse will be 42 near the end (Sept 27) of the 2010 season, and is already the oldest pitcher to grace a Rays roster. Does giving him a possible $1.9 million plus his incentive be considered a sound investment for the Rays?


Steve Nesius / AP

Combine that with Shouse holding lefties to a .224 average and  holding his opponents scoreless in 21 of his last 24 appearances, Shouse still has the ability to do the job. But the emergence of Choate late in the season while Shouse was on the disabled list with a left elbow strain, it might  bring the decision simply down to who the Rays think can do the job in 2010. I have feeling the Rays might dwell a bit on the fact he will be 42 before the end of 2010, and will decline the club option for Shouse.

And the buy-out options for both players is not a huge amount, and might also play into the Rays decisions. They currently have until November 11th to make public their decision on Shouse. And if he is not retained by the Rays, he will be given a $ 200,000 buyout. But the decision on Zaun needs to be made on Monday, November 9th, which is 5 days after the end of the World Series. If the Rays do not intend to keep Zaun on their roster, it will cost them $ 500,00 or 25 percent of the salary he would have commanded in 2010.  

And you have to take the delay on the announcement of the club option on Carl Crawford as a positive sign that things are being discussed behind-the-scenes, and that a decision will be announced soon on the Rays plans for Crawford in 2010.  The decisions made over the next few days by the Rays will not totally sculpt their roster for 2010, but it could indicate the direction and the possible intentions of the team in the free agent and trade markets over the Winter months.

You would love for the team to take all three players back into the fold and retain the chemistry that existed at the end of 2009. But the financial realities of the Rays payroll make this kind of a fairy tale and not a reality. Hopefully the Rays front office is working long and hard on their decisions concerning all three players, and that whatever looms in the future for any of them, that the decision will be for the good of the team and be received with the zeal that the team is again striving to be a player in not only the American League East, but in the chase to the 2010 World Series.

Rays Players Off Season Plans

 

Last Sunday was the final Tampa Bay Rays game of the 2009 season. It is funny, but for some reason this years just seemed to fly by, and was over way to soon for some of us sitting in the stands. Not sure why it felt that way unless the extra time last season marching onto the World Series just made 2008 seem almost three months longer. But unfortunately, we are at that time where bags are packed and boxes are sent to other locations so members of the team can get some needed R&R before starting it all over again in 2010.

And because of that extra time playing the game they love, some of the Rays had an abbreviated off season in 2009 because of other activities, such as participation in the World Baseball Classic, or several Rays players went to Winter Ball in 2008 and had only about 3 1/2 months to themselves and to individually train before they had to reporting to Port Charlotte, Florida for their first Spring Training away from St. Petersburg.

So on that last day of the season, I decided to ask a few of the Rays if they had any special plans or goals for this off season. And I have to admit, that one of the “vacation” suggestions makes me hunger to maybe hide somewhere in their luggage, just pop a few air holes in the bag for me please! But there also seemed to be another angle coming up in a lot of their conversations. The talk of just total rest and relaxation without the stress or pressure of the white round ball.

It seemed that so many of them just wanted to just “chill and relax” after the rush and the extent of the 2008 playoff season. And still others have a few life changing moments coming fast on the horizon and needed to make some last minute adjustments before getting on with their lives. Then there was a small group who might be facing that decision about their careers, and if they still want to don a uniform in 2010 for any team.

A total of three members of the Rays Bullpen will be getting married this off season, two players and Scott Cursi, the Rays Bullpen catcher who will finally marry his sweetheart of five years in November 2009.  It is funny, it is just like yesterday that I met Cursi and his bride-to-be, who used to work for the Rays and is now working in partnership with Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s wife, Jaye in a concierge service for people on the go, like the Rays players and their families.

I pulled it out of Cursi that they are going to  have their romantic and exotic honeymoon on St Lucie’s Island at the all inclusive Sandals resort, and both should come back with a beautiful Fall tan. But then we  also have a former members of the Rays Bullpen crew going down the aisle soon in ex-Ray Jason Hammel, who will be getting married this off season in St. Petersburg, Florida in the striking Renaissance Vinoy resort right on the waters of Tampa Bay. 

Rays reliever Grant Balfour will be the first to be strolling down the aisle this off season, and the Aussie is not planning any additional triathlete competitions this off season, but is just going to enjoy the time off this year. Rays closer Du Jour J P Howell will also be closing the deal with his bride-to-be also this Fall, and then plans to just be “The Dude” until it is time again to report to Spring Training camp. Congratulations to both guys and their brides, and I wish all of you all the luck in the world and a total boat of happiness as you begin your lives together.

Neither of them would tell me where they plan to honeymoon, but that is okay, because one veteran member of the Rays Bullpen might have them beat totally  just on the romance factor anyways. Rays reliever Dan Wheeler and his wife will be taking a beautiful  European adventure to Italy, with stops in Rome, Florence and Venice on the agenda. Hopefully while he is on his Italian adventure, Wheeler might see the lone Rays cap that Rays Manager Joe Maddon saw in 2008 in an Italian train station.

I have to say, this might be the one I want to see pictures of when he gets home (I wish!).  Just the idea of getting out of the country like Cursi and Wheeler sounds like the perfect way to get some isolation and some peace to again get ready for another 6 months plus grind in 2010. And that is one of the great advantages of having a job that is not 9-5, for 12 months out of the year. Plans can be made, and special events planned without a hitch. Wish some days we could all live like that.

But several members of the Rays roster will not have that luxury of world travel and no commitments. Some  of the Rays are committed to going to play Winter ball in exotic locales. This additional work should show the Rays brass that they are vital pieces needed by the team, and also get some great prep and conditioning work before they report to Spring Training in February. Justin Ruggiano, who was at Durham Bulls for all of the 2009 season will be heading to Venezuela, while Shawn Riggans will be heading to Puerto Rico for Winter ball.

Also scheduled to go to Winter ball, but he doesn’t know his location yet is outfielder Fernando Perez, who was out most of the season with a bum wrist.  This actually might be a great thing for Perez to not only get some work in at the plate, but to get some flexibility in his wrist so he is not a question mark in the Spring. This upcoming season might be his time to shine, or he might find himself somewhere else soon manning the outfield for another team. There might be others from the Rays roster also going to Winter ball, but that list has not be released to the public yet. 

But then there are guys like reliever Randy Choate who participated in Winter ball last season and will just  wants to sit back and relax this season. Jeff Bennett, who came to the Rays late in the season, is planning to remain in the Tampa Bay area for a while this off season to work on his conditioning before going back to Tennessee and working out and gaining more strength and endurance after his injury in 2009 while he was with the Atlanta Braves.. 

While Bennett might be sweating and working out, two members of the Rays might be hanging up their cleats for good this off season. Veteran Russ Springer has been playing baseball for a long time, and made his Major League debut back in 1992. Springer has been considering retiring this off season to spend more time with his family and to pursue some of his other interests in life. 

Springer is also looking forward with more time playing and enjoying his young son, who has autism and just be there  to spend quality time with him. But you can bet that there will be more than one opportunity for him to put his coondog in the truck and maybe meet up with fellow Rays teammate Chad Bradford and go  duck or deer hunting this off season. Both men value their country roots, and they both developed a great kinship this season around outdoor sports.

You could see that this bond should hold firm as both men live in the off season back in the Alabama-Louisiana area. But Bradford, who is also considering retiring to spend more time with his newborn, and the rest of his family, might have a Hollywood role in his future. And his addition to the silver screen might be delayed right now due to some script re-writes, but because of his time with the Oakland Athletic earlier in his career, the role would be a new adventure for Bradford.

There were rumors earlier in 2008 that when the movie “Moneyball” finally goes into full scale production, Bradford might be able to play himself in the movie. At that time it was not known if he would have the time  during the season for such an adventure. It would be a great opportunity for Bradford, who reminds me of actor John Ashton, who played Sergeant Taggert in the “Beverly Hills Cop” trio to get some quality time on the silver screen.  

But Bullpen guys like Brain Shouse and Lance Cormier are just going to take it day-by-day and just enjoy the time to relax, spend time with family and to heal up before reporting again in February. But there is one member of the Rays family group who might be going a  hundred miles-an-hour during this off-season. Todd Kalas, who does the Rays television broadcast in various positions, will be working hard this off season involving himself with University of South Florida basketball and helping to host some of the Tampa Bay Lightning pre and post game shows.

Also heavy on Kalas agenda will be working with FSN Florida to do the Sunbelt Conference “Games of the Week” during the football and basketball seasons. So as you can see, there will be plenty of great stories and awesome pictures to be passed around when the Rays report after the second Saturday in February 2010.

But this year there will be no precursors of World Baseball Classic or even the usual smatterings of International games for players to have to report early this season to their teams. It might be one of the first years in the last several seasons that everyone on the Rays roster will come into the season with a vigor and vitality to again make some noise in the American League East. And maybe this off season is the time for the team to regroup and intensify their energies to again challenge for the top spot in the American League.

And  a few of you asked what I might be doing this off-season at the last game. Well, hopefully I will be going out to Seattle, Washington and completing the inside of my old retirement abode out on Whitbney Island near the city of Coupville that I originally started work on in 2007. Then after it is completed, let my cousins live in it until I am ready to “Go West old man” maybe in about 5 seasons.

So hopefully you also have something exciting planned this off-season. Maybe a snow skiing trip, a quest to go back to school, or maybe even a jaunt down into the Carribean to watch baseball this Winter. Whatever it is, stay safe and remember, if you have a great adventure, this is the place to tell all of us about it……….I know I would love to read about it!

 

Favorite Funny Photos from 2009…….Rays Style

 


www.Cowbelltime.com

2009 will go down as one of those seasons that a few of the members of the Tampa Bay Rays might want to forget as fast as possible. But there also have been some amazing funny and totally memorable photos taken during the past season that might be needed right now for a few who can’t seem to turn their frowns upside down. How could the photo above of a dog lover even turning his canine best friend into a Rays fan not get you to at least start the curving of your mouth into a smile or a deep belly chuckle.

So today I decided to entertain and hopefully lighten up the stress and the angst of the playoff series an hopefully put a few chuckles and smiles on everyones faces as their favorite teams continue to battle it out between the chalk lines. And you know that the best way to relieve stress has always been laughter, or an occasional funny moment. So with that in mind, it is time to begin the 2009 search for the funny bone, and hopefully we all still have one.


www.archiemcphee.com

I am always amazed at some of the new gadgets, puns and practical joke items on www.ArchieMcPhee.com . I originally used this photo not so long ago on August 7,2009 when I wrote on a visit to Seattle……the Renegade’s way.  The place is virtual comics dream with some of the wildest items ever offered online, or in their unique store in Seattle. I mean, look at the photo above of the handerpants, which are billed as “underwear for your hands”. Just the idea of such a thing is beyond words to me at times.  But at least you never have to worry about a skid marks, but you might have to worry about hairy palms.

I mean if you get a chance and want to have a really hard belly laugh, you got to go to the website and check out some of the wild and amazing things that you can buy for yourself or to amuse your friends. You can buy bacon soap, Absinthe floss for your teeth or maybe a Monkey portrait oil painting for the upcoming office Christmas party anonymous gift. Whatever your likes, this is the website for the simply insane and the mostly gag gift for people of any ages.


http://www.raysbaseball.com

This one actually is not a funny photo, sorry, but it is a great reminder that we lose so many great baseball fans every season to the dangers of smoking. I know it might seem like I am jumping on a soapbox here, but I really feel that it is a habit that has robbed us of a lot of great people even during my lifetime. I have never smoked, chewed or used any tobacco products, but with my luck I will die trying to shove in that last hot dog during the $1 Dog Nights at the Trop.

What is also amazing about this photo is the fact that the skeleton has two handlers right behind them in case they have to run and retrieve a foul ball and the leg-bone becomes disconnected from the hip-bone, and the hip-bone loses its tail-bone somewhere on the stairs. Or maybe that is just my own sick sense of weird humor? 


Pat Manfredo

This extremely hungry Toronto Blue Jays reliever about to eat Rays fan Christin Manfredo’s head during a photo opportunity in Dunedin, Florida during Spring Training is Dirk Hayhurst. Most people might remember him as the original storyteller of the Legend of the Garfoose, which is a tremendously funny and totally obscure baseball story that gets me giggling every time I read it. The guy has a wild sense of humor, and seems to like to bite the heads of live Rays fans. 


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I always wondered what a 6 foot parrot ate when he came to Florida for Spring Training. I guess he has an appetite for foul ball catching kids.  Seriously, when I first saw this photo in April I was wondering if t was one of those caption photos where you decide what he is doing, and what you want to have printed under the photo. If it was just that sort of opportunity, I guess my entry would say something like: Penalty in Pittsburgh for reaching over the wall for a ball, you get pecked to death by the Parrot.


http://www.brianshousefanclub.com

Another website that has gotten me to give up more than a few chuckles this season is www.brainshousefanclub.com. On this website dedicated to the Rays “leftie” specialist, you can see him immortalized as Neo from “The Matrix“, the Terminator, Santa Claus, and also Ghandi. The site was developed when Shouse was with the Milwaukee Brewers and was used in the 8th inning of Brewers games.

When he came to the Rays, I was told about this website, and tried to immortalize it a few times during the season for the Rays faithful to check out and hopefully use as their desktop photo. No one has ever emailed me back with any information as to if they have selected any of the photos, and in turn added them to their desktops, even for one day. But it is still great to see fans of other teams have a great sense of humor about their favorite players, and want to immortalize them like this. Could a Jason Bay website be in the making?



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Still not sure what these guys were trying to convey when they showed up at Tropicana Field one night during a Scott Kazmir start. Were they lost on their way to the Middle Ages revival somewhere downtown, or could they actually be showing some level of solidarity for the Rays Republic. I came up with the notion that they were the Knights Tampa, who were sent here by a Coucil of an European hierarchy to protect the American League Championship trophy as our own Holy Grail….or I could be wrong?


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T
o this day, I wish I had known that the Rays and the GEICO Caveman were going to do a parody commercial where he runs out on the field and attacks the GEICO signage put up on the right-centerfield outfield wall. It was a trip talking with him in the interview I did a few minutes before he decided to run onto the field after being selected as the “GEICO Fan of the Game”. Such and honor, and yet he got to spend a night in the Pinellas County Jail making new friends and maybe getting a “Born to HATE GEICO” prison tattoo.

   
          http://www.BaltimoreSun.com

 Earlier in the season I wrote about an old tradition that was resurfacing again in the land of the Oriole. It seemed that some years ago they used to do a cartoon after every game, and after a bit of time, the cartoon fell by the wayside until they decided to return the tradition again in 2009. After every one of the 162 Oriole games there was a cartoon the next morning right there for everyone to see both online and in the morning paper delivered to the doorsteps of thousands in the Baltimore area. Great to see such a humorous tradition again take root in the town that gave us the “Ace of Cakes“.

  

Mark Duncan / AP

I still want to know how much each of those seagulls makes that have a habit of coming into Progressive Field and making a nuisance of themselves. I know that on at least one occasion, the winged ones have knocked down a potential game winning single then let out that all telling gull laugh as the Indians celebrated at Home Plate with a walk-off win. Make you want to again read “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” and see if there was any real truth to that book.  In Cleveland, the proof is sitting right there among the green grass on most nights when the Indians play baseball.


Steve Nesius / AP

I have to admit, I always wondered why B J Upton never stole any bases against the New York Yankees earlier in the season. I guess during this game in July I got my answer. Seems that Robinson Cano likes to come up behind Upton and clutch him like a long lost buddy until the ball gets to the plate. Seriously tho, it is great to see the guy have a common respect and love for each other, but can we save the “Man Crush” for after the game and let B J  run next time?


Steve Nesius / AP

I am not sure why Scott Kazmir first off decided to give his rightfielder, Gabe Gross a nice little extra pat on the back pocket, but the look on Kazmir’s face is simply priceless. I miss Scott, he was always up for some sort of humor within the confines of the game, and usually it somehow did get caught by the camera. Not sure the reasoning behind the low pat, but you can bet he got more a few ribbing from his team mate when this one hit the wire services. But the sign  held up in the background by Rays fan George Stone that stated simply “awesome” gives this picture a purely comical edge, and almost turns it a bit cartoonish, but it is a classic moment now.


Chris O’Meara / AP

All during the Rays season there has been at least one culprit during the Rays home games that has been delivering shaving cream pies to unsuspecting victims during television or stadium Jumbotron interviews. And the wild part it is someone who you would never associate such speed and stealth moves to for the most part. Dioner Navarro has been the shaving cream pie stealth bandit all season long, and you never know when he might sprint out of the dugout tunnel holding a towel filled with the creamy substance.

Such was the case when he got Rays Manager Joe Maddon during a FSN Florida interview near the end of the season. But Navarro was not as stealth as usual, as Maddon heard the catcher coming, and turned his head at the right moment to only get a right earful of the cool lime smelling concoction. Maddon, always the cool cucumber basically added during the interview that “Now I feel like one of the boys, and have been accepted into the club”. Classic line by a classic guy who also leads by example for his team to witness nightly. Even wilder, for the next two nights after the shaving cream pie, Navarro started behind the plate for the Rays.


Chris O’Meara / AP

A Major League dugout can be a wild place during a games. You never know just what kind of high jinks or pratfalls might be coming, and you never know who the true culprit is at the moment. Take this photo for example, it is the shoe of Rays Rookie Wade Davis after Rays pitcher Matt Garza gave him a hot foot during a game against the New York Yankees during the last home stand. But Davis was not the only victim of that series.

Earlier in the game, Rays reliever J P Howell, who was shut down in the last weeks before the end of the season got the classic treatment himself when he stayed in the dugout instead of strolling out to the Bullpen like he usually did on game days. He was situated on the dugout rail watching another Rays rookie, David Price pitch during a game and someone, who will remain nameless, got him with the classic bubble gum bubble on top of his Rays cap.

So these are a few of the moments in 2009 that got me to chuckle, laugh and maybe sip a few sips of soda all over the floor of the Trop. The season is long over, and the fans have gone from the stadium, but it is memories like these that will live on within our hearts and minds for a long time.

They Got the Music in Them!

Lately I have been focusing a huge amount of my attention on the aspect of getting the Tampa Bay area convinced and enticed by the possibilities of this Rays team thrusting onward and upwards towards a possible American League Playoff spot. As the noose gets a bit tighter, and the ice begins to melt faster beneath all of our feet, I think it is time to back it down a notch and maybe have some fun today. Yeah, it is definitely a time to take a step back and chill for a moment and just have fun with today’s blog.

Heck, I even began toying a bit with what if I had some sort of theme music, or a walk-up introduction music that would play if I walked into the stadium. And my personal choice of music would be Bon Jovi’s hit “Have A Nice Day”. I mean we all have thought about it for a few minutes, and we all have a few songs rolling around in our minds that might play out our hidden personalities and our music styles. Wouldn’t it be too cool to have that music playing even if it is on our own personal Ipods every time we stepped down into the bowl of the stadium.  

We all know that a player’s walk-up music is a signature of their inner personalities that we might not see outside of the lines of the baseball field, and some them have some unusual and odd choice for their music. Some base it on childhood memories or a friendly reminding beat that gives them a sense of calm and clear mind just before they step into the batter box, or on the pitching rubber. But one of the wildest music I have heard is the music that accompanies J P Howell as he comes to the mound.

I have never asked Howell why he picks a song by Huey “Piano” Smith who was an important part of the great New Orleans piano tradition, following in the footsteps of Professor Longhair and Fats Domino to take his place among the Crescent City’s R&B elite. He was also one of R&B’s great comedians, his best singles matching the Coasters for genial, good-time humor, although his taste often ran more towards nonsense lyrics.  So why would a guy who was born in Modesto, California in 1983 come in contact with a song written and recorded in the late 1950′s? That has got to be one of the great stories that underline some of the Rays players song selections.


But then you have a guy like Rays starter James Shields who uses a well known song from a German band Rammstein that came into all of our subconscious when the band performed it live during a scene in the movie “XXX” with Vin Diesel. “Du Hast”( Do Have)  is a great techno song that does get your mind and physical being up and ready. The pumping of the bass and the hard guitar licks do get you wanting to start a mosh pit right in the Rays Bullpen area each time you hear it. It was actually a undercover favorite of mine and I can truly see how it could be a favorite of Shields. Seriously I want to bang my head and pump my fist every time it plays in the stadium.

You might be wondering why I am focusing so much on the Rays pitcher’s music instead of the Rays hitters? Well, really the answer is quite simple, the batters get their music heard sometimes 4 times a night, while the starters and the reliever might not get their music heard but once a series.  So I decided to focus more on the pitching staffs music then the hitters right now. But that could be a possible future blog entry.

One of the newest members of the Tampa Bay Rays relieving corp is veteran Russ Springer. And in his mound music he reflects on his home town roots and his affection for the music that had influenced him for so long. Being a native of Pollack, Louisiana he is truly what you would expect of a country boy. The guy is low key, but passionate about the sport and remarked in a recent article in the St Petersburg Times that in his hometown, people ask “How your coondog is doing?” as mush as they ask about you.

But Springer has been able to keep that low key personality under the MLB radar until 2006 when in May of that year his name was spread out all over the media when he was a member of the Houston Astros and threw at San Francisco Giant several times in a series, finally plucking him once. He ended up with a 5-game suspension and a reputation that you do not mess with him.

Another guy who can changed and tossed his music around a lot during his Rays career has been Rays reliever Grant Balfour. He has gone as far as using fellow Aussies’ Midnight Oil and their hit “King of the Mountain” to the wild and mysterious pick of Men at Work and their classic “Land Down Under.” I have to tell you, the Men at Work song tends to freak me out a bit. I really hate to admit I liked that song so long ago when it first came out.

But seriously here, he has done a bit of mixing those two up with a few wild off the cuff picks like The Doors in the recent Red Sox/Rays series. I could not place the song title, but  know it was not “Back Door Man”, or even “The End”, which could be a interesting twist to his use as a 7th, 8th inning set-up man for the team. Got to admit, the Midnight Oil song is an old classic I had not even thought about for years, but is a nice classic tune for a mound mood.

But then you have the left-side of the brain music of two of the Rays southpaws that really sets the tone  for a reliever coming into the game late in a contest and gets the bass and the hard back beats going in your mind and body. It is the band AC/DC and their hard core rock and roll themes like “Thunderstruck” and ” You Shook Me All Night Long”, and “Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap)”  as their mound music.

I know that Brian Shouse and Randy Choate did not intentionally pick those tunes just for their times here with the Rays, but it is actually really funny, that they pick that music since resident Brian Johnson, who did the lead vocals for the group actually lives in the Sarasota area and attends some Rays games during the season.  Hopefully the lead singer can get to a game before the end of the season and get a chance to chat with the guys who enjoy his band’s music so much. Heck, I think he would be a fantastic National Anthem singer if the former Aussie would not mind belting out the tune.

As you can see some of the Rays pitching staff has a wide variety of musical tastes that can range from the wild and unusual to the down at home music from their regions. But most of all, it can be a audio cure to them personally to get into that mode of operation that will result in total concentration and effort on their parts. The job of a Major League pitcher is difficult enough knowing that the guy at the plate is trying to knock every pitch out of the ballpark, and it is your job to keep that from happening.

Music, song lyrics and also beat can get them into a frame of mind to mask that objective by the batter and get their job done so they can all go home with a win. Some days it works, some days it fails, but it is their own personal stamp on the game and it is their badge of recognition for the fans. Music can be the great inspirational point in a game. That is why we have certain songs that play during the game to key emotions and get not just the players, but us the crowd into the heat of the battle.

Gameworks Shindig was a Total Blast!


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What better way to celebrate a series ending victory than take a group of 10,000+ of the Rays biggest supporters to a place in Ybor City that celebrates the kid in all of us. And boy, did we all have a great time and also get a few great moments playing game with and against some of those same guys who took the field that very same afternoon. It is an event I have been looking forward to every since the invitation hit my mailbox, and the Rays Email system must have gone nuts with how fast I responded to the RSVP.

Yesterday was the Second Annual ( hopefully more) Season Ticketholder event at Gameworks in Ybor City. Now if you have never been in a Gameworks, think Dave and Busters on PED’s with a gleaming polished metallic finish that would send anyone into “Kid Mode”. Now I have been to both of these events, and let me tell you this season’s events kicked some royal booty. Missing were some of the Rays stars, but the entire rotation of James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, David Price and Jeff Niemann hit the event to show their support to the fans.

But they were not the only ones to come on out and see the masses in this crowded but truly spectacular event put on by the Group Sales Department of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Bullpen was also very heavily represented with Randy Choate, Lance Cormier, Grant Balfour, Brian Shouse and J P Howell holding court near the racing games and near the “Dance, Dance Revolution” platform. But not to be forgotten was some of the guys who also play out in the field for the Rays who made the journey over to Ybor City. Ben Zobrist and Dioner Navarro came on out to represent the guys who play in the infield, and Gabe Gross and Gabe Kapler also made the event along with B J Upton last night to show the love from the Rays outfield. 


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But even with people clammering (myself included) to get personal pictures and autographs from the fans, I could see that the guys truly enjoyed their time out with the fans last night. Shouse and Choate were even able to blend in and play a few games before some people noticed they were there last night. But some of the true hits of the night were delivered by the Group Sales Department as they again put on a first class event. From the photo opportunity area where you could be put into a Rays photo, to the awesome stuff given away as door prizes, the event sparkled from the first fan entering the building. And it was great seeing these guys out and about not in uniform and enjoying themselves.

And some lucky fans even got to race or play against some of the players during the night festivities. I remember seeing Kazmir in the back of the Game Room playing an NBA game against a fan and it was a highly contested game with a lot of great plays by both until someone had to lose. But the true hit of the night for me was the fact that 6 foot 9 inch Jeff Neimann got up on the “Dance, Dance Revolution” stage and strutted his stuff. I was in such awe of the event I forgot to pop my camera into video mode and film the entire wild and crazy event. But I have to tell you, once he got the hang of it all, the guy held his own on the dance floor, or platform.

I did not see Rays Manager Joe Maddon, but Rusty, the Rays game day host was remarking (joking) that he was holding a wine tasting seminar in the corner of the bar area. From seeing people like Matt Silverman, the numero uno of the Rays, to Andrew Friedman, the Vice President of Baseball Operations out in the crowd was fantastic. Oh, and Andrew, I truly loved the photo of the top of your head in my picture with Ben Zobrist, but I laughed out loud when I saw it. Some days I have wanted to pick your brain about the team, but never thought I would get a photo of the “brains” of the Baseball Operations group.


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But what makes this such a great events is the milling of the Front Office guys and the players and the fans themselves just discussing everything from baseball to the chocolate fountain that is always the highlight of the event. I got lucky enough to be photographed last season at the fountain, but this year I kept an eye out for the camera. Just to see that light blue, dark blue and yellow chocolate flowing out of the top of the fountains crowned with a triangle of baseballs was tremendous.

And again, the food was one of the true stars of the evening. From the beautiful ladies handing me pot stickers or small wrapped tasty morsels, to the cute and personable bartenders, this was a night to celebrate everything Rays. From the hot stations in the front area of the party, to the temporary apps station piled upon the ticket counters, it was a feast made for a king. And if you did not try the roast beef, you missed out on some fantastic meat with a juicy and succulent au jus.

But the evening had to end sometime, and even as it neared 10:30 pm Garza was still laughing and holding court near the back game room. Gabe Kapler had left by then with his two boys, but he was the perfect doting Dad last night. By the time I left, or my card read only 100 minutes left on it, there was a light rain falling outside, but it felt great on the skin after all the sweating I did beating some unnamed pitcher on “Dance, Dance Revolution” score 1 for the old jock. I know I had a tremendous time, and the Group Sales guys and gals have to feel great about this event.


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The sheer fact that so many people fit into that small place and left with smiles should be a great indicator of the event. And my ticket rep, Craig Champagne was there from start to finish. I have to tell you a wild story about that night concerning Craig. My game card did not work and I asked him if anyone else had that problem. Well, instead of making me plow my way back to the front, he took the card and return within minutes with a
new one for me to use.

A small minor flaw that night was quickly fixed and repaired like new by one of the Group Sales best guys. Seriously, me not playing shooting and alien-killing games might have put a damper on my night. Then I would have had to sample a few more intoxicating beverages, and enjoy the view. But in the end, I was physically exhausted and sore, was full of great food and spirits and did not want to leave. But as I walked to my car parked in the Centro Ybor Parking Garage I was already flipping through the memories and the sights of the night in my mind.


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This season there have been some changes in the Season Ticket realms. Some things have been scaled back,some things have changed,but all in all,this event is still a benchmark of the dedication and the commitment of the Rays to the fans who attend so many baseball games. It was a great environment to see so many people you knew, and would get to know have a great time by themselves and with their kids. I know I am already with a red marker ready to circle the 2010 date to do it all again.

The Z-Man Comes to Tampa Bay

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

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

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

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

 



Greggzaun.com

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

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

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

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


Nick Wass / AP

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Rays Reliever Joe Nelson is Durham bound


News.Yahoo.com


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

Lefties are Right for the Rays

 


Ed Zurga / AP

After tonight’s game Dewayne Staats of the Rays Television Network informed us that Rays leftie J P Howell tied a Tampa Bay Rays record by saving all three games in the three game series against the Kansas City Royals.  Add onto this the fact he tied that record with the Rays ex-closer Troy Percival and you see just how unusual and special this was for both Howell and the Rays. Add another layer of awesomeness to the record is the fact it is the first time a Rays Bullpen member had ever done it in the Major League park.

Not the Rays past relievers like Roberto Hernandez, Danys Baez, Seth McClung or even Esteban Yan had the chance to take three from an opponent in a major league park. Percival made his mark back in 200 in a series against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Disney complex, not an approved MLB park. Sure the series was moved there for a three game series to promote the Rays culture into the center of the state, but how many people remember before we took our balls and bats and went to Montgomery, Orlando was our Double-A home.

But here I go rambling off the page. What I want to stress here is that before Howell and Randy Choate made their marks saving  14 total games so far in 2009, the Rays Bullpen has not has such a distinctive “leftie” feel to it. That is not to mean that in 2010 the Rays will feature a “rightie” specialist instead of the usual leftie guy. Heck, I think 2009 is thew first time in team history that we have some legitimate left-handers not named Miller who can toss the ball effectively for the Rays.

To illustrate this, right before the All Star break Howell surrendered his first earned run since April 23, 2009.  And even during that slight moment of vulnerability, the Rays lefties both had a bit of trouble for the first time this season.  Overall, the entire Rays bullpen has thrown to 2.34 ERA since their implosion for 9 runs during that must forget game in Cleveland on May 25th. Even with their moments of normalcy this season, the Rays relievers are currently tied  for the best Bullpen ERA with the Boston Red Sox Bullpen with a 3.35 ERA in the American League.  And not too shabby is the fact that places them within the top 3 Bullpen ERA in baseball right now.

But this blog is about the guy who seem to not get the right levels of respect for what they do. I understand this totally being a leftie in everything but throwing myself. Society tries to change you the minute you pick up a pencil or ball and throw with the southpaw grip. But within time, if the teachers and coaches nurture the leftie, he can become a wanted man at the higher levels of baseball. And right now the Rays have two of the better examples of the leftie revolution in Howell and Choate. Both of them have been magical this season, and Choate has done it at the time the Rays needed a viable option when Brian Shouse got injured.

But at the forefront of all of this is Howell, who could have given up after having a disastrous career as a starter and gone onto other things in his life. But he took a chance and became one of those valued leftie relievers as has grown into one of the most confident and effective of that often ridiculed bunch. Coming into todays game, Howell holds onto a 2.01 ERA and has now converted his last 7 save opportunities.  Before he took the mound again today against his former team, he had only surrendered one earned run to them in his last 16.2 innings.



Chris O’Meara / AP

Except for an unusual Howell outing on July 8th against the Oakland A’s where he let 3 earned runs score against him, before that contest he had a 17 appearance scoreless streak from May 31st until July 8, 2009.  But the real key to all of this is that it came right before the All Star break in which on July 12th against those same A’s Howell gave up only his second home run of the season to Mark Ellis late in the game. That could have played hard on most relievers going into a 4 day lay-off for the All Star game, but Howell used it as fuel to the fire and came out ready to go in Kansas City. Howell had been a pleasant surprise in 2008 elevating his game and his usefulness to the Rays.

So when Troy Percival went down with another injury and Rays Manager Joe Maddon decided to go to a closer-by-committee approach you hoped he would give the California leftie a shot. That came early in the season, but Howell had not adjusted his game yet to get those last 3 outs. He talked with teammates Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour about the pressures of the job and their pluses and minuses before it finally clicked for him. Now he might be the most feared leftie closer not named Fuentes in the AL. His slow curving breaking ball and the movement on his upper 80′s fastball teases hitters until he gets them with his change-up that dips severely before it hits the heart of the plate.

And he is the former leftie specialist for the team when Trever Miller decided to take an offer from the St. Louis Cardinals this winter. He did not look comfortable in the role, but the Rays did bring in another leftie for the first time to help Howell out. Brian Shouse was initially brought in to be the total leftie specialist, but got rocked a bit early in the year, He adjusted and then began to dominate on the mound before he went down with a left elbow following a stint on the mound on May 24th where he gave up the game winning hit to Ross Gload in the Marlins 11th inning victory over the Rays.

Before that injury, Shouse had held left-handed hitters to a .235 average against him.  This was a little elevated from the usual .210 mark he had maintained during his career against left-handers. But before his injury 15 out of his 19 appearances had been scoreless, and he had become the oldest Rays to win a game when he threw 2/3rds of a scoreless inning against the New York Yankees. Shouse (40) also one of only three Rays players to ever take the field for the team over the age of 40. The other two were Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff.

But even if this is his 19th year of professional baseball, Shouse will again get a chance when he returns off his rehab assignment. The Rays want to see him again take the mound on consecutive days before they make a solid decision on the leftie. But currently he is just down the road a spell in Port Charlotte playing for the Class-A Charlotte Stone Crabs. He is scheduled to make his second rehab appearance tonight when the Stone Crabs  visit the Lakeland Flying Tigers. Maddon had said before today’s game in Kansas City they might be making a decision on Shouse by the next home stand.


Steve Nesius / AP


That would make the team look long, hard and deep into the prospects of either trading current leftie number 2, Randy Choate or hoping he gets through waivers.  I truly can not see the leftie getting through waivers and get sent back to the Durham Bulls. So the logical scenario is a trade to a team seeking some leftie action for possible prospects. And Choate has made a great case for staying with the Rays too, but the Bullpen is a bit overcrowded right now. For the Rays to even entertain the option of three lefties, someone would have to go on the Rays bench.

And Choate has put up some great numbers since being called up on May 25th. During that time he has appeared in 28 of the Rays last 46 games. He is also tied for first in appearances in the AL since his call-up.  Like Howell, up until the last series against the A’s at home he had not surrendered many runs. In the July 11th contest he gave up a 2-run homer to ex-Rays Adam Kennedy. It was only the third homer ever by a leftie against him in 328 chances and only the seventh total homer given up in his career.

And to add more value to his possible trade market scenarios, he is a non-roster invitee who would not cost and arm and a leg to financially support for any team that might fancy another good left-handed option. Plus he has gone 4for 4 in save opportunities this season, the first time in his career he has ended into the ninth inning to save a game.  Choate has done everything asked of him by the Rays and has been effective from word one for the team.  It would be a total luxury for the team to find a spot for him to stay on the roster, but because of the success he has had while here with the Rays, he would be going to a great opportunity to get more time on the mound in the major leagues.

So within a weeks time the Rays will have to make some decisions on two of their three leftie Bullpen members. Howell is safe and secure and will not be going anywhere, anytime soon. But either Shouse or Choate will have a new uniform on their back maybe by August 1st.  Gut reactions have Shouse staying with the team and Choate getting an opportunity maybe in the National League for a team trying to steady their Bullpen. Maybe even another trip out to the Diamondbacks to reunite with his former teammates.  But no matter what happens, the Rays will have a safe and secure left -handed  presence in their Bullpen.

Right now in the AL, the names of the solid left-handed closers start and finish with the names of George Sherill of Baltimore, Fuentes, and Howell. With the rising stock of Howell, the Rays found an internal option that has been effective to their closer problems. With the combined efforts of Shouse and Choate this season it made it easier for some fans to let go of Miller as he went on with the Cardinals. With this not being a perfect world, the Rays will have to let one of their southpaws fly away to another team. 

The only question now facing the Rays is just how much can each of these guys take this season on the mound. Both Howell and Shouse are headed again for career marks in appearances and innings pitched this season.
Will the young Howell stand in front and lead by example for this team, or will the 40-year old Shouse rise above himself one last time. Either option or a combination of both of them sound great to me.

            
             Brianshousefanclub.com

Also check out this Brian Shouse fan website made up while he was with the Milwaukee Brewers last season. http://www.brianshousefanclub.com.   I am not sure, but I kind of like the Terminator photo over the Santa one. You be the judge…….

 

   

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