Results tagged ‘ Chad Bradford ’

Digging the Rays Past (1996)

 


Raysbaseball.com/MLB.com

Every once in a while I get into one of these research kicks where I want to find out once and for all if something could of, did not, or should of happen concerning the Tampa Bay Rays or any other team. The object of my well, obsession last night was to see if any of the 30 Major League Baseball squads ever attempted to draft current NFL hero and New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees in 1996, when he lettered in baseball at Westlake High School in Dallas,Texas.

So I went on a long and detailed journey checking out every name for almost 100 rounds of the 1996 MLB First Year Draft online, and actually did not find a single mention of the Brees name. Some people might consider this then a waste of time and energy, but I did find a few very interesting secondary targets, and even a score of former Rays players I did not know were initially drafted in 1996.

 
 

The 1996 MLB First YearDraft was actually the starting point for first year player selections ever by the then Tampa Bay Devilrays and it set into motion the initial formation of their minor league ranks in their farm minor league system, which today is considered by many to be the best in baseball. And along the way, I found 24 names listed on that year’s draft board that one day would don the Rays emblem across their chests during a Rays game. 

Most of the Rays faithful know that the D-Rays picked Raleigh, North Carolina native Paul Wilder with the 29th pick in the First Round of that initial draft. But did you know that the last Rays selection in that year’s Draft was High School outfielder Michael Rose from Dayton, Ohio with the 1,736th pick?

 

It was a wild night remembering names and also associating them with past great Rays moments. Out of that first 1996 draft, the highest selected pick from 1996 to don a Rays jersey was outfielder Alex Sanchez from Miami-Dade CC, but most of us might remember him better for the April 3,2005  MLB press release that he would be the first MLB player ever suspended for violating the MLB’s newly instituted drug policy.

Not a great way to be remembered, but Sanchez did not last long with the Rays despite an early 2005 .346 batting average. His wishy-washy defensive play and the suspension might have hastened the Rays to designate him for assignment on June 13th 2005.

 
 

Besides Wilder, there was another name drafted in associated with the D-Rays during that first draft when they selected then, Florida Gators quarterback Doug Johnson in the second round. Even though Johnson did sign and report to a minor league team, he never seems to gather enough mustard to rise through the D-Rays farm system, and finally concentrated his efforts more on staying healthy behind the NFL’s Atlanta Falcon’s offensive line. It was a calculated gamble by the Rays Front Office to try and get Johnson to fit into their system, but the young player always seemed to be more comfortable with a football helmet on his head than the baseball batting helmet.

But what is even more surprising is the large number of other players selected in that season’s draft who would end up one day playing in Rays gear. During the 1996 MLB Draft, other teams ended up selecting a total of 17 players who ended up sporting Rays gear during their playing careers. The highest profile player might be 1B Travis Lee, who was the second pick of the First Round by the Twins that season. Also former Rays players LHP Bobby Seay(CWS), INF/OF Damian Rolls(LAD) and P Nick Bierbrodt(AZ) were all First Round selections that at one point wore Rays colors.

 


AP file Photo 

But down the draft line there were also players like P Chad Bradford(CWS), LP Mark Hendrickson(TEX), P Joe Biemel(TEX), INF Brent Abernathy(TOR),3B/C Eric Munson(ATL) P Joe Nelson(ATL) C Robert Fick(DET),LP Casey Fossum(AZ), DH/1B Josh Phelps(TOR),OF Jason Conti(AZ), P Brandon Backe(MIL), P Ryan Rupe(KC) and P Tim Corcoran(NYM). It is a bit unusual for so many budding players to find their way onto one team and prosper during their careers, but at that time, Tampa Bay was a good starting place to establish yourself within Major League Baseball by showing a good foundation, then moving onto another team with experience under your belt.

 
 

It is funny now to also gather the names of other great players who also debuted  as professionals from that 1996 draft.  Later Round selected Players like Astros P Roy Oswalt(23rd Rd), Cubs P Ted Lilly(23rd Rd),current Free Agent reliever Kiko Calero(27th Rd) just among the top 30 rounds of the draft. The you have guys like Yankee OF Marcus Thames(30th Rd), Indians DH Travis Hafner(31st Rd), Twins 2B Orlando Hudson(33rd Rd), rehabbing P Chris Capuano(45th Rd) and Nats INF Eric Bruntlett(72nd Rd).
 
 

But if you like to win odd baseball Trivia Questions, then I have one for you. You can win some major food or drink concessions (I have) by remembering that the D-Rays reliever Travis Phelps, who was drafted in the 89th Round , and the 1,720th player selected that season is the latest draft pick to ever don a Major League Baseball uniform. And because MLB restructured the Draft since his selection, he will be the answer to that Trivia Question forever. Easy pickings unless you are at a SABR Convention.

But he is not the only D-Rays player selected from that initial 1996 Draft to make it to the professional level and put on the jersey of the team that selected him. He shares that honor with current Rays reliever P Dan Wheeler( 34th Rd), P Mickey Callaway(7th Rd), P Delvin James(14th Rd), and last, but not least, 3B Jared Sandberg(16th Rd). Sandberg also went on to coach in the Rays farm system, and will be the head man with the Hudson Valley Renegades (oh yeah!). This will be Sandberg’s third season coaching in the Rays farm system.

 


 TBO.com file Photo

So last night’s scavenger search brought up some interesting surprises, and also a few great Rays moments for me to envision again within my imagination. It is kind of wild that Rays reliever Wheeler is the lone Rays representative from that initial farm system class of then D-Rays left within the Rays roster. And what it must feel like for him to be here during the lean times, then go away and experience a World Series berth(Astros), then come back and see this Rays organization that drafted him also feel that rush of emotions in securing their first Playoff berth and run towards the 2008 World Series with Wheeler in the Bullpen enjoying the view from field level.

 
 

And there was one more name that was hidden among the mass quantity of names in that 1996 Draft that totally shock and awed me. Hidden way back in the 59th Round, and selected by the Seattle Mariners was a young pitcher named Barry Zito. Some people say that if you fall under the 20th Round in any year’s MLB Draft, your odds greatly swing downward to ever see the light of day as an MLB player at a Major League ballpark. So many of the above mentioned MLB players fell below that invisible line and are living proof that will, determination and great talent can not always get you to the show. Sometimes you need a lucky rabbit’s foot too…….Right Barry?

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!

 

Rays have some Major Pitching Decisons looming

 


Paul J Berewill / AP

I do not envy Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman or Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s job this weekend. They will have to brainstorm and continue to formulate a plan to set two people either on a plane to the minor leagues, or find another alternative for one before the team gets on the plane to head to Toronto at the beginning of the week.  One player ( Winston Abreu) probably already knows his days are numbered and is just going to enjoy what time he has left before he is heading back to Triple-A this season.

But the second player that will needed to be plucked from the rotation and either sent down to the minors, traded, or maybe even relegated to the Bullpen might be the toughest decision for the Rays this season.  And I do not envy those two men at all for the deepest cut this year for the team. We all know that Rays starter Scott Kazmir is rumored to be starting one of the games this weekend, and with that becoming a reality, it means one of the two other starters this weekend either Jeff Neimann or David Price might be sitting on the hot seat.

But then again, did Andy Sonnanstine do enough to even secure his job last night. We all know he got roughed up in the first inning then completely solidified and became the starter we needed last night. Sonnanstine has the mental ability to start in the league without question. The only problem is that now we have a three headed monster to contend with here, and which head is the one to be chopped off. All three have merits to be here another day in the rotation, but someone has to give way again by Monday when the Rays have anticipated that Rays reliever Chad Bradford would be ready for duty.

That throws another gallon of gasoline in the fire because with his promotion back onto the Rays roster, one of the big three will have to give way. I want to play shadow General Manager here for a moment and try and decide, convince or maybe even throw some personal opinion into the barrel with the rest of Maddon and Friedman’s thoughts.  We all know that Bradford is further along in his rehab that initially anticipated and could even be restored to the roster by the weekend.

But my logical, or maybe biased view might be to use the obvious choice of sending down Abreu today or tomorrow to make that first roster space ready for Kazmir if he indeed is given a start this weekend in place of Price or Niemann. And with that happening, just move the current rotation down 1 to keep a rightie( Shields), leftie( Kazmir), rightie (Garza), leftie (Price), rightie (Niemann) match-up.  Okay you are quickly noticing my second part of the rotation here with the absence of a name.

I am over a barrel here because I love the spunk of Sonnanstine and actually think he is turning the corner.  His mental make-up is the thing I wish both Niemann and Price have right now. That is what makes this more of a toss-up than a sure thing. I can make excuses for either Sonnanstine or Price going down, but in reality, if we send down Price right now we might send the wrong message to him too. As I have mentioned before, in 2003 when Kazmir first made his Rays debut, he went 2-3 and showed impressive results in strikeouts and movement on his pitches, but you knew 2004 was going to be his year.

Price has been basically anointed by the media to be a darling since his playoff heroics of 2008, but that doesn’t give you the leg up to assume or take a roster spot in the major leagues. He did need that additional seasoning in the minors, and maybe it might not have been the right time to bring him up, but it is history now and if you send him back it might put him behind in his development. For some reason now I am of the mindset that for him to go back to Durham would revert his development a bit. 

Kazmir and James Shields had to learn to adjust at this level and turned out fine for the Rays. Matt Garza took huge steps in 2008 to prove he was a top tier pitcher in the league. That Texas tussle might have actually been the best moment of his career because it got him to see a problem outside of just pitching that was taking his mind off the business on the mound. Heck, even if Price got lite up a bit on Tuesday night in that first inning the fact he threw 30 strikes on 40 pitches in itself is pretty amazing.

So here is the rub. You got three guys who deserve the spots, but only two slots to fill. How do you decide who is the odd man out?


Steve Nesius / AP

1st contender…………….Jeff Niemann 


You got a former First Round draft pick that you have invested both time and money into who is finally coming into his own on the mound after only 16 career starts. He is currently tied with James Shields for the team lead in wins with 6, and is second among American League rookie pitcher this season in wins.

Not only that, he has matured and developed quickly since his first start of the season where he got shell shocked by the Baltimore Orioles and his six victories puts him 4 behind Rolando Arrojo’s current Rays rookie record.  The team has won 8 of his last 9 starts and are 10-4 overall when he has taken the mound in 2009.  This statistic is the best among the five starters on the Rays staff this season.  

He is getting 8.17 runs per 9 innings, the second best support in the AL after Boston’s Tim Wakefield. The Rays have scored 40 runs in his last 4 starts and have scored 8 runs or more in 10 of his 14 starts.  He has not allowed a home run  in 26.1 innings or since May 23rd at Florida (Uggla).  Niemann also has the only complete game shutout by a rookie pitcher this season in the majors.  He threw only 100 pitches in that shut out, with between 9-14 pitches each inning of that contest. 

The one really bad side to maybe even considering taking Niemann out of the rotation might be the effect it would have on his starting ability in the rest of the season. Being a major league reliever is a different mindset since you have to be ready every day to pitch. That is a totally different mental preparation for a game than studying two days in advance of your next start to get totally invested in the opposition’s hitting patterns. Relievers tend to learn on the fly at times, which might stunt his growth as a starter.


Kathy Willens / AP

2nd Contender……………….Andy Sonnanstine.

I have to say I re
ally like the way he handled that adversity last night, but for some reason it did feel like more of the same from him this season. He has gotten in deep dodo before in 2009 and fought log and hard to resurface with confidence and  a renewed vigor to pitch, and I respect that in him.  But the reality is that even though he is now tied with Neimann and Shields with six wins,he has had to endure more stress and rocky starts than the other two starters.

But he is  a sure thing at home this season, I will give him that. In 2009 he is 5-0 in six home starts this season. Compare that to his road record and he is night and day this season. On the road he is 1-7 with a 8.22 ERA.  But on top of some of those great home numbers is a few statistics that might frighten the daylights out of you. He had allowed a home run in 8 straight starts before he blanked the Philadelphia Phillies last night. During that span he has allowed 14 dingers.  But that is not the only warning signal to boast a red flag for Sonnanstine.

His 6.61 ERA is the highest among major league qualifying starting pitchers this season.  He currently leads the American League in runs allowed with 60 runs, and .307 Opponents Batting Average is second in the AL. But a big plus on his side to maybe stay until at least Monday is the fact he gives Maddon another left-handed bat on the bench for the Inter League series. He has been impressive with his hitting in 2009, and has proven to be a bona fide hitter for the Rays.

But even if the plus and minus side match up, he is also eligible to be sent down to the minors without having to be placed on waivers at all. He still has two minor league options that the Rays can use with him. I am not pre-determining anything here, but that fact along with the red flags on homers and Opponents Batting Average might be a determining factor in the future decision.

       
        Reinhold Matay / AP

3rd Contender……………David Price.

Here is where it gets really interesting. If you send down the Rookie do you send the right message to him that his time is coming and that this is just a postponement of his major league education? As I have stated before, I think he was not ready to come up right after Kazmir went on the disabled list. But he has gotten the same kind of training Kazmir got in 2003 when he went 2-3 and got thrown into the Rays rotation. Maybe this experience taught him something and if he did go back down a fire would be burning in his belly to get back up here as soon as possible.

But the reality is that the guy is here now and he could learn just as well up here as in Durham now. And the added fact of a second leftie in your starting rotation is nothing to sneeze at in the major leagues. But he is also a work in progress up here right now getting hit around at times, but always acting like a rubber band and pulling himself back into shape to adjust and get his game back into order. And that has not gone unnoticed in the stands either. 

Let’s look at his stats before the Tuesdays game to get a better look at what he has done so far in the majors. Before that game he had made a total of 7 career starts for the Rays.  If he had enough innings to qualify, he would be second in ERA and third in Opponents Batting Average for rookies in the AL this season.  He has also allowed two earned runs or less in 4 out of his 5 starts this season. He is the guy with the least amount of innings this season, but might have the biggest up-side to remaining with the team past this weekend.

I am not going to beat around the bush here and throw more stats out about Price.  We all know he has star potential and can be a huge cog in the Rays future. But the biggest thing that needs to be addressed is the simple fact he can also still be sent down without any cause for alarm. I think he is the most unlikely of the three right now to be optioned back to Durham, but this team has surprised me before with logical-illogical thinking.

Summary

Basically it is going to be a huge decision whoever the Rays decide to swap out of the rotation for Kazmir and Bradford’s returns. The most logical and practical options is to send Abreu down first, then make the needed arrangements or even a trade to make the second decision a no-brainer for the team. Niemann looks to be safe for a roster spot right now. That is not to mean he might be popped into the Bullpen like during the 2008 playoffs, but I think that might be a premature thing to do with the tall Texan.

Also I am thinking more and more that Price might have done all he can do down in Durham and learning on the fly up here might be his best option now. But a short turn back in Durham also working more on that change-up and learning a bit more on the constantly moving major league strike zone might also be in order. There is a 50-50 split on if he goes back to the Triple-A Bulls. But in the end, my head tells me he is here for the rest of the year baring injury or a major meltdown.

That leaves us with Sonnanstine. He has posted some of the biggest wins in the last two years for the team, but he has fallen down a notch or two in control and consistency. But as we all know Cleveland’s Cliff Lee is not the most consistent pitcher overall, but has gotten the wins when needed in his career. And Sonnanstine mirrors him in this respect. Sonny knows what needs to be done and will strive to do it at all costs, but is his clock winding down with the Rays.

Of the three pitchers mentioned in this blog, he is the one who might even garner the most attention on the trade front. We all know that the San Diego Padres are anxious to find more starting pitching, but could Sonnanstine be the right fit for that squad. Before the season a few teams were linked to Sonnanstine. Could any of these teams still be interested in the righthander?

The Rays might still keep him for pitching depth and send him to the minors or even put him in the Bullpen. But the stark reality is that he could go down and redefine himself at Durham and come up blazing and ready to reclaim a rotation spot. Nothing make a pitcher hungrier than knowing they can still produce at this level and being optioned down to the minors. But Sonny has done it before. He has gone from an unknown to a 14-game winner last season. I really do not envy those two men in the Ray clubhouse for this series of decisions. But even if they have to play a aggressive rendition of “Rock,Paper. Scissors” this will be done this weekend. Hopefully they can come to a consensus before the Wine Pong game comes out.

   

M*A*S*H* 33701 Staff

 


Lynn Sladsky / AP

The roster of the Tampa Bay Rays is beginning to represent a television episode of M*A*S*H* 4077th right now. The recent flurry of injuries, both serious and treated with kindness have made this roster change shape in recent weeks. But behind the scenes, the sight in the Rays training room right now might not be as bloody or surgically fixated as the television show, but the drama and the extent of the injuries have made their medical staff one of the true treasures right now in the Rays organization.

Most fans have never heard the names Ron Porterfield, Paul Harker or Kevin Barr before during most of the Rays telecasts. They are a group of guys who try and stay beyond the cameras and beyond the eye sight of most people in the stands before, during and after most of the Rays games. But their contribution to the Tampa Bay Rays will now have a huge significance on what is going to happen on the field. You see, this trio is the conglomerate that is responsible for the well being and health of the players on our roster. Each one of them is considered the best in their field, and have served the Rays for several season in their respective positions.

With their state-of-the-art training complex and new and proven methods being employed daily, the medical staff is beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s take Rays reliever Brian Shouse’s injury first. After his first MRI, it was concluded that he might have a slight tear in his left flexor muscle right off the elbow. This would put the reliever essentially out for some time. But under further diagnosis and further testing, it was ruled that Shouse might have just a slight strain to the region and not need surgery at all. That diligence in finding the correct diagnosis might have cost the Rays the use of Shouse later in the season. Now after rehab and some carefully watched exercise and throwing sessions, he might again be back with the club a lot soon than originally expected. And that is huge as the Rays try and regain their core and take on the task of repeating their AL East title.

As we speak several players are also trying to get off the training tables and rehab assignments to bring some help to the slumping Rays. Designated Hitter Pat Burrell has missed 15 games now due to his neck stiffness. The team has been able to tread water to a 8-7 record since he went down, but his bat is needed to protect Carlos Pena in the lineup. Yesterday in Cleveland, Burrell was suppose to take some special individualized batting practice to see just how far he has progressed in his fight to get his neck situation under control.  The session was canceled after he was experiencing more neck stiffness. The team is tentatively expecting another try at Burrell going to the plate on Friday when they return to Tropicana field for their latest home stand. Hopefully on that day the Rays will have some good news on their ailing DH.

But then you have guys like Rays reliever Chad Bradford, who is right now on loan to the Rays Class-A squad, the Charlotte Stone Crabs for a rehab assignment. So far the prognosis is great for Bradford, and with the Bullpen right now a bit tired and weathered, he just might be ready soon to give some relief to his Bullpen mates.  His last appearance was on May 24th, and he went 1-inning and only gave up 1-hit in the appearance. The Stone Crabs have been victimized lately by weather as their last two game have been canceled due to the elements. But this week they are in Clearwater to play the Threshers, and the medical staff left behind on this road trip will be keeping a close eye on Bradford if he gets into any of these contests.

Another guy who is suffering from bad timing is Shawn Riggans. Earlier on in the season, Riggans went down with a bout of shoulder tendinitis and was set down for a few weeks before he was again allowed to participate in a throwing program. He went through the  throwing program set up by Barr and was ready to again try and hit a rehab assignment with the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits.  Riggans went on up to Alabama and joined the team, but was quickly taken back off the roster after a sudden pain in his shoulder after throwing a pick-off attempt to first base during a game. He was sent to renowned doctor James Andrews in neighboring Birmingham, Alabama. After son consultation and recommendations from Andrews, Riggans was on his way back to St. Petersburg, Florida to again try all over again with the rest and relaxation program for a while. He is hoping to again be ready for a throwing program by the first week of June.


Lynn Sladsky / AP

Ron Porterfield probably had one of his worst days recently during Sunday’s Florida Marlins versus the Rays game. In the ninth inning of that contest, the Marlins Chris Coghlan came into second base to break up a double play opportunity and struck Akinora Iwamura in the left leg while it was still planted firmly on the infield clay. The result of the moving Coghlan into the rigid Iwamura made for one force taking damage on the other. Iwamura instantly went down and was in obvious pain on the infield. Porterfield rushed out their immediately and tried to ease the pain of Iwamura. The hardest part of this job might be the instant recognition of a bad situation and remaining cool and calm during this time is extremely difficult.

You could see on the replays during the injury time-out that Porterfield was not trying to stretch the area out or even attempt to have Iwamura stand based on the visual extent of the injury. He immediately asked for the crash cart to be brought out onto the turf and Iwamura was transported off the field to the rear of the Visitor’s Clubhouse area. At this time it is Porterfield’s job to ease the suffering and pain of Iwamura and give reassurance.  You have to guess he already had a opinion on the extent of the injury and was doing everything he could to mask the emotions and the conversation more towards positive elements. 

Iwamura was on crutches by the end of the game putting no pressure or force on his left knee region. He was then put in a car en route to St. Petersburg where a MRI was to be conducted this past Monday morning. He was not there when the results came in from the MRI in St. Petersburg as he was with the team in Cleveland for their four game series there before finally coming back to Tropicana Field. The results of Iwamura’s MRI showed that surgery will be needed to repair the ACL and a slight bit of damage to his MCL ligaments.

This will put him out for the rest of the 2008 season, and some speculate it might be his last time to put on a Rays uniform. But a planned surgery in the next two weeks after the swelling goes down and it is optimal to operate, Iwamura will get fixed up locally by Dr. Koko Eaton.

Later in that same ballgame, they again got called back onto the field after Dan
Uggla’s stolen base attempt. On that play, the Rays starting shortstop Jason Bartlett put his left leg in front of the base to attempt to make Uggla go to the outside of the base. Instead, Ugglas came in spikes first and clipped Bartlett on the top of the ankle, which resulted in him going down fast to the clay surface.  Again the medical staff went out there and performed some quick aid to relieve Bartlett of his obvious pain at the time. Bartlett did refuse to come out of the game and finished the contest and was getting more treatment as the team was packing up for their plane ride to Cleveland for the next series.

In Cleveland, it was decided because of the conversation with the medical staff that Bartlett should rest the ankle for a few days. Some say he could have played through the pain, but considering that Bartlett is a key element of the team again playing for that divisional title, precautionary measures were decided by Rays Manager Joe Maddon and the medical staff. Bartlett sat out the Monday game against the Indians and was set to have an MRI to check for further damage in the region. 

Because the MRI revealed a sprain, it was advised by the medical staff that rest and staying off the ankle would further the healing process. We all know that Bartlett would want to play, and might just do a good job even with a gimpy ankle. But the consideration of his total health was in order. A healthy Bartlett could help the team pick up the needed wins to regain some places within the division. If he re-injured it, or made the injury more severe, his participation might be hindered significantly the rest of the season.

Then you have people like Barr, who have designed the rehab programs for players like Fernando Perez while he is on the DL to increase his mobility and keep him in shape while he waits for further word on when he can begin a throwing program of his own designed by Barr. With his baby blue cast off his wrist you would think that the injury might be over and he can again take full baseball activities. But the wrist area is a delicate region that can be injured again quickly if the injury is not fully healed before a top workout begins. Perez was recently transferred to the 60-day DL, and it is thought he might not be on either a rehab assignment or playing before August 2009.


Lynn Sladsky / AP

The training/medical staff of the Rays is considered one of the best in baseball.  So who are these guys, and why should we be glad we have them on the Rays. Well, let me see if I can give you some insight to why we are lucky to have this trio in Tampa Bay.

First let’s start with the team’s Strength and conditioning Coach, Kevin Barr. In 2009, Barr will be presented with the Nolan Ryan Award, sponsored by Life Fitness. The award named after the Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, honors an outstanding strength and conditioning coach in professional baseball. The Nolan Ryan Award recognizes the coach whose accomplishments, in the opinion of fellow members of the Professional Baseball Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society (PBSCCS), reflects an exemplary dedication to strength training and conditioning. The award also recognizes the recipient’s professional and personal accomplishments as well as his integrity as a strength and conditioning coach.

You might recognize him more for his time spent out on the field during Batting Practice in the right field corner with the pitchers’ helping them both do stretching exercises and running drills. He also can be seen on the first baseline just before the game when the players come out to stretch before Rays games. He is one of the only people out there at that time not in a Rays uniform, and can be easy to spot. He is a key element to the consistent health and rebuilding of the Rays roster after an injury has been sustained by a player.

Most people confuse Paul Harker with a player since he is tall and built like a player. But it is his duty to assist Porterfield in any needs before after and during the game to prepare the Rays field players and pitchers for that days game. Harker joined the major league staff after serving for three seasons as the Rays Minor League head trainer.  He  first joined the organization in November 1996 as the trainer for the Class- A St. Petersburg Devil Rays before serving as Triple-A Durham’s trainer from 1998-2002. Prior to joining the Rays organization, Harker worked in the Seattle Mariners organization for six seasons. He is a graduate of Florida State University and is certified by the National Athletic Trainers Association.

But the guy most people know by his smile and his personality is Ron Portfield, the head honcho in the Rays medical corps. Porterfield is afraid to put a glove on and catch a bit with rehabbing players, or to just be a sounding board for a player trying out a new pitch or delivery. He is on one of the busiest people before the game for the Rays, and his training table area is also a hot spot for conversation and group conversations before the Rays games. Porterfield, spent his time as the team’s Major League assistant trainer before finally getting the top spot in December 2005. He joined the Rays organization in 1997, serving as the Minor League medical and rehabilitation coordinator for six years. Porterfield originally came to the Rays from the Houston Astros, an organization he joined in 1987 after he graduated from New Mexico State University.

In 2004, Porterfield was a member of the medical staff that received the Dick Martin Medical Staff of the Year Award from Baseball Prospectus. Porterfield’s intense computer research and commitment to helping Rocco Baldelli in 2008 get back to the field last August helped earn Porterfield the 2008 American Sports Medicine Institute Career Service Award.


So as you can see, the Rays have a well educated and knowledgeable staff to prevent and treat any aliments that might come up during the Rays contests. With new technologies and treatment systems being discovered daily, it is also their job to wade through the  published  treatment paperwork and computer postings to find the best injury solutions for the Rays players.  The commitment and the stamina displayed by these three guys should be commended.

They are the first line of defense to keeping these players on the field, and the last ones to insure they are ready again to play for the Rays. It is a tough job, and one that doesn’t always get the credit it deserves, but it is what they love, and what they are extremely good at doing. And we are lucky to have them here in Tampa Bay.

 

Bradford Injury and Rays Bullpen Notes

 

 

 
 

When the Rays faced the Baltimore Orioles in early 2008, they always had to worry about having submariner Chad Bradford come into the game in the late innings against them. Because of his off-kilter delivery it made the Ray’s batters adjust on the fly to the rising pitches and extreme curve of his ball. So it is no surprise that the team was excited that the Rays front office traded for Bradford on August 7th for a player to be named later. It was considered an odd trade at the time because the Rays had formed a Bullpen that took a 180 degree turn from 2007 and became very competitive from both sides of the pitching rubber. This news might be received differently by both the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. The Yankees had the most success against Bradford in 2008, hitting .333 against him, while the Red Sox hit a collective 1-6 against him for a lowly .167 average last season.
 

 

But the addition of Bradford was looked at as  an extra weapon that teams could not stack lineup, or late inning substitutions because of his major league relievers leading 4.38 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio. Because of their increased defense, the style of pitching that Bradford brought to the team actually played into the teeth of the Rays infield defense in 2008.  Another odd happening involving Bradford happened during this years off season. 
 

 

Because the two teams could not agree upon a player to be named later for the trade, the Rays paid the Orioles $ 20,000 for the rights to Bradford to complete the trade agreement. That is the amount for the standard waiver claim fee paid in the MLB. So that concluded their business with the Orioles, and the Rays now had the righty all to themselves at $ 3.5 million dollars for 2009. But all that came crashing down yesterday when it was revealed by the Rays that Bradford could miss a small chunk of the beginning of the season after feeling some pain during his off season pitching program.
 

 

With only days until pitchers’ and catchers were set to report, the team medical staff the  sent him to respected surgeon Dr.James Andrews, who performed surgery on his right elbow in Birmingham, Alabama this week. The surgery was to remove loose found to be inside his elbow. Bradford, who was performing even after the initial pain came up in his elbow tried to loosen up after the injury and the pain would increase and the joint stiffened quickly after throwing.  It has been estimated that this recovery, and the rehab might take between 4-6 months to complete and will help solve a few questions about the Rays 2009 Bullpen setup. 
 

 

Because of his downtime, Bradford actually might have saved a player currently on the Rays Spring Training roster a spot going into the season. This is not to say that they might still not pick up another body for competition before the final roster is announced, but it will at least make a few of the Rays players without options left feel a bit more secure as they set to arrive on Saturday for their first team workout on Sunday morning. “We decided that doing a scope would be in the best interest of him and the team,” said Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told MLB.com . “We did that and we expect him to miss the first month or two of the season. But to focus on the positive, it’s going to be a great shot in the arm for us when he is back. And to be able to add that quality of a reliever to the mix at that point.”

 
 

                              
 
 

The subtraction of Bradford to injury gives more chances to the incoming members of the Rays Bullpen to showcase their talents and make their case to be included in the Rays 2009 25-man roster.  Three new high-profile members of the Spring Training staff, Lance Cormier, Joe Nelson, Rule-5 draftee Derek Rodriguez will begin the spring with a little more confidence in making the 25-man roster. Rodriguez, who has to be on the 25-man roster the entire year or be offered back to his former team will have the longest shot of making the squad this spring. But the Rays hold this young player in high regards and he might make it deep into the spring before a decision is made about his Rays future. 
 

 

But these guys will also face battles from incoming invitees for a spot in the Rays Bullpen. Veterans like Randy Choate and ex-Ray Jason Childers and Winston Abreu. People might remember that back in 2006, Childers actually made the Rays 2006 Opening Day roster, but his time with the team was short lived as he was designated for assignment after only 7.2 innings in the majors. Abreu has major league experience with the Washington Nationals having pitched at the major league level both in 2006, and 2007 for the team. His major league totals are 0-1, with 3 holds and a 5.93 ERA in 29 appearances. Choate gained most face time to Rays fans as a member of the New York Yankees from 2000-2003.  
 

 

These incoming Bullpen battery mates might make the Rays squad out of Spring Training, but it is the guys who are currently on the teams 40-man roster without minor league options pose the biggest decision by the team’s staff before April. We all know that Rays pitchers Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann are two members of the squad that will be fighting for their collective careers this spring, but some decision by the Rays could also make their springs a little less filled with drama and suspense. Hammel began to settle in as a member of the Rays relievers corp in 2008. At times he looked rusty and unsure of himself, but as the year went on his confidence and his abilities began to shine on the mound.

 
 

 

 
 

His shining moment in 2008 has to be the 9th inning save opportunity in Fenway Park against the Red Sox on September 10th when he came on in the 14th inning to relieve Troy Percival with no outs and the bases loaded in the game. Hammel quickly got Kevin Youkilis to hit a weak sacrifice fly, he struck out Jason Bay and got Alex Cora to fly out to B J Upton in center field to secure his first professional save that night.  Hammel began the year in the Rays rotation taking the spot of injured starter Scott Kazmir, and he officially went to the Bullpen on May 10th after Kazmir was brought back up off the disabled list. 
 

 

Hammel opened the season in the number 5 slot for the Rays and posted a 2-2 record in 5 starts, with an 4.88 ERA. He did win two consecutive starts during that time, on April 17th in Minnesota and April 23rd at home against Toronto. Hammel also went a career high  7.0 innings in a no-decision April 12th against the Baltimore Orioles. Because of his familiarity of the Rays system in the Bullpen, he might have the early lead on retaining his  long reliever spot. But Rays pitcher Jeff Niemann is just getting acquainted to the major leagues.  
 

 

But because of early injury problems in his career he has been an after thought in the Rays plans for a few seasons. After completing a great season in the minors and spending the beginning of the year up with the Rays starting, he also might be an extremely long look before the Rays make any decisions in the Bullpen. Niemann got an early chance to make his statement to stay up with the Rays difficult when he started for the team twice in April 2008 after being recalled due to a Matt Garza elbow injury.  This was his first extended stay up with the Rays and he won his major league debut against the Orioles on April 13th, going 6 innings giving up 6-hits and a lone run and 5 strikeouts in the contest. Niemann was recalled after the Durham Bulls loss in the International League Cup on September 13th and went straight to St Petersburg to meet the team after their road trip.

 

 


 
                     

 

Niemann was used 3 relief appearances late in the year, and he responded by going 6.2 innings with 7-hits and 3 earned runs  and 8 strikeouts. Because of his height, the tall right hander can make it look almost like he is throwing it downhill towards you at the plate. Niemann is currently only 1 of 6 pitchers in the MLB who stands at least 6″ 9″ tall. But with his Rays history, a lot is going to be placed on his 6′ 9″ shoulders in 2009. The fact that he was the Rays first round draft pick out of Rice University in 2004. Because of those pitching injuries, his progress between the minors and the major leagues has been extended and almost exhausted by both himself and the Rays. With no minor league options left for him, it might be “put up or shut up” time for the big guy. 
 

 

But he also will face some questions since most of his time while with the Triple-A squad were as a starting pitcher in 2008. In Durham, Niemann made 24 starts and posted a 9-5 record with a 3.59 ERA. His .207 opponents average was the 7th best in the minors, and  he held right handers to a .162 average for the year.  He also posted some great number overall in the International League, his 3.59 ERA put him in 7th in the International League and his 128 strikeouts put him 5th in the entire Rays organization for 2008.  He also tied for first in the International League in complete game, with 3 for the year.

 
 

 
                     

 

 

These two players will have to face some incredible odds to remain with the team in 2009. But with the injury to Bradford, the task got a bit easier for them. But they are not the only guys seeking that coveted spot in the Bullpen each one of these guys could make it because of their past success in the major leagues, and with the team in the past. You might consider that the Rays will sign more more member to the spring roster to give more competition to these young guns. But in the end, both Hammel and Niemann will either both be on the Rays roster, or be traded to another team before the start of the season. It is anyone guess right now on the future of these two shining lights in the Rays pitching staff. Hopefully the team can find spots for both of these players until Bradford comes back from his injury. If they can not, the hope is that the player that leaves the squad finds a team that can use his talents and keeps growing to secure a spot on a major league roster in 2009.
 
 


Photo in today’s blog were obtained from http://www.Raysindex.com, http://www.TampaBay.com, and Associated Press  Photo Files.



 

David Price………………From Draft Pick to Playoff Sensation

 

 

 Www.TheScoutingBook.com  said even before the Rays made him the first pick of the 2007 Amateur Draft, David Price had already run up a polished resume, beginning with the 0.43 ERA he posted as a high school senior. The Dodgers drafted him in the 19th round in 2004, but Price chose to attend Vanderbilt on scholarship instead, where he became a powerful (if overworked) anchor to the school’s very strong rotation. When the Rays Price with the first pick in the 2007 Draft, the website. www.TheHardballTimes.com  was gushing about the uber prospect from Vanderbilt University because of his aggressive finish to the plate. they also remarked that Price’s  slow tempo to the plate and they began to think that what I said above about his tempo may be a tad nitpicky. This dude is good, really good. Leave him alone and let him pitch. Now that is a great scouting report…………leave him alone and let him pitch!
 

Price went 11-1 with a 2.63 ERA and Division I-leading 194 strikeouts for the SEC Eastern Division Commodores. He is the fourth left hander taken with the top pick and first since Brien Taylor went to the New York Yankees in 1991. Price’s dominant season came to a surprising end in the  NCAA regionals when his top-ranked Commodores lost to Michigan. In that game, he came on in relief and took his first loss of the year after striking out 17 against Austin Peay three days earlier. Projected as a future staff ace in the majors, Price has a fastball measured in the mid-90s. He mixes it well with an outstanding slider and change up.

 Price did not agree to an $ 11.25 million, 6-year contract with the Rays until August 15, just beating the newly imposed signing deadline. Price, a hard-throwing left hander from Vanderbilt, is guaranteed $8.5 million under the deal, which includes a $5.6 million signing bonus. after singing, the Rays quickly decided the send their new prospect straight to Class A Columbus Catfish in the South Atlantic League.  It is unlikely that he will pitch in any games until the Instructional League this fall under the direction of pitching coach Bill Moloney. But getting the extra time to work on mechanics and get used to the grind of the minor leagues will be a good education for the young southpaw.

 After throwing in the Rays Instructional League during the off season, the young prospect performed great and was rewarded with a trip to the big clubs camp in St. Petersburg, Florida. Price came on and pitched his heart out before finally getting have his professional debut against one of the best hitting teams in the American League East, the New York Yankees. With a group of excited teammates watching on TV from the visiting clubhouse and a Legends Field-record crowd of 10,869 watching in person, Price stepped onto the major-league stage Saturday for the first time. And wowed them all. Using a live fastball that was clocked unofficially as fast as 99 mph, Price hit the first batter he faced, Yankees C Francisco Cervelli, then struck out, in succession, Shelly Duncan, Jason Lane and Wilson Betemit.

 

 

 Even Price, who last pitched competitively on June 1 for Vanderbilt, was a bit awed by the radar reading in his first spring game for the Rays, a 4-1 victory against the Yankees. “There’s a lot of adrenaline, of course, being utilized,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said to the Tampa Tribune. “I liked it. The delivery was good, the ball was down, it was alive at the end. And again, it’s all about his composure. He walks in, this is his first professional moment, and he walks out there like he’s pitching against Clemson on a Saturday.”
 

 

Price, 22, said he felt a bit of nerves in the beginning during his morning warm up at Progress Energy Park but the butterflies were gone by the time the team arrived in Tampa. Once there, the baseball fan in Price came out. “Before the game starts, Johnny Damon comes over and shakes my hand and tells me good luck,” Price said. “You don’t think about that stuff and it happens. I’m standing out there down the left-field line kind of star-struck. I’m 300 feet away from Derek Jeter, A-Rod’s hitting. It’s definitely a lot of fun.”
 

 

Price threw two sliders, the rest fastballs, as he recorded 11 strikes in 17 pitches. He caught Duncan looking and got Lane and Betemit swinging on fastballs. None of the four batters he faced so much as fouled off a pitch. “When I got that last strike three, I’m running off the field and I’m tearing up,” Price said. “Because I hadn’t done that in so long. That’s easily, hands down, the greatest feeling ever.” 


 

 

 

 

But his dream of maybe making the major league roster out of Spring Training were quickly dashed on March 11th when he was assigned to the minor league camp for assignment for the 2008 season. Price had an impressive spring. After being hampered by tightness in his left shoulder, the hurler appeared in two spring games, garnering a 0.00 ERA and retiring six of the seven hitters he faced. Following Spring Training, Price experienced a minor strain in his left elbow, and the Rays cautiously placed him on rehab assignment in St. Petersburg. 
 

 

But first they wanted Price to pitch in one more extended Spring Training game on May 18th against the Yankees extended spring squad. But there was a method to all this madness as the Yankees had a prolific hitter in Alex Rodriguez on that squad who was down in the minors trying to rehab a right quad muscle strain and would be playing that game.  Price twice got the three-time American League MVP to strike out, allowing Rodriguez one hit — a solo homer over the right-center fence at the Al Naimoli Complex in St. Petersburg, the Rays’ Minor League facility.
 

 

The young hurler said the fastball Rodriguez hit over the fence was something he would “make a mental note” of and learn from. “He’s arguably one of the best players in baseball,” Price told MILB.com. Rodriguez had similar praise for the Price, who tossed a blistering fastball with speeds around 95-97 mph for the majority of his five innings. The young hurler previously topped out at 100 mph, in a Spring Training game against the Yankees. “I wish he was on our team,” Rodriguez said. “He has a very bright future. The Rays are doing a fantastic job of drafting these young guys.”  After the game Price was notified that he would be joining the Florida State League Vero Beach Devilrays in Clearwater, Florida to begin his professional career on May 22, 2008. 
 

 

Price did not stay long in Vero Beach as he spent only a month in Vero Beach before being promoted to the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits of the Southern League.  Price started 6 games with the Devilrays going 4-0, with a 1.82 ERA and 37 strikeout in 34.2 innings. He also was paired up with a pitching legend on May 27th when Pedro Martinez, who was down on a rehab assignment for the St Lucie Mets. Price dominated that game going 6 innings and giving up only 2 hits in the game with 9 strikeouts. Price gave up both hits to St. Lucie catcher Robinson Cancel in the contest.
 

 

 

 

Price quickly made his mark in Montgomery as he started 9 games for the Biscuits and went 7-0, with a 1.89 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 57 innings. He made a quick impact on the Biscuits pitching staff and made his Double-A debut against the Mobile Bay Bears on June 26th. In the contest he went 6 innings and gave up 4 hits and got 7 strikeouts in the game, winning his first start for the Biscuits.  Price went to 5-0 on July 26th with his win over the Huntsville Stars. Price kept up his aggressive pitching until the Rays decided to promote him to the Triple-A Durham Bulls on August 11th.
 

 

Price got to work fast in Durham too starting his first game for the Bulls on August 13th, but came out on the losing end for the first time in his professional career in a 7-6 loss to the Norfolk Tides. In the contest, Price only lasted 4 inning and gave up 7 hits and 3 runs. But Price again took the mound on August 18th against the Indianapolis Indians and again had a rough outing as he went 5 innings and gave up  5 hits and 3 runs on the night. The International League was not giving the prized prospect of the Rays any respect for past efforts and Price quickly learned the distinctive differences of the minor league hierarchy.
 

 

 

Price took the mound for the August 23rd and again got rocked as he went 4 innings and gave up 6 hits and 3 runs and only got 3 strikeouts on the night against the same Indianapolis squad that beat him earlier in the week.  % days later on August 28th, Price got his first Triple-A victory after going 5 innings and giving up 5 hits and only 2 runs to even his record at 1-1  in a 11-9 Bulls win over the Richmond Tides.  Price then started the game against the Louisville Bats and posted his first post season win after going  5 innings and giving up 3 hits and shutout the Bats in the series opener. 
 

 

 

In the International League finals against the Scranton-Wilkesboro Yankees on September 9th, Price was again roughed up a bit and lasted 6 innings, giving up 7 hits and 4 runs in the game, but he did post 9 strikeouts  during his no-decision start that night. Price was on the bench on September 12th when Scranton finally got the better of the Bulls and took the International League crown with former Yankee starter Phil Hughes on the mound. But the sorry and disappointment was short lived as the pitcher was told after the game that he was being called up to the Rays while they were on their current road trip.
 

 

When the Rays finally brought up David Price on September 13th , he quickly got on a plane with Designated Hitter/Outfielder Jonny Gomes who also got called up to the big squad. You know that the conversation turned to what to expect for the young rookie, and Gomes might have been the right guy to sit near him and talk about this team. Gomes had been here from the beginning of the rebuilding process under Rays Manager Joe Maddon, but the Rays didn’t go the usual route to rebuild, they only had to tweak the system because of the depth in their farm system. 
 

 

 

But Price did not get to wallow in the defeat at Durham for long as he quickly found himself in his major league debut on September 14th in Yankee Stadium coming in to relieve Edwin Jackson who had gotten rocked for 6 runs in 2 innings of work. Price quickly got to work and got his first six batters 1-2-3 to end the 3rd and 4th innings. But in the bottom of 5th inning, Derek Jeter took an 2-2 pitch and deposited it in the right field bleachers for a solo lead-off home run.  Price then regrouped and quickly got the next three batters in order to end the 5th inning.  Price ended up throwing 5.1 innings and gave up 3 hits and 2 runs to the Yankees, but overall threw effectively and with power.
 

 

Over the course of the rest of the Rays regular season, Price was used exclusively out of the Bullpen as a hard throwing lefty alternative to the slow throwing  J P Howell and the medium speed Trever Miller. Price could come in with his overpowering fastball and slider and take over a ball game for the Rays. In his time with the Rays in September, he made 5 appearances and went a total of 14 innings and produced 12 strikeouts for the Rays. He did not get a chance for a win in his short time up in September, but that was just a prelude to post season and his ability to showcase his talents.
 



 

Price would soon show that he had ice water in his veins on the mound as the Rays began their first playoff games in their history. With their rookie pitcher ready and willing to do anything for the team, Price was added to the post season roster for both the American League Divisional Series and the American League Championship Series. Price did not have to produce for the team in the short lived series against the Chicago White Sox, but he did have plenty in the tank when the Rays took on their American League East foes, the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS series.


 

Price was ready at a moments notice and got his first chance during game2 of the ALCS when Rays reliever Dan Wheeler walked Jed Lowrie in the top of the 11th inning. Price came on with 1 out in the inning and walked J D Drew before inducing Coco Crisp to hit into a double play to end the inning for the Rays. B J Upton hit a fluke sacrifice fly down the right field line, and the Rays took the contest 9-8 and evened the series at 1-game a piece. Price for his 2/3rds of an inning got his first Major League win.  But the Rays did not need Price’s services again until the top of the 8th inning when Chad Bradford ran into a little trouble and he came on to get  J D Drew swinging to stop the Red Sox threat.

 
 


 

But it was in the top of the 9th inning that Price made his presence known inside Tropicana Field, when he came out to the mound full of fire and needing 3 outs to send the Rays to the World series for the first time. Jason Bay came up first for the Red Sox and worked the count to 2-2 before being issued a walk to start off the inning.  Matk Kotsay and Jason Varitek both struck out on a total of  10 pitches to give the Red Sox one last out. Jed Lowrie then came up to pinch-hit for Alex Cora and hit into a fielder choice to second that Akinora Iwamura stepped on the bag and began the celebration for the Rays. Price was given his first career save for his actions and became the only rookie to post a win and a save in his first two post season appearances.


 

Price got his first taste of World series action in Game 2 at Tropicana Field in a mop-up duty for the Rays 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. That evened the series at 1-all and sent the series to Philadelphia for the next 3 games. Price went 2.1 innings giving up 2 hits, 2 runs and got 2 strikeouts on the night. Price did not get another chance in the series until the restart of Game 5 when he came on in the 8th inning for the Rays. Price went 1 inning and got 2 strikeouts on 20 pitches to get the Rays into position to maybe win the game. They could not convert in the top of the 9th and Price and the Rays ended their season while the Phillies celebrated out on the field.



 

 

 

The past years has shown the Rays faithful that this young left-hander will be here a long time. He has the composure and the talent to become a top fight starter in the major leagues for a long time. There is chatter that he will spend at least the first month back at Triple-A Durham to try and adjust to the Triple-A game before coming back up to stay in the majors. You can bet he will be here again by the All-Star break and this kid will not look back. He has the ability and the talent to alreay cement the number 4 slot in the rotation, and might be a number 1 or 2 within 3 years time.


 

Along with his maturity and confidence, the Rays got a true gem in this first round pick who boldly stated he would be back with the Rays hopefully by September. Little did they know that he has the stuff and the stamina to post one of the best post seasons by a rookie reliever. But when he finally gets to starting in this league, he will show his true colors and shine for a long time.


Photos included on this blog provided by Associated Press and RR private collections.

 

Rays Revisited……………August 6, 2008 Encore Broadcast

 

 
 
 
 

Last night I was sitting on the couch just starring at the big screen checking out the cable listing and flipping by ESPN, MTV, VH-1 and the Food Network when I saw a listing that really caught my eye. With less than 3 weeks now until the guys take the field for the first time, I was excited  about the upcoming season, but maybe a dose of the past would get me more than excited for the first official workout on Feb 15th in Port Charlotte, Florida.
 


What I saw on the screen was a Rays encore game from August 6th, 2008 on the Florida Sports Network ( FSN ) against the Cleveland Indians. At this point in the season the Rays had already won 67 games and were on pace to blast the former wins mark of 70 wins out of the water for the season. The energy was getting more and more intense at the Trop., and the team also could feel it in the air.  The night before, the Rays had beaten the Indians the night before 8-4 on 3 homers in the 7th inning. So with momentum on the Rays side, it was time for something magical to happen.

 


 

 

 I settled in with a nice cold beverage and a warm bowl of popcorn and again wanted to get caught up in that 2008 Rays-mania again.  And the action started even before the first pitch that night.  The Rays completed their waiver wire trade for submariner Chad Bradford  from the Baltimore Orioles, and had brought another unique weapon into the Rays Bullpen arsenal. No one was sure what kind of pitcher Bradford would be for the Rays, but considering how he dominated against us with the Baltimore Orioles, we were betting for more of the same out of this tall right-hander. Bradford would be meeting the Rays in Seattle as they began their long road trip.
 
 
 

On the screen I had to relive that first inning where Rays starter Scott Kazmir got lead-off hitter Franklin Gutierrez hit a 3-2 count change up into the seats to give the Indians a early 1-0 lead in the game.  Then after 2 outs, Jhonny Peralta started again on his roll and hit a single into center field. Tonight would be magic for Peralta, but more on that later. Kazmir got Shin-Soo Choo to foul out to Evan Longoria at third to end the inning. 
 

 

Then the Rays made this game interesting as they went to work on Indian starter Jeremy Sowers. After an out, Ben Zobrist, who was playing center field tonight because of a B J Upton benching for slowly running out an out in the 8-4 win the prior night, singled center field. Carlos Pena then came up and Zobrist stole second base on Indians catcher Kelly Shoppach before finally walking  after being down 0-2 in the count.
 

 

Evan Longoria then came up and Rays Manager Joe Maddon tried a double steal on the play and Shoppach this time threw out Pena, with Zobrist sitting on third base with one out.  Longoria then threaded a ball into center that was misplayed by Gutierrez and after Zobrist scored, Longoria  ended up also on third base with one out and the game tied 1-all. Dioner Navarro then came up and got the count to 2-0 before hitting a 2-run homer to left field to give the Rays their first lead of the night.

 


 

 

The second inning went pretty eventful, but no scoring by either team. Cleveland saw a nicely laced double off the bat of Sal Fasano, but both men were stranded on base that inning. In the bottom half of the 2nd inning, the Rays also had a few chances, but came up empty.  Jason Bartlett lead off the inning with a hard hit double to deep right center field, but was stranded on second after three straight hard hit ball right at Cleveland defenders in the outfield.
 

 

In the 3rd inning, Peralta cam up and quickly got Kazmir into a hitter count 3-1, before hitting a long homer to center field to bring the Indians within one run 3-2.  The Indians substituted Ryan Garko out for Andy Marte, and he hit a low flying single to left field. Marte was stranded on base after Andy Gonzalez flied out to Eric Hinske playing in left field.  The only action out of the Rays in the bottom of the inning was a 9-pitch walk issued to Pena. But at the end of the 3rd inning, the Rays still lead 3-2.
 

 

The 4th inning saw both team go 3-up and 3-down as the innings went fast and furious. But in the top of the 5th the Indians quickly came out and Jamey Carroll lead off the inning with a 6-pitch walk. Peralta again came up, and this time got a nice ground rule double to left field that just skirted over the short wall next to the foul pole. That put two men into scoring position for the Indians with no outs in the inning.

 


 

 

Choo then came up and hit a single to right that scored Carroll and Peralta went to third, and still there was only  one out in the inning. Marte then came up and hit a sharp double right down the line and Peralta and Choo both scored, and Marte moved to third on a error by Longoria. Gonzalez then came up and Kazmir issued him a walk on 4 straight balls after going 0-1 on him. Maddon then came out and got Kazmir and J P Howell took the mound for the Rays.
 

Kazmir again went only 4.1 innings and threw 97 pitches in the game.  Howell did come in and get both of the Indians batters in the inning to stop the bleeding and the Indians were now up 5-4 over the Rays.

  
 


 

 

Sowers got 2 quick outs before Gonzalez, playing first base misplayed the ball and Zobrist was sitting on second with 2 -outs in the inning. Pena then walked for the third time in the contest to put two men on base for the Rays.  On the second pitch he saw, Longoria then hit a single to left and scored Zobrist. The inning ended 1 pitch later as Navarro hit into a fielder choice and the Rays pulled within 1 run of the Indians 5-4 in the game.
 

 

In the 6th inning, with Howell still on the mound,  Gutierrez grounded out to second base before Carroll singled to left to put a man on for the Indians.  Ben Francisco then also grounded out to second and Carroll moved over to third on the play. Peralta then hit a double to deep left center ans was 4-4 on the night for the Indians. Carroll scored on the play and the inning ended with the Indians going up 6-4 on the Rays. The Rays went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 6th inning and only saw 10 pitches in the inning.

 

 

During the 7th inning, the Indians went down in order 1-2-3, and the Rays seemed to finally have an answer for the Indians offensive power tonight. Howell went 2.2 innings and got 4 strikeouts on the night for the rays in relief of Kazmir. But the Rays did not capitalize on the situation and only got an infield hit by Akinora Iwamura in the inning. So after 7 completed innings the Rays were behind by 2 runs on the Indians and some in the stands did not see a Rays victory coming today.
 

 

In the 8th inning, Trever Miller hit the mound for the Rays, and  only a  double hit by the Indian’s Gutierrez to deep center was the only hit by either team to go past the infield. Time was running out on the Rays and they only had 3 more outs to try and get this 68th victory of the year. So the 9th inning started with Miller , but after issuing Peralta his 5th hit of the night,  Miller knew he had one more batter until he was replaced by Rays closer Troy Percival.

 

 
 

 
 

 
With Peralta on first base after only one pitch in the inning, the Rays were gambling on a bunt, and Choo did end up bunting to Miller who spun around and threw to second base to retire Peralta.  Percival then came in to relieve Miller and get the final outs of the inning for the Rays.  Choos, who was still on first  base after the fielder’s choice then stole second to put himself into scoring position. Marte then hit a sharp ball to Aybar at shortstop. Aybar double pumped the ball and threw from behind second base to throw out Marte for the 2nd out.  
 

 

On his third pitch to Gonzalez, Percival threw a wild pitch under the glove of Navarro and Choo walked in without a problem to put Cleveland up 7-4.  3 pitches later, Gonzalez hit a long fly to Eric Hinske in left field for the final Cleveland out of the game.
 

 

With their back to the wall, the Rays would end up coming up with one of the most impressive displays of offensive power in the bottom of the 9th inning tonight.  Edward Mujica cam out for Cleveland with the mission to shut down the Rays offense and give the Indians their 50th win of the season. Bartlett, who was the designated hitter tonight then hit the second pitch he saw into deep left field and put the Rays into early position to try and get at least one run back on the Indians. 

 
 


 
 

Hinske then came up and took the first pitch he saw to right field down the first baseline to post two quick doubles on Mujica. Bartlett ended up scoring on the play and the Rays were thinking they might have a chance in this contest.  After 4 pitches, Gabe Gross hit a 2-run 434 foot home run to the base of the right field outfield seats to tie the game up 7-all, with no outs in the inning.

 


 

 

Mujica’s night was over as he was quickly relieved by M Kobayashi.  Iwamura hit a ball to the second base side of first base and Gonzalez went over to make the play. Kobayashi was trailing the play to first base and was just short of scraping his foot across the bag to get Iwamura. With Aki now on first base, the Rays had a chance to win the game. Zobrist then walked on 4 straight pitches and set up a man on first and second with no one out for the Rays.
 
 

 

Pena then came up and homered to deep center field right under the windows of the Batter’s Eye Restaurant for a 10-7 Rays victory. With the entire team waiting for Pena at home, the crowd and the team were both screaming and yelling for Pena. As he neared the plate, Pena’s batting helmet went high into the air as he went into the mob standing on home plate waiting for their leader.  Not lost in the fact that the Rays scored 6 unanswered runs that night without surrendering an out in the inning.

 
 
 



 

FSN sideline reporter Todd Kalas quickly brought Pena to the side and asked him to explain what just happened. Pena was quick to say that he could not even describe what had happen and that the energy was fantastic in the Trop. that day. As he was being interviewed, Longoria tried to sneak up on him and give him a cold water shower out of a Gatorade cooler. But he only got the back of Pena, and that was the only cold moment for the team in that 9th inning.
 

 

I spilled my soda and was jumping up and down on the couch the same way I did in August during that afternoon contest. It was a feeling I was missing during this off season. I needed that jolt to remind me what we are again going to be fighting for in 3 weeks. But the feelings and the emotions of watching that game will not dampen before we have our home opener and we can see both those banners unveiled in the rafters of Tropicana Field. 
 

 

Last night reminded me of the sorrows and the tears of 2008, of hard work and sacrifices by everyone on that roster. But it also reminded me of the team that never quit, and of the guys who daily stepped up and made this team the Rays top winning club in their short history.  And how great it is going to be to again sit in my seat and cheer these guys on as they try and duplicate their feat against some of the toughest competition in major league baseball.
 
 
 
 

Rays Fans….Meet Lance Cormier

 


                       
 

With the recent addition of reliever Lance Cormier to the Rays Bullpen, can there be an alternative reason to sign another reliever right now for the team. Could this be a insurance policy signing in case Troy Percival is not ready to take the mound in spring training and the team might be without him to begin the 2009 campaign.  It just seems a bit wild that the team added another body to the Bullpen when at least 11 relievers right have shots at securing a spot on the 25-man roster. And this does not include the prospects of either Jeff Niemann or Jason Hammel not having slot for them come April 1st with the team.
 

But let’s get back to Cormier, who in 2008 was with the Baltimore Orioles along with current Rays, Chad Bradford. Cormier was signed by the Orioles on January 21, 2008 with an invite to spring training and a minor league contract in his hand. During the season, he went 3-3 with an 4.02 ERA in 12.1 innings for Baltimore. During 2008, he posted a .240 average against right-handed batters, and was also a great ground ball out pitcher. During his last 9 appearances in 2008, he allowed only 3 earned runs over 15 innings, and lowered his ERA from 4.61 to  a year ending 4.02 ERA. In his only start of the season on September 3rd against the Red Sox, he threw 3 scoreless innings on 2-hits.

 
 


 

Cormier has the distinction of being drafted three time during his MLB career. He was first drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1998 in the 40th round, but he did not sign with the club and instead attended the University of Alabama. While at Alabama, Cormier did play for the Crimson Tide’s baseball squad and then again in 2001, the Houston Astros drafted him in the 10th round. Again Cormier decided to not sign and went back for his senior season at Alabama. Last, but not least, the Arizona Diamondbacks drafted him in the 4th round in 2002, and he signed with the team.



 


 

Cormier made his way through the Diamondbacks minor league system and made his first start at the major league level against the Tampa Bay Rays on June 19, 2004. In the contest he allowed 5 hits in 1 inning and went on to lose 11-4. After the game he was sent back to the minors and he worked  hard to become the June Pitcher of the Month for the Diamondback organization.  He was brought back up to the majors on July 29th and he won his first start against the Houston Astros 6-4.  In that game he threw 6 innings, struck out 5 batters and recorded his first major league hit.
 

 

He then went on to lose his next two starts and the team put him in the Bullpen. From August 29th to September 11th,  he handcuffed opposing hitters  to an imposing .134 average.  In 2005, Cormier appeared in 67 games for the Diamondbacks. His 7 wins tied him for 4th among National League relievers. He began the season by throwing 18 scoreless innings, and ended the year by compiling a 1.09 ERA over his last 9 games. During the off season, Cormier and starting pitcher Oscar Villareal were traded to the Atlanta Braves for catcher Johnny Estrada.


 

 

Cormier appeared for the Braves for the first time on April 3, 2006. He struggled during his first year with the Braves and at one point was demoted to the minors on August  21, but that demotion did not last long as he was recalled on August 25th and stayed with the Braves the rest of the season. During the 2007 spring training in Florida, he suffered a strained right triceps and went on the 15-day disabled list.  He spent the next two months on the disabled list before starting against the Chicago Cubs in his season debut. He ended up surrendering  8 earned runs in 4 innings against the team. He got his second start against the Cubs later in the week and was again hammered as he then gave up  5 earned runs.
 

 

Cormier was sent down to Triple-A Richmond for seasoning, and after he threw a complete game shutout for the Tide, he was recalled by the Braves.  On August 3rd, in his first action since coming back up, he gave up 2 earned runs in relief against the Colorado Rockies. But on August 11th , he got his first start since June 3, 2007. He allowed 4 runs in 4 innings in that contest and left with a no decision. He then won his next outing allowing only 2 runs in 7 innings. The next start he strung together two consecutive wins for the first time in his career. 



 


 

 

Cormier ended up the 2007 season with the Braves and suffered through a 2-6 record with a 7.06 ERA. The Braves decided to designate him for assignment on November 30, 2007 to make a roster spot for returning pitcher Tom Glavine. The Braves officially released Cormier on December 7, 2007.
 

The scouting report on Cormier shows that he has a fastball and a cutter that are thrown about the same velocity. His fastball tops out at 90 mph, while his cutter ranges from 86-89 mph. His cutter is an excellent pitch for him to induce ground ball out to both sides of the plate. He has a 12-6 curve ball that breaks between  76-78 mph. He also has a sinking change up that he uses rarely to hitters in the past.



 


 
 

So here is the low down on our newest member to the Rays 40-man roster. His versatility as either a long reliever or a short innings guy can be beneficial to the Rays in 2009. With his ground ball numbers showing an ability to get the ball to the infield, his addition should be well suited for the Rays. Even if his signing is not a preamble to protection because Percival may not be ready in time, because he has American League East experience, he is valuable to the Rays in the Bullpen.  Cormier will meet his former team mate Chad Bradford when both men report on Feb 14th to the new Rays Spring Training Complex in Port Charlotte, Florida.
 
 

Game 5.5 Signals the End of the Rays Run

 

 

Phillies 4, Rays 3

 

I was told that J P Howell was taking the loss pretty hard last night after the Philadelphia Phillies ended the 46 hour lay-over of Game 5 of the World Series. I do not know why he is thinking it is the end of all things right now. You have to remember that this years’ team went above every expectation set by the coaches’ and management. they flew beyond any goal or lofty intention of every and any fan, and last, but not least, they made us proud to be Ray Fans.

I did not go out to the Trop last night at 3 a.m., I wanted to cheer and  applaud for the Rays for a job well done. But this is private time. I know as an ex-athlete that you need a little space right after a collossial event to get your feet back on the ground. It has been an emotional rollercoaster for the team the last 3 days. And no matter what the outcome, there was going to be some backlash mentally and emotionally.

Just remember guys, on Saturday at the City of St. Pete celebration, it will all seem to fade away. We have 107 days until we start it all over again, and I can not wait personally. Not for the goals and aspirations of 2009, but because the Rays deserve another shot at the title. If Rocco can come back off the canvas, why can’t we get another shot at the ring and the dream.

 

 

Congrats to the World Champions

Seriously, it was a great World Series from Game 1-5. The Phillies have been hungry for a title for 28 years in baseball. Heck, Pete Rose was playing third base back then for the Fightin’ Phillies. What was so special was to see 40-something Jamie Moyer go out to the pitching mound and take a pole and wedge that pitching rubber out of the clay and take it home.

It was an exciting series. And do I enjoy the end result………well, no, but I do enjoy the fact that it was settled on the field and not in a boardroom or in a conference call. We got to finish the game, and for that we have to thank Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig. He wanted to play these games to their conclusions. He did not want a shortened World Series, or a series that would be questioned. He might still be questioned, but I think it was done with the most respect for both teams and was done as fast and as safe as possible.

Game 5 had to be stopped, and the Rays scoring in the top of the 6th inning on Monday gave him ample cause to suspend it and play it under better circumstances. There were an announced crowd of 44,000 on hand Wed. night. That is about 1,000 less than Monday, but those people might have already been on Broad Street preping for a good time by 8:30 that night. We played out the final 2 1/2 innings and the city got to have a dry and cool celebration after all.

 

 

Bullpen Moments

The Rays Bullpen has been a mainstay of this team for so long this season it amazes me that they are taking this loss so personally. If not for the efforts of everyone down there, especially Grant Balfour and J P Howell, we might not have even hit the playoffs at all this season. If you are looking for true MVP’s of this playoff run, you have to consider the entire Bullpen as a whole. They have gone above and beyond themselves all year long, and do not have anything to be ashamed of at all.

Grant Balfour went to the mound in the bottom of the 6th and Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel sent up Geoff Jenkins to pinch-hit for Cole Hamels, who was still the pitcher of record for the Phillies. Jenkins had played with Balfour with the Milwaukee Brewers’ and probably knows his pitching style better than anyone else on the bench.

 

 

On a 2-2 count, Jenkins hit a long fly ball into the right-center gap that hit off the scoreboard just out of the reach of a sprawling Rocco Baldelli. The ball fell to the turf and B J Upton went and retrived the ball to keep Jenkins to a double.  With Jenkins in scoring position, Jimmy Rollins came up and put doen a sacrifice bunt to move Jenkins less than 90 feet from giving the Phillies the lead in the game.

 

           

 

Jayson Werth then came up and hit a shallow looper to the spot between second base and the outfield. Akinora Iwamura went out to try and pull in the ball, but after trying to catch it via a basket-catch, the ball trickled down from his glove to the turf and Jenkins scored to give the Phillies the lead 3-2. That was the end of the night for Balfour, who went 1.1 innings total in the game, but went 1/3 of an inning tonight, giving up 2-hits and a lone run.

 

 

J P Howell then came on to face Chase Utley and got him to strikeout on 3 pitches. Ryan Howard then came to bat and hit a fly ball to Evan Longoria at third for the final out of the 6th inning. In the 7th inning, Pat Burrell came up to start the 7th inning and was hit-less in this years’ World Series. He was currently 0-13, when he hit hanging curveball into the left-center section of the outfield and clipped the high wall to settle for a double.

Burrell was immediately replaced by pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett at second base. That ended the night for Howell as he went 2/3rds of an inning throwing 7 pitches and giving up 1-hit and 1-run for the Rays. Chad Bradford came on and quickly got Shane Victorino to ground out to Iwamura at second base.  This moved Bruntlett to third with 1-out in the inning. Pedro Feliz then hit a ball up the middle for a RBI single and the Phillies were up 4-3 at that time.

Bradford got Carlos Ruiz to hit into a 4-6 force out at second, with Ruiz on first on a fielder’s choice. Iwamura made an amazing play behind second base to get the force out on Feliz. Phillies reliever J C Romero the came up and hit a ball to Iwamura that he flipped to Bartlett at second base for another force out to end the inning.

David Price then came on in the 8th inning and got a quick fly out from Rollins and a strikeout of Werth. He then gave up a walk to Utley before getting Howard to strikeout to end the inning for the Phillies.

 

 

Rocco Baldelli’s Blast

In the 7th inning, with Ryan Madson on the mound for the Phillies, Dioner Navarro struck out to lead off the inning. Then rocco Baldelli came up and on the first pitch took Madson deep to leftfield on a line drive homer to tie the game at 4-all. The Blast was just the first homer of the World Series for Baldelli, but it put life back into the Rays’ hopes for a Game 6 at Tropicana Field on Thursday night.

 

        

 

Jason Bartlett’s Gamble

You have to be pleased with the effort of Jason Bartlett at shortstop for the Rays this season. He has brought a solid defense and a secure bat to the lineup that the Rays have never had at the position. In the top of the 7th inning tonight, Bartlett hit a single to leftfield to try to keep the rally going after Baldelli’s homer.

J P Howell came up and batted in the inning for the Rays. This was an unsusual play as Rays Manager Joe Maddon could have used a pich hitter to hit for Howell since he had David Price and Chad Bradford warmed up in the Bullpen. But Maddon let Howell take his whacks at the plate for the Rays. Howell put down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move Bartlett to second and into scoring position for the Rays.

Iwamura then came up and hit a  infield single to  shallow centerfield and Bartlett was rounding third when Utley faked the throw to first and threw to home to get the streaking Bartlett by less than a foot at the plate. Bartlett was tagged out as he was stretching his hand for the plate and it ended the 7th inning for the Rays. It was a gutsy play by the Rays shortstop, and one that almost made a huge difference in the contest.

You have to credit Utley for seeing Bartlett taking a wide turn at third and streaking for home. If Utley has held onto the ball a split second longer, Bartlett would have scored and tied tha game at 4-all for the Rays. So if you have to find a defining moment in this game……..this was the series clincher fo the Phillies…. at the plate.

The Rays did try amd mount another rally in the 8th inning after Carl crawford lead-off with a single to centerfield. B J Upton hit a ball to short that Rollins turned into a 6-4-3 double play to remove the Rays threat in the inning. Pena then hit a weak fly ball to left to end the inning for the Rays.

In the 9th, Evan Longoria lead off the inning by hitting a fly out to second base. Navarro then hit a shattered bat single to right that fell in front of a hard charging Werth. Maddon then sent in Fernando Perez as a pinch-runner for Navarro. With pinch-hitter Ben Zobrist at the plate for the Rays, Perez stole second base on the third pitch to Zobrist and put a runner in scoring position for the Rays.

 

 

Zobrist then hit a shot to right that was caught by Werth for the 2nd out of the inning. With 1-out left in the Rays season, Maddon sent up Eric Hinske to pinch-hit for Bartlett. Hinske went down on three pitches to give the Phillies their first championship since 1980 in the majors.

 

 

Welcome Home  Rays

The Rays were scheduled to be flying into St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport at 3 am on Thursday. The team did not have a planned greeting at the airport and the team was to quickly get on their coaches’ for the trip to the Trop. Several people were at the airport waiting for the team, but they did not come through the baggage area and loaded straight from the plane on the tarmac.

 

 

The Rays then trekked from the airport to the back enterance at the Trop. There they were greeted by a few dozen fans who stood out in the cold to cheer for the hometown Rays. Several members of the team did come out and salute the crowd before heading into the Trop to pack and have some private time with team mates and family.

 

 

I will be getting the information on the City of St. Petersburg celebration sometime today or tomorrow. Stay tuned to your favorite Rays blog and I will be sure to pass on all the info I get as soon as I recieve it. Again, remember that this team exceeded all expectations of it during the season and should be roundly applauded for their hustle and determination to even get into the playoffs this season.

The Saturday event will be to celebrate not only the team;s efforts, but the increased support and bonding of the Tampa Bay area this season behind the Rays “Magical Summer Tour 2008″. The region has grown from just a spotty support group for the team, to an increasing fan base throughout the country and the world. The Rays are no longer the loveable losers of yesteryear. We now have tasted the fruits of winning, and it is sweet to our mouths, and we yearn for more……….

 

             Pitchers’ and Catchers’ Report in 107 DAYS.

 

 

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