Results tagged ‘ Dale Thayer ’

Maddon has One More Math Problem to Solve this Spring

         

 

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With Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon seeming to go (on the surface) from genius to deflated mathematical slogans over the last two Rays seasons, it will not be the last time Rays fans see Maddon hits upon a numerical formula for the formulation of his young Rays squad. Just on the horizon, there will be another call for a numerical sequence to shape and ultimately sort out his final 2010 Rays 25-man roster.

And the final direction this 2010 Rays team takes in 2010 will be heavily based on this mathematical breakdown, even before their Home Opener on April 6,2010. And this simple math problem might say a lot about how solid and confident this Rays Coaching staff, and Maddon feel about the key elements of their 2010 squad before firmly heading into the Rays 13th Major League Baseball season.

 
 

One statistical breakdown remains unsolved, and it will definitely define the early roster of this team. This one still undecided simple mathematical conclusion could become the balancing fulcrum towards the realizations of multiple scenarios for possible failure, or ultimate success going into the 2010 season. For these two sets of simultaneous and sequenced numbers will decide the final set-up of the Rays roster. How the Rays split their 2010 roster into their “13 & 12″ segments will be a huge indicator of how the Rays perceive their team’s strengths coming out of Spring Training, and into the early divisional firestorm with American League East ramifications starting with Game 1.

How Maddon and his staff decide if they want to start the season with 13 pitchers and 12 bench players or vice versa will be an early tell tale sign to the confidence level this Coaching staff has with its roster, and its solution towards early challenges.

 
 

For the Rays can not have a downward spiral in the month of April, like in 2009, when the Rays went quickly towards an unpredictable 9-14 early record, and put themselves in “catch-up” mode for the rest of the season. How this Rays squad separates their personnel into those “13-12″ splits might be a instant indication if the Rays organization believes their pitching will need to get the “upper hand”, or if the hitting/fielding players will get the chance to man that “13th seat” at the table.

But you can count on more than a few players trying to force the Rays hands and have their names put in ink onto that “13th” numbered roster spot this Spring. These young and hungry players will do everything humanly possible to make the Rays staff’s decision tougher, and hope to make it lean towards their names with an impressive performance during Spring Training. And the ultimate reward just might make their first Opening Day MLB roster.

 

If the Bullpen pulls it together and borderline relievers like Winston Abreu and Dale Thayer make the roster, it could tilt that invisible line towards the team ultimately carrying 13 pitchers. And even the addition of former Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine thrown into the pitching mix, either in the Bullpen, or as a possible fifth starter. This could throw the whole equation quickly into the pitching sides favor early on this Spring. But that in itself presents an interesting and complex decision all by itself.

GailBurton/AP

 
With returning fifth starter Wade Davis and Sonnanstine squaring off in the only battle this Spring for a starting job, could the eventual loser of that battle just be sent packing to another team like Jason Hammel in 2009, or could they just be sent down to Triple-A Durham knowing they might be the first call-up of the season?

 
 

I have a feeling right now Maddon and his Pitching Coach Jim Hickey might be leaning towards extending that “13th slot” towards a pitcher, but there are also going to be some tough and interesting decisions to be made in the Rays infield and outfield mix that might make that entire pitching situation moot.

We already know that outfielder Matt Joyce is going to try to prove once and for all to the Rays Coaching Staff and Maddon that he deserves that Rightfield slot going into the season, and maybe for the next several years. And even if Joyce wins that spot (which I think he does), it is small factoring process compared to the highly competitive dogfight that will ultimately decide the fate of the Rays second utility guy between Reid Brignac and newcomer Sean Rodriguez.

 
 
And right now, I am basing this opinion solely on drills and exercises I have seen at the Rays complex, it seems at this moment that the Rays staff’s eyes are focusing tightly on Rodriguez’s defensive abilities more and more every day. But real soon we will see just how slick Rodriguez is at second base when Grapefruit League games begin on Wednesday with the Rays take on the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota, Florida.

And maybe Brignac’s roster “pop-ups” to the majors in 2009 might have given the Rays staff more of an comprehensive book on Brignac’s abilities coming into this Spring, and possibly Brignac’s scorecard already has a few penciled-in notes and scratches from the Rays Coaching staff, while Rodriguez is a blank slate with everything to gain heading into the Spring Training games.

Sure Rodriguez was a key trade component of the Rays trading left-handed starter Scott Kazmir to the Angels in late July 2009, but this will be the first time most Rays fans and the Tampa Bay media will get an extended chance to see what the kid can do……now or in the near future for the Rays.

 
 
And if you realistically count the Rays bench players right now, with players like Carlos Pena, Kelly Shoppach, Dioner Navarro, Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett, Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford, B J Upton, Gabe Kapler, Pat Burrell and the injured Willy Aybar, you already have 11 Rays players penciled into that first 11 possible bench slots ob the 25-man roster.

If more than one of these young players like Joyce, Rodriguez, Brignac or even Elliot Johnson makes a lasting impression that they “have to be” on this roster, this could ultimately shake up the preconceived notion of 13 pitchers and twist the equation quickly towards 13 bench players. And that scenario has a very distinctive possibility of happening this Spring. These numbers games for the first time in Rays short history, might effectively come down to total game day performances and not the foresight predictions on their talents, or a daily growing maturity in their abilities to play at the Major League level.

 
 

But, the wrist injury to Aybar might be one of the biggest question mark still unanswered totally into this first set of Grapefruit League games. If he is down and out for an extended time, or even gets put on the 15-day Disabled List to start the regular MLB season, the Rays could keep an extra bench player down with the Rays instead of sending them to the minor league camp or even up to Durham.

So there might be a lot of day-to-day evaluations and recommendations discussed with Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield in the next week or so to see if there is a viable option of Aybar playing before the Major League season begins, or they shut Aybar down from hitting drills and let him effectively rehab back into game shape before pressing this same numbers issue again during the Rays season.

 
 

And if Aybar does go on the D L, it could also be a bit of a last gasp of making this roster for one of the reliever fighting it out to become a Rays Bullpen member, or could evolve into a chance for the loser of the Sonnanstine/Davis battle to be kept on the Major League roster as a possible long reliever like Lance Cormier.

My personal gut reaction is that the Rays seem to want to do everything in their power to try and keep Sonnanstine up at this level, but if he falls into that 13th slot and Aybar comes back, he would be the first to fall from the 25-man roster. You already know that Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour, Cormier, Dan Wheeler, Randy Choate (leftie specialist), J P Howell along with Wade Davis, James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price and Jeff Niemann take up 11 pitching spots before even considering Abreu, Thayer or Joaquin Benoit as a Bullpen option.

 
 

 
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That would leave a possible one viable slots, with a second up in the air right now if the Rays want to carry 13 pitchers. You could pencil in Sonnanstine into one of those two spaces, but with him and Davis both having minor league options, they could always be sent down with the adage that it came down to that “13th ” spot. And even with Thayer and Abreu showing mixed results at this level, you have to think of the two, Abreu would get a longer look based on his 2009 MiLB.com designation as the Triple-A Reliever of the Year.

But not going in Abreu’s favor is his short stint with Cleveland in 2009, when he seemed to imploded a bit on the mound and almost started an all out brawl in a game versus Seattle. But both relievers have paid their minor league dues and could force the Rays hand and send Sonnanstine to Durham, even with great outings this Spring.

 
 

This is only my scenario of the whole situation and is only my personal glance into the Rays possible decision on this issue. I see the loser of the Davis and Sonnanstine battle to be immediate trade bait offered before MLB rosters finalize and if a good trade option can not be found, the loser of the fifth rotation battle will be sent back to Durham knowing they are the first starting pitcher recalled by the Rays.

I think there are a few NL teams that would jump on Sonnanstine if he has a great Spring, but there is still time to see about his 2010 situation. I truly feel that Joyce will win his battle for Rightfield, and will platoon with Ben Zobrist to begin the season until Joyce shows he can hit left-handers with consistency, then it open another can of worms for the Rays as to a final playing position for Zobrist.

 

Out of the infield battle, I see Sean Rodriguez maybe having a slight edge right now, but I feel it is Brignac’s job to lose since he has the confidence and skill level to play at the Major League level. And if Aybar does go on the D L , they both could get a realistic shot to make the initial Rays 25-man Opening Day roster. But I also think in the end, the Rays will shop Brignac and he could be somewhere else either before the 2010 season, or within the first few months of the season.

It is funny how two of the Rays past “utility” guys, Aybar and Zobrist based on their great seasons in 2008 and 2009 will play a part so deep into the Rays decisions in 2010. But that just goes to show you the improved depth and wealth of talent sitting in Port Charlotte right now, just at the Major League camp level.

 
 

 
Steve Nesius/ AP
 

Some people consider the number “13” to be mostly evil with no redemption for any good. But that same number “13” for one Rays player this Spring Training season will be a blessing, and a chance to show they have what it takes to survive and play daily at this level of the game. Whoever gets that coveted “13th” spot in 2010, no matter if they are a Rays pitcher, or field player, they will know internally that they survived one of the most competitive Rays Spring Training camps.

It might not seem so tough to some of the Rays fans watching the workouts and drills, but this Spring’s competition level has been raised very, very high, and the final Rays player to grace that “13th” spot decision has to consider himself lucky indeed, for they get a chance to grow with this Rays team as they again set their sights on games in October.
 

Looking Forward to the Rays 13th Season


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There is going to be something special about the superstitious
number “13” and the Tampa Bay Rays this season. And surprisingly, there is not
just one instance where this number will come hugely into play this year,
but several occasions where “13” might just be the Rays lucky number. There are
a possible three instances where this superstitious number could bode heavily
into the Rays possible 2010 plans, and might also be instrumental in some of the
team’s future beyond 2010.

I have always liked this “strange”
combination of numbers, maybe more since it contains my two favorite numbers,
but the stark reality is that these two digits together will be constantly in
play over the next several weeks and might be right in the thick of it in
determining which direction this Rays team takes in the American East division.
I am  looking forward during the next three days to outline my scenarios
where “13” and the Rays will be side-by-side this Spring.

 

Considering the simple fact that the
2010 season will be the Rays 13th professional baseball season, and (
hopefully) one that will further define the direction of the franchise and
possibly make all the rest of Major League Baseball green with envy. Sure I
want to say I would cherish seeing Rays Manager Joe Maddon hoisting  a beautiful
golden trophy with all 30 MLB teams flags on it to the high heavens during a
cool, crisp October night.

This 2010 team has a viable chance to
cement the phrases “winning” and “Rays”  uttered in the same sentence within the
mindset of all baseball fans and media members around the country this year. The
always negative “devil” has now been exorcised for three seasons, and maybe this
is the year people finally forget that old name and the Rays can move from
underneath that negative persona and flourish like a shining ray of consistent
light.

 

The 13th season is going to be one
of the best in Rays history based entirely on talent in regards to their pitching
and field players. This is one of the first Spring Training in history where the
Rays have come into their Spring camp without a huge number of question marks
dotting multiple field positions and their starting rotation/Bullpen. For the
first time in Rays franchise history, Maddon can have the confidence to pencil
in five names, even before the first Spring Training game as his desired 2010
starting rotation. Even the remote thought process of penciling in a  Rays
rotation  has never been a realistic option so early into Spring Training for a
Rays Manager in the last 12 seasons. 

Sure
there could still be a huge question mark added as to the final decision on
the Rays fifth starter, but current fifth starter Wade Davis and possible option
Andy Sonnanstine both have minor league options still available for the Rays.
This might be another deja vu moment to 2009 when Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel
fought it out to the last moment to finally reign in that fifth rotation spot. 
But could the loser of this competition be a possible trade piece for the
Rays? But this ensuing competition will be great for both of them, and that
makes this 13th Rays season special.

 

And even if the biggest question mark hovering
the Rays field players might be where Ben Zobrist hop, skips and jumps within
the Rays line-up, or lines up on the field in 2010, you can bet there will be
more than capable players to take the vacant spot(s) left by Zobrist with
a vigor and vitality that has been missed during past Spring Training seasons.
And with Maddon stressing that his starting nine will get more chances to hit
during the Spring Training games this year, it can only be a positive sign of
better things to come for the team and better prepared hitting corps coming into
the Rays first game against Baltimore on April 6th in Tropicana
Field.

When was the last time there was even the possibility
of a handful of Rays players possibly formulating all the changes within this
team’s final seasonal make-up.
Sure there
is the fight brewing for the fifth rotation spot between Davis and Sonnanstine,
but the top four slots are pretty much set in stone even before their first
inter-squad workout. The biggest controversy with the starting rotation will
come out of this fifth spot, and maybe if Rays left-handed starter David Price
gets the number 3 rotation slot to break up the right-hand dominated Rays
rotation right down the middle and provides a different adjustment for teams in
2010.

And even in the Rays Bullpen, there are signs it might
be down to a total of one or two slots depending on the numbers of pitchers the
Rays want to carry going into the 2010 season.
It could come down to the Rays decision on relievers Dale Thayer,
Winston Abreu or maybe a healthy Joaquin Benoit to win one of the two last
slots. But Sonnanstine could also figure into this mix as a long
reliever/6th starter option sitting in the Bullpen. And who knows,
maybe someone else coming into the Rays camp from the minor leagues might blow
the doors off the Rays Coaching staff and wiggle their name into the
conversation. That is why they call this part of the year
“training”.

 

But this 13th season could also be
the breakout year for many of the Rays field players. We all know that
outfielder Matt Joyce was upset last Spring after starting the season on the
Major League roster to go back down to Triple-A Durham after Rays centerfielder
B J Upton came back after his shoulder surgery, but the whole experience also
gave Joyce ample time to play daily and develop more in the minors with an eye
towards regaining his rightfield slot for good this Spring.

Maddon and Triple-A Manger Charlie Montoya have both praising
Joyce’s 2009 development and his adherence to the Rays ” wish list” given to him
before he left for the minors. It might have been this forward stride in their
confidence in Joyce’s ability for the Rays not to pursue a left-handed
outfielder this off season and that Joyce made all the right moves and the
strides to be penciled-in  as a starter in the Rays
rightfield.

 

 


But then again, we get the “Zobrist” factor that
will come immediately into play here. With Zobrist not having a defined position
and a defined role right now in the Rays field positions, he might just be a
human pinball bouncing from infield to outfield  to start the season until some
sort of stability forms, hopefully not due to an injury. And with that, it makes
the competition between prospects Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac one of the
most interesting and closely watched Rays competitions coming into Spring
Training.

This fight is going to be for one of the coveted
“utility” player roles on the Rays along with Rays holdover Willy Aybar. But
with the possibilities of Aybar nursing a bad wrist through much of the Spring
Training schedule. It might be their ultimate chances this Spring to either fade
out or shine  and possibly make this Rays squad, even if Aybar would go on the
D L.
And right now, there is a distinct
possibility that until Aybar takes his first swings in the batting cages, that
both could possibly be penciled into the Rays roster.

But
if I had to point towards someone right now, it seems that Brignac might be the
guy right now to have the edge defensively because he can play all the infield
positions but first base. But the Rays are going to push and raise the bar
for Rodriguez by having him play every position around the diamond this Spring
to test his abilities and evaluate his readiness to be pushed towards the Major
League level.

 

And right now based on possible logistics, you
have to consider that second base will be mostly a transient position for either
of them since second base gives the Rays a instant option to get Zobrist in the
line-up if Joyce come out  this Spring hitting the cover off the ball. But isn’t
it great to know that 4 infielders could decide the formulation of the Rays
2010 roster to such a degree. And there is only one shoe-in at this time
(Zobrist) that could be guaranteed a roster spot while the other three fight it
out to what degrees they will ultimately play in the Rays 2010 plans.

 
 

Got to love that as a fan. You can finally take a
side, much like the “Vampire/Werewolf” teams formed by the “Twilight” movie
series. We could see possible “Team Joyce” or even “Team S-Rod” or Team Brig”
T-shirts don the stands around the Grapefruit League pushing each of them
farther  along in this realm of competition. And maybe I am the first to say it
out loud, but this infield competition will greatly effected on what
ultimately happens with Joyce and a possible Rightfield slot. This
13th Rays season is going to be fun-packed from the get-go, and we
will definitely see the strongest Rays squad to ever take the field when the
rosters are finalized around the time the Rays face their own affiliate
and Triple-A Champion Durham Bulls in Durham’s home stadium on April
3,2010.
 
 

How fitting that the Rays will be playing
their Triple-A affiliate in their last warm-up game before heading back to Tampa
Bay to get ready for the 2010 Major League Baseball season. How great is it that
the Durham fans might actually be the first to see the formative Rays
everyday line-up the team will field in 2010. But then again, how bad is it
going to be for one of these borderline Rays players to be told after the game
they might be remaining in Durham, and not have a plane ticket for the flight
back to Tampa Bay for the season.

I have a weird vision in my
mind that all of them will be donning the Rays home blue and whites for the Rays
Opening Night game against the Baltimore Orioles. For some reason I
see Rodriguez,Brignac, Sonnanstine and Joyce there and being introduced to the
sold-out crowd beaming with pride that they made the cut for the Rays 13th
season roster. But their Spring Training numbers and play will ultimately decide
their fate. Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13. Right now there are 
plenty of other MLB squads that need to fear this 13th Rays season. For I view
it like the Hindu religion as a positive sign and not the negative influences of
the Rays past. “13” will play a major role in the formulation of this season’s
Rays roster, but the next example will have to wait for
tomorrow. 

 

Rays 2010 Fan Fest Photo Blog 2 of 2

 

 


One of the biggest reasons so many fans came out to the Tampa Bay Rays 2010 Fan Fest on Saturday was a chance to chat and get autographs from their favorite Rays players in advance of the 2010 season. Also on hand were a few of the Rays minor league prospects invited to the Major League camp that started on Friday. The number of fans seen entering the building on Saturday definitely showed that the enthusiasm and the excitement is very much still alive within the Tampa Bay area for their team.

And there were a few big name players like Carl Crawford, Ben Zobrist, new comer Sean Rodriguez sent to the Rays in the Scott Kazmir trade in 2009 and Rays 2009 scapegoat Designated Hitter Pat Burrell. The autograph day went pretty uneventful accept for some late arrivals from players, and some people grumbling about the absence of Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett and leftie Jake McGee. I still have not heard a word on Bartlett, but McGee missed the event due to his wife Morgan going to a local hospital, but she has since been released and McGee is back with the team at the Port Charlotte complex.

 

But there were more than whispers from a few of the Rays Season Ticket holder I spoke to on friends not renewing their seats or even people downgrading from multiple seats to singles for the 2010 season. But the reality is also there that a small bulk of that inflated number in 2009 was for people who wanted to secure 2008 Playoff tickets and bought seats in the inexpensive sections of Tropicana Field to get guaranteed seating for the Rays playoff run. But there is a anticipated hope of people getting into the flow after Fan Fest and purchasing one of the many ticket packages or options for the upcoming season.

And there were members of the Rays Sales Department all over Tropicana Field ready and willing to discuss or show seating options to people all during Fan Fest. There are options starting as low as $ 273 (Friday or Sunday plan) and rising depending on the seat location. And beginning this Friday, February 26,2010 at 9 am, individual game tickets will go on sale to the general public for the first time in 2010. Another popular option is the Saturday game package that will include every game for the Hess Express /Rays Concert Series that start at $ 331 for T.B.T. Party Deck or Upper Deck Reserved seating.

And again in 2010, the Home Plate Club prices seems to have gone down a tab, so if you should win the Florida Lotto in time for the Rays season, you could purchase a seat in the All-Inclusive area starting at $ 13,256. And even as the Rays season Ticket numbers have dropped, it had to be anticipated by the local economic struggles and also the 2009 Playoff package ticket holders not renewing their seats for 2010. You can be sure within now and the beginning of the season, the Rays will announce some additional ticket options and also attractive promotions and events to get the Tampa Bay residents to come out to the Trop. for more games in 2010.  

 


And as usual, the autograph lines seemed to begin to get congested almost immediately as people bought their silver wristbands then stood in line almost two hours before Evan Longoria first stepped onto the first table location just after 12 pm. By the time he had stepped into his seat, the line formed around the white plastic chain links and circled out into the Rightfield Street hallway down past the Dipping Dots booth and almost to the Rays Carnival Games for the kids.

And there were all sorts of interesting items brought up to the players to sign this year. One fan, Christin Manfredo actually had new Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach sign her 1,000th autographed baseball during Fan Fest, with Rays prospect catcher Nevin Ashley becoming the 1001st autographed baseball in Manfredo’s collection. And there was the usual oversize baseball bats and  small scale batting helmets for players to sign, but the one item that caught my eyes was the oversize World Series ticket that were given to several players during the day. 


 

 

Everyone always asks who is sitting right there with me in my section. Well, here we see Michael, who sits in Section 138, Row C Seat 1 giving Evan Longoria one of the State Farm Home Run Derby balls from 2008 to sign.  Longoria took some time looking at the ball and remarked that it looked like it was actually hit, possibly by him during the event. It is a great collectible ball for Michael’s collection. Another item that came up just after Michael to Longo was an actual gold-colored fielding glove that looked a lot like the Golden Glove model glove on the trophy that Longoria will be presented at a Rays game in 2010. One of the great things about this event is seeing some of the fantastic collectible items fans have obtained during the past season from auctions, sales and even events like Fan Fest for the guys to sign.
 


 

 

People were complaining all day long about players getting to the Trop. late for their signings and not staying past their times to appease fans. I know that certain players had transportation delays on their travels up from Port Charlotte, while others had logistical situation going on with their belongings and equipment getting to Port Charlotte ahead of them on Saturday. For some reason, B J Upton took a huge blunt of this backlash, but he was not the only player who was delayed and did not stay any additional time to sign for fans.

And some Rays fans were quick to notice he was texting between signatures and also checking his phone a bit not aware of his transportation logistic situation. But then again,
when you are sitting at a table above the general public, they can see you every move and action and can develop negative opinions and reaction quickly based on your overall mood and attitude to the fans. Upton is excited to begin a new chapter in 2010 and is healthy for the first time in a few years. He has reached out to new Hitting Coach Derek Shelton for advice and has seen the errors of his ways in the past with his nonchalant base running and quiet demeanor. I think he is going to have a breakout year in 2010.

 

 

Gabe Kapler to me has become one of the greatest ” at ease” fashion sense guys on this team. And I mean that as a compliment. Here we see him in a great black hat and a pair of Chuck Taylor sneakers that seems to show his laid-back attitude and approach to this team. But he is also one of the guys who get into a “zone” during game day and is a constant figure helping other players both on and off the field. Kapler is one of those guys on the edges of the Rays roster in 2010 who could be beneficial to the Rays return to the playoffs in 2010.

 

Most people know these two guys as one of the best First Basemen offensively and defensively in the Major Leagues, and the other is the Senior Director of Promotions for the Rays. But Carlos Pena and Brian Killingsworth also have another “Kevin Bacon 6 degrees of Separation” moment”. Both were also members of the Wartham Gatesman who won the 1997 Cape Cod Baseball League Championship.  Funny story, Killingsworth actually called me on my cellphone the day we got Pena and told me about the signing. I still marvel at that moment I knew the Rays were bound for the playoffs with a guy like Pena behind the scenes.
 

 

One of the great thing I love about Rays Fan Fest is the way Rays Radio Network guru Rich Herrera gets time with the players to talk about the upcoming season, or even put an exclamation point on some issue. It was great how he started chatting about the limited edition Carlos Pena T-shirt being sold by the American Red Cross and the Save The Children Foundation.

Herrera told the crowd how the back of the T-shirt lists all the accomplishments Pena has accumulated since his arrival here in 2007.  About Pena’s 2007 Comeback Player of the Year Award and Silver Slugger Award, his 2008 Gold Glove, and his 2009 selection to the All Star game. But Herrera was quick to mention the one award Pena is most proud of is his selection as the Tampa Bay recipient for the 2008 Roberto Clemente Award.

Most people know that this award is given annually to the player who combines outstanding skills on the baseball diamond with their devoted work within their team’s community. Pena was actually honored to be presented his nomination by Roberto Clemente Junior during a ceremony at Tropicana Field on September 3,2008. As part of the Roberto Clemente nomination, Major League Baseball made a donation in Pena’s name of $ 7,500 to Fundacion Lumen 2000, a Christian Foundation which provides foster care for children. Pena and his wife, Pamela, also donate school supplies, medicine and equipment to this foundation annually. 

I have notice a weird pattern lately in the family units of players within the Rays roster. It is fascinating to me the number of “twos” associated with Rays players and their children. There seems to be a wild Rays parallel, especially in the Rays Bullpen where 4 players have two children. Included in that list is Dan Wheeler (2 boys),Randy Choate (2 girls), Jeff Bennett (2 girls) and Dale Thayer (see above photo).

But the duo’s do not end there as First Baseman Carlos Pena (1 boy,1 girl), Outfielder Gabe Kapler (2 boys), Starting Pitcher Matt Garza (1 boy,1 girl) and Catcher Dioner Navarro( 2 boys) all celebrate the “2’s”. But it can go one step further as First Base Coach George Hendricks, Senior Advisor Don Zimmer and Vice President of Communications Rick Vaughn also have two children in their broods. 
 

 

 

There was also a another wild moment behind-the-scenes as several members of the Rays showed up wearing some unconventional head gear for the autograph signings. From Rays starter James Shields, who should get the nod for the 2010 Home Opener against the Baltimore Orioles rocking a white cap, to new closer Rafael Soriano coming down the aisle dressed in black and gold and listening intently to his I-pod on the way to the signing table. Some websites around the Internet did not see his ensemble in its entirety. So the above photo is what he wore into Tropicana Field before he took the stage wearing the Rays new “Sky Blue”-themed alternative jersey.

 

 

And most of the Rays were in a really giving mood during Fan Fest. At one point, before Grant Balfour went over to the Season Ticket holder Photo area, he came down from the table and signed for a few minutes with a few more fans before heading over by the Leftfield foul pole to participate in the photo op for the Season Ticket holders only. But even as they were coming and going, several Rays players,including Upton posed with fans for pictures as
they were ascending the aisle to go back into the Clubhouse area following their autograph signing times.

 

Fernando Perez even took a moment out to come by my seat and tell me he read a bit of my posts during the off season, which really caught me by surprise. I had forgotten I told him about my blog following his poetry article back in 2009, and he advised me he likes my “personalized” view of the game and the actions. Got to admit, when you have a graduate of Columbia University in Creative Writing tell you he likes your stuff… I was on cloud nine the rest of the day. Fernando, in advance, got to tell you, I am also a huge fan of your articles and I am still going to push you to join MLBlogs.com and submit some stuff….You can count on that!
 

 

 

But this was also a time for some “old Friends” to reunite as former Rangers teammates Jaoquin Benoit and Carlos Pena chatted for a bit before Benoit and Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos made their way to the stage for their 4 pm autograph times. There were a lot of chuckles and writing down of information between the three of them before Ramos and Benoit descended for their time at the autograph tables. And as was custom for every Rays game since he got here, Ramos gave me a salute as he entered the blue-screened area for the signing. I am a lifetime fan of Ramos, and it is not just for the sideline Salsa displays either.
 

 


And the Rays organization has to be proud of its fan base that still had the roped off areas full and awaiting autographs at 4 pm. This is a great sign of the energy and the commitment this region has towards Major League Baseball. And it is also fitting that Maddon did not leave the signing table until everyone in the “Table 1″ line had their chance to come up and get their signatures. Even as the overhead lights began to dim within Tropicana Field, Maddon and his two Coaches stood their ground until the last fan got their items signed. Maddon did the same thing in 2009, and I suspect he will do it every season he is here with the Rays. And that is another reason to love him as this team’s manager.

  

 

 

 

As you can see by this last photo, the time is quickly upon us to begin our nightly patronage of all things Rays related. And those 45 days will seem to simply fly by as the Rays begin game within the next week or so. Once the team begins their Grapefruit schedule the days will pick up steam until that last Florida Home game at Tropicana Field against the New York Mets. And then with one more trip up to Durham, North Carolina to play the Triple-A Champion Durham Bulls, it will be only a matter of hours before we again assemble for another Major League Baseball campaign, and a drive towards playoff glory again.

Even with all of the outside distractions and riff-raff going on within this Tampa Bay area, the one constant is that the Rays play a brand of baseball other teams are now adapting for their own squads. They always say that imitation is the ultimate form of flattery. If that is true, then the “Rays Sky Blue” jerseys might be a great addition as expectations rise and the sky is the limit in 2010.

Can Winston Abreu make the Rays Roster?

 


DRaysBay.com

Coming into the middle of February in 2010 when the Tampa Bay Rays pitchers and catchers begin to report for Spring Training in Port Charlotte, you have to realistically visualize the picture that there might only be one lone slot left on the Rays 25-man roster for another reliever. And considering this Spring invitees will include Durham Bulls relievers like Randy Cromier, Dale Thayer and Calvin Medlock, there is still one name missing off this list who I think might have a real legitimate shot at securing that solo seat on the Rays Bullpen bench for 2010.

Sure, we can debate back and forth for days as to the merits of the other three guys I have mentioned, or a even the merits of other relievers currently on the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits roster who could also make some huge advances and impressions both the field and in the minds of the Rays organizations Coaches minds by the end of March 2010. And the one name missing from this group is Winston Abreu. I think that Abreu has the stuff on the mound and the acquired veteran wisdom needed to secure his first Opening Day roster spot of his 14-year professional career.

Sure some people will certainly point to his extended journeyman minor league career with only two prior Major League promotions to the before the 2009 season with the Baltimore Orioles (2006) and Washington Nationals (2007) as a bit of negative fodder that his name should not even be uttered with such confidence. But then again, in all of his past promotions to the Major League, he has been a stop-gap guy filling in for a veteran persence missing on that Major League roster, and that shows you teams knew he had the abilities.


DockoftheBay.com


But again, in 2009, Abreu did appear to fill that same type of gap for the Rays securing a limited role with the Rays Bullpen after the team put veteran reliever Jason Isringhausen on the Disabled List on June 14th and only gave Abreu two appearances before designating Abreu  for assignment after veteran reliever Chad Bradford was ready to rejoin the Rays Bullpen after an injury.

And sure you can also throw the added negative bonus of the Rays then trading Abreu to the Cleveland Indians on July2,2009 and Abreu only spending about a month on the Indians roster before they also designated him for assignment on August1,2009. But Abreu quickly rebounded and signed with the Rays again and was sent to the Triple-A Durham Bulls for the second time during the 2009 season. And within 30 days of Abreu rejoining the Bulls, he was selected as the International League Pitcher of the Week for August 30th after only surrendering 1 lone hit in his last ten appearances of 2009.

And even if Abreu’s stats while pitching with the Indians held up a gaudy 23.14 ERA for the whole baseball world to see in his only three appearances for the Tribe, most people around baseball seem to remember his actions during a July 27,2009 game at Safeco Field. Abreu took the mound in the ninth inning after Mariner’s starter Chris Jakubuska’s hit Ben Francisco square in the back with his first pitch after surrendering a 2-run homer to Asdrubal Cabrera earler in the top of the ninth inning.

Abreu countered in the bottom of the ninth inning with an action that should happen according to the unwritten rule book of baseball and plucked M’s Third Baseman Jack Hannahan. Sure both benches and Bullpens’ cleared and came out onto the field, but order was quickly restored and the game started up right after the Home Plate Umpire ejected Abreu because of the retaliation pitch. Abreu was subsequently given a 3-game suspension for his part, along with a fine for good measures. Most people would see that as a negative blemishe on a pitcher’s mental make-up to try and incite a brawl, but I actually see it in a different light as a veteran pitcher understanding the unspoken code of the game, and doing the right thing for his teammate.

But the main reason I think that we will see Abreu make this year’s Rays 25-man roster might have come about with MLB.Com naming him the Triple-A Reliever of the Year after posting a 3-1 record with a 1.94 ERA during 37 appearances for the Bulls last season.  That might have been the cherry on top of that Triple-A Championship sundae. But with abreu coming back to the Bulls after his Indians disaster and showing his rubber mental consitution by getting 15 saves, you can see Abreu as a reliever who has that proverbial ice water in his veins that the Rays seemed to be missed most of last season.


RRCollections

Abreu has that veteran mustard and wealth of past experience that the Rays Bullpen will need during their 2010 season. And sure he might have a few quirks like carrying his glove with him to the Bullpen restroom during his time up with the Rays, but the guy truly  understands the game from A to Z. The Rays farm system has a bevy of ample arms sitting down in the minor leagues, but they do not have any relievers with prior Major League experience besides Thayer and Abreu right now. When the Rays resigned Abreu on December 14th, I felt they made the move for his expertise, not as a reward for winning a Triple-A title or a post season MLB.Com award.

The guy has take a long journey through the farm systems of the Braves, Cubs,Dodger, Diamondback, Orioles, Nationals, Indians, Royals and now the Rays during his career. And the abundance of knowledge he has as a veteran pitcher could be a valuable asset in 2010 for the Rays. I mean if he was such a middle-of-thepack reliever, then how did he pitch for Bobby Valentine’s 2008 Chiba Lotte Mariner’s squad over in Japan?  You know Valentine stresses pitching on his teams. So coming into this Spring, I am going to be watching Abreu to see if he is one of the guys to get a lot of reps in Spring Training contests.

Last season Abreu made it all the way up with the Rays Spring Training roster until March 16th when the Rays sent him to the minor league camp also located in Port Charlotte, Florida. Hopefully during this this Spring Abreu can make a lasting impression on the Rays Spring Training coaching staff to get a chance to stay and earn a roster spot. Abreu has everything you want in a reliever at the major league level. 

Abreu has pitching ability, the vast experience and a yearning to succeed at the highest level of the game.
And we also know from his little incident in Seattle, that Abreu also understands the little things that
revolve just under the surface around the game of baseball. I guess all Abreu needs now is a chance on the mound to show he should be one of the last decisions of the Rays this Spring, and be sitting on that Rays Bullpen bench watching the first pitch of the 2010 season.

Maddons Maddening Bullpen Mania

 


Brian Blanco / AP

I know a lot of Tampa Bay Rays fans have been a bit anxious and upset at the recent development over the last part of this 2009 season where it seems that Rays Manager Joe Maddon is wearing out the turf from the mound to the dugout sometimes changing a pitcher three times in an inning. For all the clammering and yelling towards the dugout to stop the madness, there is actually a good reason for his “match-up” formula, and the more you really look at the number, the more it seems to make sense in the long run.

Maddon would love to have that classic Bullpen set-up where you have that designated 7th, 8th and closer to round out the game. But with the injury to Troy Percival, and his shutting down his candidate-of-the-day J P Howell, he is apt to continue this wild stroll to the mound over the next 4 games. If you have noticed over the last three games, Grant Balfour right now is the closer-du Jour, and he has come away with three solid saves in the last three games.

Now this doesn’t mean he is going to get any notion of becoming the Rays closer, but the true fact that Maddon does look over the opposing line-up before the game with an eye towards the later innings. And in that time he does do a bit of matching-up on the back of his scorecard based on lifetime averages against some of his guys, and their ability to get outs from left or right-handed batters. And so far in this wild experiment, the prognosis has not been bad.

So let me take the 8th and 9th innings of the game last night and break them down a bit more and see if I can make it a little more easy for all of us to understand when he begins his Bullpen Blitz again tonight during the Baltimore Orioles game. But first off, let me remind you that the pattern does change for every game, and for every batter.

This same pattern might not show up the next four games, or it could even resurface tonight based on the pitching match-ups and the hitters. And Maddon does even look towards the guys that will be on the bench and matches them up as a precaution to them entering the game. So let’s get this guess work started right now:


Paul J Berewill / AP

Starting with the 8th inning, the Rays send out Russ Springer to start the inning to go up against Ty Wiggington. Now tonight is the first time either of them have faced each other in their long careers. This match-up really seems to be based more on  a feel by Maddon than an actual scientific fact since Springer is allowing lefties to hit .342 against him this season, and righties hitting .268. But he gets Wiggington to line out to centerfield for the first out.

Russ Springer relieved by Lance Cormier.

Cormier comes into the game with a sub .250 average aginst both left and right-handed hitters this season. He is one of about three Rays relievers that Maddon might have total confidence in him battling against guys from either side of the plate.  Cormier’s actual stats are that he is allowing lefties ti hit .243 against him, and right-handers have hit .255 against him this season, and both side have 3 home runs this year. First up is Nick Markakis, who was 0-2 against Cormier this season before taking the fourth pitch and getting an infield single off a hard shot to Reid Brignac at shortstop.

Up next is Luke Scott, who has faced Cormier two time prior to tonight and has only gained a walk from Cormier. Scott ends up hitting a fly ball out to leftfield to get the second out of the inning.  Next up for the Orioles is young catcher Matt Wieters.  In 2009, Cormier has faced Wieters only one time, and that was here in Tropicana Field when Cormier struck him out. In tonight’s contest Wieters takes 3 pitches before he grounds out to Ben Zobristat second base to strand Markakis on base and end the scoring opportunity for the Orioles.

Dan Wheeler relieves Cormier

Maddon sends his veteran reliever Dan Wheeler to the hill to begin the 9th inning. The first man to face him tonight will be Melvin Mora. The reason that Wheeler is on the mound is because right-hander, like Mora are hitting only  .154 against him in 2009, and against the first batter in his appearances, Wheeler is allowing them only a .161 average. But a side note to worry about in this at bat is the fact that Mora is hitting .500 off wheeler this season. But Maddon is rolling the dice on that .161 average allowed to the first batter Wheeler faces tonight.  On the second pitch, Mora singles to leftfield.


Steve Nesius / AP

Randy Choate relieves Dan Wheeler

Maddon then quickly gets Wheeler off the mound since the next batter is leftie Michael Aubrey. The reasoning here is that wheeler is allowing lefites to hit at a .310 clip against him in 2009. So on comes Randy Choate to face the young leftie. Choate actually is the perfect guy to face Aubrey as he is allowing lefties to hit only .151 against him this year, with only 1 home run. Choate gets Aubrey to strike out swinging in their only meeting this season.

Orioles Manager Dave Trembley then pinch Hits Lou Montanez for Jeff Fiorentino. And the mind games get to be played all over again by both managers. Montanez has not faced Choate in 2009, but the fact he is a right-hander, and righties are hitting .306 with 3 home runs against Choate gets him an early night for the Rays.

Grant Balfour relieves Randy Choate

Maddon again makes his way to the mound and take out Choate so that Grant Balfour can face the right-hander.
For the season, both right-hander and lefties are hitting sub .250 against Balfour too. He is another one of the three possible guys that Maddon trusts pitching against lefties and righties in an extended outing in a ballgame. And with Montanez, a rightie due up, it is only natural that the Aussie, who is surrendering only a .236 average to righties gets the call. Balfour gets the job dome as Montanez goes down after 5 pitches after missing on a swing for th
e strikeout. For the season, Montanez is 0-2 now against Balfour.

Since Balfour is consistent between hitters from both sides of the plate, Maddon will leave him in the rest of the inning. Next he will face shortstop Cesar Izturis. Balfour has the upper hand on Izturis as he is 0-2 against him so far in 2009. But it is Iztruis, who swings at the first pitch and sends a fly ball to centerfield that B J Upton gloves to end the game. Balfour also recieves his hris save in three games for the Rays and might be the 9th inning guy for the Rays in their final 4 games.

The system emplyed by Maddon makes more sense when you look at the fact he also shut down one of his other great pitchers at getting guys from hitting from both sides of the plate. When he set down J P Howell for the rest of the season, he lost his current closer option, and also lost a pitcher who has allowed righties to hit only .180 against him this season.

Other guys on the bench for the Rays are more situated for spot work the rest of the season. Take for example Jeff Bennett. Right-handers are hitting .333 (7-21) against him this season, and lefties are killing him at a .500 clip (14-28). So his use will be dictated by individual match-ups the rest of the season. Bennett was actually brought onto the squad as a insurance policy for long relief, but he was one of the main pitcher in that blowout last week in Texas.

Dale Thayer was not brought up for his facial hair, but was also considered a insurance policy for any possible problem that might happen with any of the Rays relievers. And it is a good thing they did bring him up, because Chad Bradford is experiencing elbow pains again and is done for the season. But Thayer is also learning the ropes at the Major League level, and has been hit by righties to a tune of a .345 average this season. He does have some good stuff to punch lefties back to a .250 average against him in 2009.

But Bradford has been used only 10 1/3 innings this season as he has been battling injuries. But also the fact he has given up some really gaudy numbers to both sides of the plate this year is another eason he has seen spot appearances this season. Against righties, they are hitting .391 (18-46) against him, and lefties just begin to salivate when he takes the mound as they are hitting a robust .800 (4-5) against him in 2009.

So the match-up scenario used by Maddon right now is the best possible option to try and post a victory every time out for the Rays. It might not make much sense when you are sitting in the stands or watching on the TV that he uses  5 different relievers for a total of two innings. But the end result in the last three games have been victories. This is not to mean that this is going to be a indicator of a system that will be empolyed in 2010.


Ted S Warren / AP

This match-up system is only being used now out of necessity because we do not have a proven late inning trio to take the Rays from the 7th to the 9th inning every night.  The Rays do not have a Mariano Rivera or a Jonathan Papelbon in their minor league system at the time, and might have go outside the organization for one in 2010.  And isn’t it ironic that the two best closer in the league tend to be in our division.

Maddon is adapting to the cards he has been dealt, and even if it is frustrating to the guy sitting in the stands, it does have some logic to it all. I also found it frustrating until I began to look at the numbers associated with each reliever and their breakdown against both sides of the plate. Sure it might be all science and a hitter can get a lucky break of a hanging curveball. But the relaity is that the system is working for Maddon right now, and it is producing wins for the team. It is not a cure-all situation, but is a nice substitute measure that he can emply for now until we can again try and shore up the Bullpen for 2010.

Is this the Beginning of the End?


Marc Avery / AP

You also begin to breathe deeper and the feeling of impending doom begins to filter through your head. There is something coming, and you feel it in your bones, but you are unaware of the aspects of unadulterated shock and awe that bombards your senses in just a few moments. You are drawn like a moth to a flame to the horror and dismantling being played out in front of you. You longingly gander at the instance of tragedy and the impending agony beginning to settle in front of your eyes. In the back of your mind, you are grateful it did not get thrust upon you that day.

You begin to act nervous and uneasy in your chair, looking for a place to guide your eyes to take this image out of your mind, to replace the scene with familiar things, better things, things that do not denote the events unfolding on the field. And unfortunately, you get that personal, up-front view of the whole thing. The carnage in front of you doesn’t take a property toll or even a life, but the events still throw you through the total gambit of shock and awe, and you wish you were somewhere else.


Marc Avery / AP

You want to be somewhere else, you want to crawl anywhere, do anything, see something else in your mind’s eye for a moment to take you away from the sounds and the motions of this events unfolding in front of you. Through more and more violent motions until that third out was clutched by B J Upton. And you hoped that it is all over……. or is it?

And in that silent moment, you notice the Rays players as they jogged off the field with their heads down, just  barely glancing into the stands as they entered the Visitor’s dugout, stun and emotionally embarrassed of what had just unfolded in front of them. And the worst part was the fact they were all helpless  and could only contribute when the flight of the ball and the flow of the game let them help. For once this proud team was powerless to the fury that unfolded in front of them.

You had a bit of uneasy confidence in going into that bottom of the fifth inning with a slim 3-1 lead. You knew that offensive woes have been the devil to this squad all season on the road, but tonight you almost got the feeling it might be enough to bring it home. But there was no way to honestly foresee the coming carnage within the next 50+ pitches. Matt Garza, who had great control most of the evening was not a candidate for a free fall that would see this game turn so fast. You knew that Garza was beginning to elevate the baseball, but something demoralizing as the next inning never played out in your mind.

And it was a bit surreal that the site of such an implosion would be on the same mound, the same stadium that evoked another meltdown of Garza a year earlier. Garza had taken measures after that chaos to gain control of himself, and you had no idea that such a event was to again unfold on that very same mound. And in a blink of your eyes you saw that uncomfortable 3-1 lead melt away like the last snow of Winter.

The damage was not subtle, it was not drawn out, it was a violent explosion of power and ability that had laid under the surface of this Rangers team all night. You knew the potential for damage was high with this Rangers team, but so far in the contest Garza had tamed the beast within. In the next long hour you saw  a constant rush of a dozen or so emotions entangle your brain and pull on your heart strings. You felt for this Rays team, and empathized with their pain. You wanted to do anything in your power to stop the implosion, but it was too late.

And you did not want to see Garza, Jeff Bennett or Dale Thayer take any more of this constant barrage of the Rangers bats. You wanted it to all end, you yearned for a reprieve from the past hours events. In your mind you knew you just might have seen the candle flicker out on this team and that with that 11-run carnage, you might have witnessed their last stand. An event like this with less than 8 games left in the season could put up massive walls to just “mail in” the rest of the schedule.


Bill Koustroun / AP

 
And this is the type of game that you can not wash from your skin in a short time and again take the field with total confidence. This one lingers for a while and has a deadening effect on everyone in that clubhouse. No where to run and hide, this one smacks you hard and deep and leave more than a few welts on your mind and heart.

But still for that hour you watched in horror, but did not look away. You found yourself glued to the watch the entire event like you do when the local new reports a disaster or flood in the Third World country. But this time the pit of your stomach aches and you personally feel the  emotions and the gloom you encountered as the events unfolded.
This time you felt like you might have been collateral damage from the game. That this one also stole a bit of you last night.

 

Rays Reliever Joe Nelson is Durham bound


News.Yahoo.com


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

Explosion, Implosion, Devotion

 


Tony Dejak / AP

EXPLOSION


Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the word explosion as: ” To burst or cause to burst violently and noisy.” Another definition shows it as:” To give forth a sudden and noisy outburst of emotions. ” Now that did sound like the last few days for the Tampa Bay Rays.  Since their Friday night game against the Florida Marlins here on the road, the Tampa Bay Rays have scored an amazing 39 runs in 4 games. 

That is just below a 10 run a game clip, which is unheard of for a team battling for the fourth spot in their division. But these Rays have always been about surprises and sudden bursts of emotion both this season and in 2008.
Coming into this game the Rays have scored a total of 273 runs. That is over 12 runs more than their closest rival, the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

And with that  kind of explosion of runs  the Rays have won 7 out of their last 11 games and a rise towards the .500 mark for the first time since the team was 4-3 in April 2009. But the team is not just relying totally on their hits, no this squad also has a beady eye at the plate and  currently have 200 walks this season, which trails those same Dodgers by 8, but they are the leader in the American League right now.

The team has used a good formula of strong base running along with a keen eye at the plate to turn their walks into legitimate scoring chances almost every inning. The Rays are also seeing more pitches per at bat than any other team in the MLB right now. But they are still trolling dangerously at the sub .500 or .500 mark for most of this explosive time. Why would the team leading the majors in RBI with 259 this year be struggling to hold onto wins? Can the explanation be simple, or is there a underlying problem here we do not see yet.

Heck this Rays team has gotten 44 free passes (walks) in the last 4 games. They have tied the season high mark of 9 strolls to first three times during this road trip. Carlos Pena has even walked in 11 consecutive games now, a new Rays record. Pena now has 35 walks this season and is only one shy of Toronto’s Marc Scutaro who is tops in the AL right now.

And worst part of it all is that this is the Rays second best record after 47 games in their young history. There has to be a reason for the fall from grace of this team. Can you really throw all the blame on the pitching staff, or are there team effort mistakes that are making this a season to remember with mixed emotions right now?


Tony Dejak / AP

Implosion

The same dictionary shows the meaning of Implosion to mean: ” To burst or collapse inward.” Is that the problem with the Rays right now? Are the competition bursting some bubbles and exposing some of the weaknesses we have currently in our pitching staff. The Rays pitching staff after the fourth inning is going through a state of internal implosion in their minds and on the mound right now. You have to admit in last night’s game, both teams did their own special takes on the word implosion. 

Combined we saw over 19 walks in this game. Granted, these are the top two squads in the AL with walks, but it was downright annoying at times to see the strike zone get smaller at times during the contest. Not to be outdone by the walk total, both teams also combined to throw 422 pitches last night, which is tops in the majors this season by two squads. The Rays had their own share of 230 tosses in the game, which is the third highest total in team history. 

The game was an abnormality for both teams, but you can not let the history of this ballpark come up and snag you either.The Rays have now lost 14 consecutive games in this ballpark. The steak is the longest consecutive streak in any ballpark for the Rays.You have to go back to the days of ex-Rays pitcher Seth McClung as a starter to find the last win in Progressive/Jacobs Field. That was back on September 28, 2005, when McClung beat Cliff Lee.

But the implosion, for the second game in a row by the Rays Bullpen is starting to signal a  weakness in the Rays Way of relief pitching. I am not going to throw the Bullpen under the bus here totally, but someone has to take some of the past  two games failures under their skin and boast this Bullpen back up again. Is the way they are being used the culprit, or is this Bullpen right now not as good as the 2008 model? I mean we did lose another cog in Brian Shouse to injury in Sundays game, but can one guy be the key to the implosion experienced during last night’s game. Some sort of change might be needed, but where do you look first?

But if you look at the players who have been inserted in both the 5-4 walk-off loss to the Marlins, and in this contest, they are the regular guys mixed with a few of the “newbies”.  There is not a consistent plus or minus from any of the pitchers in either game to instill or conduct a massive witch hunt for a scapegoat here.  At least in Sunday’s loss the team was battling back and forth throughout the game until the Marlins plated the winning run in the 11th inning. In that contest, the word implosion is not fitting to use. The Marlins only came back from a single run down to tie the game, not 9 runs like the Indians did to the Rays last night. 

The implosion started with three quick singles to load the bases in the eight inning. The Rays defense did their part by getting a 6-4-3 double play and get two quick outs on the board. Considering the Indians got 4 hits in that inning and only scored 2 runs, it can be a minor “atta boy” for getting out without surrendering more. But the ninth inning is going to be the poster boy of implosive actions for this Bullpen for quite awhile.

Not only did the Rays use 4 pitchers to try and get three outs, but they used some of the tried and true veterans along with recent call-up Randy Choate. But then again, you had Choate and Thayer, the newbies in the Rays system as the first two guys on the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning.  As a bookmark for both of these guys to separate what the rookies did and the veterans accomplished was a nice high,wide and not very handsome throw by Ried Brignac at short to make the inning drag on more for the Rays.

Willy Aybar could have been LeBron James and he could not have had enough reach to get that ball from Brignac. Funny we are in the town of LeBron this week, and more people have seen Cavaliers’ basketball this year than an Indians game, and their complexes are right next to each other. Anyways, The Rays bring on the first of two vets in Grant Balfour with one out and a 10-5 Rays lead.  Hearing the Indians faithful beating the tom tom drum in the background Balfour get Mark DeRosa to line out to Evan Longoria.

Two outs and a 10-5 lead is still intact for the Rays.  Tom tom gets louder and Ryan Garko cracks a 3-run shot to left field that clears the high wall with ea
se. Now the stream of runs are beginning to flow for the Indians. They have gotten to within two runs at this point, 10-8, but have only one out left to play with here. From that point on, Balfour gives up a walk to Asdrubal Cabrerra to start the run carousel all over again.

He is replaced by former St Louis Cardinals’ closer Jason Isringhausen who the Rays signed as protection in case of some Percival problems this season. Izzy comes to the mound with the determination of Job, but issues three straight walks to score another Indians run and get the lead to within one run 10-9. Then the Indians protagonist for the Rays, Victor Martinez is up to the plate for the second time in this inning. His first at bat ended with the first out of the inning on a pop out to Longoria.  Izzy gets him to a 2-2 count before he hits a ball  on the ground between B J Upton and Ben Zobrist, and neither player can get the ball before the two runs score and the Rays go down again in Cleveland.


Lynn Sladsky / AP

DEVOTION

This is a word that can have many meaning to many people. It will depend on the way you have been brought up what this word means to you. Different religions and cultures have many interpretations of this word. But I like the fourth definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary : ” The fact or state of being dedicated or loyal “. I also think a great parallel word is fandom here.

I truly think this is the time we either go for gusto supporting this team, or you abandon the bandwagon and go about your life until football starts in August. Seriously here people, this is the time we can send a message to other fans around baseball. The Rays are having their second best season in team history after the 47 game mark, and people want this team to be comparable to 2008 (27-20). Look at that record. 27-20 last season is only  4 more wins than this season currently. Is that a good enough reason to bring out the “D(evil)” word again in referring to this team?

I hope not. Devotion and support of this team will be the hidden treasure in 2009. They told us last season if we had a winning season the fans will show up. Well, so far this season they have shown up in moderate numbers, but we still have huge teams coming in future home series that will spike the attendance marks higher and higher.  This is not the time to even think of digging out those other jerseys to wear, or caps to adorn your head. That famous phrase, “When the going get tough, the tough get going” really needs to shine right now in Rays-land.

The last two game have been disappointing and miserable during our Memorial Day weekend, but it is only the cusp of the season to come for the Rays. People use this as a benchmark for if you will be successful the rest of the season. Well, Toronto has finally fallen from the top of the grid, and the Rays are sitting only one game below .500 right now. Just to give you some insight, at this point in the season in 2007, we were 19-28, or 4 games worse than 2009. This is the time to rally and show we can beat those Indians in their stadium.

We will send the most consistent of our pitchers to the mound tonight to try and spark the Rays and demolish the Indians hold on the Rays.  With a win tonight, we will still be 4 games off the 2008 pace, but baby steps will get us back in line soon enough to again take on the top of the division.  I will leave you with a few words from the modern baseball philosopher Bruce Springsteen who said, : “Some guys they just give up living, others start dying little by little piece by piece, some guys come home from work and wash up, and go racing in the streets.”

Play Ball!

Rays General Manager for a Day

 

 

 

One of the hardest jobs in all of  baseball is not the Managers’ position, but the title of  General Manager. I think that more GM’s have taken a bullet for the failures of their teams than any of baseball field mangers. It is said that the stream of blood runs downhill after a slaughter and usually that blood starts at the scalp of the GM, who is the first sacrificial lamb for the public and the media. 

 

The position has a bit of give and take from the bottom to the top, but for all intentions, can be the lonliest post when things are going bad for your team . You have to dictate and slice through all of the BS coming out of the clubhouse and the publics mouths, plus select the  most rightious information and  sage advice from scouting to make a calculated and educated gamble on a player or a team situation.

 

For Rays General Manager aka Boy Wonder of 1 Tropicana Drive, Andrew Friedman, so far in his tenure in the position, the scale has been weighed heavily in his favor. Considering that less than 3 years ago he was not even involved with the Tampa Bay Rays, and his name was no more known in public circles than my name. But in three years  with help from  wily old veteran G.M. Gary “Obi Wan” Hunsicker he has built upon a solid core of players and  eager staff members to reign  alone on top of the G.M. mountaintop. 

 

Decision after decision went wrong for him in the beginning. He stayed silent and towed the line on trade talks that could have meant the world to the team, and moved on ones that might have dealt them a death blow in the past.pile  But with a few years of plus and minues calculations, the Rays G.M. has eliminated the risk management portion of his position and is seeing only sunny skies and rainbows right now.

 

 Well, on today’s front page, MLBlogs asked a simple question that will either rock the nether worlds or simply go down as more Internet babble and ramblings by people who love to play God behind a keyboard. I am one of those ramblers, but I can atest to countless hours of thinking about this ( 2 hours) and entered debate after debate during the morning to strengthen my fortitude and latitude to accept this challenge. I am to become the G.M. of the American League champions for a short time and plot the course for the Rays cruiseliner. Hopefully I will not need a toll for the river Styx after I am done with my opinions and raw mental brainfarts. But in the office of the G.M., even ordering coffee can be met with critcism and  second-guessing.

 

 

                    

 

 

I am not sure if I want to play a higher power, but I would like a crack at a few             situations I would consider if I was the Rays GM for the next few days in Las Vegas. With that in mind, I am going to put myself in WWAD ( What Would Andrew Do ) mode and trya and make a few educated guesses as to the betterment of the Rays  roster and their minor league system. I even have a play that should be added to their 40-man roster before Friday, or lose him to another team is a sure bet.

 

 

 

So, here we go, I am acting GM of the Tampa Bay Rays for about an hour. My  first round of business will be to get minor leaguer Rhyne Hughes on the 40-man             roster. Hughes had a monster Arizona Fall League and might be going the route that current Rays pitcher James Shields took a few years back. Hughes made                       the All- AFL selection squad and hit the cover off the ball in Arizona.

 

He has been at the Double-A level in 2008, but might start there then move up to Triple-A depending on the Bulls need for a power first baseman. But getting  this kid hidden on the 40-man roster is a vital cog that has to be done ASAP. The Rays took care of a roster spot on Monday evening by assigning pitcher Chad Orvella, who is coming off of shoulder surgery outright to the Durham Bulls.

 

 

The Rays might not have as many holes as usual this coming year, which actually plays well into their hands during negotiations with players. There are several key             guys up for arbitration like Dioner Navarro, Jason Bartlett, Edwin Jackson and Jonny Gomes. In the next several weeks a few of those guys might not be here by trade or being released by the team. I would put more money on the trade situation than losing all value for the players. Even a guy like Gomes, who had a miserible 2008, has value to a team looking for a 4th outfielder or even a DH for hire.

 

I am going to cut to the chase in this blog and attack the two main needs for the team in 2009.  The right-field slot and the DH position are highly publicized and ‘must need’ positions on the team. I have a few ideas about each and will explore them in two ways. First to list the free agent solutions, and then by trade.

 

 

               

 

 

First off, let’s tackle the need for a DH or bench player for the Rays via the free agent market. With the recent lunch date with Milton Bradley going so well for  the Rays, the only thing standing in the way besides a contract is if the guy is worth losing your first round pick for him.  With Bradley being considered a top tier free agent, the team would have to forfeit a draft pick to secure his signing.

 

 

                            

 

 

Another plus about Bradley that the Rays can build on is his ability to protect hitters in front of him bcause of his .324 average last season. To add onto that is the fact he also hit 22 home runs and struck out only 112 times last season. He is also an on-base guy, posting .439 On-Base Percentage, largely because of  his 80 walks. His sttitude and personality quirks have also mellowed with age and he has become a calm force in the locker room. He might not be Cliff Floyd, but  the guy commands respect and leads by example.

 

 

                  

 

 

The second alternative to a DH via the free agent wire is also a very  attractive one for the Rays.  Mostly  because this player can still contribute in the field at some lengths and could be a valuable asset to the club. Also considering some of the milestones he is approaching, he could be a great PR tool for the team to attract fans. If you have no figured it out yet, it is Ken Griffey Junior. I have been  a huge Griffey fans since his Mariner days and would consider him in a second  for the DH position.

 

Junior might have slipped a bit in production in the last few seasons, but he also has been playing the field almost every day while in the National League, and took over center for the Chicago White Sox after being traded at the trading deadline in 2008. If he was to be a DH, with an occasional stroll into the outfield, he could protect his knees and still hit daily for the team.  Griffey hit only a combined .248 between both leagues in 2008, but his low amount of strikeouts ( 25 ) shows that the plate discipline is still there and he can rebound off a bad 2008.

 

The Rays might be able to get Griffey at a Florida discount becuase of his home being in Orlando, but still might command about $ 4-6 million a year. Griffeys’ 2008 salary was set at about $ 8.2 million, which would put him out of Tampa Bay puse strings if he commands the same salary in 2009. 

 

Bradley made about $ 5.25 million last season. If Bradley wants to play on a competitive team for 2009, he also might be into giving the Rays a discount on base salary with some incentive bonuses tied to production. I would think a $ 4 million dollar salary with up to 2 million in incentives might do the trick for Bradley.

 

 

           

 

Let’s now consider the right-field  slot. I honestly feel that the team can  find a suitable player who is right-handed without breaking the bank in 2009. Alot of names have been tossed around lately, but there is aslo one that has not come to the surface yet in refference to the Rays. Brad Wilkerson has been playing right-field in the majors for a long time. He started 2008 with the Seattle Mariners, then moved onto the Toronto Blue Jays and provided great relief and power from the right-side of the plate.

 

Most of baseball has not even considered him after a sub-par 2008 while both rehabbing and trying to fit into a tight outfield situation in Toronto. But he might be a low cost alternative to the high priced guys seeking positions through the MLB. His sub .250 average for 2008 was mostly covered by his injury that he tried to play through before going down and finally getting healthy.

 

 

                              

 

 

This is the one position on the Rays that I think they can make a great trade that can help both ballclubs. In the past, the Rays have been linked as the third team with the Chicago Cubs for Jake Peavy. But the real factor is that they do not need the Cubs to make a trade with San Diego. The Padres are seeking a shortstopn and a pitcher to replace two players currently either treaded or deep into discussion to part the Padres.

 

Tampa Bay was eager to pout in a claim for Brian Giles on the waiver wire in 2008, but got one-upped by the Boston Red Sox. The Sox blocked the attempt to claim Giles to keep him off the Rays roster and maybe get him for themselves. Giles did not want to go to the Red Sox, but might be open to a Rays attempt at a trade because they have a true opening for him in right-field.

 

 

 

 

One problem with this trade off the bat is the amount of salary owed to Giles in 2009. The Rays might not be willing to take on the entire amount of the 2009 salary and would want to offset some of it by having the Padres eat a bit of the contract. The players’ that the Padres could get for Giles could be a nice smorgasboard of up-and-coming pitchers and a infielder.

 

The Rays have a abundance of pitchers who are log-jammed at the minor league level and might be willing to part with a MLB level pitcher and a Triple-A starter. The pitchers in question could range from Edwin Jackson and Jason Hammel to Jeff Niemann and Mitch Talbot. All have been at the major league level and have proven to be quality pitchers.

 

 

The Rays also have a few infielders who could be packaged in the deal, which includes Reid Brignac, Elliott Johnson, who have limited major league experience to Ben Zobrist or even Jason Bartlett who have MLB experience. Zobrist is actually a player who could play any role for the Padres and is still under contract for 2009. Bartlett is arbitration-eligible, but might only cost about $ 2 million a year fater the hearing.

 

Giles is my trade target for the team in 2009. I think if the team packaged Jeff Neimann, Jason Bartlett and maybe another reliever, Dale Thayer or a Double-A player, plus take on  $ 2 million dollars of Giles salary, we could have a great deal for both teams. But that is just my opinion here.

 

 

So here we go, I have taken on two trouble spots for the Rays in 2009 and tackled them my way. How do I think I did as GM for the Day for the Rays?  That depends on if I can get these guys signed sealed and delivered for Rays Manager Joe Maddon and the boys by Febuary 2009.

 

 

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