Results tagged ‘ Dan Johnson ’

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

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

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

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

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

Chris O’Meara/AP

Red Sox Starters versus Rays Offense.

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

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

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

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

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

Rays runners against Red Sox catchers

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

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


 
Chris O’Meara/AP

Rays starters versus Boston Hitters

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

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

 

Rays Pitching will have to “Set the Tone”

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


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

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


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

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

Pena’s Progress take a Step Backwards

 

 

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


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

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


 

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

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


 

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


 

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


 

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


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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Rays Already have a Viable Power Option In-House

Sometimes it just gets to me how a highly productive baseball player ,in your own farm system can fly so low under the radar, even after doing something amazing. That in this advanced electronics age of scouting and information, a surging baseball player can somehow go completely “out of sight, and out of mind” to his Major League team executives as they collectively screams and frantically searches for a player with his already apparent talent? This same scenario is happening within the Tampa Bay Rays farm system, and for some odd reason, this productive player is still sitting in front of his Triple-A locker every night suiting up.

The Rays have been searching high and low for a formidable power bat option throughout the Major Leagues, and somehow have skipped over the current Triple-A Home Run Derby Champ in their own farm system backyard. What is it that this mystery ballplayer has done to make the Rays Major League scouting department forget his name, stats or his dramatic flair for the game? It is like he is a ghost in the machine right now. How else do you explain hitting one of the most memorable Home Runs in Rays history, then not being on your team’s Spring Training invite list the following season?

Sure you might have developed double vision at one point in your past MLB career when you got suntan lotion in your eyes before an afternoon contest, but you have rebounded and proven you can be a power hitter and a consistent bat in the line-up. But then this same Rays front office sent you on a Japanese vacation as you played for the Yokohama Bay Stars in 2009 like a baseball castaway. So you somehow got were sent farther out of sight and out of mind. But then these same Rays front office folks signed you in January 2010 for $500,000 and you again thought you had an honest chance to prove your worth in the Major Leagues. But again you were met with a career roadblock, and off to Triple-A obscurity you go again.

And during the 2010 Triple-A season you have gained a solid reputation for timely hits and huge Home Runs, but still you still sit in the Durham Bulls locker room waiting for that mystical call to “The Show”. You might have guessed by now, I am talking about Durham Bulls power slugger Dan Johnson. It has been a weird year for him, but what does Johnson have to do to show his willingness and abilities are just what the Rays need in their line-up without the Rays resorting to a trade? Does he have to hit 3 HR in a game? Steal a base? Or maybe Johnson just has to sit silently and watch as the parent team ache and pain for a talent like his without muttering a single word.

 
DurhamBull.com

I consider it a crime against great Major League talent here. Are the Rays so stockpiled with talent in their minor league system that Johnson has somehow slipped through the cracks without a head nod or mention as a in-house power option? It saddens me to think that a talent like Johnson has been relegated to being a second class citizen mired in the minors when he has the abilities to not only help the Rays, but produce runs, provide depth and bring a bit of fear back into the Designated Hitter’s spot. Currently there has to be no American League pitching staff that is in fear of the Rays trio D H force of Matt Joyce, Willy Aybar or John Jaso. But could Johnson the ointment needed to finally provide some relief to that burning lack of production in the Rays line-up, or are the Rays just seeing him as another quick fix bandage?


Considering Johnson’s statistics with the Bulls this season, you have to think he is the hidden treasure trove of multiple talents the Rays have been searching for during this seasons Trade Deadline. Johnson has played in all 83 games for the Bulls. Moving around the infield from his customary first base slot and playing third base, which provides more depth and versatility to his resume’. Could his “new position” be a viable reason Johnson is being stonewalled from being brought up?

Johnson is hovering at a .295 batting average with 24 HR and 80 RBI., but Johnson also has 87 hits, which currently leads the Bulls roster. Then there was his recent show of dramatic power during Monday night’s Triple-A Home Run Derby where Johnson blasted out 25 Home Runs, and ultimately won the title. But in the event finals, Johnson and Lehigh Valley Ironpigs slugger Andy Tracy each posted 10 HR each in the final round. So it came down to a HR shootout format and Tracy did not connect on any of his five swings. It took Johnson only one swing of his bat to decide the Home Run Derby, and proved once and for all, he still has a dramatic flair to his hitting style.

But this was not the first time drama had entered Johnson’s Rays life when it came to hitting the long ball. Most Rays fans remember the Coons Rapids, Minnesota native for his improbable Home Run during a September 9,2008 contest against the Boston Red Sox. Johnson was called-up earlier in the day by the Rays and was inserted into the starting line-up, but plane delays and slow meandering cab rides brought him to Fenway Park at 6:50 pm that evening. Johnson might have been scratched from the starting nod, but he got another chance to project his broad shouldered persona on the Rays as he went to the plate as a pinch hitter in the 9th inning against Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon.

 
TBO.com

Johnson had been called-up to the Rays after posting a .307 average with 25 HR and 83 RBI since the Rays claimed him off waivers on April 18th from the Oakland A’s. Johnson stood at the plate with the game on the line and put a Papelbon fastball clear into the stands above the Red Sox Bullpen in right-centerfield for the first pinch-hit Home Run of Johnson’s career. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time in the last 50 years that a player had hit a September Home Run in the ninth inning (or later) in his first at bat for a first place team. Johnson had made an immediate impact on his new Rays teammates, even before formally meeting most of them.


But why is it that the scouts and the Rays front office do not find Johnson so alluring right now for their slumping DH spot? Johnson is a guy who has toiled and done his time in both the minor leagues and abroad to show he has the innate ability and the broad confidence to hit both for average, and for power in dramatic settings. That is the type of player who is now being sought after by the Rays through the Major League grapevine. But it is really a tragedy that we have a proven asset sitting just up the Atlantic Seaboard Coastline in North Carolina who would not cost the team another single penny or a player from their packed farm system.

The Rays are actively doing their window shopping around the Major League right now looking for the same option they have in-house and who is ready for the phone call. It seems a bit illogical to send talent or even money to bring in a high cost alternative to hit for the Rays when you already have a proven commodity right in your system. Hopefully within the next few days, the Rays brass will somehow rediscovery Johnson and his talents because I would love to see him hit the ball “out of sight“, and if the Rays forget about this great player, and let him fester in the minor leagues, then they are “out of (their) minds“.

 

 

Good Riddance Hank Blalock!

 

 


 
Mike Carlson/AP

It was about time. I truly think it was a month or so past due to take out the trash, but finally the era of the “convoluted contract” is over in Tampa Bay. Finally there is some finite closure to the whining and egotistical demands made by Hank Blalock on at least two opportunities before the Tampa Bay Rays reluctantly brought him up with the Big team. Finally there will be so joy in Rays-ville for the might Blalock is gone lock, stock and bat barrel.


With the Rays finally pulling the trigger and designating him for assignment, they have effectively sent Blalock home to Ranchero Santa Fe, California to re-think his logic to getting back to the Major Leagues full-time. But hopefully, it will not be with the Rays. The team could still offer him a Triple-A deal, but I hope Blalock decided to move in another direction…far away from Tampa Bay. This action was really past due in my mind based basically on his blatant disregard for protocol and using the media to spin his wheels in motion back to the Major Leagues.

The Rays front office finally reached down deep inside their mindset and saw a mediocre utility player who basically verbally extorted them in to compliance to the Majors again, then appeared in only 25 Rays games. The Rays could see that their “Less than a Million Dollar Man” was in fact an overpriced benchwarmer who produced only a .254 average with a lone Home Run and 7measily RBI while up with the Rays. Here was a guy who tossed out accolades and performances, but then looked like a wet firecracker when needed. It was a great inexpensive experiment, but had horrendous results.

This was the guy the Rays chose to take the place of another “B”-list player, Pat Burrell instead of other capable MLB quality players stirring the pot in Durham. Former MLB players Dan Johnson and Joe Dillon, who also were having breakout seasons at Triple-A were bypassed for the charming vocal (sarcasm) renditions of Blalock. Either one of the above mentioned hitters would have been an improvement over Mr Blalock, and all three of them can play multiple positions on the field.

 
RRC

Some team around the game might need a average bench bat or a utility player like Blalock, but I hope the rest of the MLB paid close attention to the series of farces Blalock the negotiator played on the Rays management. Hopefully Blalock will play it smarter next time and let his bat do the talking. Some will throw the blame of the end of Spring Training rant, plus the May manic cry for promotion to ‘bring me up or let me go” towards his agent, Scott Boras. But it was Blalock who stood firmly behind those words and quotes. If he felt Boras had pushed too hard, he never voiced that opinion or showed an ounce of remorse.


It was Blalock who thrust his chest out like he was the Rays answer at their dismal Designated Hitters spot., I would characterize Blalock’s Rays tenure as lukewarm ( at best). But there will be those voices heard loud amongst the baseball world that think Blalock was about to break out after posting a 7-19 (.368) mark with 3 walks over his last 9 Rays games. Combine that with his 2010 InterLeague mark of 8-23 (.357) with 5 walks and his only Home Run off Houston’s Bud Norris, and some might say this Rays move was a tad bit premature.
By the Rays deciding to reactivate Gabe Kapler for the Disabled List last night, and send Blalock packing, it might speak volumes about what the Rays expected out of Blalock after all his distractions and banter.

It seemed that Blalock used his mouth to sign check his talents could not cash with the Rays. I am so glad Blalock was designated during an away series and not a home game. Now Blalock can slither away in peace without a throng of Rays fans shouting or throwing fake love towards him in exchange for a parting gift autograph . Some might see this as a extreme measure by the Rays to break a cursed losing streak. The reality is that Blalock has been a part-time player during his brief stay when the Rays needs a full-time leader and DH right now.


When Blalock first signed with the Rays I was hoping he left his bad baggage still in Texas and did not bring his brash, hard nosed attitude with him to Port Charlotte this Spring. But we all know how that worked out as Blalock cried and whined like a little child when he was not awarded one of the final roster spots. Immediately it threw up huge red flags to me of his past Rangers rants. I smelled danger on the horizon, but the Rays took their lumps and finally got him to agree ( after a nice $$ bump) to go to Triple-A and wait his turn.
Then in May, Blalock wanted to either be in a Rays uniform, or be let go to shop his talents elsewhere, and the Rays let him saunter into the Rays clubhouse on May 15th, as former Ray Pat Burrell was packing his bags.

 
J. Meric /Getty Images

Immediately he was on the clock (with me) to prove he was the solid choice. Just because you work out and carry a strong work ethic doesn’t mean it translates into instant game time production. Blalocks’ gun was not loaded with blanks, but his hit and miss mentality began to grow thin with the Rays, and they cut the cord…….thankfully.


Blalock might go on to prove the Rays wrong, and that would be good for him and his career, but his time here in Tampa Bay is over now. Who knows if he might mimic fellow former Rays DH Burrell and find a spot to rejuvenate and rebuild his career. All I know it is time to finally rest easy and know that the Blalock experiment is over in Tampa Bay.
 
No longer will we see a guy who promised results swing and miss in a critical moment (15 K’s in 63 appearances). No longer will we see a guy brought in to help produce runs have a lower Slugging Percentage than Carlos Pena. No longer is their sorrow in Rays-ville…for the might Blalock has gone home. Do not let the door hit you on the way out.

PENA = Present Explosive Nature Absent

 
RRCollection

I feel bad even writing anything without a positive spin about Tampa Bay Rays First Baseman Carlos Pena. It is painful to think that the Rays Republic might be headed for uncharted waters with Pena in the coming weeks if his bat doesn’t respond in a surging manner. That we could even consider the collective thoughts of putting another body at his First Base position seems insane to me right now. Makes me almost sick to my stomach thinking that the charismatic Rays icon who had me all giddy with anticipation back in 2007 could possibly be spending his last season in a Rays uniform and surrounded in a cloak of offensive struggles.

Usually in a contract year you see the future Free Agent player hit for a higher average, or just blow you away with his overall abilities and you then do not even question not trying to sign the guy again. But right now, Pena is making a departure notice a bit easier with his slumping lumber and the Rays Front Office could be prudent in exploring unforeseen options for 2011. And that has me in a quandary trying to dissect and analyze his downward spiral this season. Pena’s first class defense is still churning and burning on all cylinders, but the Home Run torque he once had in his might ash bat is slowing becoming….well expendable and unfortunately predictable.

It is difficult to consider this Rays team, that Pena has taken firmly under his long wingspan as his own, without seeing him firmly in the line-up every night. How long do we take the inconsistencies with the skyrocketing strikeout amounts and the rally-killing hitting into the shift with more regularity and look into another direction. It is difficult for me to think of another person or player even manning the First Base bag for the Rays, even on a short-term assignment. But that is why the Rays have power guys like Dan Johnson, Chris Richards and Leslie Anderson in our farm system…They are available explosive ammunition for the Rays offensive weapon.

When is enough, enough? Could Rays Manager Joe Maddon pull the plug on Pena in the coming days, or will Maddon wait until Pena himself or someone from the Rays Fourth floor brings the option up? Maybe what makes this idea seen remotely unfathomable is the fact Pena is truly one of the nicest and fan friendly guys in Major League Baseball. Pena is a Rays poster boy for giving back not only in the Tampa Bay community, but also to Haiti and his home country of the Dominican Republic with an undying regularity and vengeance.

 
Raysbaseball.com/RaysontheRunway

Maybe it is the fact Pena is one of the best dressed MLB players who has an impeccable G Q mentality about himself and his wardrobe that I envy at times. Maybe it is the simple fact that his smile and his exploding dimples just makes the churning within me about his offensive frustrations all seem to melt away with a simple glance and head nod. Sometimes it just seems that you could pop Pena up at a podium during a National disaster and he could make it all seem a bit better with that great smile and those dimples doing that dance they do so well. Okay, maybe that last one is a bit far fetched, but you get my reasoning here. He is a likable guy who you want on your team.


The Rays currently have their former Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner in a troubling slump where he is hitting at the sub basement level from the usually alarming Mendoza Line. Rays fans have not been as outwardly vocal towards calling out Pena for his recent unimpressive hitting level as they were with former Rays Vinny Castilla or Greg Vaughn. Some have mentioned it in passing, but no vocal storm warning or approaching turbulence has been sounded as of yet. But you can hear a few rumbles and grumbles in the background, and the storm clouds might be forming for Pena in the distance.

When is enough, enough? It is easy for Rays fans to Pena’s past as ammunition to keep him in the Rays lineup because of the rationalization of how can you bench a star like Pena who less than a year ago celebrated his first All-Star gig just because his bat has suddenly become frozen solid? Next thing you know dogs and cat will be living together….total World anarchy! It has been a while since we have seen some masterful shots by Pena, who is currently mired in a 1-20 skid right now.

I like Pena as a person, a player and as a symbol to our community. He has been tall shoulders above any of our past Rays clubhouse leaders as a upfront, vocal and consistent positive influence to all who step within the Rays confines, but something is flawed right now within his baseball persona. Something is eating Pena’s stroke away and his batting average is sinking quickly before our Rays eyes. His May monthly batting average was a paltry .120 ( 12 for100) with 3 Home Runs and 37 strikeouts and a sub par .250 Slugging Percentage. We have steadily watched his average hit a extreme landslide slope from a presentable .247 to a shocking .175 in the last 31 days.

 
Raysbaseball.com/MLB.com

With a decrease in your batting average has come other obstacles that block his forward progress. Pena currently leads the American League in strikeouts with 58, and his last homer against Boston starter Clay Bucholz on May 24, 2010 was his first within the home confines of Tropicana Field since April 28th. Last season, Pena was hitting Home Runs at a clip of one in every 12.08 at bats and became the first player in the live ball ear (since 1920) to lead his league in HR despite missing at least 25 games to end the season. The past accolades since Pena first put on a Rays uniform in 2007 are more than impressive. From his Roberto Clemente Award, to his first All-Star selection in 2009, Pena has always been a class act and a personable guy who always seemed to know what was right for this Rays squad.


It pains me to say it out loud, but maybe it is time for Pena to sit for a bit. Time for reflection, dissecting his hitting stroke and maybe re-adjusting this stance to hitting to the opposite field to take away this dang shift that is employed against him with regularity. Bunt the ball, half swing for a single through the hole at Third and Shortstop, anything to get the defense to play him honestly again. Maybe the Rays need to bring up Dan Johnson from the Durham Bulls to bring some extra power back into the fifth position in the Rays lineup. We are not giving up on Pena, just letting him reallocate his talents and focus full time on regaining his plate composure.

Great player know when enough is enough. And I truly think Pena knows he is struggling and not seeing the ball with extreme clarity right now. Pena is a fighter and might be trying to fight through this slump to keep his team in contention. But even with the most honest intentions here, something is lacking in the current Pena puzzle. Hopefully it is a phase that is nearing its conclusion because I would hate to see Pena go out like this because he has been a awesome class act for the Rays and deserves to go out with an loud explosive bang, not a single whimper.

Blalock is the Bandage, not the Rays Answer

 J Meric / Getty Images
 
Anyone who has known me for any amount of time know that I have very well cemented opinions about this whole enchilada concerning Pat “The DFA” Burrell and Rays new poster problem child Hank Blalock. I do agree with the Rays Front Office that it was time to make some sort of residual personnel change and find a feasible offensive option at Durham for the Rays woes at the Designated Hitter spot.

But what concerns me is not the haste of the fond farewell to the Burrell Era, but the Rays reasoning for accepting Blalocks “convoluted” threats and letting him get what he wanted in the long run instead of flushing him out of the Rays organization. This recent action goes a bit against the grain of the Rays usual mentality to purge those negative influences instead of enhance them through promotion in their farm system.


There was already a viable Ray solution currently on the Rays 25-man roster named Willy Aybar who was more than capable of taking over and having instant success at the DH position. Why did the Rays Front Office bring in their resident angry child Blalock who might end up doing more harm than good in the character of this cohesive Rays clubhouse. Why wasn’t Aybar, who has seen his name erased from duty at First Base lately not given a chance to “own” the D H spot for himself before letting Blalock and his agent Scott Boras  deafening verbal barrages force the Rays hands on give in to their temper tantrum problem child.

In essence, the Rays did not have to play any part in Blalocks  tug and pull game, but there might be some sort of dark reasoning to all this madness that will expose itself in time. Sure there have been acknowledgments from the Rays camp that those verbal barrages did not play into the recent decision that could have ultimately exploded on them on May 15th if the Rays did not make a corresponding move to entice Blalocks happiness. My twisted point here is that this is second moment of Blalock misery that has descended upon the Rays Front Office ears in less than 60 days that Blalock has thrown his blatant opinions and close-ended options to the media instead of hashing them out in private with the Rays Front Office like a true professional.

I hate to say it like this, but I have more respect for the two snitches in the Mariner’s locker room right now than a player who whines through the media to hasten his departure from the minor leagues. But sometimes things are done in a business like baseball to hastly dampen outward disruptions while a viable alternative solution or destination can be fully figured out from stem to stern.

If you consider baseball a normal business, then why did the Rays let an “employee” manipulate their cherished positive value system and give him a promotion to the Major Leagues instead of sending Blalock on the same sharp rail that disgruntled former Rays employees Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes took on their treks out of town and to their MLB squads. And we all know how well that move went for the Rays organization. Well, at least the Young trade netted us key Rays contributors Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett. 

 RRCollection

But this time for some odd reason, the Rays decided to let the playground bully get his way and stroll into the Rays locker room with his chest extended far and wide. I can tell you I will be one of those Rays fans sitting on their hands until good old # 9 gives me a legitimate and constant reason to raise them and pop them together. And the main reason for my defiance to Blalock comes from his numerous rants and raves that I felt was not needed if he truly did have the stats and the ability to help instead of hinder this squad. But there were other options at Durham who might have also fit the bill for the Rays. Cue the Dan Johnson promotional video.


Seriously, let’s look at both Aybar and Johnson for a moment before I make a final statements on Mr. Blalock. Coming into Sunday’s game, Aybar has been a great offensive addition to the Rays with the constant flux concerning Burrell before his final Designated For Assignment verdict on Saturday. Considering Aybar went a combined 5 for 21 with a HR and 6 RBI on the Rays recent 9-game road trip, Aybar has shown a knack for getting the right hit at the right moment to spark the Rays offense. And his exclamation point just Saturday afternoon of hitting a walk-off Home Run in the bottom of the ninth inning off former Rays reliever Jesus Colume shows he has the gumption and the ability to fill the D H position in-house without Blalock in the fold.

So let’s turn our attention to my subtle reasoning for a Dan Johnson promotion, who like Blalock can play most of the Rays infield positions. Johnson has also been on a bit of a tear in the minor leagues with Durham to start the season. And if you stack them side-by-side, they might make the Rays decision a bit more…well “convoluted” to me. Johnson has appeared in 31 games and has hit .325 while Blalock was maintaining a .349 batting average. Close enough to maybe throw a tie into that mixture of facts. 

If you look at their collective OPS so far in 2010 at Durham, Johnson has a 1.047 OPS as opposed to Blalocks .910 mark. During their Bulls tenure, Blalock has played mostly Third Base while Johnson has manned the First Base bag for the Bulls. But I really think that Johnson’s 11 HR compared to Blalocks 4 HR gives Johnson a distinctive edge as an offensive weapon for the Rays. But maybe the Rays saw Johnson’s 25 strikeouts compared to Blalocks 19 and considered that stat another tie or wash. But then two stats that should of made Johnson a “shoe-in for promotion might be his .651 Slugging Percentage and 15 walks. It shows shows Johnson is more selective at the plate compared to Blalocks 10 walks and .505 Slugging Percentage.

One of the explanations for Blalocks promotion was his overall versatility to play both corner positions, plus add a Designated Hitting option from the left-side of the plate. But Johnson also has that same level of distinction. I hope the Rays did some serious soul searching before they arrived at this final decision to bring Blalock to this Rays clubhouse. Considering the combined abundance of extensive Scouting and player development intelligence within the Top floor offices at Tropicana Field, you got to think there is a secret black ops plan or some sort of alternative universe thought process in rewarding Blalock for his convoluted comments and threats.

And I expect to get hammered by some people who will try and tell me to give Blalock a chance because he was so great for this team this Spring. That was true for the two weeks Blalock played until the last week of Spring Training when Blalock seemed to veer from his “Rays Way” of thinking. That moment provided our first look into the Darkness of the Blalock world. After the Rays announced that Blalock did not have a coveted slot on the Rays final 25-man roster, his first wave of frustration or disbelief hit his brain stem hard and without thinking of possible recourse, he rebounded with an instant call for the Rays to find a team that would “respect his services” or send him packing.

Some will say that the Rays worked with him and gave him assurances and possible scenarios for promotion at certain moments in the Rays season, but Blalock began to get antsy and wanted fruition to the primal Rays song and dance. And there might be a Rays crafty ulterior motive here to let Blalock showcase his talents until possibly the Trade Deadline in the end of July when the Rays could discuss his final visa papers to leave the Rays-land for another location in return for some added minor league talent.

Maybe even back in March the Rays had a plan to maybe hold onto Blalock when he would become a “premium” player and use the market to their advantage to get some needed resources heading in their quest for a 2010 Playoff berth. And if that is the intention of the Rays in the long run, then Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman would have been wise to swallow his tongue and take the verbal abuses when it might net some key member(s) to a future Rays squad.

But in the end, this should have been Aybar time to shine for the Rays. Even if he is only hitting .239 in his limited appearances, he was riding a wave of increasing offensive firepower and could reward the Rays greatly in their ultimate faith in him. But then again, Aybar was batting .308 in his past 13 games prior to Saturday afternoon’s contest after starting the season 1 for 12. If that is not the sign of a positive turnaround, then I am as dumb as a box of rocks So with Blalock here, it is a no-brainer that Aybar might get the multitude of appearances against left-handed hitters while Blalock might get his moments against a right-hander.

 Mike Carlson / AP

It seems to me that the Rays made the choice of bringing up Blalock with a more than ultimate chance to showcase Blalock to other team’s who might be in the market for either power hitting options in their corner infield spots or possibly DH. It might end up being the Rays real ruse to use Blalocks talents to win some key ballgames and propel them within sight of their goal, then jettison him before the fire in his belly begins to burn again…..possibly in late July.

So I will sit silent until Blalock makes me a believer that the verbal assault were just his ploy to show he has the talent and ability to be here. But until then, my hands are folded for him, but cheering wildly and loudly for Aybar to take the position firmly in his hands and keep Blalock on the Rays bench. Oh, and hopefully during his tour in the minor leagues, Blalock finally learned how to hit a breaking ball on the outside corner. If not, it is going to be a long Summer for Blalock.

 

Sean John or maybe S-Rod…Decisions, Decisions

 


YahooSports.com

You automatically got to like this kid. Really you have to, it is a moral imperative within the Tampa Bay Rays culture that when you give up a great left-hander like Scott Kazmir, you got to get to know his replacement, and at least give him a few games to settle into his new spotlight before you condemn or pledge your loyalty to them. Well, ladies and gentlemen, if the last couple of Rays Spring games is any indication, Sean John Rodriguez is already cool as a cucumber and slick as a fox, and an instant fan favorite.

And believe me the cliché’s are going to coming fast and furious if he does find a way to steal this last coveted roster spot away from the Johnson & Johnson brothers , or his close competitor, Reid Brignac.

 
 

But if you base his total roster chances on just Rays games over the last few days, it might actually be more like, when he steals that roster spot away. And it is not like he has not been in this kind of pressure situation before while fighting for a Major League spot. Rodriguez has spent a bit of time in the Big Show before when he was with the Los Angeles Angels, so this is not his first rodeo.

And that might be a side of Rodriguez we truly had no idea about before this 2010 Rays Spring Training season began. Most of us Rays fans might not have noticed the young guy manning the second base bag during the Angels first visit to Tropicana Field from May 9-11,2008 was the same Sean Rodriguez.

 
 

And we definitely did not notice Rodriguez sitting in the Third Base Visitor’s Dugout at Tropicana Field after being called back up from the Salt Lake City Bee’s when the Angels went through a rough patch with multiple infielders going down with injuries in early 2008. And there is an eerie set of similarities to his Spring start here in 2010, that might bode well for him making this team’s roster, if you really look at the numbers.

Back in Spring Training 2008 with the Angels, Rodriguez hit only one single in his 11 Spring Training games while hitting a double, a triple and solo Home Run with 3 RBIs. It is just a bit of an odd coincidence that he currently sports no singles while pushing a double, triple and 3 Home Runs across the board this Spring in three games for the Rays. Maybe it is a baseball omen to us to watch this guy over the next few weeks.

 
 

But this impressive start at the plate has also given him a bit of a quick jump on Brignac, who also is trying to keep up with the white hot Rodriguez, and it is going to be a complete thrill to see which of these hitters blinks first and let’s the other get a bit of an advantage in their race for the last utility spot on the Rays 25-man roster.


YahooSports.com

And Rodriguez knows a lot about these Rays from his 5 game played against them in 2008. He was the field for all three games during that early May series when the Rays swept the Angels here, and was witness to seeing the Rays eventually winning 6 out of their 9 games against Angels that season.

 
 
But even more telling that Rodriguez might be developing the emerging cult following, not unlike fellow Rays infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist with the instant accumulation of inspired nicknames that are beginning to be heard in the stands at Rays Spring games. Already we have heard at least two nicknames rushing to the forefront, with one really taking a quick liking to him.

There has been the “S-Rod” moniker which might have evolved more for his recent rush of power and uncanny ability to brush off the media attention, or maybe the one I heard at George M. Steinbrenner Field yesterday when someone asked “Sean John” for his autograph.

 

The last one actually had me chuckling a bit because I was looking over my shoulder for one of those goon interns of Sean “P. Diddy /Puff-Daddy” Combs instantly coming out of the woodwork trying to smash the “alleged” trademarked name infringement “Sean John” down into the clay of the infield and quickly silence that moniker from the lips of autograph seekers on the rails that game.

 
 

But there was no lightning quick response to the name, and I actually think Combs would be proud to share that patented name with a young baseball guy who just might have the style and panache to pull off a theft of this second base job and roster spot without much of a hitch. Heck, maybe if Rodriguez keeps this up he will have a Fed Ex package waiting for him with some signature Sean John wear inside them…You never know.

But seriously, this second base gig is going to be one of those spots in this 2010 Rays squad that you either own or rent in 2010. If Rodriguez makes it difficult for Rays Manager Joe Maddon to not pop his name on the lineup card in marker, he might just be an inter-changeable piece along with Zobrists and his traveling glove collection in 2010.

 
 

But some people worry that Rodriguez has only played third base and second most of his professional career, and has not concentrated his efforts toward maybe relieving Rays starter Jason Bartlett at some point in 2010. Again, this might be one of those finer points that Brignac has shown he can be effective at that position that makes this competition go long into Spring Training.

And even if most people have not seen Rodriguez play the outfield, he did play leftfield against the Yankees on Friday and looked pretty comfortable out there. But then again, he did play a lot of outfield in his All American High School career.

 
 

This entire competition between Rays Spring Training invited players to hold a competition for that coveted last spot in the Rays roster for a infield slot is quickly becoming a two-man affair. Elliot Johnson is doing everything he can to get his name included, but Brignac and Rodriguez are putting on a show at the plate and in the field that is dwarfing everyone else right now.

And if either of these two can force Maddon’s hand in the next week or two, this competition might even be over before the Rays take on their Triple-A affiliate, the Durham Bulls in a friendly match up in Durham, North Carolina on April 3,2010.

 
 

SarasotaHerald-Tribune


Some have questioned Rodriguez’s lack of full season experience to only a total of 71 career Major League Baseball games and a regular season average of only .203 with 8 doubles, a triple, 5 Home Runs and 14 RBIs. That could be a instant pause for Maddon and the Rays to consider, but Brignac also has only appeared in 35 Rays game and has only produced a .250 batting average with 8 doubles, 2 triples, a solo Home Run and 6RBIs.

This race is far from over, and it might come down to the Rays deciding if they want power or consistency in their hitting out of this spot in 2010. If they take the power angle, Rodriguez would get the early nod, and even based on experience, right now might be the guy who has the most to lose with a few bad outings. Sean Rodriguez is a great budding star that could play a significant role for the Rays if he develops the way they want him to over the next few weeks.

If he does, then he will definitely be in that Rays Opening Day lineup, and hopefully we can get him an appropriate nickname that might not upset a fashion icon, or even a certain player also in this division sporting the A-Rod moniker. But if Rodriguez keeps playing and producing at this level this Spring, then maybe they would not mind sharing some homage time with a guy who could help lead the Rays on the field.

Rays Begin Taming Fenway

 
 
Update  5:19 pm :
 
The Tampa Bay Rays have now started the season by defeating the Red Sox  today and taking the first series of the year. Tampa Bay won an emotional and close game today with the outcome decided on a Kevin Youkilis long fly out to ther triangular part of centerfield for the final out of the game. With this win, the Rays have now won 2 out of the last three games in each of the last three series in Fenway Park, or are 6-3 in Fenway since September 2008.
 
 
 


 
 
This season might feel a bit different to the Red Sox faithful when the Rays come to town. Unlike in 2008 when the Boston Red Sox seemed to own the Tampa Bay Rays at home, 2009 might have a different feel to it. And the reason for that is that the Rays have finally conquered a common fear when young teams come to one of the oldest ballparks in baseball. They see beyond the cramped and elbow-to-elbow visitor’s clubhouse to the real reason it is heard to win here. They have overcome the fear of the aura of this ballpark.
 

I know that seems funny to say, but let me just show you the difference between 2008 and 2009, and it might make a bit more sense here. It all started in 2008 on  May 2nd when the team made their first trek to Fenway. The Rays dropped all three of their games in the historic park by a combined score of  26-10 in favor of the home team. That is not a typo, the Rays surrendered 26 runs in 3-games. At that time the Red Sox still held the Rays at bay based on mystic and their ability to pile on the runs when things began to implode. In this first series, the Rays best offensive output was 4 runs in the Saturday game, but they lost that contest 12-4.
 

Then in early June they again came a-courting to Fenway and again left with three losses after surrendering 19 runs to their own 6 runs in the series.  In that series only the opening game, which was a 7-4 loss had any closeness at all to it. The other two games the Rays only scored a solo run in both contests. The Boston mystic had a firm grip on the young Rays.  But a strange thing happened while the Rays were holding that top spot in the American League East. Their confidence and  offensive power came to the forefront. They began to win games they used to lose by unsuspecting plays and offensive outbursts. But could they shake the Fenway curse?
 

The first judgement on if they could tackle the curse came on September 8, 2008. In that contest the Rays were fighting to keep their top spot, and the Red Sox were within striking range of ruining the Rays party. The first game of the series saw James Shields again not able to crack the curse when they dropped the game 3-0 to the Red Sox But with Scott Kazmir taking the mound in the Wednesday contest, the Rays stood a chance. For years Kazmir had been the best weapon against the Red Sox at home for the Rays, but in 2008, they had lost the previous 7  home games in Fenway Park against Boston.
 

But on that faithful night, after beating Boston 5-4 in a 14 inning contest, the curse was set aside and the Rays finally could celebrate a win beneath the Green Monster. It was again the Red Sox killer Kazmir who might have pitched his heart out, but a Ray making his first at bat of the season set the tone for the victory. Dan Johnson, who was just called up to the Rays was late to the ballpark after fighting traffic to the game. It was his battle against Jonathan Papelbon that pushed the game into the Rays favor. With one swing Johnson deposited a Papelbon fastball into the Red Sox Bullpen and tied the game. That one swing set up one of the biggest emotional win on the road of the year for the Rays.

The next night, With Matt Garza on the mound, the Rays again left Fenway winners after a 4-2 win. For the first time in a long while, the Rays had taken a series in Fenway Park from the Boston Red Sox. Also in this series, the two teams each scored 9 runs. the gap in offense had begun to even out between these two powerful teams. For the first time in a long time, the Rays knew they could win under the Green Monster with some consistency.  We all know what happened the rest of the season for the Rays.

 

 
 

The Red Sox faithful had to settle for a Wild Card berth, but they still had faith. Then in the American League Championship Series, after the Rays topped the Chicago White Sox, they again took aim on the Red Sox. After the first two games of the series, the teams came back to Fenway Park tied 1-1 in the best-of-7 series.  The October 13th game is one that the Red Sox faithful want to forget about after the Rays stun the Red Sox  9-1 in a game that saw their leftie Jon Lester take an odd loss to the Rays. But that was not the worst of it yet. In the next contest, the Red Sox sent their sly slinger  Daisuke Matsuzaka to the mound to try and salvage the series.

 
 He did not fare better than Lester, failing to stifle the Rays offense and the Red Sox again saw defeat by a score of  13-4. After an off-day for each team to regain some power and confidence, the Red Sox did manage to take the fifth game at home 8-7 to force the Rays to end the series at their home to keep their playoff dreams alive. But the tide had shifted in this series. For the Rays, who did not begin the year with any type of confidence in Fenway Park, now seems to control the diamond. In the ALCS, they out-scored the home town Red Sox 29-13. The shift of confidence and swagger showed that the Rays now knew they could win in Boston.
 

The young team no longer tried to find ways to win, they knew they could win without gimmicks and tricks. Their pitching got better and better throughout the year against the Red Sox. Matt Garza in the playoffs became a second evil weapon against the Red Sox. From losing 7 straight games in Boston, to winning 4 out of 6 contests, the Rays finally could say they might have a Boston answer. So we begin 2009 a day later, but still with total dedication and ability to again take it to the Red Sox.   Unfortunately we did not see a victory in Opening Day against the Red Sox, but there were moments that hinted of a confidence lingering about winning in this hallowed grounds.
 

The 5-3 loss might have been their first loss in Boston in 2009, but it a
lso was a game that they fought back in, and almost got enough to shake the rafters in Beantown. For the Rays were matched against a superior pitcher that day and almost still pulled the rabbit out of the hat. The 5-3 loss was still a loss, but the way the young team scrapped and fought to get their 3 runs showed they had no fear anymore in Fenway. So then we pan to last night game, which saw the Rays killer Jon Lester on the mound against the Rays. The game was in Lester’s hands until the third inning when the Rays finally broke through with two straight hits to put a man in scoring position at third with  no outs. It is funny, the Rays scored their run after Evan Longoria hit into a double play.

 

The Red Sox knew that getting the double play on the young hot shot Rays was more important that one measly run. They were the Red Sox, they would get that one back. And they did in the bottom of the third inning.  And the game teeter-toddered until the Rays came up in the top of the fifth inning.  In that inning the Rays finally got to Lester and plated 4 runs to get their margin of victory against the Red Sox. So, does this mean that this series is finally going into the book as a “must win” for the Red Sox. For years they could count on at least 2 out of 3 against their southern rivals. they knew that a game in Fenway Park held a 10th member of their team on the field, the stigma of Fenway.
 

But with this now being tossed by the wayside by the young and confident Rays, is the time ripe for each team to finally admit that every game in Fenway will be decided on the field from now on, and not in their minds. Fenway is a beautiful ballpark with history in every crack and seat bolt. But now the Rays no longer seemed to be bothered by the history and the famous address. They now know that their abilities in the field and at the plate might be enough to win in Boston. It has been a long time coming, but since September 2008, the Rays are 5-3 in Fenway, and for the first time in the Rays history, they know each game can be won.
 
 

Photo credits:     1) Associated Press / Elise Amendola

                            2) Associated Press / Elsie Amendola

A Hodge Podge of Number 2 Ray’s Moments in 2008

 

Coverrays

 


I was sitting at the computer this morning trying to pick out a second possible winning moment in 2008 for the Rays when it dawned on me that there are too many to even count. So I have decided to instead list all the important events, as per my opinion, that have made 2008 so great for Rays fans. I mean I truly sat there after deciding on number 3 yesterday, and decided that one was the easiest pick of the bunch.

 

If you get to go to the big show, it has to be a top 3 moment in your team’s flight that season.  There are a huge bunch of moments that helped define 2008 for the Rays. Be it a event in 2007 at shaped the look and feel of the franchise again, or the elimination of a curse in another stadium that served as a mental block to the team. 2008 was the Year of the Ray, and it is one I am glad I got a front row seat for all year long.

 

 


I decided to run this in chronological order from the first event in 2007, up until the final out in Game 5.5 of the 2008 World Series.


So let’s begin with the first order of business way back in November 2007, when the Rays held a rally in Straub Park near the waterfront in St. Petersburg, Florida. The event was the unveiling of the teams new logo and colors. The Uniforms were fashioned to represent the old style of baseball with a new Rays logo on both the home and away jerseys. The “R” on the uniform front posed a new sweeping motion for the bottom of the letter, plus the sunburst between the lettering also brought about a new look and feel to the organization.

 

 

The ray of light was a new focal point of the team, which abandoned the former Ray on the cap and also on the team’s official logo. But the Rays did get to stay for 2008 on the sleeve of the jersey, but might be retired in 2009. The event was to showcase the new look and feel of the team. And with it came a new spirit of winning and posting new attitudes for the team. And one of baseball’s biggest supporters came out and celebrated with us. Kevin Costner and his band, Modern West came out and entertained the masses after the unveiling and rocked the house all the way up to the fireworks display.

 


Then came the last Spring Training reporting for the pitchers’ and catchers’ to the Ray Namoli Complex in Northwest St Petersburg. The team came out onto the field and Rays Manager Joe Maddon had a small speech in which he wanted to stress fundamentals and team work and chemistry in 2008. That was the day he unveiled his famous “9 =8 ” formula for the world to decipher for the rest of the season.

 

 


Then came the first event that molded and formed this band of players into friends and bonded them for the rest of the year. In the day prior to this event, the Rays Elliott Johnson had made a hard charge into Yankees’ minor league catcher, Francisco Cervelli a few days earlier. The event did not sit well with the Yankees’ staff and during the March 12th rematch at Progress Energy Field, Yankees enforcer Shelly Duncan decided to take matters into his own hands.



Duncan was hustling on a hit into the outfield when he turned and made a move towards second base. It was apparent to almost everyone but Duncan that he would not be able to make it to the base in time to beat the throw. During his slide, Duncan brought his cleats up towards Akinora Iwamura and struck him mid-thigh with his metal cleats.  Duncan came up immediately and contested the action before right fielder Jonny Gomes came into the action and leveled Duncan to the ground. It was an event that brought the team together for the first time in 2008.

 

 


Then two weeks later, the Rays said farewell to their present Spring Training home when the team played it’s last game at Progress Energy Field ( Al Lang Field, Waterfront Park). The game was met with sadness and joy because of the memories of teams playing on these grounds since the 1940’s in this present stadium. The event also was a visual point for the team to showcase the new proposed stadium that might some day rise on the same grounds.

 

Eric Hinske hits a one-out double during the Rays' two-run second inning. He tripled in the fourth and homered in the sixth.

 


Or could moments like Eric Hinske missing a cycle by a single. It is amazing to me that he went 3-4 on the night and got his triple and homer early in the contest at the Walt Disney complex, but could not get that elusive single.  Hinske ended up being one of the true bright spots for the Rays in the Free Agent market. He signed for a low number, but produced high energy and some pretty impressive offensive displays during the 2008 season.

 


Then we have the first sweep of the Boston Red Sox at home this season. That would only be the icing on the cake as the Rays would send the Red Sox faithful home as losers in 8 of the 9 games at the Trop this year. The  first series at the Trop. would end with a hard fought 3-0 shutout by James Shields.

 

Then comes the moment where Rays Manager Joe Maddon thinks the Rays season began to turn into its championship run. It was during a road trip up to Toronto when the Rays battled back from a possible loss. Edwin Jackson left the 8th inning with a Ray lead before Troy Percival gave up 4 straight singles to let the Jays tie the game at 3-all. The teams battled back and forth before Dioner Navarro, who went 3-6 on the day hit a screamer into the stands for a Grand Slam homer and sealed the victory for the Rays.

 

 


On May 13th the Rays got to celebrate for the first time in club history as the team officially took over first place in the American League East. It was the latest point in any Rays season that the team had enjoyed the top spot.  The game produced one of the first moments in the Rays 2008 history for celebrations when  pinch runner Jonny Gomes came on for Cliff Floyd after he singled in the bottom of the 11th inning. Gomes stole second, then sprinted  home to seal the victory for the Rays 2-1.

 

 


Then came the L A Angels first visit to Tropicana Field, and the Rays shut them down to also sweep that series. Then came in the mighty Chicago Cubs for a three game Inter-League series that was deemed by many to be a possible World Series matchup. During this series, the Rays finally began to get some national exposure for maybe being a true team that could win it all in 2008.


But not until after the June 19th game, in which Carl Crawford hit a grand slam to propel the Rays. The team had officially beat the best team in baseball all three games did the national media begin to get on the Rays bandwagon. Cub’s Manager Lou Pinella commended the Rays on their young squad, and you could see a small twinkle in his eye that he approved of the young team getting the best of his team that series.


 

 


On June 27th, Rays starter Matt Garza was on the mound in a game against the Florida Marlins and gave up a blast to Hanley Ramirez in the 7th inning to produce the only hit and run in the contest. Garza went on to shut down the Marlins’ offense the rest of the game.

 


According to the Elias Baseball Bureau, It was the first complete-game no-hitter or one-hitter with a double-digit strikeout total in the majors this season. There was only one such pitching performance in each of the last three seasons: by Chris Carpenter in 2005, John Lackey in 2006 and Justin Verlander in 2007.

 


On July 19th, the Rays won their first game back after the All Star break to break the team’s longest losing streak of the season. With the Blue Jays in town for a weekend series, the Rays went on to break up a perfectly good pitchers’ duel on a Ben Zobrist homer on the first pitch he saw tonight. Toronto starter A J Burnett was on tonight, but the Rays caught a huge break on a hanging breaking pitch to Zobrist for the victory.

 

Rocco Baldelli gets the shaving cream pie treatment after driving in the winning run in the ninth.  (AP)

 


While the Rays were at home on August 30th they got to celebrate a first in Rays history. With the 14-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles, the Rays posted their 82nd win of the season. Marking the first time in franchise history they were guaranteed a winning season.  It also marked the night of Scott Kazmir’s 10th victory of the year.

 

The mystic of Fenway Park was beginning to get the better of the Rays in 2008 before Scott Kazmir took the mound on September 10th in a series the team needed to keep their lead on the Boston Red Sox.  It also began one of the most storied moments in Rays history. During the contest the Rays batters went a combined 1-15 with men in scoring position and almost gave the game to the Red Sox several times. As the team fought back and forth before the Rays sent up a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 9th inning.  

 

 

Dan Johnson had been summed from the Durham Bulls earlier in the day and would have started in left field if he had gotten to the ball park a little earlier in the night. But because of flight problems and transportation to Fenway Park, he arrived just moments before the game. In the 9th inning, Rays Manager Joe Maddon inserted Johnson into the game to pinch hit against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. Johnson worked the count to 3-2 before he hit a monster shot that cleared the right center field wall to give the Rays a 5-4 lead in the game. Jason Hammel ended up coming out in the bottom of the 9th and secured the win for the Rays. It was Hammel’s first save of his career.

 

 


With the team away for their last series, it was actually the next day when most Rays fans learned that we had secured the American League East title the previous night in Detroit. With the Rays in Motown for the last series, many players came back to the clubhouse to celebrate into the wee hours of the morning. It was a wild fact, but players and staff went to area hotels sports bars to do a bit of  scoreboard watching as the New York Yankees needed to lose for the Rays to be awarded their first title in team history.

 

 


After the hard fought season, the Rays staged a airport greeting for the team at St. Petersburg/Clearwater airport on September 29th. The event was attended by almost 5,000 people who flocked into the baggage area and loading zones to greet and cheer the team as they got off their chartered flight from Detroit. People filled the airport and also the outer traffic lanes of the airport to see their new champions come in from their road trip.


 

 


On October 6th, the Rays were in Chicago facing the White Sox when they secured their first series win in the American League Divisional series. The Rays won the series 3-1, and established that they were the team to beat to get to the World Series in the American League. In that series, the Rays battled back time and time again against the tough White Sox pitching staff before finally breaking through and getting right breaks.

 

 

When the Rays faced the Philadelphia Phillies on October 23rd, they sent James “Big Game” Shields to the mound. The game  showed the waking up of B J Upton and Carlos Pena at the plate as both help produce much needed offense for the Rays. In a play featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Rocco Baldelli came across the plate for an apparent Rays run, but Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz held onto the ball.

 

 


The game came down to great situational hitting by the Rays. B J Upton scored Akinora Iwamura from third to plate the first run for the Rays.  In the 4th inning, the Rays took a hold of the game after Cliff Floyd hit a single and Dioner Navarro hit a nice liner up the middle to put two men on base for the Rays. Baldelli then hit a nice shot down the third baseline, but it was gloved by Feliz and the Rays had men on the corners. Jason Bartlett then came up and executed a safety squeeze perfectly  in front of Phillies starter Brett Myers to put the Rays up 4-0. It would be the Rays first victory in the Fall classic.


 

 


Last, but not least is the Game 5.5 as I call it of the 2008 World Series. No matter what happened in this game, the historical significance was more pressing at the moment. The contest was a hard fought contest and each team traded runs and hits before the Phillies finally walked away with their second World Series Championship.

 


The game was a true test of everything that got the Rays here in 2008. The Bullpen, which was the team’s focal point in 2008 had finally given up a run at the most critical moment in the contest. And the Rays offense could not close the gap when needed during their last at bats. with Eric Hinske striking out for the last out of the game.

 

 


All of these events made a different focal point for the Rays in 2008. I hope a few of your fond memories have graced the blog. If I forgot a moment that you found remarkable in 2008, please feel free to comment on the blog and I will check into it and might even make it my number 1 choice tomorrow.  Again thank you to all the readers of Rays Renegade for their insights, comments ans readership in 2008.

 

Hopefully in 2009, I will have more outstanding Rays moments to record for you.

Rays Minor League Awards 2008

 

 

I know it has been a few weeks since the team announced their award winners for the Minor Leagues during the last homestand. I was actually saving this for one of the off days of the ALDS, but I never got around to posting the results before today. So I apologize for the late posting of all the winners, and hope to find a few picture of them online to supplement the winners names.

 

In the recent years, the Rays have established and upgraded their presence in the Dominican Republic and in Venezulan Winter Leagues. These outposts will be a far reaching arm of the Rays instructional and scouting mission into the baseball rich countries of Venezula and the Dominican Republic.

 

Dominican Player of the Year                                Cesar Guillen

Dominican Pitcher of the Year                               Juan Wilsino

 

Venezulian  Player of the Year                               Alejandro Torres

Venezulian Pitcher of the Year                              Devivis Manares

 

The Appalachcian League  Princeton Devil Rays ended their season  at 24-38 this year. The team is the first step for players to get a feel for the rigors and the responsibilities of playing professional baseball. The team is a great first stepping stone in the Rays organization at the Short Season level.

 

 

Princeton Player of the Year                                      Elias Ostero

Osteros lead  Princeton in hitting with a .332 average.

 

Princeton Pitcher of the Year                                    Matt Moore

Moore had 1.66 ERA and 77 strikeouts for Princeton this season.

 

 

The Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League is a short season Class-A stop for the Tampa Bay Rays. The team ended their season 9 games back of the Staten Island Yankees in their division. But the Renegade are expecting big things in 2009 with their strong finish to the 2008 season.

 

Hudson Valley Player of the Year                         Kyeong Kang

Kang split time between left and rightfield in 2008 for the Renegades, and hit .279, with 15 doubles and 7 triples on the year.

 

Hudson Valley Pitcher of the Year                       Nick Barnese

Barnese appeared in 13 games this season , going 5-3 for the team. He also had 2.45 ERA, and struck out 84 batters in 66 innings, and allowed only 1 home run this season.

 

This is the last season in Columbus for the Catfish. They will be relocating to Bowling Green, Kentucky for the 2009 season.  The Catfish finished their last season in the Southern Atlantic League with a record of 40-26, and finished 5.5 game out in the Southern Division. Columbus is a lo Class-A destination for the Rays minor league players.

 

Columbus Player of the Year                                      Reid Fronk

Fronk hit .287 , with 29 doubles and 17 homers for the Catfish. Fronk also had 83 RBI’s and 74 walks to lead the Southern Athletic League.

 

Columbus Pitcher of the Year                                   Jesse Darcy

Darcy threw 133 innings for the Catfish, and was 7th in the league in with a 3.05 ERA. He alsotied for 3rd in the league in WHIP at 1.05.

 

The Vero Beach Devil Rays will also be moving in 2009. Theyw ill move to the Tampa Bay Rays’ new Spring Training home in Port Charlotte and will be under run mutually between the Rays and the Cal Ripken baseball group. The name of the team has not been decided at this time. This team is a high Class-A farm team for the Rays. Vero Beach ended up at the bottom of the Florida State League’s Eastern Division with a 20-46 record for 2008.

 

Vero Beach Player of the Year                                  Ryan Royster

Royster ended up with a .265 average for the D-Rays, and 58 RBI for the season.

 

Vero Beach Pitcher of the Year                               Jeremy Hellickson

This is Hellickson’s 2nd award as the Minor League pitcher of the Year for a team in the Rays minor leagues. Hellickson  went 7-1, with a 2.00 ERA. He also had 83 strikeouts and a .90 WHIP for the Devil Rays.

 

The Montgomery Biscuits were the Southern Leagues Champs in 2006 and 2007. The Biscuite were eliminated from the post season  byt eh West Tenn, Diamond Jaxxs. The Biscuite are the Class-AA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. They finished their season 2nd in the South Division with a 35-33 record for the year. 

 

Montgomery Player of the Year                                 Chris Nowak

Nowak lead the Biscuite with a .295 average, with 80 runs and 35 doubles on the year. He also had 15 homers and 77 RBI’s for the Biscuits.

 

Montgomery Pitcher of the Year                               Wade Davis

Davis had a record of 9-6 , with 107.1 inning pitched for the Biscuits. He also had  81 strikeouts and  3.85 ERA for Montgomery before being promoted to Triple-AAA.

 

The Durham Bulls won the Southern Division title with a 74-70 record and made it to the International League’s Governor’s Cup final before losing to  the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees. The Bulls are the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.

 

Durham Player of the Year                                          Dan Johnson

Johnson hit for a .307 average to rank 6th in the International League. He also had 25 home runs and 83 RBI’s on the year. Johnson also lead the International League in walks with 84 this season.

 

Durham Pitcher of the Year                                       Mitch Talbot

Talbot ended up with a 13-9, with a 3.86 ERA for the Bulls. Talbot was 4th in the league with 141 strikeouts and had a 1.24 WHIP.

 

The Rays Minor League  players of the year was really no suprise to the Rays faithful in the stands that day. Both of these players had remarkable years in which they made huge strides to make impressions on the Tampa Bay Rays Coaching staff.

 

Minor League Pitcher of the Year                            David Price

Price was selected by Baseball America as the Mnior League Pitcher of the Year before the event at Tropicana Field. Price went from Class-A Vero Beach through the Rays Minor League system to become a September call-up for the Rays after Durham was eliminated from the International League playoffs.

 

Minor League Player of the Year                            Fernando Perez

From the first day Perez took the field at Tropicana Field for the Rays he has done nothing but impress the Coaching staff and might have made a good reflection to get a long look in the outfield for the Rays in 2009. Perez hit .288, with 107 hits at Durham this year. He also was 3rd in the International League with 43 stolen bases this year. He has been considered the fastest man in the minors by Baseball America.

 

The final award of the night is the Erik Walker Community Champion Award. the award is given to the Rays’ minor leaguer who shows teamwork,sportsmanship and communit involvement. The award was created in honr of Erik Walker who perished in a canoe accident in October 2006. 

 

Erik Walker Community Champion Award                  Matt Springs

 

Springs was a catcher with the Montgomery Biscuits in 2008, and is heavily involved in the Montgomery community. He is volunteer in the Alabama Summer Reading Program at the Community Center in Prattville, Ala.  He was also involved in the Biscuits’ Junior Press conference twice this season letting school age kids 10-13 get a chance to ask questions and write a story about the Biscuits and Springs’ during the year.

 

 

 

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