Results tagged ‘ Carlos Pena ’

Price is simply “Money”

 
 
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I am not sure why it is that in baseball, everyone seems to have to have a nickname. For some ungodly reason they have to have a secondary name plastered to them to solidify their inner baseball being, plus the fact that inside jokes tend to run the gambit here. They can be as simple as a name play on someone’s name, or could be a direct correlation to an event within the sanctum of the baseball society, but everyone has to have that ” alter ego” to play the game.

On the Tampa Bay Rays there is the names like “Big Game” (Shields) or “Zorilla” (Zobrist) and the always cool and sophisticated “‘Los”. I mean every player that is on the Rays roster has some sort of moniker pushed onto them by either the fans, media or even team mate, and eventually it begins to stick and they respond when you callout these names to them. Some take some hard work into the background stories like “Bossman Junior“( Upton) or even “Dirtbag” (Longoria), but after the long search and research about these names, you see a level of respect and admiration thrust upon the names and the players you might not initially thought would be possible.

But then you get the clever ones who partake in a more intellectual attempt at procuring their names to maybe use a dual advantage like Wade Davis acquiring the number 40 jersey so you could use his initials and his jersey number to thrust up a kinship to America’s #1 lubricant ( WD-40). Then for some odd reason names also tend to evolve during a player’s career and get adapted to define a moment or action that characteristic to that player like the “Spitting Cobra” for the persistent spitting of resin from Rays starter Matt Garza’s mouth.

But then there is the opposite effect of some of the shy members of the team that get adopted their natural state of origin like the “Tall Texan” (Niemann). Even the staff have their own nicknames and coy little turn of phrase namesakes like “Sugarbear” (Ramos), the “Professor” (Maddon) or even “The Enforcer” (Cursi). But that is what you expect from a group of people who are around each other for 162 games a year, plus Spring Training, and hopefully a month of great postseason action.

But there is one member of the Rays who has gotten a name attached to them that I do not totally agree with at all. For some reason the media has pushed the “King” label onto this player when a more apt name can be devised and should be attached to his monetary persona. I really think attaching “King” to the front of Rays pitcher David Price’s name is a bit too…simple. And for the sake of argument, Seattle hurler Felix Hernandez had it first, and fit’s the crown more right now.

 

With that in mind, then it is time to furnish Price with a more honorable moniker that fans, media and even his team mates can attached to his game persona and we all begin the long task of making sure it stays firmly on his presence for a long, long time. Most people know about Price’s obsession with the South East Asia delicacy known as Pho`. The body and broth of this amazing soup dish can be complex but simple with the addition or subtraction of its numerous ingredients. I know I heard a long oratory once where Price commented on a Pho` he got while the Rays were in Seattle, and it immediately pushed me towards a Chef and one of his common phrases as the perfect name for Price.


Guy Fieri is the host of the Food Network shows “Guy’s Big Bite“, and the acclaimed series “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” , which I consider one of the best food shows ever to be created…bar none. With that in mind, I think we need to dissect the “King” that so many have attached to Price’s baseball persona and infuse another name that also speaks to one of Fieri’s most astounding phrases. It is a phrase that has taken in by the ethnic disparity of America and has been embraced and nurtured to become a part of our culture all with five little letters.

The Fieri Flavortown dictionary defines this special word as being ” the top, providing a cranial obsessive formulation of superlatives and taste sensations that evoke a phrase of mass ingestion” . This phrase has been known to apply to food, an activity and even a sensual nature comparable to the human form. It is perfect the be reflected as a new Price nickname. And above all, it has a similar correlation to Price’s name that will only grow huge as his career evolves from today.

Ladies and gentleman, boy and girls, I give you my new nickname for the southpaw who has taken us to new pitching heights within the Rays Republic and also strikes a chord with our heartstrings. My new choice for a nickname for man who could possibly be in the running for the 2010 Cy Young Award is…..(drum line music)…..”Money“.

And if you really about it, ever since Price was selected as the First Pick of the 2008 MLB Draft, he has been banking and accumulating interest from fans, players and even small baseball fans into producing a windfall of pitching and inspirational moments. Price has simply been “Money” since the moment he put on a Rays uniform. How easy could this new nickname be adapted to Price as a further illustration to the total effect and admiration and respect the baseball community has for this budding left-handed star.


Nicknames can be a true defining moment into a person’s personality and character. Just because Charlie Brown had a friend named “Pigpen” doesn’t mean he was defined by his surrounding cloud of filth and dirt. He also played a pretty mean third base on Brown’s baseball team. Some nicknames can be attached to a person to denote a negative or subversive memory in our daily consciousness pertaining to that individual.

But for some reason, “Money” just seem to perfectly fir the persona and the perception of Price to me. Money grows in value, has times of influx and change, but always ends up coming out on top. David “Money” Price….A name the entire Rays Republic can bank on to get the Rays through another postseason market of fluxuating circumstances with huge dividends.

The Red Sox are Coming, The Red Sox are Coming!

 
 
Chris O’Meara/AP
You could just sense that something was coming. Your ears would begin to burn and vibrate with increasing velocity, and you could just feel the barometric pressure beginning to rise the minute the Red Sox plane landed. This was going to be the series where the Red Sox laid it all out on the Trop’s turf and by heck or high water would make their ultimate 2010 stand to reclaim a spot in the 2010 playoffs.

At first you were not sure if it their first attack was an ambush at you from the Northeast, or maybe a flanking move from their Spring home in the South (Fort Myers), but you knew that the Red Sox Nation’s spirits were going to be flying sky high the minute they opened the doors for this decisive 3-game series. And you know every swing and every pitch will have viewers in the seats in at home pulsing towards the television feeling every ebb and tide of this series this weekend.

With the Red Sox sitting just beyond the Rays grasp right now in their own divisional fight, it is imperative that they gain ground this weekend, or finally face the horrific truth that they will need allies to get back into either the American League East race, or get a helpful nudge into the American League Wild Card top spot. With word spreading like wildfire that Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who has been a thorn in the Rays side all year pretty much done for the year, another viable weapon is taken out of the Red Sox arsenal.

And with around 35 games to go before the end of this season, the Red Sox will have to start an incredible push of possibly going on a unheard of 20+ winning streak, combined with some timely Rays losses to again be in a visible position to fight another day after October 4th. So what are a few key situations to keep in mind during this weekend series?

Chris O’Meara/AP

Red Sox Starters versus Rays Offense.

Rays have hit the combined Red Sox pitching staff with some consistency this season. But hold only a .226 opponents batting average against Boston this season. The key elements will be how the Boston starters hold the top of the Rays line-up plus adjust their pitching throughout the game. B J Upton is the only Rays hitter to hit more than one Home Run against Red Sox pitching this season, but the Rays have been patient and posted 53 walks.

Evan Longoria is not having a tremendous year versus Boston pitching this season, but has been on a bit of an offensive tear lately, which could work into his favor. With Carlos Pena now back behind Longoria, teams will have to pitch to Longoria more “straight-up” than pound his wrists and outer zones with the ball. Carl Crawford is definitely someone the Red Sox will want to keep off the base paths, but he has gone 8-23 (.348) at Tropicana Field this season against Boston with 13 total bases.

But in Boston’s favor is their first strategic move of the series, even before they landed in Tampa Bay when they scratched Daisuke Matsuzaka who was experiencing “back stiffness” on Wednesday and instead penciled in Jon Lester to start Friday night’s game. Granted, if you want someone with more spine, I would go to Lester too. The move might seem a bit hasty to some, but Lester holds a seasonal .182 opponents batting average over the Rays head, and a .052 ( 1-19) mark hitting in his only start in the Trop this season.

With a more solid chance to take a win in the first game, the Red Sox have pitcher Clay Buhholz ready to go Saturday night and holds a .261 average against the Rays this season. Combine that with 8 Rays strikeouts in their 23 plate appearances and you get a pretty provocative one-two punch to begin this series. But the problem is that this is a three game series, and John Lackey has not performed all that well within the roof of Tropicana Field this season. Lackey might be the Wild Card entry in this weekends games as the Rays hit him for a .308 average with 4 walks in his only Trop. Appearance.

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

Rays runners against Red Sox catchers

With the Red Sox catching crew decimated by wild injuries right now with former Texas backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia out with a leg infection and Jason Varitek not able to run effectively yet on his injured right foot they are down to Victor Martinez and ex-Ray Kevin Cash. The Rays have stolen 22 bases off the Red Sox in 2010, and have only been nailed once by a Red Sox catcher. With the Rays possibly amping up their usual small ball offense this weekend, being a catcher on this Boston team right now might be one of the most stressful spots outside of their Bullpen. But the Red Sox also can not forget Ben Zobrist (6 SB) or Carl Crawford (7 SB) at any moment this weekend.

Another unknown factor for the Red Sox to consider is that the Rays have garnered 53 walks off the Red Sox in prior games, and the Rays now have more patient hitters like Dan Johnson and Matt Joyce in the line-up to bolster the Rays chances of base runners. This segment of the weekend series might play out the biggest in the end. If the Red Sox can stagnate the Rays running game along with their small ball tendencies, it could be a huge blow to the Rays usual game plan.


 
Chris O’Meara/AP

Rays starters versus Boston Hitters

This is another area where the Red Sox might have a bit of the surprise factor as they started three outfielders in their game on Tuesday night who have limited at bats against the Rays this season. Former Rays prospect Darnell McDonald has appeared in only 5 contests between the two teams, but sports a .455 average in 3 games at Tropicana Field this season. Daniel Nava has played in four Rays vs. Red Sox games and is hitting for a .333 average with a triple. The third member of their unknown outfield from that night, Ryan Kalish has not faced the Rays this year.

But even with weapons like Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis sidelined until 2011, this Rays pitching staff will have to be cautious. The Red Sox still have their power options in their line-up with both Adrian Beltre and David Ortiz, who both have 2 Home Runs in the Trop this season healthy and ready to go Friday night. But the Rays are also sending their best weapon to the hill on Friday night to combat the Red Sox bats.

 

Rays Pitching will have to “Set the Tone”

American League Cy Young hopeful David Price, who has held the Red Sox to a .258 average in his only 2010 start against Boston on July 7th at home before the All-Star break. Working in Price’s favor is that in that lone start against Boston this season, he posted 10 strikeouts in the game. But Price has been more impressive since the All-Star break and this Lester versus Price match-up might be a pitcher’s duel until someone blinks.


Buchholz against Garza will have the same effect as the Lester vs. Price match-up in that two very selective pitcher will be wheeling and dealing until someone leaves a ball up and over the plate. And that was the case in Garza’s only start against Boston this season. He got rocked with 4 Home Runs in the outing and gave up 13 hits and 11 runs in the Red Sox’s 11-3 spanking of the Rays back on May 26th. But Garza has seemed more in control of his pitches in recent outings and better equipped for this pressure filled match-up.
Last, but not least will be James Shields coming in on the Nationally televised ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast against Lackey.

Shields has had his up and down moments recently, but he always seems to have a special 6th gear for Boston games. Shield has only faced the Red Sox three times in 2010, but held them to 4 hits and 2 runs and a .143 average in his only start against them at Tropicana Field on May 26th. Working in Shields favor is he is 2-1 against Boston this season and has held Boston to no Home Runs at home.


This series is going to be a bit of a :do or die” scenario for the Red Sox. They do not want to have to rely on any of the other American League East rivals to help their cause. This series might be all about the pride and the resolve of the Red Sox to show they can overcome and set the Rays down to get back into the Wild Card race.

If the Rays were to slip past Boston and sweep them in this home series, it could effectively put Boston near the double digit mark behind the Rays. This is going to be a great series, and one worth watching on ESPN on Sunday night.

Trop comes with Warning Labels

 
 
Brian Blanco/AP
It isn’t any wonder that after Minnesota Twins slugger Jason Kubel hit his high game winning pop-up into the center vortex of Tropicana Field that opponents came out of the woodwork like a bunch of festering cockroaches to condemn the Tampa Bay Rays home. Immediately after the ball struck the A-ring and came down 25 feet in front of where Rays infielders Reid Brignac and Jason Bartlett were stationed, the catwalk carnage was just getting started within the media posse’ in the Rays Press Box. But with these two American League foes, this is the third time the Tropicana Field catwalks have had it say in the course of a Major League Baseball game. Twice the advantage went to the home team, this time, it went for a game winning RBI pop-up single for the Twins

And it is nothing new for the out-of-town media to begin to bicker and rant about the stadium they call an architectural pinball machine. But it did come as a surprise that Rays Manager Joe Maddon, who has been at the helm of the Rays for 3 ½ seasons became its latest detractor after Thursday matinee game. Maddon did everything short of calling the Trop a circus big top and professed that Major Leagues Baseball needs to make changes to the Trop’s present Ground Rules if the Rays make it into the 2010 Playoffs. This was the same Rays Manager who once said we had to embrace the peculiarities of our home field and use them as a unplanned home field advantage. Funny what comes out of your mouth when the “advantage” works against you.

 

And the Rays home is far from unfair or holds a distinctive home field advantage of some other ballparks around the country. Tropicana Field doesn’t have the luxury of a short Rightfield porch that Yankee Stadium possesses, or even the oddity of a flagpole perched upon a uphill grade within the playing surface like the Houston Astros. Each MLB stadium has it’s own distinctive advantage for the home squad. The problem with the Trop’s apparent advantages is that it can go either way in a matter of seconds.


Tropicana Field’s irregularities are viewed on a vertical scale, while those other examples have a more planed or horizontal distinction. I have even heard the roof support structures of the Trop referred to as the four rings of the apocalypse by a member of the National media. It is almost like the rings surrounding the playing surface of Tropicana Field are a vortex that white baseball enter, but are never seen again…most of the time.

Sure we have seen two different game day occurrences so far in 2010 of a hit baseball entering the upper echelon of the Trop’s air and being diverted a different directions, each with different outcomes. The first instance this season happened against the New York Yankees back on April 11th when Yankees Manager Joe Girardi protested that a pop-up by Even Longoria hit a large speaker situated in foul territory along the C-ring and deflected the ball into fair territory for an infield hit.

 

The Rays did not capitalize on that day’s magical event as they fell to the Yankees 7-3 losing their first series of the season at home. But again, the media decided at that same moment to bring up the particular interesting ground rules that pertain to this lop-sided dome,. Rules which totally favor the offensive team, and not the defensive unit on the playing surface. To quickly paraphrase the Rays Ground Rules, if a hit ball strikes anything, in fair territory, it is considered “in play” and should be dealt with accordingly. In other words, if it hits something between the foul lines, you better catch it or pay the piper.


And the totally obscure fact that Kubel’s high pop-up probably went vertical about 190-some feet before deflecting off a set of stairs that take people to the upper cupola or the A-ring, it is a magnificent blast no matter who hits it. And with as many distracters of this stadium’s roofing system, it was only the second batted ball to ever hit that section of the Trop’s roof. Particularly amazing, the first time also involved the Twins and Rays too. Since the Rays first game on March 31,1998, only 105 balls have ever come into contact with the Tropicana Field roof support structures, and none have ever been hit into the cotton fabric that lies underneath the stadium’s main Teflon roof.

Let’s see if I can fully illustrate the oddity of Thursday hit by providing that the Rays have played 1,028 home contests with less than 105 balls hitting that menace of a leaning roofing system that projects over 194 feet above Home Plate. That works out to one baseball possibly striking the Rays roof maybe once every 98 Rays home games.

Kubel’s high pop-up is so into the realm of being an obscure it is not even funny. The fact that only four balls have ever been hit up into any of the surrounding roof rings and never came down is simply amazing given the roof reputation by its own distracters. What is more perplexing is that the Twins are no strangers to the A-ring controversy on the Trop’s catwalks. Back on another afternoon contest on Sunday, May 31,2009, when Rays slugger Carlos Pena put the first ball off the A-ring but was caught by Twins reliever Jose Mijares for an out. And the only other time the catwalks have come into play when the Rays played the Twins was back on May 2, 2007 when again Pena hit a towering shot that deflected this time off the B-ring for an infield single.

 

The next day during Batting Practice, it was discovered that the Twins would have an additional helper up in the catwalks against the Rays as a mannequin had somehow been positioned just off the playing surface high in the roofing ring system with a Twins jersey cap and a right-handed fielding glove. It is not like the ball will always deflect or angle itself away from fielders when the roofing rings are involved. I remember a game one season against the Cleveland Indians and a ball went into the C-ring and was bouncing around on the flat surface. As both teams looked up into the rafter system, Indians shortstop Omar Visquel positioned himself under the ring between the infield and the leftfielder. Within less than a minute the ball began it descent straight into Visquel’s glove for an out.


Tropicana Field was proposed back in the late 1980′s when a futuristic baseball stadium was to be built upon the same site with an open-air concept with a circus tent type roof and water features in Centerfield like the Kansas City Royals Kaufman Stadium. It’s first design was to be open to some of the elements of the Florida climate.

 

 The final recommendation came that a domed stadium, or fixed roofing system had to be employed to further protect the playing surface from rain and gusty winds that plaque the region during the Summer months. It was a matter of picking your own poison, and the comfort of watching baseball indoors while rain and winds howled outside in 72 degree splendor won out to a natural surroundings.


Sure a retractable roofing system might have prevented 105 batted baseballs from striking the Trop’s present roofing ring system. And also of note, that type pf roofing system would give the Rays a chance to open their playing surface to the outdoor elements on starry nights or pleasant and cool afternoons, but that type of retractable roofing system was not totally developed by the time construction started on the then Florida Suncoast Dome.

Our parents drilled into us at a young age to “use what we got, improvise and adapt if you want something to work to your advantage”. All of us have tales and stories of making just that happen in our own lives. Tropicana Field is an abnormality to so many in baseball. Some call it and its crowds more like a mausoleum than a ballpark. But say what you will about the Trop., but remember this.

The Rays, even with their losing tradition early in the franchises first ten seasons has gone 507-520 All-Time at home. Only 13 games under .500 in the team’s history. Credit some of that to the Rays past teams, credit some of that to the fanatic Rays Republic, and you can give credit a few of those wins to the rings around Tropicana Field. It might not have gone our way on Thursday afternoon, but it distinctly our home field advantage….most of the time.
 

Pena’s Progress take a Step Backwards

 

 

Foot injuries can be the worst injuries in baseball for a powerhitter like Rays First Baseman Carlos Pena. Due to the fact that there is a minimal amount of muscle and ligaments in that apendage, sometimes the injury can bring you down like a ton of bricks when the pain gets too much, even for a professional like Pena.This one region of the human anatomy has mostly a bone surfaces that can easily bruise and when injured can provide a constant level of aching pain if you do not rest it and let it heal. The simple action of an opponent accidently stepping on the wrong part of your foot, or inadvertantly twisting their cleat onto your shoe can render a constant and lingering pain that can go on for weeks or weeks without treatment.


So this past Saturday during the Rays versus New York Yankee contest when Pena finally gave into his searing foot pain in his right plant foot, you knew it had to be tremendous pain to get him to leave such a hotly contested series. One of the givens in athletics is that you always have some sort of ache or pain during the competitive season. When Pena finally confessed to the obvious pain in his right plant foot to the Rays Medical Staff, they took every precaution and every  treatment move to try and get Pena back in the Rays line-up as soon as possible.

But after a training exercise and drill set yesterday before the Rays played their finale against the Twins, the team decided that Pena could be better served with a bit of down time and let his injury heal naturally. So following the game last night against the Twins, the Rays Medical staff  have a conference with the Rays front office and Coaching staff and decided to place Pena on the Disabled List retro to August 1st. This will provide some added rest time for Pena to do additional sessions to promote some healing of the region, plus give the Rays an added body on the Rays 25-man roster on their 6-game roadtrip. 


 

When Pena left the Rays line-up during their game against the Yankees, you knew it had to be something monumental for the Rays clubhouse leader to finally sit with his team so close in the hunt in the American League East. But a consistent pain in the top of your right foot when you are a left-handed batter can in time take you mentally out of your focus range while hitting as the repetious ache can feel like someone is stabbing the top of your foot when you swing a bat, or use your right foot as your trailing foot on the First Base bag.

That back leg is also a key element to providing optimal power in the swing process from the left-side of the plate. To have any type of nagging ailment in this region of the body can render your swing less productive, and provide limited power until the pain or the cause is found and dealt with accordingly. The loss of Pena tothe line-up until possibly the home series against the Texas Rangers will take another power bat out of the Rays line-up, and could be critical to them staying in close proximity to the Yankees in the A L East stadnings.


 

Think about it, Pena is one of those old-fashion warriors who normally will play through the pain and aches, to provide the  motivational leadership to keep the Rays young guys hungry. To see Pena sit, even for one game meant that the pain had to have reached his personal limits. So it was great to see the Rays do due diligence by performing an M.R.I, which concluded Pena had a slight ligament tear on the top of his right foot. But even with the right care and guidance the last several days, Pena’s injury did not respond the way the Rays had hoped, and he will spend a few days on the D L  healing and hopefully regaining his power level for the stretch run.


 

It is the kind of injury that you can deaden with pain killer or shots, but can also fester and become worse if not diagnosed and treated before it becomes a more severe tear or even finding the ligament detached from the bone. It was great to see Pena doing agility drills and performance tests with Rays Head Trainer Ron Portfield and Rays Third Base Coach and infield instructor Tom Foley before the game. They did agility drill with and without the baseball to try and gauge Pena’s range of mobility and seemed to focus on his quick acceleration left and right whilemanning a defensive position on the field.


 

Porterfield and Foley also tested Pena’s progress with him coming out of his hitting stance with a test on his first three steps out of the batter’s box to see if there is any hesitation or hitch to compensate for his ligament injury. They also did a battery of testing his acceleration moves on the base paths and a battery of test movement with Pena shifting his weight in multiple directions before concluding the exercises and all three then standing near the first base foul line discussing the exercises at length.


From the body language displayed by both Foley and Porterfield, it looked like they were receptive by noticeably concerned by the lack of progress in Pena’s situation . Their facial expression showed that they were not optimistic and totally pleased with the drills. The next step might be a bit of rest and relaxation for Pena for a few days, then re-evaluate the situation and plan a rehabilitation plan accordingly. 

 

One thing that has stood out in the past two Rays games is the visual fact that the Rays do not have an adequate bat outside of Pena that strikes any notion of fear into the opposing pitching staffs. The Rays have recently seemed to be one guy short of a great offensive strategy at times. The expulsion of Pena from the Rays line-up has left  one of the Rays young power hitters, Evan Longoria exposed and during this roadtrip teams will try to intimidate and make Longoria carry the bulk of the Rays offensive power.

 
In the last two games without Pena’s threat of power, the Twins manipulated Longoria and temporary fixes to the Rays line-up did not extract any levels of fear in the four slot in the Rays line-up. Now will be the time for Matt Joyce, Dan Johnson and even Willy Aybar to step up and become other great power options for the Rays in Pena’s absence. This segment without Pena will be another test to see just how adaptable this Rays team will be to change and if they can adapt on the fly to bring their offense back up to par and win. 

 

The loss of Pena until possibly next weekend could be a major blow to the Rays trying to stay in pace with the Yankees. With one of their leaders and big bats missing from their line-up, the Rays need to immediately refocus their attentions and have each team member contribute on this 6-game roadtrip through Toronto and Detroit. If the Rays stumble and fall and do not regain their offensive mindset, the season could pivot on these 9 games. It the Rays line-up can reconnect and finds a way to contribute evenly throughout the line-up, they might be able to effectively weather the Pena injury situation and come out on the winning end.

If not, it is going to be a long 9 games, and the team could find themselves closer in the standings for the American League Wild Card slot with the Boston Red Sox instead of nipping on the Yankees backsides for the A L East title. If the Rays want to secure their destiny and surge ahead, each member of the Rays roster during these 9 game will have to dig a little deeper and provide a few moments of their own.  But that is what good teams do, they adapt, conquer and move onto the next test with flying colors.

That Dastardly Injury Bug

 
 

When Tampa Bay Rays reliever J P Howell went down for the 2010 season and had his shoulder surgery, it pushed a disturbing thought into my mind. When was something else devastating going to happen with regards to a Rays player this season? Injuries for some odd reason seem to come in a surreal pattern of 3′s. Instead of having any Rays nagging injuries early on this year, the Rays stayed relatively healthy and injury free as they made their remarkable climb straight to the top of the Major League Baseball mountain, and the injury bug never got a chance to catch up with them.

Deep down, I knew the “big 3″ injury prognosis was coming. The injury bug had been eradicated by the Rays Medical Staff for over 2/3rds of the 2010 season, but I knew the team could not be totally immune to it’s eventual sting. Rays fans knew in their hearts and minds that any injury epidemic, or even a slight clog in the Rays machine could cripple a chance of celebrating in late October. Then without a hint or warning, the Rays had a quick foursome of injuries.
First came the weird occurrence where Rays Centerfielder B J Upton took in a routine fly ball during the first inning of a game against the Detroit Tigers, then suddenly went down to the turf like a sack of potatoes.

 

Somehow the Tropicana Field turf reached up and grabbed Upton by the left ankle and twisted with all of its might. It officially took Upton out of Centerfield for the remaining two against the Tigers, but it also facilitated another injury. Ben Zobrist, who came on and played in Upton’s usual position suddenly felt his back begin to stiffen up, and another Rays soul was claimed unrepentantly by the injury bug.


This time the culprit wasn’t the diabolical turf or the Rays playing surface, but Zobrist’s own personal strive to be a better player and taking a few too many swings in the batting cage. Immediately Zobrist was removed from the Rays line-up and given time to let his back heal to try and facilitate a quick return to the Rays line-up. But now, two injuries could be assigned to the that dastardly invisible injury bug. Then just as quickly, the third member of the Rays suffered another setback on Friday.

During the Rays Batting Practice on Friday night, Rays reliever Grant Balfour and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey were “joking around” on the turf and again, and that spiteful injury bug again reached up from beneath the turf and caused both men to lose their balance and fall to its green surface. Immediately, Balfour became the third and latest victim of the increasing Rays injury bug plight. The injury has been called a “freak occurrence” by the Rays front office, but it was actually a secret covert operation conducted by the injury bug Black Ops corps done under the guise of playful “roughhousing” by Balfour and Hickey.

Balfour will get a 4-6 week unplanned vacation as he strained his intercostal muscle group, which aids in the holding of the ribcage in place, plus promotes adequate breathing. The injury bug had done his black magic in three straight days and had gone 3-3, but it was not done yet. Not even a day after Balfour’s ailment, another member of the Rays core offensive production had an issue of his own that needed attention by the Rays Medical Staff.

 

Rays First Baseman Carlos Pena had been fighting a nagging pain in his right foot for a few days before finally he could not stand the throbbing injury any longer and consulted with the Rays Medical Staff. Immediately Pena was taken out of the Rays line-up and became the fourth Rays in less than a week to get a solid nibble from the injury bug. But there is a ray of light on the immediate horizon in regards to Zobrist and Pena. With both partaking in a few days of rest and attention by the Rays Medical team, both players on Sunday felt a bit of pain relief and decreasing pressure in their troubled areas. Finally the Rays had some good news on the injury front to tell the media and fans.


Zobrist is optimistic he will not be headed to the Disabled List like Balfour and could return to the Rays line-up as soon as Tuesday, or at the latest Thursday during this last stretch of the Rays home stand against the Minnesota Twins. Pena has also let it be known to the Rays Coaching staff that he is also feeling less pain. But the Rays might be extremely cautious with Pena and Zobrist. Rays fans could possibly see one of the two take a few more days off, or one of them could be submitted today to the 15-day Disabled List to make a more solid guarantee that their injury situations are completely resolved and that the team can promote a better chance of no future repercussions down the stretch run of the season.

A two week vacation now could be beneficial and provide a secure cushion of not re-injuring or agitating the injury down the line. Extermination of this injury bug epidemic needs to start now. Nipping it in the bud and promoting health is a top priority of the Rays right now. The injury bug and its lasting effects have devastated a few Major League teams this season like the Boston Red Sox. There is no ample way to detect or predict the injury bug in advance, but the Rays Medical Staff keeps a keen eye out on any agitation or unusual movements by the Rays players during game or their workouts.

With the Rays having one of the best Medical and Training staff in Major League Baseball, the long term effects and the instant discovery of an aliment or injury can be handled in a timely manner. Injuries are a daily fact of life when you play in competitive sports. There is more than ample opportunity for players to try and step outside their usual comfort zones and try and gain an extra advantage or give their team a greater chance to succeed. The injury bug waits for those moments of self sacrifice and sometimes delivers a cruel and unkind result.

Hopefully we have seen the extent of the injury bug’s attempts to plaque this Rays team with unfortunate injuries and unexpected pitfalls. There is no cure for the injury bug. No chemical can eliminate, exterminate or eradicate him completely. But with players being open and honest about their aches and pains, sometimes the warning signs can be observed, and an aliment or injury prevented. This Rays team needs their core intact and healthy for their run here in the last 1/3rd of the 2010 season. Hopefully Ron Porterfield, the Rays Head Trainer is sitting on the bench tonight with an oversized flyswatter to smack that injury bug where he lies…..Dead.
 

Brignac is the Rays Heir Apparent at Shortstop

 


 
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

More and more it seems that the fulcrum of the events concerning Tampa Bay Rays players Reid Brignac and Jason Bartlett has seen more and more movement recently. With the extended power now being displayed by Brignac in recent Rays games, plus another Arbitration raise this coming Winter for Bartlett, somewhere the fulcrum will shift and the Rays might have to make either a difficult decision, or one made easier by the maturation process.


But that is what happens on teams that are deep with farm systems that supply players as variable rates like the Rays. Player suddenly begin to reach their fiscal top ends, like Bartlett’s expected $ 5.5 million dollar question for 2011. Plus the fact that Bartlett will be 31 during 2010,while Brignac will celebrate his 25th birthday might signal a change in the middle infield for the Rays.

It is not like we have not seen this coming in the last few years as Brignac has made huge positive adjustments in his hitting, plus gotten his feet underneath him enough that when Bartlett got hurt earlier this season, the Rays did not panic and make a trade, they trusted the winner of the 2010 Al Lopez Award as the top rookie in Rays camp to fill-in with no true signs of weakness or vulnerability.
And maybe that is what might hasten this change to come into motion between now and the Winter. With Brignac gaining ground every day on possibly being the Rays 2010 starting shortstop, more and more the possibility of Bartlett being expendable is coming to light. And it is not for his abilities or even his decrease in his hitting for average this season.

Bartlett might have finally outgrown the Rays financial security blanket and might be wearing a new uniform in the future. And Bartlett will not be the only player that the Rays make a hard decision on between now and the Winter.


Within the next few months there will be additional thoughts, ideas and even plans put in place for players like Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, and maybe even Rays starter Matt Garza. People sometimes forget that even though fiscal and physical sound a bit alike in their phonic pronunciations, they are very different scenarios in how the Rays will plan their future rosters. It might come down to the $ 5 million dollar question of if Brignac can do Bartlett’s job with the same intensity and performance for a huge fraction of the cost.
Nothing personal, nothing to be ashamed of, the nature of the business of baseball. And with the team dedicated to removing a hefty portion of their 2010 payroll out of the 2011 equation, we might see the Rays soon begin to trim the fat possibly before the Trade Deadline, or if the team falls out of contention for a Playoff spot.

Unlike their divisional foes the Red Sox and Yankees, the Rays have to reload and reconstruct from a minor league system instead of spend dollars to make sense. That puts the Rays at a disadvantage in terms of veteran experience, but give them financial flexibility for a few seasons as their player mature into their roles.


 
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Nothing has been formally announced as to the Rays intentions with Bartlett following the 2010 season, but the writing is firmly on the wall. With a viable option in the system and able to take over the day-to-day duties, it is a matter of time. And with Brignac showing more and more confidence in both ends of the equation, the decision might just be weeks away from fruition. And that is the general evolution of the today’s professional baseball player. As you grow through the system and become more financially secure, you make yourself expendable to teams like the Rays with fixed incomes or revenues coming into the team.


Bartlett is a smart player, and he can definitely see the writing on the wall for himself. That might be one of the reasons we are seeing him fighting right now to show he has the great ability to help not only this 2010 Rays squad, but showing some signals to a potential future employer that he can be the perfect man for the job. Brignac is definitely the man of the future for the Rays at the shortstop position. That is the way the Rays system was designed, and has worked for years. Pieces have been mended and shaped to form a cohesive unit and Brignac is a perfect example of the Rays molding a player for greatness.

Bartlett could survive until the Winter, or possibly be gone as soon as the end of the month, but he has been a total professional and has carried himself perfect while with the Rays. For years Bartlett was in the same position as Brignac while with the Minnesota Twins. He was that supoer utility guy who seemed to possess the abilities to play at any position the team put him at in the field.

The chain is about to again come full circle, and Brignac, who is now in that super utility role will assume the top spot until the next Rays comes to challenge for his spot. It is the natural progression of baseball, and one that the Rays will keep seeing revolve and evolve for a long, long time. Change is on the horizon, and Brignac’s future looks extremely bright as a starter for the Rays.

The Head was Sad, but my Heart is cheering for Action Jackson

 

 
Associated Press

You want to hate that it happened again to the Tampa Bay Rays. For the second time this season another team not only shut the door hard on them, but left a few toes stubbed and bruised in the process. There were many honest scoring chances to change the final outcome, and even postpone an impromptu Arizona Diamondback Team meeting on the field with Edwin Jackson as the keynote speaker. The chips, dip and the alley-oops did not get instituted into the usual “Rays Way” of evoking late inning theatrics to the thunderous climax, but instead the Rays ended up with a solid and deafening thud heard throughout Tropicana Field.

With the band Tantric set to hit the stage after crushing loss, you hope the band did not start their hour long set with the song “Down and Out“, because right now, how much lower can you go, or feel at this moment if you are in Rays gear. It was one of those nights of mixed emotions and for all intentional purposes, it is am immediate game to forget and discard without review or even thought. Could the Rays be having their one month of trials and tribulation now, nearing the middle way point in the season. Or could this just be the storm before the clear skies and easy sailing for the Rays? This one just leaves you a bit dazed and confused.

 
Associated Press

You are glad to see an ex-Ray and a great person like Edwin Jackson finally get some props for the job he has done to learn the art of pitching,. That even after tying a Rays club record with 14 wins in 2008, he was jettisoned off to the Motor City for Matt Joyce (who went 0-4 tonight), but his 149 pitch eventual No-Hitter against his former team mates will probably never happen again …..Ever!

How wild is it now to imagine that even after Jackson settled into the Tiger’s locker room and posted 13 wins in 214 innings, plus represented Mo-Town in the All-Star Game, it would net him a plane ticket to hot and steamy Arizona, and not just for Spring Training. I have a feeling that even in the musty and crusty high humidity of Tampa Bay tonight, Jackson is just chilling, enjoying the flow, and reliving that magical moment in his mind over and over again with that wide smile of his on his face. This is the kind of night that defines a player.

                                RRC 

But even as Jackson has been on shaky ground ever since he left Tampa Bay, how many people really thought of how far this former positional player would escalate upwards in his career. How many people remember a Rays pitcher who was smiling on the mound even as he went 5-15 in 31 starts in 2007 before he snapped into pitching mode and rattled off 27 wins for the Rays over his next two seasons with the team. Some still say we sold out short on Jackson, before he truly hit his prime. But others saw a chance for decline in Jackson’s control and might have misplayed his calm demeanor for complacency, not a hidden gem of confidence and reviving ability.

But you truly had to admire the effort tonight. Jackson gave the Rays more than enough rope to tighten the noose around his neck, but the bats went deadly silent at the wrong moments. The Rays mantra of “Get The Man In” fell on deaf ears and misaligned swings. Jackson stood on the pitching mound more than once tonight and saw a bevy of Rays players pushing off on the surrounding bases. But the Rays failed to deliver, even remotely, to deliver that crushing blow. And in turn, Jackson just kept plugging away, getting his outs and simply going about his business hoping to go as deep as possible in this game.

But realistically, if Jackson was still a Rays pitcher, he would have never been allowed to hit that 149 pitch plateau that made him part of Major League Baseball history tonight. If he was still wearing a Rays uniform, even with the intense effort, it would have fell on the Bullpen to secure this win. But the Baseball gods were surely smiling along with Jackson tonight as he dodged several Rays attempts to rattle his cages after he hit his close friend B J Upton in the bottom of the sixth inning, then saw D-back teammate Stephen Drew bobble an easy out from his second base position for a sure error and give Carlos Pena and the Rays a chance.

 
Associated Press

But his defining moment tonight was not in the bottom of the first inning after Jackson walked Ben Zobrist, who advanced to third base after a wild pitch, but was stranded on base. Nor was it a cause for alarm in the bottom of the third inning when Jackson loaded the bases with Rays uniforms on three straight walks, then proceeded to get three straight Rays hitters to produce easy out opportunities and get out of the inning without a scratch. It was after that Drew error gave the Rays a fighting chance and Maddon inserted speedster Carl Crawford into the game as a pinch-runner. After a quick Joyce fly ball to Rightfield, Crawford was gunned down after a 93+ mph fastball was delivered to D-Backs catcher Miguel Montero who threw a perfect high strike to Drew to erase the scoring chance, and end the inning for Jackson.


Jackson’s effort might not have been as squeaky clean and tidy as Oakland A’s hurler Dallas Braden’s earlier season dismantling of the Rays hitters, but he got the same kind of result. But a finite defining moment in this game was the attitude and the on-the-field adjustments by Jackson to keep himself into contention all during this game. In his past, Jackson had gotten into jams by his own hand and could not convert and close the door on the opposition. Tonight Jackson not only closed the door, but he might have bruised a few protruding toes in the process.


RRC 

So Rays fans, I think it is wise tonight to take Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s clubhouse philosophy of taking 30-minute to dwell, ache and let the pain seep out, then discard it like a used tissue and move onto the next game. Lady Luck flirted with both teams tonight, but she took a special liking to Jackson, and he was handsomely rewarded with a lifetime memory. For the Rays, it is back to basics and the sooner they forget this night the better. But I know when I see Jackson as he wanders over the Rightfield tomorrow, the prior evening hurt and pain will be relived for a few moments, but when he flashes that huge smile, I will be glad a former Rays baseball buddy got the gift of a lifetime.
 

                

 

 
 
 

Could Rays Rookies Force a Bartlett Decision?

Sometimes a Loss is Not a Loss



Chris O’Meara/AP 

I still get irritated every time the Tampa Bay Rays lose a contest. Some people would say that after 10 years from 1998-2007 of experiencing sub .500 records and years of watching your aspirations for your teams dissolve like sands in that proverbial hourglass until the top of the glass is empty and wanting. I have had a ton of those days, days where the hurt and pain of the loss stands still in the pit of my stomach until I enter the Trop. the next night to attend another round of constant emotional wrestling hoping for a win, or a reason to have hope.


For some reason last night I did not feel that surge of twisting emotions and loss, but instead I experienced a ” we will get them next time” mentality. Maybe it was the fact the Rays showed the 19,000+ in the blue seats that this team has shed their 2009 ways of accepting a one-sided score and showed the fire and intensity needed to compete long into October. It was a great sight seeing the Rays battle tooth-to-tooth trying to crawl back into last night’s contest up to the last swing of the bat. I finally believe that lightning does strike twice, and it has in a place that used to be called the Thunderdome.

Usually it has been the modus operandi of the Rays in the past to take players out of the starting line-up and save them for another day. Last night, we again saw the maddening mind of Rays Manager Joe Maddon as he again dropped the Designated Hitter spot for the second night in a row to bolster his offense and provide an additional chance to come out on the winning side. I saw a strain of emotion late into the bottom of the ninth inning that were missing last season, but was reborn in 2010, possibly with the seeds planted firmly during Spring Training.

We again saw the majesty of Rays slugger Carlos Pena providing a example of never giving up and sending his second Home Run in as many days into the seats in Section 139 right beyond the Leftfield foul pole. We saw the grit and determination of Pena again not giving up on a short fly ball in front of the plate by his hustle down the First Base line and rewarded as Marlins catcher Ronny Paulino dropped the easy out onto the Trop’s turf. Faith had reared is magnificent head again, and it was favoring the Rays and giving them a chance of redemption in this game.

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

That was missing from this team in 2009. This Rays 2009 team did not visualize a sense of gritty determination and hustle last season but accepted their lot in the Major League Baseball season and let their physical downfalls limit their game plan, and also accepting their fate without a scrappy reprise. But seeing the Rays fight the good fight last night and toss those usual notions of playing for another day aside and individually deciding amongst themselves that this game was within their grasps, up until the last swing. And I love that transformation of this team and it starts with the guy who has hit homer after homer over the last few games, honestly leading by example.

And this is one of those emotions that is contagious and infectious in a good way. And the way the Rays fought hard last night showed they have their priorities in line and are striving for more this season. Rays/ Hess Express Saturday Night Concert performer Dierks Bentley has a song, “Feel that Fire”, hopefully the Rays take a look at that songs lyrics and embrace the fiery emotions needed to boost themselves to that next level.


So I walked out of the Trop. last night not upset the roof was not orange, and we did not finally seal that 40th win of the season. The aspects of blossoming accountability and self sacrifice witnessed last night shows this team is on the cusp of something again that is magical and will send all of us home again with multiple smiles in the near future. The Rays might have lost the physical game last night, but they gained in the mental and emotional aspects of the game, and that in itself can be a solid victory and provide more clarity and focus for the future than a simple “W”.

Gunfight at the Rogers Centre Corral

 
 
AP/The Canadian Press/Darren Calabrese

Sports columnists around the country will tell you the perfect Major League Baseball game is one where the Umpires’ are completely invisible, and every play goes along like on an organized plan with no need for interpretation, or controversy during the games nine innings of play. I hate to admit it, but that same serene scenario might be as rare as the 20 Perfect Games that have been thrown in Major League Baseball. 

I always thought growing up as a kid learning the rules of the game of baseball was that the Umpires were on the field to help guide us and teach us the rules, not become a part of a unfolding fabric of the game. For some reason, today’s mega-personality Major League Umpires seem to be developing their own agendas and meshing them into the convoluted mixture of the game.

With the “hurry up” mentality expressed by today’s Umpire Crews, you expect to see the White Rabbit behind Home Palte with a huge stop watch basically turning the game their direction by throwing their own interpretations and nuances towards every facet of the rule book. 


And one of last night’s Umpires has been center stage this season in the “hurry up” offensive move throughout the Major League Baseball system. Seasoned MLB Umpire Joe West has been more than vocal, even complaining after a Red Sox versus New York Yankee game about the molasses pace of the game right now. Anyone within the American League East knows that Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon uses the entire time allotted for every one of his pitches to his advantage, and with that goes the impending song and dance of Papelbon stepping off the rubber, the Boston catchers’ going out to the mound, or the opposing hitter asking for a “time out” right before a pitcher get set in his wind-up.

West had been more than vocally adamant about his displeasure for this routine game action dragging the last several innings of the game to a snail’s crawl. It was kind of funny (strange) to me last night during the Rays and Jays game when the battle betwwen the plate and mound became a bit testy and slowed to a well htought out chess match. The Rays had begun to get the upper hand on their opponent’s closer, then bang! In steps a supposibly conscientious observer, the Umpire. 

The Umpire again  made his presence known at centerstage when Home Plate Umpire Angel Hernandez decided to look the other way and focus elsewhere when Rays slugger Carlos Pena treid to ask for time during a strategic 3 ball ,2 strike count. Hernandez decided to not voice, hand signal or even flinch as he let Jay closer Kevin Gregg throw a perfect strike right down the middle as Pena quickly had to try and readjust after taking his lead hand off his bat and  stepped instantly towards the spinning sphere. The pitch sailed easily into Jays catcher John Buck’s glove and Hernandez wihtout thought rung Pena up on a third called strike.

Instantly Pena began to question the action, or non action by Hernandez, but he was talking to a concrete wall at that point. Quickly Rays Manager Joe Maddon went to furiously to work on Hernandez  by questioing his interpretation of the “time out” request by Pena and his subsequential rant was not for those under 17 years of age to lip read. With Moddon’s opinion well set into Hernandez’s mind, Maddon was instanyl ejected from the game by Hernandez, Maddon still hot under his Rays collar, decided to vent some more frustration since he was already going to have to pay MLB a significant fine for his previous  rant with Hernandez.

He instantly strutted up the Third Base line to confront the Umpire Crew Chief  “Cowboy” Joe West and the Battle at the RC corral was off and running at that point. Maddon made sure to push and shove his own interpretation far down West’s throat, and Maddon adamantly let West know the recent MLB Umpires “hurry up offense” move was all West’s fault and made more than sure West knew his entire opinion on the matter.  There are quite a few MLB Managers, including a duo within the American League East( New York, Boston)  that wish they could have done the same themselves to West last night.

 
AP/The Canadian Press/Darren Calabrese

It is great when a baseball game can remain clean and unfolds without the Umpires putting their “two-cents” into the mix. What really got my goat was not what unfolded on the turf during the ninth inning last night in Toronto. It was the impromptu vocal aftermath in the Umpire’s Room after the game when West made sure to throw his own spin on the whole episode. Marc Topkins of the St. Petersburg Times got a chance to sit down and have a soda and some grub with the “Cowboy” and his crew following last night shootout. It is unheard of that an Umpire will provoke an episode like this outside the realms of the game, but West is an old style gunslinger who sometimes seems above the rule book.


West voiced his opinion that he supported Hernandez’s actions, and even quoted the specific rule in the MLB Rule book for all of us out in Leftfield barristers to intrepret ourselves. West contended that the Jays closer (Gregg) had begun his delivery, so under MLB Rule 6.02 , the timeout should not have been awarded since the rule protects the pitchers’ on the rubber who have already begun their delivery.

But post game replays on FSNFlorida of the play in question showed that Gregg was not yet beginnig his “set position” on the mound.
That is a clear sign that Hernandez missed the call here, but it was at his own discretion at that moment to grant Pena the initial”timeout”. The uninterpreted grey area here is huge because it is up to individual Umpire’s personal interpretation of the rule and its boundaries, which should be solidified in black and white with more clarification, but multiple shades of grey were bountiful last night.


West told the St Petersburg Times, “You can not ask for a timeout once the pitcher is coming to a set position, or once a pitcher would be in jeopardy of hurting himself“.


West made sure to point out that the MLB does provide clubhouse signage to each of the 30 MLB teams explaining the rules in great length and the “official” MLB interpretation of these rules. On a side note, I have seen a poster of these rules, and they are printed both in Spanish and English to keep  a possible language confrontation to a minimal. West went on to tell the St Pete Times


“The rule is two-fold- One is to protect the pitcher from starting his delivery, and then having to stop because the hitter stepped out. That is why we do not let hitters cause balks. It’s all intertwined with the protocol of the pitcher and the hitter and the Umpire. And the hitters all know, you ask for time and have to be granted time or it’s not out. They do not get to call time, the Umpire calls time.”


As Topkin sat there in their usually “off limits” Umpires sanctuary as West held court, Hernandez did the right thing by not stirring the pot or adding any additonal to the spice to the mix and I gained a smidgeon of respect for him last night as he added a bland, but honest opinion to the St Pete Times :

“Technically we’re not supposed to comment on the strike zone. Obviously you can watch the game to see how things dictate, all we ask is that it’s (the strike zone) consistent throughout the game and consistent in the ninth inning.”
 

This will  eventually evolve into another Joe West involved gunfight either won or lost according to your sense of fair play and gamesmanship. The Rays ended up overcoming the ruling and winning the battle, but could Maddon have stirred up a hornet’s nest that could plague his squad in tonight’s finale against the Blue Jays. My opinion is that the MLB Umpires are the true providers and protector of the rules of the game of baseball. I understand their wide interpretations and even their bending of set guidelines at time with both the strike zone and some “in-the-neighborhood” calls on the field.


In the end, these bad judgment calls are further  diluting the games and extending its time by the arguments and ejections following a confusion over the rulings. But the Umpires should never be  a visual part on these contests. Umpire crews should do everything in thier power to remain invisible and not be made an intricate part of the game. I like that West has fire in his big old belly for the rules of game, and that Hernandez made sure to vocalize to the St Pete Times that he doesn’t have to explain his action to them, but basically only to his own superiors.

Baseball games should be decided by the players on the field and not those croaching along the foul lines or behind the plate. It is great that the game has such colorful characters within its ranks, but those same characters should not be anointed protectors of rules of the game, all dressed up in their dark blue uniforms. They should be ghosts…invisible until needed.
 

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