Results tagged ‘ David Price ’

Tonight I Anticipate Something Special

I don’t care what you are doing tonight, cancel it and get down to Tropical Field. On tap tonight should be a classic pitcher’s match-up between two completely different style of starters who could put on a nice pitching clinic tonight that could be the eventual precursor to either of them getting a possible shot to hit the dirt first at this season’s All Star Game in Kansas City.

If a total of 17 combined wins between New York Mets hurler R A Dickey and Tampa Bay Rays southpaw starter David Price can not get you excited about this contest, you had better go have your pulse checked, because you might be dead. On tap tonight could be the premier InterLeague pitching match-up of not only this week, but the entire InterLeague sliver of the 2012 season, and it all will be played out under the tilted cap in St. Petersburg.

If that is not enough to make you pile into the jalopy and putter on down to 1 Tropicana Drive, in town for this limited engagement is a team that used to hold their annual Spring Training locally here in the ‘Burg, and is making their first trek into their old Spring home turf in 11 years. Member when the Mets used to come here every Spring from 1962 to1987 holding court over in the fields near the Jungle Prada section of the city.


I mean personally, I’m totally curious to see what a “hard knuckleball” looks like coming in at possibly 80 mph in comparison to the butterfly slow velocity knuckler thrown by former Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield. I am truly eager to see not only how Dickey can adjust and pitch against this struggling Rays offense, but will keep a keen eye on the Mets catcher to see just how you can keep that fluttering white sphere in your glove. Looking at the opposite side of the spectrum, it should be another chance for Price to again show some of his tricks of the trade via a blazing fastball combined with a newly refined curve and change-up to keep the Mets bats honest.

Surely this contest is billed as a “pitcher’s duel” with the unique possibility of a 1-0 or 2-1 score deciding this contest. But do not forget, these two hurlers have also posted 148 K’s and each sports an impressive ERAs between 2.40 (Price) and 2.44 (Dickey) this season. They also both have held opposing batters to stellar opposition batting average that are just a tick South of .236 mark and both have 1 shutout and complete game to their credit this season.

Heck, the only blip on either pitcher’s radar to show any weakness might be the fact Price only went 5 innings in his last start against the Yankees in New York. You would have to dig all the way back to Price’s start on April 13th in Boston to find any sub 5 inning start by the consistent southpaws this season. Dickey also suffered his only sub 5 inning stint about the same time this season when he only lasted 4.2 innings on April 18th in a contest in Atlanta against the Braves. Both have been consistent in going into the late innings of games, with powerful pitches at their disposal.


Tonight it is a mano-on-mano match-up. Classic hard-nose power pitching against the crafty and frustrating ball that can come in hard, or flutter like a firefly under the dome’s lights. If you like the Chess match that can turn into a baseball game, this is the game for you. So, why aren’t you here already? This game has all the earmarks of possibly turning into an instant classic 2012 baseball moment.

I’ll save you a seat. 

Could the Trop. Pull Off a “Dog Day”?

Earlier this season when I sat down with a departing member of the Rays front office and he let out a juicy morsel that the Rays might be considering a future brand of Rays “Bark at the Park”. For those who have not witnessed or had the fun of this type of event, fans can bring their canine “other-halfs” to the ballpark with them for that days contests and enjoy the sights and sounds along with a few hotdogs with their owners. Teams all around Major League Baseball already hold these sorts of annual canine appreciation days, but here in Tampa Bay, we have seen zero.

Now this is not an official Rays event yet, or even mentioned “officially” by the club, but over the weekend the Miami Marlins had just such an event at their indoor stadium, and by the way the stadium smelled by the end of the 9th inning, the stadium sanitation crew was on the ball scooping the tidbits left by canine Marlins fans.

The reason I bring this up tonight is the success of the Marlins canine event could and should get the wheels turning for a possible future Rays version. We now know that an indoor facility like Tropicana Field could host such an event, and possibly be one of the great moments of an MLB season. I actually was on hand for a “Dog Day Afternoon” event several years ago in Chicago and thought of what a great event this would be for my hometown Rays to hold for their faithful 4-legged fans who only get to see the game on television.

Possibly since our sister MLB franchise has now held a dog day afternoon event in their new home, members of the Rays stadium staff and promotions team could pay a post-event visit to the Miami club and see the way they produced and made this event such a success, even with the roof closed. I would be amazed to see such an event held within the tilted roof of the Trop., complete with the annual Frisbee-catching canines, maybe a booth set up by local animal shelters, and a secondary outlet so fans could buy those adorable calendars that host Rays players and their canine “best friends”.

I mean if the Rays and the local no-kill animal shelter Pet Pal Animal Shelter could come to some promotional agreement, maybe the event could also include a paw-print signing area of the Rays pooches, or pre-game stroll by master and pal along the First or Third baseline. I mean think of the great exposure for the calendar, the Rays would get National exposure for the kinder, gentler side off the competitive Turf, plus would be a great win-win for the Fans, players and this region.

Sure you would have to possibly buy a seat ticket for your dog, but maybe the Rays can also combine it with a Rays brand Dog Bandanna, or maybe even a Jango (Longo’s dog) or Astro (Price’s pal) image upon the item to bring it all together. I know all of this might never materialize or even be on the Rays drawing board, but it should. I know of plenty of Rays fans who have remarked over the years wondering why the team doesn’t do these special canine days like other stadiums.

 Odd thought here, maybe the Rays could find a pet food purveyor who could give away samples or even sponsor the giveaway with their branding somewhere on the new Rays bandanna. Of course all of this might just be in my mind right now, with the Rays not even having such an event on their drawing boards until possibly the 2013 season. Still, for someone like me who does his share of people-watching as well as watching this club play baseball, it would make one more authentic and totally wacky reason to hit the ball park. In other words, Rays, let’s make this happen.  

Sometimes Commenting Has its Own Price

The funny thing about baseball is, we all think we have answers, have professional knowledge from watching hundreds of games either live or on television. We gain our expertise per se from announcers, visual observations while most of us have never played above the Little League level. It is almost as if baseball has issued to the fans its own version of freedom of speech, but with the advent of social media now, can it go too far?

In the stands sometimes the collective fans themselves can take action, embarrassing the foolish rants or possibly make sure the “offender” takes a chill pill and remembers a game is in progress and he can be removed if enough fans voice their own raves. It doesn’t happen often that a fan either for the home or visiting team goes beyond that baseline of respect or coarse language, but when they do, most players just let it wash off them like gentle raindrops. Every once in a while you hear someone say something to a play you know hit deeps, crosses that imaginary line and you wish he had done anything to spank the oppressive fool.

Well, recently one Major League player decided someone had gone a bit too far. No, he did not go into the stands like a hockey enforcer or launch a 94 mph rocket to the kisser of the offending ruffian, instead he just cut and pasted the obscure comments and let the word know what he sometimes has to deal with outside of our usual Twitter visual sight-lines.

@DAVIDprice14 for all the tweeters 1. I have season tix 2 I like price but inconsistent in big games

  1. price has no closeout pitch”

 Sure the comment might have lacked a bit of killer intentions, but sometimes something written gnarls at you and you feel compelled to at least comment or write a rebuttal. Price definitely took the high road and just cut and pasted the comments so we all can see and know the type of absurd and unintelligent rhetoric nonsense these guys get after fighting the good fight during a game, an inning or even a career.

I left off this guys Twitter handle from the posted comment to not advertise his ramblings any further because his baseball and pitching logic definitely ranks below the bottom of the barrel. But there is one comment he made first that got my attention and definitely shows spending a lot of time watching games at Tropicana Field doesn’t make you a baseball guru or Coach.

I am glad this guy has Rays Season Tickets and supports his hometown team, but in that same vein, if he has truly attended multiple seasons of games, he must have slept through many of Price’s great moments on the hill, especially in 2008. Sure I went to the past well there for a reason. The guy stated Price “ had no closeout pitch”. Well, hate to tell you, amassing a 5-2 record in 2012 and a 12-13 last season, Price has got to have a “closeout” something to get those “W’s”.
 Of course this rant came after Price and the Rays lost a game to the rival New York Yankees and former A L Cy Young winner Sabathia. I understand the frustration of seeing this team lose after posting an impressive recent home stand, but at least know the facts before boasting your “expertise”. Lost somewhere in his multiple baseball brainiac cells is the true stat that this loss by Price to his fellow southpaw Sabathia was his first “L” against this opposing hurler in his career.

Could this commenter have some merit since Price did give up a historic Home Run to Yankee Derek Jeter for his 3,000th career hit in 2011? But doesn’t every pitcher want to be on the hill when a historic moment is approaching for a rival and want to either strike them out, prevent them from reaching that plateau or unfortunately being cast into the annuals of history by missing their mark.

Still, Price has battled 5 prior Cy Young winners in 8 starts during his career before his May 10th loss to Sabathia and had a 5-0 record with a stellar 1.69 ERA. Did one bad start and sub sequential Home Run barrage by Yankee Curtis Granderson make Price a second tier pitcher? I think not.

By the way, a winner wants the ball in his hand during big games, so if this commenter is dipping back into the past as far as 2010 when Price fell twice in opposing duels with ex-Texas Ranger southpaw Cliff Lee, that is digging for dirt in the wrong playground. Price, just like fellow Rays starter James Shields eagerly wants this tough games and moments that either elevate or humbles you. Sure it can boast huge amounts of frustration and wreck confidence, but Price is a man, and has handled himself as one, even with this comment missile to his integrity.

I do not condone someone ranting without purpose or reason, especially when it comes to sports or our hallowed athletes. Have merit and solid facts to back up the claims and I might agree, or agree to disagree on the subject. Either way, attacking or even suggesting something moronic like your second two points in your comment are ridiculous and warrants this wake-up call. I have yelled and posted a few things in my time that I regret, wish I had thought out and either deleted or apologized for.


I do not expect this commenter to do either of those things. He feels he is in the right. Had his ducks perfectly in a row and is firm in his convictions, even tho his logic has more holes than a wheel of Swiss cheese. But in the end Price took the right measure, let the fellow Rays fan baste and boil this fan a bit, and Price just sat back and watched the magic happen. Just goes to show you, sometimes these guys see and hear your absurd comments and rants, and one took it upon himself to hoist you to the wolves. Good for him.

Price Got his Inner “Avenger On” Against his Nemesis

We all know the movie “The Avengers” is about to hit our television sets in commercials, product placements and even trading cards. But did you know you saw a secondary super hero who somehow missed “The Avengers” casting call, but is just as important and heroic to the Tampa Bay community.

Tampa Bay Rays starter David Price who like the Hulk and Ironman has been forever been imprinted in our minds and souls with his 2011 Rays miniature super hero figurine fame with his dog Astro, showed us all his own “fight the good fight” moment last night television screens in a Nationally televised ESPN Sunday Night Baseball contest against his own archenemy, The Texas Rangers. Sure it was not the classic “Good versus Evil”, but it was a moment of redemption not only for Price, but for the Rays.

For this was the Lone Star nemesis who had assassinated the Rays Fall plans in both 2010 and 2011 by sweeping the Rays away from the post-season like a dust bunny en-route to their own American League titles. In that span, Price had never had a dominating moment against the red, white and blue hued Rangers, but last night he broke free, showed courage, determination and a nice stealthy selection of pitches to finally break through and thrust his hand skyward in victory.

Sure this might not make a 90 minute feature film, but I am truly glad Price got to show a National audience his performance as he finally got the better end against his arch-nemesis. Heading into this twilight contest, Price had taken the hill 10 times ( including 3 post season starts) against this Rangers foe and had come out empty with a 0-3 mark and an uncharacteristic 5.67 ERA during the regular season. Further complicating the matter for Price was the fact he was 0-1 with a 15.63 ERA in his previous 3 starts in Arlington.

 To say last night rose up against his fears and demons would seem, well cinematic, but absolutely true. I mean it had all the makings of a classic hero versus villain make-up as this Rangers squad was one of only 2 Major League baseball franchises in the American League Price had never scored a win against in his career (Seattle is the other, but Price has never started against them). Price definitely had his back to the wall as the Rays hoped to bring home a 2-1 advantage and series win with a victory, plus help Price demolish another obstacle in his pitching path.

Coming into this contest, 2/3rd of the Ranger line-up (6 hitters) had career batting averages of over .250 against Price. To show the precision and complete domination of Price over even these 6 arch-enemies, they went a combined 2-for-19 last night against Price with only Nelson Cruz, who entered the game as Price’s kyptonite sporting a career .574 average getting the 2 hits among the gang of 6.

Total Price dominance would be an understatement, but Price finally finding his groove against his ex-foe and taking them down in this style was simply a made for TV moment. Can’t wait for the second installment of this season’s series, possibly when the Rays return to Texas for another 3-game weekday series August 27-29. Who knows, maybe Price has figured out his nemesis, guess we have to stay tuned and wait until the end of August for this unfolding plot line to be revealed.

Rays Need to Wipe the Tarnish Off Their “Golden Arms”

Coming into the 2012 Major League Baseball season I do not think there was anyone connected with the game who had any major concerns about the Tampa Bay Rays starting pitching or their overhauled Bullpen. Most proclaimed them to be a pitching staff that was a year older, but considerably wiser beyond their years. From the only over 30 member of the starting rotation James Shields to rookie Matt Moore, the Rays were definitely a young staff to be wary of this season.

But how reality can change. How quickly things can go sideways, produce holes and show the Rays have a few situations, and not all of them have immediate solutions. Things looked up quickly for the Rays “Golden Arms” after sweeping the 2011 American League East champs, the New York Yankees at home. Quickly people were singing the praises of this young bunch of hurlers who seemed to have the midas touch, the “Golden Arms” moniker seem appropriate. Even after a hiccup of only winning one of three against the favored Detroit Tigers, the Rays seemed destine to head into the land of the Lobster and chowder with confidence and a chance.

Suddenly over a 3-game spread the Rays starters looked vulnerable, giving up extra base smashes that usually find a glove, or produce outs. Even though pitches were being placed perfectly in their quadrants, bats met ball almost like they knew it was going to be delivered there, without much sweat or guessing. Instantly eyes and fingers began to watch these Red Sox for clues or suggestions of a more clandestine reasoning for the Rays sudden fall from pitching grace. In an instant the once mystical Rays seemed bewildered and confused as speculation ran rampant that their secret formula had been deciphered and pilfered producing 3 straight dizzying losses to their divisional rival Boston.

The Rays seemed plagued by an aspiration more towards mediocrity than their acclaimed meteoric prediction. In a flash the Rays tumbled from the grace of promise to fall 0-3 and closer to the .500 mark before their ace, James Shields delivered them from the folly of losing all 4 contests to these Bostonians. Some say the difference was a change of habit, a visual game of hide and go seek where Rays catcher Jose Molina would do his best impression of hiding the corner and seeking the calls on the outside corners. Even if the strike zone did gain a few inches, it went both ways, but it did give Shields and the Rays a fighting chance.

You want to dissect the Rays starting staff and look for a fundamental reasoning for the Boston meltdown, but you will not find it. Tongues wagged that Moore was tipping off his pitches, but the same game outcome and hit barrage beset veteran hurler David Price and 2011 Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson. How could a staff that stifled the Yankees less than a week before suddenly fall flat against a divisional rival they had winning history against in their ballpark. It is not like the Rays came into Boston complacent or sporting a superior record, somewhere the dike developed a leak and not until Shields hit the hill did it get plugged with success.

Some might contribute this strange quandary to the fact of a plethora of afternoon contests on this road trip, but that is the easy answer. The hard answer is this young staff is still maturing at times and can be vulnerable. The real answer is Hellickson and Moore have the abilities to shut down any American League offense, but if their control ticks even an inch off the plate, the Home Plate Umpire might not give that extra inch. That comes with experience and knowing which Umpire might be open to balls skipping the corners and who runs a tight strike zone. Worst thing is on any given night that variable could change without warning or hint.

We all know already if Shields and Price have the motors revving and are on point, only they can cost themselves a victory. Worst thing that could happen to the Rays is one of these two going down, or experiencing even a short span of wildness or ability to sit guys down via the outside corner called third strike. There is a gap between the experience levels of these two and the duo of Hellboy and M&M. Not even sure the tallest member of the silent assassins, Jeff Niemann can put himself into that middle ground at times. Even though the 6’9” Niemann can show the skills of an ace during his streaks, when he is off his game, weird things happen. You might consider Niemann a liability compared to the other 4 starters on this team, but when he is in his groove and popping balls into the strike zone, he looks more like a #3 starter than the back end option at #5.

The Rays starters just have to wipe the tarnish off their “Golden Arms” and again show the wealth and worth of their abilities to get the Rays close games that their offense can overcome and post wins. The Boston series was a debacle by any sense of the word, but this Toronto series might be the true test for the Rays starters. If they can harness themselves and post a winning edge in this first series in Canada, it could be a great launching pad into their home stand and again having people feel “golden” about this starting staff.

Did the Red Sox Signal Corps Find Success?

They’re just really hot right now,” Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon told the Tampa Bay Times after Thursday afternoon’s 3rd loss in a row to the Boston Red Sox. “It’s almost like they knew what’s coming almost. They’re on every pitch. They’re on the fastball. They’re on the breaking ball. They’re on the change-up. They’re on everything right now. They’re really locked in.

Doesn’t take a baseball genius to decipher a little bit of hidden meaning in Maddon’s comments. But maybe Maddon is on to something. Sure stealing signs has been around since the invention of the game and unless you use a video tape system or other technology that can give you in-game information, Major League Baseball will turn it’s eye away from the situation. If you have every notice during Rays game, one of the Rays starters, and usually Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi will both keep an accurate account of the game stats, type of pitches and their results for future analysis.

This can be used in the future for predictions, but is not plausible for in-game use. Some thought the Rays pitching staff might be showing “tells” or tipping off their pitches during the Boston series. Seems a bit far-fetched when you consider the Rays sent hurlers David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and rookie Matt Moore to the hill in the first 3 contests, and they did not seem to exhibit any visual “tells” in the delivery, arm slot release or facial movements. There are 3 valid reasons the Red Sox might have gotten the upper hand on the Rays this series.

First off, Red Sox Manager Bobby Valentine is an astute student of the game who also caught for many years and knows the art of trying to both conceals and transmit false signals to prevent the stealing of signs. A smart Manager would have someone down near the back-end of the dugout watching in at the catcher, possibly seeing similarities, constant familiar movements or even a flash of a painted nail to signal the true intended pitch.

Just as quickly that player could tip his cap, stand up, clap his hands or do any number of audio or visual patterns to signify a certain pitch being thrown to the plate. This is not an illegal activity, but does seem to hide within the large gray area of the unwritten rules of baseball.

A great second indicator that the Boston brood might be fishing for signals is the fact the Red Sox brought in former Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach to be their primary backstop this season. Do not forget, it was this same Red Sox organization that gave @ShopHouse10 his first decent chance and taste of MLB life as a Red Sox prospect. Got to think the Red Sox have grilled and formulated a game plan in advance with information on pitching patterns and possible signal combinations so to get a bit of an edge against this young and talented staff.

This is also not illegal, and is a rather commonplace occurrence after a player leaves one team and joins another. But a catcher knows all the nuances and particulars of a team’s signal calling process. Even if the Rays changed their system this Spring, there is still leftover signals, patterns and small tell-tale signs that could trigger an all out discovery or disclosure of a team’s battery signals.

Still, Boston could have done their business the hard way and just watched game film from this Spring as these 2 squads played each other 3 times with the Red Sox coming away with wins in all 3 contests. Valentine could have had his off-the field staff tear down game tapes looking for patterns, “tells” or even a system that developed out of the constant movements of the Rays catchers this Spring and possibly into late 2011. He could have done it by dissecting the Rays Spring patterns, taking a slice of Shoppach’s past knowledge and sprinkled in a bit of his long history both as a spectator and catcher in the MLB.

Or maybe it is just as simple as Valentine figured out the Rays common “indicator” signal that all 3 of the Rays catchers from Jose Molina, Jose Lobaton to Chris Gimenez might have used when a player was on base. The “indicator” is usually one or two patterned finger or body movements made to try to throw off someone stealing signals, but if discovered, or if the pattern is somehow revealed throughout a contest, it can be a green light to the First and Third Base Coaches to alert hitters to what might be coming.

Even a calculated and synchronized system of random catcher movements and finger motions can be dissected within the scope of the game, possibly making the catcher the one giving up a “tell”. Even though it is illegal to videotape the concentrated area of the catcher for possible signal interception, the Centerfield camera always gives a perfect view into the heart of the plate, and signals can be deciphered quickly.

In the end it is a part of the game until you have hard concrete proof to the contrary. Considering Valentine and Shoppach could have brainstormed before the series began and when the indicators might have been discovered, the rest came fast and furious. But you want to think it was just an offense coming alive and no ulterior actions that hindered the Rays pitching staff this series.

But a clear indicator that possibly the system was compromised came to light today as starter James Shields held the Red Sox to a 4-hit shutout to break not only the Rays losing streak, but possibly the tale of the stealing signs. No matter if the Rays got duped by Boston this series and they did figure out the patterns and signals, it just goes to show you that not all information can be tied to a computer, a spreadsheet or even a video. Sometimes the human eye can figure out the game just as quickly and turn it into an advantage. I hope no signs were stolen, but who would fess up if it was true?

 

Time For The Rays To Act Like Contenders, Not Morgue Meat

I think I just threw up a little in my mouth. Guess that is the only way to describe the scene that played out in front of me and the rest of the Nation after the fifth inning today. There is no other team that I hate seeing the Tampa Bay Rays lose to than this Boston bunch. And losing 2 out of the first 2 to begin the 2012 seasonal series, that just makes my stomach turn, burn and totally feeling like imploding.

I am not going to call anyone out for this loss because it has been 30 minutes and I am suppose to focus on the next day’s game now, but there is still some residue on my shoes and it doesn’t smell like roses. I tried to drum up the confidence game yesterday in my post by stating we have these types of losses during a long 162-game season, but against a divisional foe, the loss hurts double in my heart and in the standings. Worst part of it all is that this game seemed well in hand, then the mighty hand of something purely evil and nasty plucked the stingers off the Rays one-by-one until it seems our eyes glazed over from disbelief.

These types of losing streaks can be endured, but not when it gives glee and happiness to fan base that truly wishes and prays that the Rays choke on their pride and emphatically drown in their own tears. The scene on the Fenway grass today after the 5th inning seemed more likely to be one played out on a sappy medical drama where the patient comes into the facility in perfect health, has a great prognosis then somehow a severed jugular burst forward and instantly we were in a life or death struggle with no angels in the wings to pluck us from the obvious. The Rays right now look more like morgue meat than contenders, and that has to change…stat!

I so want that last sentence to be untrue, but there are fragments and obscure pieces missing that would make this whole enchilada complete. Some members of the pitching staff seem so at ease and “ in the flow”, while others seem to be going through the proverbial motions and not delivering up quality or quantity yet this season. It is frustrating when you have seen and felt the possibilities of this 2012 Rays team, then they stumble, fumble and look more like a pre-2007 Rays squad.

But here is where we do our work as fans. It is our job right now to keep the faith, push our chests out and take the insults and sharp criticism of this team’s downward turns and stand firm, stand erect, and above all stand united. For if even one of us falters in our belief and hope for this team, the dam could spring a leak and that will lead to a river of deplorable chaos and false propaganda with a Bulls Eye painted on each member of this team.

As the Rays unite as a team, solid in their goals, commitment and belief in themselves as individuals and a collective team, we must also stay the course, throw up the encouraging even in the face of the disenchanting truth. It is time to either bail out the boat and know survival is in sight or look in the distance for the school of media sharks awaiting any wobble or bob from this team and their potential.

Definitely One to Forget in 30 Minutes

Figures this kind of horror would unfold on a day like Friday the 13th giving the Tampa Bay Rays another game to drop into the loss column, hoping a bout of sudden amnesia makes us all forget this lopsided horror fest that was bestowed upon the Rays today. This is the kind of game that makes your stomach turn and your brain fry for trying to find positives among the carnage, find something good to build upon going into another 3-straight afternoon scrambles with the Boston Red Sox.

This is definitely one of those Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s “30 minutes and forget the loss” moments, even in the close confines of the Rays visiting Boston clubhouse. But there is seriously no reason to fret, no re-occurring bouts of worry or hysterical platitudes to describe this game. We have to let it go, watch it fly away and stomp on it if it tries to again darken our doors. Every season the Rays have a game early on in the season that makes you doubt yourself for a second, then you remember it is only 1 of 162. Last season it was the entire month of April, but I think you get my drift here.

With this being the Rays 15th season, there have been more than 15 of these games that rip our beating hearts out and get served to us to digest with angst and worry each year. This one unfortunately happen early on, and with a rival we have to subdue to again quench our October champagne thirst.

Sure it’s Friday the 13th, but it was also the Rays 7th game of the season. Guess even the pondering of lucky numbers against hidden evil intended numbers did not match-up in the Rays favor today. Maybe Wade Davis forgot to rub his lucky rabbit’s foot ( you know he’s got one…somewhere). Going into the contest I had a good vibe knowing the Rays were sending old lucky 2×7 (double lucky?) or pitcher David Price (#14) to the hill for the Boston home opener. Thought he might be our double-dose of a potential Rays good luck charm, our defender from these kinds of evil scores, but alas the sleeping evil beast that can be the Red Sox awoken and bite Price firmly in his box score.

Sure it is one contest, 1/162th of a season, but this one will hurt for a while. But sometimes evil things happen to good teams. Momentum can switch, be caught in the wrong cycle and spin out of control making the good and bad intertwine, changing all aspects of fortunes and re-distributing lucky bounces and odd hops to even the most disciplined defenses. Losing is never a fun thing to watch. It cuts into us deep because we feel we have the tools and arsenal to win every night but sometimes good intentions, luck and even the best frame of mind can fail anyone.

Well, it has been 20 minutes, time to forget this one and move onto tomorrow. Hmm, maybe Maddon has something here, I’m starting to feel a bit better.

Niemann Should Claim the Rays Fifth Slot

So the Tampa Bay Rays are going to draw this drama out for one more day. Seems kind of silly since we basically know that barring a possible trade, the team will probably hoist the “Tall Texan” Jeff Niemann as their fifth starter for the regular season. His main opponent, Wade Davis has basically conceded the decision after a bad outing in his last Spring start. With Davis’s comments after his start on Sunday, you would have thought the decision was already made and he was eager to hit the Bullpen and come out swinging this season in the latter innings.

But do not think a little competitive edge did not favor Niemann since he has clearly been in this position before and has played his part staying consistent on the mound this Spring, trying to provide ammunition for name being selected for the last rotation spot. It was only a few seasons ago Niemann and Jason Hammel were in different minor league games that were to decide the fifth spot, but Hammel ended up being traded to the Colorado Rockies at the conclusion of that day’s activities, which made that Springs decision moot.

In all honesty, Niemann has done nothing this Spring to fall from grace with the Rays staff. Even his refusal of a small raise and going to salary arbitration over a measly $500,000 ( he lost) was viewed as a “business decision” and the Rays front office holds no animosity towards his Winter decision. In hindsight, the fact Niemann had the confidence and internal constitution to stand up to the Rays in arbitration. Some say arrogance can be the best gift for a pitcher.

In Niemann’s corner is the fact he has posted 3 straight 10+ wins seasons as a starter. Only former Ray Scott Kazmir can say the same. How soon we all forget Niemann started 2011 0-3 in 4 starts before he went 11-4 in 19 starts the rest of the season.  Add onto this the fact Niemann has been an amazing “road warrior” for the Rays holding a .700 winning percentage (21-9) over the last 3 years, which is second best in the majors. Suddenly you see a big hidden part of Niemann’s success for the Rays.

But could Niemann or Davis be headed elsewhere, and the current decision is being withheld as the Rays take a last chance last-minute offering for someone currently “out of country”. It is pretty common knowledge by now that the Rays covet Oakland A’s catcher Kurt Suzuki as a great addition to their backstop corp and want to bring him into their fold. Problem is, neither Niemann nor Davis really whets A’s GM Billy Beane’s whistle, but with a delayed announcement and the Athletics playing over the International Dateline in Japan, maybe the time difference is Rays Executive VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman’s last grasp to try to land Suzuki.

Add into the equation that fact that Rays Manager Joe Maddon has set a few parameters as to who would get the “ 5th gig”, and with Davis’s ERA sitting at an uncomfortable 4.91, barring a trade or possibly Niemann getting knocked out by a crossbeam in the Rays Clubhouse, the decision seems a bit moot.

One of Maddon’s prerequisites was “ who can help us win game early on in the season”. Not sure if either of the two pitchers have distanced themselves in this category, but if you take into consideration Maddon second criteria of “ who can be effective in the Bullpen”, then Niemann is the guy who will inherit the 5th slot. If Niemann had great reliever qualities, he would have at least had a reserved seat in the Bullpen in October, but he was not even on the Rays post season roster.

Not knocking Niemann as a reliever, but the guy tends to need more time to warm-up, and as a reliever, your time is extremely limited. Add onto that the fact Davis has already commented he would go to the Bullpen and “kick butt”. Even based on that kind of comment by Davis, you get the honest feeling that the decision has already been made in at least one player’s mind.

Maybe this is a blessing in disguise for Davis who sometimes tends to hide some of his velocity on the hill, keeping it in reserve if needed. In the Bullpen, he can let it rain strikes and bring it full-bore and I bet Niemann will be the first guy to greet him on the dugout steps.

Some will say Niemann is the more polished of the two, but he has also shown a quality of getting fatigued and injured at the most important moments over the last few seasons. Still, Niemann boasts a .639 winning percentage over the last 3 MLB seasons (min 75 starts), and that is currently 8th best in the majors and  is 27 points above Rays southpaw David Price (.612 percent). That is a considerably nice “stat” egg to have in your basket when consistency and winning are huge factors in this decision.

It was really Niemann’s position to lose this Spring. Barring an injury over the last few games or a trade out of leftfield, he owns the 5th slot in the Rays rotation. The deeper you look into consecutive good outings and subsequential winning streaks, Niemann stands head and shoulders above Davis for that last rotation spot. But then again, there are not many who stand taller on the hill than the Texan.

GTL Rays Style

I know almost everyone has heard of the phrase GTL made famous now by the MTV series “Jersey Shore”. Well considering they did a stint in South Florida a few years ago, I am thinking we should do a small homage to the GTL events that members of the Tampa Bay Rays could have done for today’s “off day”. The original meaning of course was Gym, Tan and Laundry for the Seaside Heights, New Jersey crew, but I’m thinking the Port Charlotte, Florida regiment has their own versions of this classic phrasing.

Gas, Tan, Lotion: You know a few of the younger and single members of the Rays hit the area beaches since it is Spring Break for college students around the country. Since this region of SW Florida tends to have some of the best beaches in the country, it is only natural students would hit this region not only for the emerald waters and picture-perfect sunsets, but the allure of professional athletes possibly throwing a football or getting some extra tannage on the newly minted white domes.

Grate, Trowel, Luck: Just a few miles up the coast from Port Charlotte is Venice Beach. The reason I mention this is it has an activity at this peaceful beach that is special to this part of Florida, and it can be a great adventure for families or just a group of friends. It is shark tooth hunting, and it is as simple as it sounds. All you do is wade out into the estuary waterways scoop up a shovel load of bottom soil and sift it through a grate/filter system with the remnants and fine-toothed enamel teeth of long gone sharks materialize in the trays. Sure most can be of the small or even tiny variety, but every once in a while you can see a huge tooth of a species that used to not only swam this region, but possibly perished somewhere in land up the Peace or Alafia rivers.

Photo @HallerDave

Gig,Troll,Land ‘em: Several members of the Rays PR Department today hit the Boca Grande flats and open waters to fish, relax and sue it as their own bonding moment themselves. Just like the Rays squad, these guys will be together over that 180 day stretch and finding common ground, landing a few tasty lunch morsels and getting some Sun on their own newly mowed heads will do wonders come April.

Grip, Tee, Links: Considering so many of the Rays also are pretty good on the golf links, you could easily see the likes of B J Upton, David Price, James Shield, Matt Joyce and even Evan Longoria tee up a few at one of the local golf courses. With a day off, the links can be a great way to just have fun at a leisurely pace, kick back and clown a bit with friends and just enjoy a hot and humid Florida Spring day. Problem is, will these crews allow mulligans?

Grease, Tighten, Loosen: Who knows, maybe Rays skipper Joe Maddon could have gotten a few of his squad to help him do a bit of fix-up on his new ’55 Chevy. I remember someone telling me earlier the new ride had some spongy brakes, and this could be an additional bonding moment as Maddon, maybe a few of his staff and a player or two tinkering under the hood of a car most people can fix without a CPU system. I know I would have volunteered for that duty.

I know a majority of the team possibly just slept in later, did errands and adventures with their family, possibly doing some breakfast in one of the quaint and great restaurants in the region before embarking on day trips or even just lounging out enjoying the sights and sounds of their families. This was a needed moment for this team as a day like this can do so much to recharge and energize a team as they begin to enter the stretch run of the Grapefruit League season or as I like to call it Grapefruit, Tangerine and Lemon league. That’s my version of Spring GTL.

 

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