Results tagged ‘ Elliot Johnson ’

Prove Me Wrong “Briggy Baseball”…Please!

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When the Tampa Bay Rays traded SS Jason
Bartlett in the off season, I was hoping that young shortstop Reid
Brignac had made the transition needed to play on a daily basis and
provide a stop gap up the middle using the assets of his outstanding
athletic ability.

Having a solid and consistent bat to go
along with a brick wall defense would just be the delicious icing on
the proverbial cake. But something seems to be missing. What I have
seen so far this season is a young player who is still trying to find
his groove.

Your alter ego “Briggy Baseball” has
the defensive chops to play at this level. I am still waiting for
that player we have seen the past 2 Springs that seemed to punish the
ball both at the plate and in the field. Somewhere, somehow this guy
who produced some dramatic defensive moves and provided more than a
few gasps has been MIA in the Rays infield.

Maybe I am being a bit too critical
here right now since the Rays staff and the front office must have
seen the potential and commitment intertwine as you must have made
the needed steps to sprint over the hump ans was the perfect
candidate to replace Bartlett.

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I wasn’t expecting a early season
hiccup of 3 errors and a .971 Fielding Average with 25 games under
your belt. Do I push that under the category of “growing pains”
as you learn the position full-time, or do you need a little more
work than we all originally diagnosed.

Please prove me wrong over the next 10
days. Come on Briggy, you have the talent and the moxy to push out of
this sluggish mode and provide a solid game day performance as the
Rays try and raise the Rays win levels. A good guy in that shortstop
slot will go a long way in securing a few wins.

I want to overlook an early potential
fielding error when there was some miscommunication between you and
Second Baseman Ben Zobrist when no one was covering the bag when
Toronto OF Rajai Davis stole a base in the first inning. Blue Jay OF
Cory Patterson, who is a left-handed batter was at the plate, and if
I remember, when a base runner steals off a left-hander, it is the
Short Stop’s responsibility to cover the bag.

It might have been a slight malfunction
made more interesting by your acrobatic save of the ball not going to
the outfield wall by hurling you body perpendicular to the turf and
grabbing it on the bounce like it was designed that way. If someone
would have been there to catch a great throw by Rays catcher John
Jaso, it would have been another caught base stealer on Jaso’s stat
chart.

I have seen more than a few plays in
the field by you in this young 2011 season to make me think it is
just an on-field adjustment for you, but do we have the time to wait
for all the pieces to be pushed into place? A .971 Fielding
Percentage is above average for a young player…over 162 games, not
a stitch over 2 dozen starts.

If you glove is having a bit of a
problem, it can be compensated by bringing the lumber at the plate,
but you are hitting at a .240 mark against right-handers (like
tonight’s starter Brandon Morrow) and has struggled profusely to post
a disappointing .125 against southpaws. Coming into 2011 you were a
.268 hitter against right-handed pitching with 9 career Home Runs.

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Instead you are hovering at a .206
average right now with no Home Runs and 4 RBI. Brignac has not had a
extra base hit in 31 games, the longest drought in Rays history.
Interesting enough, the former streak of 29 games without an extra
base hit was by former SS Bartlett back in 2008. Tonight you have
gone 0-for-2 with a nice bunt, but still you are just a bad game away
from meeting Mr. Mendoza.

Do we have to post up teammates Elliot
Johnson or Sean Rodriguez at your spot when Southpaws hit the mound.
I had such great expectations for you since your rookie campaign
where you ranked in 3rd among rookies with a .256 average
4th in RBIs (45), and 4th with 8 Home Runs. You future to
me looked bright as the Rays sunburst.

But I am beginning to worry more and
more with each ball hit towards the hole if the athlete in you is
clicking that night. Becoming more anxious when you hit the plate,
mostly against right-handers now and you seem to have lost that “pop”
that produced a stellar .367 average.

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Somewhere between Opening Day and now
the lines have crossed somehow. Briggy you are better than this both
on the field and at the plate. Adjustments have to be made now, or
you might see yourself sitting more and more and might lose that
chance to compete nightly.

Maybe going back to “Briggy Baseball” basics is the best solution. You have one of the best infield
instructors in Coach Tom Foley in your clubhouse, maybe sitting near
him when you are on the bench against right-handers will make the
bells and whistles finally begin to chime for you.

I really want to see the “Briggy
Baseball” persona we have fallen in love with over the past 2 seasons
to rear its charismatic head. You have the talent, now it is time to
show all of us why you are here and not back with Triple-A Durham as
you figure things out. Please prove me wrong Briggy….I double-dog
dare you…..Please.

The Real Rays Spring Battles are in the Left Side Trenches

 

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One of the biggest battles this Spring has not materialized out of the Bullpen situation, but has surfaced in the grass and clay just beyond the pitching mound. Infield spots once thought to be solidified by returning member of the Rays or their farm system now have a few outsiders eager to take a roster spot.

Around the diamond, the only positions that seem to have any stability long range heading into the final weeks of the Spring is the right side of the infield. We all know that third base is the kingdom of Longoria, but not until recently when Reid Brignac set foot in the clay at the shortstop position did we know just how firmly he was going to plant his feet into that surface.


Brignac has basically closed the door to anyone else trying to take his spot this Spring, bolstered by an impressive .533 Batting Average and a outstanding .667 Slugging Percentage. But some have also whispered it has only been 6 games, and “Briggy Baseball” should not be handed the keys yet to the Rays shortstop job. But we forget this is the spot Brignac has been groomed for since he hit the Rays farm system, and his exuberance and stellar defensive play has only solidified that thinking.


So that leave the Second Base and First base slots where the competition might not be fierce for a starting nod, but also for that coveted “jack of all trades” every teams needs during the season. And here is where the competition really heats up.


AqkbOpJ6.jpgSure Sean Rodriguez, who might be anointed the Rays Second Baseman by the end of Spring camp has done nothing to diminish his claim to the spot, but Elliot Johnson and Felix Lopez will definitely get their own chances to rattle the cages a few times before it is all said and done this Spring.


Rodriguez has stayed in his usual Rays Spring zone hitting .444 in his limited appearances, but has also been m ore than adequate with stellar defense. Johnson has been the one guy you might have been rooting for to finally get his chance to again grace the Rays roster. Most might not remember his short stint with the Rays in 2008, but the Rays Triple-A fixture is more than apt to finally plant his feet firmly in the clay of the Trop.


But Johnson has not materialized in 2011 so far like he has dominated in recent years, In 2011, he has appeared in 6 games going 0-10 with a .230 OBP. Not the type of numbers you want from someone finally getting a chance to gain a Opening Day slot. His 2011 number pale in comparison to his 2009 Spring that boasted a .981 OPS to go along with a .309 average with 3 HR and 7 RBIs. Johnson will need to hit a massive streak in the coming weeks to stave off the advances of Lopez.


Here is where it gets tricky. Lopez has the ability and the pedigree to take the utility job and possibly get some extended play in the infield for the Rays in 2011. And if his first few weeks of the Spring are any indication, Lopez might just end Johnson’s chances in the next week or two just by staying consistent.



c4s_lopez030811_165555c.jpgLopez has put up a .429 in 12 games including a tie with catcher Robinson Chirinos for the second highest hit total (9 hits) on the Rays this Spring. Combine that with Lopez getting some extensive time at Third Base, possibly for a buffer to give Longoria a chance to DH a bit more in 2011. Lopez currently has done everything right for the Rays, including a perfect 1.000 Fielding Percentage in his 28 innings of work.


Right now Lopez is firmly in the driver’s seat to taking the Rays utility position, but Johnson will definitely have something say about it before the March 31st Spring finale in Tropicana Field. But just to the left of the Utility man war might be one of the most interesting fight this Spring. First Base was a sore spot for the Rays with the departure of the offense and defense of Carlos Pena to the Chicago Cubs. Most thought Ben Zobrist might get a bevy of the chances this Spring to contend for that spot, but it has been a two horse race so far with slugger Dan Johnson showing his glove is also pretty good.



g2e22e2000000000000dd17429124703d6ee651020f44c48c1f2f2d4056.jpgJohnson has started out this Spring with a mission to show he has the defensive chop to take the everyday 1B spot for the Rays, even with a defensive specialist like veteran Casey Kotchman on his heels. Defensively it has been a neck and neck race here with each showing brilliance and a knack for being in the right place this Spring.


Even though Kotchman has had the only error this Spring between the two, their innings of work at First suggests that Johnson who has logged 42 innings at First this Spring might have a slight edge on the defensive side. Even though Kotchman has also appeared in 11 games and manned the bag for 51 innings, the Total chances between Johnson (39) and Kotchman (45) suggest this is definitely a two horse race with both possibly getting a roster spot.


Currently on the offensive side of the equation, it is Johnson’s starting nod to lose right now. Even though Johnson has 4 extra base hits, including 2 Hrs recently against the Phillies, his average is dipped even below the Pena line (.160). That might be a concern for Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his staff, but Johnson also has a .222 OBP, which might show a tendency to eye the ball more at the plate than Kotchman.



2232903.jpgStill, Kotchman right now might have the edge on offense, but it is more based on average than a slugger’s mentality. Kotchman’s .393 Batting Average combined with a .414 OBP suggests he is seeing the ball well this Spring. And with a 4 doubles this Spring, maybe Kotchman might be a great match-up for Maddon’s usual line-up maddness when he needs a guy at the plate for average instead of for power.


This brings up the idea that both could possibly make the team, but that might be stretching it a bit. With the Rays possibly carrying 12 pitchers, that leaves 13 rosters spots for the fielding side of the ball. Pencil in Longoria, Jaso, possibly Shoppach, Ramirez, Damon, Brignac, Rodriguez,Upton, Joyce, and Zobrist and possibly Justin Ruggiano or Sam Fuld fighting it out for the fifth outfielder spot .


Suddenly you have only 2 viable open Rays roster slots for the four guys currently fighting it out on the left side of the infield. The Rays do have the luxury of having Zobrist also playing outfield, which could jettison both Ruggiano and Fuld possibly to the minors or being traded. That would leave three spots (without a change in the 12-man pitching staff) with one lone player in the foursome coming up with the short straw.

If you want to see intense competition on the Rays over the next three weeks, do not look to the Bullpen, look to the left side of the infield. Four guys will be fighting for their MLB livelihoods over the next few weeks with each vaulting and falling in their secure spots as the games become fewer. Johnson and Kotchman could both gain roster spots based on their collective offense and defensive might, but the Johnson and Lopez battle is far from over……Let the real competition begin……Now!

 

 

Spring Baseball Has Finally Sprung!

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Some days when you drive down to Port Charlotte,Florida to watch the Tampa Bay Rays during Spring Training, the ride seems like it take forever and a day. Somehow the miles seem to drag on, and by the time you hit the Torch Blade exit, you are already on the verge of being spent. But not today. Not on the day that the Rays officially start their 2011 season. Opening day in Port “C” is always a time to renew friendships, bask in the light that is the new season, and most of all, begin to work on the base for that great Summer tan.


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SpringOpener2011 016.JPGWith David Price set to hit the hill, followed by a Tall reliever that brings it from the clouds, mixed with the facial gold from the “Garfoose” master, Rays baseball has arrived in 2011. From the moment I hit the line near the gate today, the buzz was on the new blood and some of the old Rays. James Shields, also known this time of year as the privateer “Graybeard” is anxious to get his year started on Sunday, erasing the doubts and clouds from around his 2010 performance.


 

SpringOpener2011 011.JPGThen you have the young bloods like Chris Archer, Brandon Gomes and Cesar Cabal, each collectively fighting for their MLB life (Cabal), while Archer and Gomes most likely are just hoping to set a beautiful impression on Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Pitching Coach Jim Hickey as a secondary option if an injury takes down a starter or long reliever.


All three have a boatload of possible MLB potential, but we know one will definitely start in the minors (Archer). Cabal will be fighting for the right to stay with the Rays as a Rule 5 player that has to make the roster, or be offered back to the Red Sox. Gomes, who was part of the Garza deal wants to show his new employer that they made an intelligent investment in bringing him into the Rays fold. All three will get their chance to impress on this first day of action.


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SpringOpener2011 103.JPGThere is a buzz around the gates of the INF Elliot Johnson finally getting another chance to crack the Rays infield, even on a part-time basis. His game has been elevated, but will it be enough to stave off the advancements of veteran Felix Lopez who also wants that vital roster spot. This infield utility spot might have more than a few sets of eyes watching as it’s competition starts today. But most of the chatter circling the closed gates seems to be on who the Rays might choose as their Opening Day starter.


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SpringOpener2011 032.JPGDo you go with Shields, who has owned that spot for what seems like decades, or do you pass the mantle to Price this year? There are varying opinions on this, but my sentiment is to see if Shields rebuilds his arsenal, then make the educated decision. It can not be an emotional pick just because Shields is the veteran. It has to be for the overall good of the team, and for the player involved. If Maddon and Hickey feel adamant about the possibility of Price having the same success in the top spot as in the two slot, then it is a no-brainer….Or is it?


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SpringOpener2011 126.JPGThe potential of the number 2 guys in the American League East is impressive. Jon Lester in Boston, Brain Matusz in Baltimore, Phil Hughes in NYC and a possibility anyone from Scott Richmond to Brandon Morrow manning the 2-slot for the Blue Jays. The number 2 spot might be the essential spot to decide a series win or loss in 2011. The top slot might have lost a bit of it’s luster as the “terrible two’s” might be the 17-20 game winners this season.


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SpringOpener2011 048.JPGBut today is about Spring baseball. It is about the return of the game that left us wanting more in October. It is time to fill our collective bellies with the food of the game, get to know the new players, plus provide the first enthusiastic push of emotion heading into the March 31st Spring finale on the new AstroTurf in Tropicana Field.


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SpringOpener2011 198.JPGSure we want to see the new guys, but the old favorites and the guys who have teetered that thin line with the Rays might be another great storyline to watch in the coming weeks. Dirk Hayhurst, coming back from injury should make a play for one of the three potential unclaimed Bullpen spots.

 


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SpringOpener2011 207.JPGThe first day of live pitching for J P Howell might be one of the most anticipated events this Spring as the Rays reload their vacant Bullpen. The emergence of possibly someone like Matt Bush, who started his career as the first overall pick of the Padres, then had a few unexpected moments before making his rebirth as a reliever.


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Briggy.jpgThe stories are all there. Enough for writers from every corner of the Tampa Bay area to scope out, research and analyze until their eyes blur. But today it is all about the rebirth of the season. The first step towards not only competing, but putting the competition back on their heels. Some say the next three games against the Pittsburgh Pirates is a bit anticlimactic, but this young Bucco team is hungry to make the same Spring jump the Rays did in 2008 and 2010. They are hungry to see the “W’s” multiply.


SpringOpener2011 226.JPGSo I was sure to plop on the sunscreen and apply a bit of logic to a first contest that would have bugs and flats moments, but give us a sense of what to expect in 2011. This is a great young squad that should be a pain in every team’s plans in 2011. It is a team reloading itself for the potential of having another string of highly competitive years, with a full arsenal of budding MLB stars ready to knock on the door. This might be the beginning of a beautiful Rays era started on the mound today by one of baseball most likable young stars.



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Some would say that Price is auditioning for that Opening Day nod today, but I beg to differ. I honestly feel Price is showcasing the next wave of Rays talent that is bubbling just below the surface and want to make an impression on the fans to know their names. Guys like catcher Robinson Chirinos, outfielder Brandon Guyer and Sam Fuld. When the Rays finalize their 25-man roster in less than four weeks there might be a few surprises, and a few disappointments.


But it all begins today, with an expected sweltering humid Florida afternoon game, offset by the cooling notion that baseball is back. I do not know about you, but I have waited for this moment since October and I can’t waif for these rot iron gates to swing open….Let the Spring begin!

 

 

 

A Beautiful Day for Spring Baseball

 
 
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Got to admit it here, I love it when the Tampa Bay Rays come north and play the Philadelphia Phillies during Spring Training. It is basically a Rays “homecoming” to their fans who do not have the time or resources to travel the 80 miles down to Port Charlotte, Florida for their Grapefruit League schedule. And making it a double pleasure is that the game is played at BrightHouse Field, which has to be one of the most beautiful baseball stadiums in Pinellas County.

So here we go as I pop on a few photos today on my journey northbound to the chilly tundra that is Clearwater, Florida. Seriously, when the game started on Sunday at 1 pm, it was 65 degrees, by the time the game was wrapped up with the Rays shutting down the Phillies 5-3 for their third victory of the Spring, it was down to 61 degrees. Not complaining, just found it kind of weird during such a sunny day with limited wind hitting you in the stands. But then again as I always say….If you do not like the weather in Florida, wait 15 minutes, it will change.

 
 
 
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Always wanted to be a fly-on-the-wall during a Rays Press Conference with Rays Manager Joe Maddon. Here we see the local media gurus along with Rays Vice President of Communications Rick Vaughn doing their daily pre-game meet and greet to discuss some of the days events, and even maybe get news on the expected signing of Free Agent Hank Blalock to join the Rays on a minor league contract. I want to just love to hear some of the news firsthand without the dissection of the Rays quotes and news for once. You know I could find a tidbit or two in just a 30 second voice blurp.
 
 
Also would love to hear what Maddon thinks about the possibility of Joe Dillon making this season’s 25-man roster. I find it kind of refreshing that Dillon has made it clear to the Rays and anyone that will listen that he plans to do whatever is necessary to show he has the abilities and the versatility to play almost anywhere for the team in 2010. Most people do not know this, but Dillon was actually Maddon choice as an emergency catcher if something would have happened in a game with his two normal catchers.
 
 
 
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That might be another reason Dillon has been catching more this season to make his stock rise above just being a utility player mostly playing in the infield. And during Batting Practice today, I saw him moving all around the infield from taking balls at third base, to manning the first base bag for a bit. Dillon did get in the game yesterday coming in for Elliot Johnson and playing third base, but went 0-2 in the game. Got to tell you, I always get a bit jealous of those corporate slugs across from me sitting in the Hooters VIP Diamond Dugout section. Not only do they get waitresses in skimpy Hooter attire, but they have almost instant access to the bench along with some great chicken wings and blue cheese.


 
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Got to befriend someone some day and see if I should be so jealous of this section….I think I would be no matter what. But I also find it kind of wild that in Bright House Field, the Phillies have two Hooters ball girls down the foul lines who sit in these nice canvas chairs with gloves in hand flirting with the fans and just looking pretty. Sure I have seen them get out of their chairs a few times, but I forget they are not there for their baseball skills but to look cute and smile for the fans. Always wondered why the Phillies did not bring down two of their regular season Philly Ballgirls who actually play softball for local leagues or college in the Philly area.

 

 
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Always love how the Rays players treat their younger fans. You do not get the total jest of it in this photo, but Elliot Johnson was actually throwing the ball with the young baseball player in red for about three minutes before the kid had to go back into the infield and stand for the National Anthem. You know it is moments like these that makes a child a baseball fan for life. And what a story he will have when he goes back to school on Monday telling all of his friends he threw a baseball with a Major League Baseball player… on the field before a game….priceless moment.

  
 
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Always love it when the United States Army’s Golden Knights parachute team does a pre-game event like this in BrightHouse Field. I have now seen it a few times and it is always a great spectacle and an extremely emotional sight seeing the billowing red smoke and the final recognition of our flag attached to his parachute. I find it really interesting to see this Sunday prior to the Oscars last night that saw the simply amazing film “The Hurt Locker” take the Best Film honors. I have to say I have seen the film and loved it for its realism and attention to military detail.

 
 
 
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What was amazing in this game on Sunday is we saw everyone of the Rays players fighting for a roster spot play in front of some of their hometown fans who came out and helped set a attendance record for a Spring Training game held at Bright House Field. 10,474 fans filled every nook and cranny of the stadium on Sunday. It was definitely standing room only out in the grassy berm areas, and the concession stands did look like the usual rush during a Rays/Yankees or Rays/Red Sox series. Even saw one of the Trop’s beer guys Mark working in the stands yesterday and it made the game feel more like a home game.

 
 
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Had a funny thing happen to me yesterday while I was sitting in the 7th row down in Section 104. Had an older gentleman tell us to either give him play-by-play of the game or shut up. My new found friends from Philly were a bit perplexed, but I reminded them that we do live in a retirement region here in Florida, and some people like to concentrate on the baseball game. I did not want to upstage the guy and tell him I would be more than willing to do audio for him of the game. The few fans around us were a bit upset, but for me, it was just business as usual in Florida. But I do understand the guy’s request.

We were talking about Philly places I knew and the Winter they just went through up there, and maybe this guy was not into our discussions. One of the Philly guys actually remarked that if we were in a movie theatre, it was not a problem to stop talking, but we were at a baseball game. I just laughed it all off and said it was fine, I could get some more photos and maybe get some much needed sun on my farmer-tanned bones. Funny it really got a few people around me upset, but I made sure they knew if it was Tropicana Field I might have kept talking, but since I was in someone else’s stadium, I respected the guy wearing his green Phillies cap.

 
 
 
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One thing I did notice was that Rays First Base Coach George Hendricks seemed a bit unprepared for this game today. I tried to ask someone in the Rays clubhouse if George’s usual number 25 jersey might not have made the trip north, but they were really closed-lipped about it. It was kind of funny to see him wearing that “95″ jersey, which usually a sure sign of a Rays minor leaguer getting a chance with the big club. Notice Hendrick’s batting helmet shows his “usual” jersey number 25 on it 

 
I tried to get George’s attention a few times during the middle of the innings to see if maybe the 25 jersey was still hanging up in the Coach’s area at the Rays Spring complex, but never got an answer back from him. Another wild moment was when Heath Phillips started the eighth inning and was relieved by Heath Rollins. I made a few people around me chuckle a bit when the first Rays pitcher who was about 250 pounds left the mound and I called the new pitcher “Heath” too. It was a unique situation and one you might not see during the regular season, but might be more commonplace during Spring Training.
 
 
 
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I also asked a few of the photographers about these wild looking silver camera I saw in at least three different spots around BrightHouse Field on Sunday. I was advised that they were permanent Major League Baseball Network cameras that got primary shots from the First Base, Third Base and Centerfield angles during Spring Training games. I had not even noticed them before and found it quite interesting they did not employ three different cameramen for these regions during telecasts earlier in the Spring.

 
Guess you learn something new every day at the ballpark during the Spring. I am going to be sure to also try and check out the Home and Visitor’s dugout at Tropicana Field to see if these might also be put into a permanent position around our home ballpark for game situations during the regular season. I know from walking around Charlotte Sports Park that the Rays do not have this capability yet, but who knows what might happen in the future.

 
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But it was a great simply beautiful day out in the sun in Florida on Sunday.  And the day was even made more special after Rays Radio man Rich Herrera yelled out “Renegade” from his silver car as he sped away from  a side street onto Old Coachman Road on his way home from the ballgame. Plenty of excited Rays fans and Phillies fans enjoying one of the best weather days this Spring. Congrats to the Phillies again for setting a new single game attendance record, and hopefully we can make another run at that record on Tuesday, March 23rd when the Rays come back to this amazing ballpark and I will sit instead out in the berm region to give a different prospective to this great ballpark.

 

Sean John or maybe S-Rod…Decisions, Decisions

 


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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.


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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.

Maddon has One More Math Problem to Solve this Spring

         

 

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

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

 
 

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

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

 
 

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

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

 

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

GailBurton/AP

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

 
 

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

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

 
 

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

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

 
 

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

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

 

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

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

 
 

 
Steve Nesius/ AP
 

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

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

Classic Rays versus Red Sox Game

 

               Red Sox 4,       Rays 3


Michael Dwyer / AP

This One Did NOT Hurt As Much

Every season you have games that will come down a test of wills at the plate. In last night’s game, Jonathan Papelbon won this first face-off of the season against the Rays. But even if you are a Red Sox or a Tampa Bay Rays fan, you had to enjoy this game for the pure pleasure of it being a ever-changing affair from the first pitch on. There was everything you want in a featured baseball game on ESPN.

You have the tale of the struggling hitter, the emotional pitchers from both teams, the outfielder who replaced a former Fenway legend who is making his own legacy, and you had a scattered amount of hits and runs to keep everyone interested until the last out. Heck, even the ninth inning pinch-hit by Carlos Pena had me at hello. Coming into that at bat, Pena was 1 for 3 against Papelbon with a home run. There was that instant anxiety that Pena, the MLB home run leader could take any pitch yard on him.

And there was the fact that Papelbon is usually at his best in this kind of scenario. Even with the count 3-2, you had to imagine what was going to happen next in this game. The only thing that spoiled it for me was the strikeouts. I know I am being a bit critical here, but I wanted to see the Boston defense step up and show their teeth or their obvious weakness tonight. When Dustin Pedroia left the game with a gimpy hammy, you knew the pressure would fall upon the Red Sox shoulder even harder to win this first series from the troublesome Rays.

But in the end, it was the flamboyant closer thrusting his fists and doing his best Joba Chamberlain impression. I am only hoping that the next time a Ray hits a homer off Papelbon, he gets the same greeting as Joba after Aubrey Huff took him yard on Sunday. This was the Rays 20th game against the American League East opponents , with two more on tap before they finally greet another A L Central opponent at home this next coming weekend. I mean let’s think about the game in a really abbreviated form.

The Red Sox ace, Josh Beckett had given up 25 runs and 44 hits since his Opening Day win over the Rays in Fenway. He had blossomed to a 8.13 ERA. He was ripe for the picking, and the Rays did not take full advantage of a guy who was having trouble with his fastball. But that is the game. You never know where your offense or your pitching will be at any moment.

The game did begin with a classic National League style run production after Carl Crawford got on base with a slap single to Mike Lowell at third base. Pat Burrell hit a nice slow rolling RBI-single to deep left and Crawford did what you have to do when he scored on the play. He bowled over Jason Varitek like we were taught in Little League. It was not a locomotive collision, but it was the classic side punch to get him off the plate and send a message slam. The Rays wanted this game, and even a great catcher was not going to stand in Crawford’s way tonight.


Michael Dwyer / AP

And what was even better, Willy Aybar, who gracefully pushed a catcher in Minnesota and cost the Rays a run in a Rays loss got a front row seat to it. Aybar now can see with his own eyes what playing the Rays way really means. You go all out no matter what…..even into a catcher. You might remember in Spring Training 2008, Elliot Johnson blew Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli to the backstop with a massive slam. Ironic that it was also seen as a catalyst by the Rays of the potential and the power of this teams confidence in 2008.

I hope the message got through to people on that bench. The emotion and the confidence is still within that roster, they just have to physically bring it to the surface, and the win will pile up again for the Rays. I heard a guy last night complain about B J Upton’s lack of aggression at the plate. Well, if he had really seen his last 10 at bat this series, you would see the slow evolution of his swing and that he is not long for a huge game. He needs to outwardly display that confidence, then the team will also respond accordingly.
 

People do not visualize that Upton is a key component in the Rays machine.  Without him 100 percent on-board and showing his abilities, this time is running on 7 cylinders. Great illustration of this was Upton’s blast down toward the leftfield corner in the fifth inning for a double. Then Crawford hit a bloop single in front of Jason Bay for an RBI single. With that RBI, Crawford is now tied with former Rays Aubrey Huff for the team RBI record ( 449). But if Upton needs to have a example of what it takes, he only has to look towards the On-Deck circle to Crawford.

Earlier in the year Crawford was beginning to slump a bit, but now he is one of the hottest hitters in baseball. And to add to that fire is the fact he is also the most feared man on the base paths right now. Of course in Boston they throw a few well phrased adult superlatives with his name, but that comes with success. Considering the fact that there are three players who have not hit their stride yet ( Dioner Navarro,Pat Burrell, Upton), this team is only 3-games below .500 right now. That is only 3-games off last years pace, and we have a harder schedule in 2009.

So we leave the confines of Fenway with out first losing series of the year against the Red Sox.  But this time, even the Red Sox Nation have to agree that this series was one of the best in the history of these two divisional rivals. Not just for the Rays huge win on Sat., but for the close games that could have gone either way with a few breaks. The best thing about this ever growing rivalry is that it is not going to die down anytime soon. Both teams are loaded in the minors, and they both will find incredible ways to beat the other team today, tomorrow and in the immediate future.


Michael Dwyer / AP

De-Fense, De-Fense

For some time, one of the biggest improvement over the Rays in recent years has been their commitment to their defense. Well, you have to give a huge amount of style points to the Rays last night, because their defense kept them in this contest. For one of the first games in recent memory, the Rays did not complete a single double play on the Boston hitters. But then again, the Rays defenders did keep their base runners to a minimum  thanks in part to a former Ray.

Nick Green has been removed from the Rays system for a few years, but he still has a fond place for the Rays. I do not think that was on his mind when he tried to stretch two single into doubles last night, but the Rays will thank him for the outfield assists and the outs. The first one came in the third inning off a hard hit ball bouncing off the Green Monster in leftfield that Crawford took fast and threw hard and true to the base to nab Green for Crawford’s team leading third assist of the year.

But then again in the fourth inning Green again tried to test his former infield teammate Ben Zobrist when he hit an RBI-single in the fourth inning to rightfield, and Zor-illa turned and fired a strike to nab him for the second time tonight to also get his second outfield assist of the season. Bartlett did not have to move an inch to take Zobrist’s throw in and tag Green in time to end the fourth inning on that play. I think the rest of the American League can attest to Upton and Gabe Gross having the rocket arms on this team, but Crawford and Zobrist will get their shots to disprove their own detractors this season. 

But the Rays defense was not perfect tonight either. Crawford almost got the Rays into early trouble when he overthrew to second base on a double by Jason Bay in the second inning. The ball went high and wide from Bartlett and the Rays had to scramble to get it before Bay knew what had happened on the play. But the Rays did have a helper in some of the defensive troubles tonight. The Red Sox secret weapon for years has been the Green Monster.

Several times in the game the wall made its presence known and take simple balls off it and transform them into directional switching ricochets that made the Rays scramble a bit. But every team has that home field advantage, but in Boston, it is a huge green painted wall that grins every time a ball hit it.


www.tbo.com

Pink Cleats almost become Verboten

I actually love the fact that MLB celebrates the holiday of Mother’s Day the way they do every season. I mean I remember a few years ago if you bought a certain dollar amount in the Team Store you got a make-up bag and small pillow embroidered with the pink ribbon and the MLB logo. Well, my  mother had passed in the last year, but I gave the pillow and the case to my daughter’s mother and she loved the thought, but she is a hockey fan. Oh well, such is life.

But the fact that the teams were a sea of pink wristbands and stretchable bands everywhere on their arms and wrists was amazing. And the pink bats were out on force with players suing them throughout baseball on Sunday. And with those bats being collected again and being offered on MLB.com’s auction site will bring in more great amounts of funds for the possible final solution to this  cancer that has taken so many of the people we love and know from our lives. 

Among those who are expected to wear the pink Reebok cleats are twelve players from the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, as well as the game’s umpiring crew and the entire Red Sox staff including Manager Terry Francona. Players “getting their pink on” include David Ortiz, Jonathan Papelbon and Tim Wakefield of the Red Sox and Gabe Gross, Grant Balfour and James Shields of the Rays, along with other players from both teams.

But I love the fact that MLB and the MBL Player Union finally let the player where those Reebok cleats with the pink striping in the game yesterday. There might not have been a huge display of the pink shoes, but thanks to Rays reliever Joe Nelson, it might not have even happened if not for his insight and call to the union about the exclusion of the shoes. You see, Nelson doesn’t get a pink bat, and his armbands can not adorn his body and arms on the mound. All he would have had to honor his mother-in-law that day would have been the glue able ribbon on his uniform top.

But after consulting the union and getting a ” we will work it out” response from the union on the Reebok situation, he was able to put on those pink striped cleats and show his support for this awesome cause. The original reason that the cleats were forbidden to be worn on the field was an outside of MLB sanctioned charity getting the proceeds from the future auction of these shoes. By the union and MLB taking into consideration the multiples of players and families that might be effected by exclusion of this display of support and honor, I commend MLB and the Player’s Union for their quick and positive actions.  The charity to be honored with the cleats is the Avon Foundation for women.

Most of the time this kind of decision-making can not be made on the fly. For the league and the union to step up and get a fast resolution and supportive stance will be a huge win-win for them in not only the public’s eye, but in the players too. Way to Go MLB and MLBPA for your insight and gracious admittance of this sign of support for guys who do not get to go to bat, or hit the mound during the game. You know their mother’s love you for it.

Just to let you know, the Florida Marlins also received batting gloves and cleats from Easton this week to wear on Sunday during their game against the Colorado Rockies. These items are also going to be made available in a future auction to benefit the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Marlins stars Hanley Ramirez, Luis Gonzalez and Cody Ross, who wear Easton goods during the season will be the highlighted players wearing the pink-hued accessories. It is just a great thing that so many of the games best have taken the time to honor not only their mothers’ today, but a chance to eliminate a horror that plagues women daily all over the world
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Rays End up Tying with Pirates

 

              
 

Oh this is going to be a long day, a stressful day and maybe even a day where I will be so tired I will just sleep here at the Spring Training complex then head north in the morning. The reason is complex. You see, I have a 1:05 pm game today in Port Charlotte, Florida, plus I have a 3 pm “live” ESPN MLBloggersphere Baseball draft. I am going to try to multi-task and keep my eyes on the game and the computer at the same time. I am anticipating a huge headache, so the Tylenol is loaded in the car, plus the sheets for me league can not spread out over the seats of the sold-out stadium.
 

So I am going to have to find a semi-quiet, but good view of the field so I can do both items at the same time without compromising either of them. This is a huge task, but I am up for it. I have my large Dr. Pepper at my side, with a huge chili dog and a bag of peanuts for the munchies during the draft. It should be exciting because everyone online seems to be anxious to see what kind of game everyone has with their drafting skills. Me, I am going to keep it simple and go for the big boys as early as possible, then take a few sleepers everyone forgot about in the later rounds. Either way, it is going to be a blast.
 

So here I am finally finding a spot, but it might be a bit noisy down by the kid’s play area down the right field line. But I have the permission of someone here in the stadium to pop my laptop into the electric plug and away we go with the pre-game rituals and the pre-draft anxious moments. I almost forgot what time it was and looked on my laptop to see that it was 2:30-ish. Time to crank up the volume and remove my eyes from this great game going on in front of me. So as I get ready to joy down a few names to search for that did not hit the top 200 players, I am cyber-wishing everyone luck and hope we have a great draft.
 
 

So, here is the non-draft portion of the blog. Here I am going to try and go play-by-play with you in the Sunday game. I always love coming down here to Charlotte Sports Park, but starting next week, I will be able to hustle on over to the other fields in the complex to check out the minor league games before the Rays play at 1 pm. I am excited to see some of these future stars of the Rays or other clubs take the field and show their stuff. That might even be another great thing to do before the Rays game the rest of the month. Come down and get 2 games for the price of 1. Check out the future of the Rays, then go watch the present guys take the field.  I think that plans is now written in stone for me.

 

Okay we have the Rays sending starter Matt Garza to the mound today for his second appearance of the spring. As we get started, the 6,968 fans in attendance seem to be poised and ready for a barn-burner today. It is extremely hot for this time of year with a small breeze blowing in from right field at game time. This is the first game of another home and home series for the Rays. Today in Port Charlotte, and tomorrow night in Bradenton for the first night game this year for the Pirates. You can always tell when it is about time for the real guys to get more at bats, the teams will play more games under the lights to acclimate themselves to the nightly routines of the regular season.
 

 
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Garza is done with his warm-up pitches and we are set to go today. The Pirates send center fielder Andrew McCutchen to the plate first today. He swings at the third pitch and sends a short squirming ball in front of the plate that Rays catcher Shawn Riggans picks up and throws down to Carlos Pena at first for the first out of the game. Jose Tabata then hit a one-hopper to Gabe Kapler in center field for the first hit of the day for the Pirates. Adam LaRoche then hits a towering fly to left fielder Carl Crawford, who puts it away for the second out of the inning. Tabata did not try to advance on the ball hit to left field. Craig Monroe, who has been hitting the ball for Pittsburgh then comes up and strikes out to end the inning.
 
 

The Pirates send Tom Gorzelanny to the mound today to face the Rays. This is not the first time the Rays have seen Gorzelanny. They also got to see him on June 29 in PNC Park during the Inter-League schedule. He pitched the Sunday finale and went 6 innings giving up 8 hits, with 2 runs and 2 homers, with 8 strikeouts that day.  He did not get the loss, but did pitch a great game. Justin Ruggiano comes to the plate first for the Rays and hit a ball to Andy LaRoche at third base on the first pitch. He easily takes the ball in and throws to Steve Pearce, who is playing first today for the first out. Crawford then come up and works a full count off of Gorzelanny, then ends up popping out to LaRoche at third base. Gabe Kapler then comes up and hit a sharp grounder again toward LaRoche that he easily fields and complete the play for the third out of the inning. All three outs in the first inning had LaRoche’s fingerprints all over them.
 

The Rays send Garza back to the mound for the second inning. Pearce is the first batter of the inning and he hit a high fly ball towards the right-center field gap that Kapler adjusts to and finally brings in for the first out. Kapler was moving around a lot in the outfield before that play and might have been blinded for a second by the sun. Andy LaRoche then walks to give the Pirates their first base runner of the inning. Shortstop Brian Bixler then comes up and hit a single to center field to put 2 men on base with one out in the inning. Garza has been having a little trouble so far in the game by falling behind early against the first three hitters. Luis Cruz then comes to the plate and hit a sharp liner right to Morgan Ensberg at third base, who quickly catches LaRoche off the second base bag for a L-5, then a 5-4 force out on LaRoche to end the inning .
 

Carlos Pena leads off for the Rays and gets Gorzelanny to a full count before flying out to McCutchen in center field for the first out. Pena doesn’t seem to have his timing down yet this spring. But with almost three weeks until Opening Day, you can be sure he will be ready in time for the season.  Pat Burrell then comes up and ens up fouling the ball off into the glove of Pirates catcher Jason Jarmillo, who holds on for the second out of the inning.  Ensberg then comes up and drills a ball to left field over third base for the first Rays hit of the day.  Reid Brignac, who started at shortstop today then hit a fly ball to McCutchen for the third out of the inning.

 
                              

 

Garza take the mound for the third inning as the Rays are starting to let their starters extend themselves more this spring. Jaramillio comes to the plate and hit a short grounder towards Garza that he fields and quickly get to Pena for the first out of the inning. If teams knew that Garza has a weakness fielding the ball, they have not focused on it this spring. McCutchen then comes up and strikes out swinging to get two quick outs in the inning. Tabata then comes up and hit a monster towards the center field gap over Kapler’s head and it two-bounces to the wall for a double. Adam LaRoche is now at the plate for the Pirates. After the second pitch to LaRoche, Riggans fires a ball towards second and almost gets Tabata looking. It was a strong on line throw that only missed the tag out by a milli-second. LaRoche then lifts a fly ball to Ruggiano in right for the last out of the inning.

 

Gorzelanny, who will be in the starting rotation for the Pirates takes the mound for the bottom of the third inning. Riggans comes to the plate and hit a nice hard grounder that comes up on Cruz and he is on with a infield single to start off the inning. Adam Kennedy then comes up and take a pitch inside that he fights off for a bloop single beyond the second base bag for the second straight Rays hit. It seemed he broke his bat on the ball, or Cruz might of had a play on the ball. Ruggiano then comes to the plate and hit a nice single down the line at third for the third Rays hit in a row off Gorzelanny.  Crawford then hit a ball towards the right of Pearce, who fields the ball and throws to second to get Ruggiano with the force out, Cruz tries to turn two, but the speedy Crawford is already past the bag with a fielder[s choice on the play. Riggans scored on the play and Kennedy moved to third base. Kapler then  hits a screamer towards left field  for a RBI-double, but Tabata fields the ball quickly and fires towards Jaramillo who tags out Crawford right before he reached the plate. Pena then hit a ball to Cruz, who throws to Pearce to end the Rays rally. At this point, it is now 2-0 Tampa Bay. This would be Gorzelanny’s last batter and he went 3 innings with 5 hits and 2 runs and 1 strike out in the game.

Garza again comes out for the Rays and now is in his deepest outing of the spring. Monroe comes to the plate first for the Pirates and hit a pop up just into fair territory for a fly out to Rigggans. Pearce then hit a sharp ball down toward third base that seems to handcuffs Ensberg, who then throws a late ball towards first base. On the bobbling of the ball, he is given an error on the play. Andy LaRoche then hit a fly ball to Kapler for the second out if the inning. With Bixler come up to the plate and Pearce still on first the Pirates are down to their last out in the inning. After three pitches to Bixler, Pearce tries to steal second base and is thrown out easily by Riggans to Kennedy for the third out of the inning.  This would complete Garza’s day in which he went 4 innings, with 3 hits, a walk and 2 strikeouts on the day.
 

Jeff Ka
rstens take the rubber for the Pirates and Burrell quickly get a single to left field to lead off the inning for the Rays. Ensberg then hit a short blooper towards center field that McCutchen dives for and just gets the ball for the out. He was moving so fast that he lost his cap upon contact with the turf. Brignac then come out and hit a long fly ball to right field, but it is not deep enough for Burrell to try and advance on it. Riggans then comes up and goes down swinging to set the Rays down in the inning.

 

Troy Percival comes out for the second appearance of the spring. During his first outing he was hitting the inside corners of the plate trying to jam hitters and produced a beautiful inning of work. Today Bixler leads off the inning by striking out swinging on an off-speed pitch by Percival. Cruz then comes up and gets jammed inside and pops a high fly ball towards Ensberg that he fights off the glaring sun twice before finally being able to bring it into his glove. He pumps his fists in the air high and the crowd goes wild for him. Jaramillo then hit a soft grounder to Kennedy for a quick 1-2-3 inning for Percival. This is his second 1-2-3 inning of the Spring. Percival still sports a perfect 0.00 ERA in his 2 appearances this spring.
 

Karstens takes the mound again for the Pirates and faces Kennedy first. He ends up hitting a fly ball to left field that is easily handled by Tabata. Ruggiano then come on and hit a grounder to Bixler at shortstop for an easy 6-3 play to Pearce. Crawford then fights off a few pitches and again hit a grounder towards Bixler that is taken in and throw to Pearce to complete the inning. It was an easy 1-2-3 inning for Karstens.  But the Ray are still ahead in the game 2-0.
.

 


 

The Rays send mending reliever Jason Isringhausen to the mound for his first spring action for the Rays. Isringhausen came to the Rays after a wild and turbulent 2008 season with the St. Louis Cardinals. He is trying to re-establish himself with the Rays, and if he does, he will be a tremendous asset to the team in the Bullpen. That would give the Rays two men who have over 290 saves on the All-Time save list. McCutchen comes to the plate first this inning and hit a triple to Kapler in center field. Kapler can not handle the ball before McCuthen is past second and only get the ball back into the infield when he strikes the third base bag. Tabata then hit a sacrifice fly to Crawford to score the first run of the day for the Pirates.  Adam LaRoche then hit a ball to the right of Pena, who ends up flipping the ball to Isringhausen for the second out.  Monroe then comes up and strikes out on a nice breaking pitch from Isringhausen to end the inning with the score now 2-1 Rays.
 

Karsten comes out for his final inning in the bottom of the sixth and faces Kapler to lead off the inning. Kapler hit a grounder to Adam LaRoche at third base, who gets Kapler in time for the first out. Pena then hit a ball high into the sun in left field and Tabata has to shade his eyes three times before finally taking the ball in for the second out of the inning. Burrell then hit another single down the third baseline for a single, his second of the day. Morgan Ensberg then comes to the plate for the Rays. After the fourth pitch to Ensberg, Burrell takes off towards second and is easily thrown out by Jaramillo to Cruz to end the inning. Karstens went 3 innings and gave up 2 hits and got 1 strikeout in his outing.
 
 

The Rays send set-up man Dan Wheeler to the mound for the top of the 7th inning. This is also Wheeler second appearance this spring. First to bat for the Pirates will be Pearce. He quickly hit a grounder towards Brignac at short and is thrown out in time for the first out of the inning. Andy LaRoche, who is on fire at the plate this spring for the Pirates then hit a long deep homer into left center field over the Boardwalk for a solo home run. Still out of sorts a bit by the pitch Wheeler then gives up a triple to Bixler to the left center field wall.  Cruz is next up for the Pirates. During the at bat, Wheeler throws a breaking ball 55 feet to the plate and Riggans blocks it and pushes it toward the front of the plate in case Bixler is coming in from third. the play might have saved a run for the Rays. Cruz is then hit by a slow breaking ball and the Pirates have men on the corners with one out. Jaramillo then comes to the plate and hit s ball towards Chris Richard at first base, who turns and fires toward Brignac at second for the force play, but he can not take in the return throw and gets charged with an error on the play. Bixler also scores to put the Pirate ahead in the game 3-2.  McCutchen then comes up and strike out to end the Pirates rally.
 
 

Tyler Yates come out for the Pirates in the bottom of the 7th inning. He first faces Ensberg, who gets a full count before hit a long fly ball to McCutchen in center field for the first out of the inning. Brignac then hit a monster solo home run that misses me by about 20 feet to my right. I did not hear the ball even come off the bat since I was typing in a search for a player I was going to draft deep in my “live” draft today. The homer by Brignac tied the game at 3-all.  I would have gotten up and tried for the ball if I saw it in the air. Riggans then comes up and goes down swinging for the second out. Kennedy then completes the inning by also striking out to end the Rays chance for more runs in the inning.
 
 

Grant Balfour came out to the mound for the Rays in the eighth inning. Tabata quickly went down after a nice fastball over the outside corner for a called third strike. Adam LaRoche then hit a nice flair to center field that one-hopped to Kapler for a single. Garret Jone, who came in to play first base, then hit a breaking ball for a single to right field to put two men on base with one out. Pearce then came up and hit a ball to Sadler in  shallow right for the second out. Neil Walker then came up and hit a single to right field to load the bases with two outs. Bixler then ended the drama by striking out on a called third strike to strand three base runners in the inning. This would be the only inning for Balfour, who allowed 3-hits and no runs, but also got 2 much needed strikeouts.

 
 

 

Sean Burnett came to the mound for the Pirates in the bottom of the eighth inning. Ray Sadler lead off the inning with double down the right field line that trickled into the corner. Jon Weber then struck out on 5 pitches for the Rays first out. During Weber’s at bat Sadler stole third base. Elliot Johnson then hit a line drive to left field that scored Sadler. Willy Aybar the  came up and Johnson stole second base, then moved onto third after Burnett threw a wild pitch into the dirt. Aybar then hit a hard shot towards Walker at third base that he ended up coming in on, but could not get Aybar in time for the infield single. He also could not prevent the run from scoring. Ray Olmedo then hit a blooper down the right field line that was bobbled by Jones at first and the Rays had men at first and  second with two outs. Tim Beckham the Rays 2008 First Round Draft pick , then came up and hit a double down the right field line to score both Aybar and Olmedo. Beckham could have gotten a triple, but he fell down between second and third and had to go back to second base. Matt Spring then came up and hit a blooper in front of the plate that Jaramillo easily threw to Pearce to get out of the inning.
 
 

With the Rays now up 7-3 in the top of the ninth inning, they sent out veteran reliever Joe Nelson to complete the game for the Rays. Anderson Machado came to the plate first for the Pirates. He ended up getting a flair single to right field off of Nelson on a hanging breaking ball. Jaramillo then hit a liner to Beckham at shortstop for the first out of the inning.  McCutchen then struck out swinging for the second out.  The Rays now needed one out for the win. Tabata came to the plate ans was hit by Nelson. Pedro Alvarez then pinch hit and drove a ball half way up onto the Batter’s Eye blackout spot in center field for a 3-run homer and brought the Pirates to within one run of tying the game.  Jones then came up and took the third pitch he saw up and over the Rays Bullpen for a solo shot and to tie the core at 7-7.  Again, another ball hit within 20 feet of me, but I was in the middle of the 5th round of picks and could not get up in time to even think of chasing that ball down. And no one was out here…..argggggggg. Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out and replaced Nelson with Jason Childers. He only had to face one batter as he got Pearce to strikeout to end the rally. 
 

 
Jason Davis came out for the Pirates in the bottom of the ninth knowing he might have to shut down the Rays for his team to have a chance in this contest. He got lead off man Chris Nowak, who was now playing third base to hit a grounder to Machado for an easily 4-3 play for the first out. Sadler then came up and tried to end the game on one swing with a long fly ball to right field that was cut down by the wind. Weber then struck out for the second time today to end the Rays chance to win this one in regulation.
 
 

The Rays sent out non-roster invitee Winston Abreu for the top of the tenth inning. He first faced Walker, who struck out swinging on 5 pitches. Bixler then came up and also struck out swinging. Then Machado came up and hit a soft grounder to Olmedo at second, who quickly threw to Richard to get out of the inning fast. Davis came out again for the Pirates in the tenth inning. Johnson came to the plate first and hit a high fly ball to left field that looked to confuse Tabata before he regrouped and finally caught the ball for the first out of the inning. Richard then struck out for a quick second out in the inning. Michel Hernandez then liner to right field for a single. Olmedo then hit a single between the holes between first and second to give the Rays a chance to walk off with a win. But Beckham ended that by striking out to end the Rays rally.
 

At the top of the eleventh inning, the umpires advised both benches that this would be the last inning of the ball game. If no one has taken a lead by the end of the inning, it would be a tie contest. With that in mind, the Rays sent Julio DePaula to the mound. Pirates catcher Steve Lerud was the first man to the plate and hit a fly ball out to left field on the first pitch of the inning. McCutchen then hit a single to left-center that split the two outfielders. Tabata then hit a sharp ball to Beckham that he threw to first base to get the runner in time. This put the go-ahead run on second base with two outs in the inning for the Pirates. Alvarez then hit a ball off the end of the bat to DePaula, who quickly turned and threw to Richard to end the inning and the Pirates chances to win this game.
 
 

Evan Meek came to the mound to try and seal the tie at least for the Pirates, Meeks, a former Rays farmhand had been the Pirates 2008 Rule 5 pick and was trying to seal a spot in the Bullpen for 2009. He first faced Spring, who popped out off the handle of the bat to Bixler at shortstop for the first out of the inning. Chris Nowak then hit a hard grounder to the right of Pearce, but he smothered the ball and tossed it to Meek for a 3-1 put out. This gave the Rays one last out in the game for either a win or a tie score. Sadler the struck out to end the game and  preserve the tie for the Pirates.
 
 

At the time this was going on I was in the middle of the 22 round when I picked Jason Giambi, who people forgot was on the board. Anyways, the pitching of Joe Nelson doomed the Rays to a tie tonight. This is only the second time he has also taken the hill this spring and it is good now that he is seeing the problems and not in the late innings of a game in April or May. With time his command and his placement will get better and better. But at this time he is not in the right pitching mode to be a consistent reliever for the Rays. But as we all know, we have more than 20 days until doom and gloom can hit the pages for real, and with that this was just a bad outing …..period. That is the lifestyle of a MLB reliever. Some days you have the world striking out at your feet, and on other they are hitting you like a pinball machine. I hope Nelson can get it together because he is a great signing by the Rays and just might lack the in-game workouts to further his development this spring.
 
 
 

  

Photo credits:             1)  Associated Press ( Tiffany Tompkins )
                                    2) RRCollections
                                    3)  Associated Press ( Keith Srakoci )
                                    4) www.TBO.com 
 
 

Red Sox Dissect Rays Pitching for Win

 
     

 

Okay,
here we are with the second half of the home and home series today in Fort
Myers. The Rays kind of put the Red Sox fans in the back of their seats
yesterday, but today’s contest is a whole different ball game. Not only will the
Red Sox be in their home stadium, but they will have the multitudes of Red Sox
fans who love to cheer on their team. I do have to make a note that yesterday’s
game had a total of 7,148 fans in and around the stadium, which is a new record
for this young stadium location. I do have to say that at some point in the
berms and the outfield it was total standing room
only. 

 

 
I do
have a huge suggestion to the Rays and the Sandcrabs for future games in this
stadium. It seems that we need a secondary speaker system throughout the
outfield section of the stadium. Maybe a series of those upside down speakers
that look like  free standing light poles could be put in areas around the kids
area and near the boardwalk and Tiki Hut. You can hear the game, but you get a
delayed  sight to sound response because of no audio out in that area of the
ball park. I play my game day audio from my laptop to hear it no matter where I
am in the stadium, but some games are not on the radio.  Just a thought. Now
let’s get back to our Sunday recap of the Rays versus the Red Sox
game.

 

 
The Rays
sent Wade Davis, one of their top prospects from Triple-A to the mound today.
Davis has been tweaking a few of his pitches and has had a few outstanding
performances this spring. But he is penciled into be sent to the minor league
camp sometime in the near future to begin his season in Triple-A again for the
Durham Bulls. Davis will make his major league debut sometime in 2009 with the
club, but I do not see him winning the fifth rotation spot this spring. With
that said, another guy who might have pitched his way out of contention for the
fifth spot is Mitch Talbot. But if you really consider the top three pitchers
for the Rays at their Triple-A level in 2009 of David Price, Davis and Talbot.
There are club throughout baseball who would love to have that kind of
consistent staff starters in their
ranks.


                       
 
 
The
game got off to start with the Boston Red Sox sending Justin Masterson to the
mound. The wild thing about Masterson is that he can be in the same boat as Jeff
Niemann and Jason Hammel this year. He can be both a starter or a reliever for
the team and might make some heads turn with a great outing today. With Brad
Penny not throwing yet in Spring Training, he could get a start or two early in
the year, then settle into the Bullpen for 2009.  Fernando Perez lead off for
the Rays today and quickly hit a grounder to Julio Lugo, who was
playing shortstop today for Boston. Adam Kennedy then struck out. Evan Longoria
then hit another grounder to Nick Green  who threw out Longoria to end the
inning 1-2-3 for Boston.

 

 
Wade
Davis came out for the Rays and gave up a sharply hit single down the third base
line that eluded Longoria. Rocco Baldelli then came up and hit a ball to
Longoria that he quickly threw to Kennedy at second base to force out Lugo.
Jason Varitek then came up and struck out.  J D Drew then walked to put me at
first and second base. Lars Anderson then hit a RBI single through the hole at
short into left field and the throw to the plate was cut off and Baldelli scored
to put Boston in front 1-0. Zack Deages then struck out to end the Boston rally
stranding two runners on base.

 

 
Masterson again came out for the top of the second inning and got
Carlos Pena to strike out to lead off the inning. Dioner Navarro then hit a long
fly ball to left field that Zack Daeges caught for the second out. Gabe Gross
then hit a single to right center field for the first Rays hot of the day.Morgan
Ensberg then came up and struck out to end the Rays chances in the
inning.

 

 
Davis
also again took the mound for the Rays  and got Jonathan Van Every to hit a ball
down the first base line and covered first for a flip from Pena for the first
out. Green then took the first pitch from Davis and drilled it past the left
field fence and onto the adjacent field’s dugout for a solo home run. Ivan Ochoa
then put a nice bunt down the third base line to get an infield single. Lugo
then came up and hit a screaming RBI double to left center field to easily score
Ochoa. Baldelli then struck out. Varitek came up and hit a single to left field
that split the outfielders, but Lugo tired to score from second base and was
thrown out at the plate by Ray Sadler in left field to end the inning. Boston
was ahead at that point 3-0 over the
Rays.

 


 
Masterson came out for his third inning and quickly got Sadler to
hit a grounder to Lugo, who got him in time at first base. Elliot Johnson then
hit a  fly ball to Drew in right field for the second out of the inning. Perez
then came up and hit  a ball to the left of Masterson that he quickly picked up
and fired to first barely getting Perez in time. At that point, Masterson had
gone 3 innings and had given up only 1 hit, with 3 strike outs against the
Rays.

 

 
Davis
came to the mound in the top of the third again for the Rays and got Drew to hit
a quick fly ball to Gross in right field for the first out.  Anderson then
walked to give Boston their first runner of the inning. Daeges then hit a
2-run home run to right-center field. Van Every hit a foul pop-out to Longoria
and quickly the Red Sox had two outs in the inning. Green then came up and hit a
double to left field and after that Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out to make a
pitching change. The Rays brought in Calvin Medlock, who quickly gave up a RBI
single to Ochoa to right field.  Lugo then came up and hit a double to left
field that scored Ochoa. For the day, Lugo went 3-3 against Rays pitching.
Baldelli then came up and hit a foul pop-up to first base to end the inning with
the Red Sox up 7-0.

 

                  

In the fourth inning, the Red Sox sent closer Jonathan Papelbon to
the mound to face the Rays. He got Kennedy to strike out to lead off the inning.
Longoria then took his first pitch to right-center field for a single. Pena then
struck out to give the Rays one last out in the inning. Navarro hit a single to
left field, but Longoria stopped at second on the play.  Gross then came up and
struck out to end the inning. Even though Papelbon gave up two hits in the
inning, all three outs were
strikeouts.

 

 
Dewon
Day came out for the Rays in the bottom of the fourth inning. He quickly got
Varitek to ground out. He then fooled Drew with a nice breaking ball for a
strikeout.  Anderson then came on and hit a hard smash to Chris Richard, who was
now on first for the Rays. Day was backing up Richards on the play and Richards
tossed the ball to Day, who dropped the ball. Day was given an error on the play.
Daeges struck out to end the Red Sox
Rally.

 

The
heralded prospect Daniel Bard then took the mound for the Red Sox. In a recent
game, Bard had thrown over 100 mph on the stadium’s jugs gun.  He got Ensberg to
strikeout for the first out of the inning. Sadler then followed with a
strikeout. Bard completed the trio as he got Johnson to also strike out to send
the Rays down 1-2-3 in the inning. At that point in the game, the Rays had
struck out swinging in six straight at bats, with only Gross being a called
third strike.

 

Day came
out again for the Rays and walked Van Every to lead off the inning. Green then
hit a fly out to Sadler that he easily caught for the first out. Ochoa was
fooled on a breaking pitch outside for a strikeout. Lugo then walked to give
Boston two men on base in the inning. George Kottaras then pinch hit and was hit
by the pitch to load the bases with two outs. With Varitek at the plate, Day
threw a wild pitch and Van Every tried to score from third base on the play.
Navarro quickly got the ball to Day, who tagged out Van Every before he reached
the plate for the third out of the
inning.

 

                      
 

Japanese
pitcher Junichi Tazawa then came on to pitch for Boston. Tazawa was the young
pitcher that did not go into the Japanese Baseball League before signing with
Boston this off season.  He might not make the 25-man roster of the big club
this year, but this was the first time the Rays would see him pitch outside of
Japan.  Tazawa’s first pitch to Perez was rifled into center field for a lead
off single. Kennedy then hit a double into left center field that scored Perez
from first base.  Longoria then struck out for the first out of the inning.
Richard also struck out, and Varitek threw a strike to third base to nail
Kennedy who was trying to advance on the play for the final out of the
inning.

 

 
Winston
Abreu then took the mound for the Rays. He got Varitek to quickly fly out to
right field for the first out. Josh Reddick, who came in to replace Drew in
right field then hit a fly ball to Johnson at shortstop. Anderson then hit a fly
to Longoria to complete the first 1-2-3 inning for the Rays today.  But Boston
still lead 7-1 in the game.
Tazawa came back out for the eighth inning and quickly got Reid
Brignac, who came in to play shortstop to strike out. He then got Ben Zorbrist,
who came in to play second base to fly out to center field, The Ensberg struck
out to give Boston a 1-2-3 inning against the
Rays.

 
 

 

 

Abreu
again took the mound for Tampa Bay and he went straight to work striking out
Daeges to lead off the inning.  At that point, Abreu had gone 4-up, 4- down for
the Rays Maddon again came out and swapped Abreu for Chad Orvella with one out
in the inning. Orvella, who is fighting for a roster spot after coming back from
a shoulder injury gave up a towering solo shot to right field to the next
batter, Van Every. This is the second homer in two days against the Rays for Van
Every.  Gil Velazquez  then hit ball to Chris Nowak at third base. Nowak got off
a bad throw that seemed to two-hop before Richard dug it out at first for an out.
Ochoa ended the inning by striking
out.

 

 
The Rays
sent Rule-5 player Derek Rodriguez to the mound for the 8th inning.  Rodriguez,
who the Rays picked up off the Rule 5 draft from the Red Sox, quickly got
Argenis Diaz to fly out to right to start off the inning.  Kottaras also hit a
long fly ball to right that Justin Ruggiano caught for the second out. Pinch
hitter Carlos Maldonado then hit a slicer to Brignac at shortstop that he
quickly threw to first to get Boston 1-2-3 in the
inning . In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Red Sox sent Michael Bowden to the mound. Rugginao lead off the inning with a single to center field. He then stole second base to put himself in scoring position for the Rays. Johnson then walked. The Rays then attempted a double-steal with Johnson and Ruggiano taking second and third base respectively. John Jaso the  struck out for the first out of the inning. Jon Weber then hit a sacrifice fly to left field to score Ruggiano. Weber has no produced 7 RBI’s in the last two games for the Rays. Chris Nowak then hit a pop-out to first base to end the rally for the Rays.

 

 
Hunter
Jones took the mound to try and preserve the Red Sox victory. Jones is a
prospect in the Red Sox system who once broke his arm in three spots and had to
have multiple plates in his arm to heal the bones correctly. He gave up a
lead-off single to Richard to right center field. Brignac then struck out on a
nice called third strike. Zorbrist hit a ball to center that was easily caught
by Van Every. that left the Rays with one out to play with against the Red Sox.
Tim Beckham came up as a pinch hitter and hit a sharp ball to Diaz, but he
quickly threw the ball to end the game for the Rays. the final score was 8-2
Boston. It also marked the first win in three tries against the Rays this
spring.

 

 
For the
Rays, the game seemed to bring out some impatience in the Rays batters. For the
day they struck out 15 times, including 4 times to Tazawa in the game. For the Rays to
be productive against any team, mush less the Red Sox, they must be patient at
the plate. Tomorrow the Rays will again travel to Fort Myers where they will
take on the Minnesota Twins in a 1:05 contest. Leftie Scott Kazmir will be
making his spring debut on the mound for the
Rays.

 
 
Photo credits for today’s blog
go to www.boston.com,
and
www.tbo.com

 

Rays get Blasted by the Long Ball

 

 
 

Boy I can tell you that it was a beautiful day in Clearwater, Florida today for at least one team. But the atmosphere was electric and the Tampa Bay Rays kept looking in the stands during Batting Practice smiling and waving to some of the Tropicana Field faithful who came up to Bright House Networks Field to see the boys on their first trip back to the home county. Most of the team’s starters did not make the trip up, but a few of them were greeted and applauded all the same. Ex-Phillie Pat Burrell made sure that he and Elvis, his English Bulldog/Security Guard made the rounds in the Phillies locker room before the game.
 
 
But to Burrell’s amazement and his astonishment, the loud clap and screaming for him as he came up for his first at bat simply took his breath away. That was a very classy move by the Philly fans, and I loved the he was given the accolades he deserved today. Something I also found amazing was the changes at the old ballpark since I was there last Spring. When I sat in the Tiki Terrace last year, millions of kids could stroll down and snag foul balls and B P  fly balls then scamper up to a player and get them signed. This year it would take a wristband and a bright red stamp on your ticket to get you even into this section.

 
 
I took my little spot at about 10:45 am right on the rail near the Bullpen door and got two quick balls, but I gave them both to people beyond the netting near the Tiki Bar. I get about 5 balls a game at the Trop.,  and I seem to always give two away minimum, so why mess with tradition in some else’s ballpark. I also got to chat with a few people on the Rays about some thing that were going on in the franchise. Usual Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos and Pitching Coach Jim Hickey were traveling together to the game today and did not get there in time to see Mitch Talbot warm-up. But Bullpen catcher Scott Cursi and Assistant Pitching Coach/ TV Announcer Brian Anderson got everything under control and there did not even seem like there was a missing cog in the works.

 
Before I talk about the game, let me tell you that there was an amazing breeze that seems to keep you from sweating or even consider a hint of sweat. I was an amazing breeze coming out if the south and was blowing an easy 10-15 mph during most of the game. Now I am not complaining about it, it kept me nice and cool the entire game and provided a great conversation point later in the day. But before I start I have to say that I had a fantastic time chatting with a Bachelor Party that was attending today’s game. Their ” Down Goes Frazier” T-shirts were amazing, and the guys even talked to a few Rays fans during the game. Except for the odd Pina Colada or Margarita, these guys were having the time of their lives. So I wanted to thank them for being so cool and really making my day feel better after looking at the scoreboard.
 
 

The Philadelphia Phillies sent pitcher Kyle Kendricks to the mound today to stake his claim on their fifth rotation spot for 2009. You might remember that in 2007, he was the subject of an incredible practical joke thought up by the devious mind of pitcher Brett Myers. They had poor Kendricks convinced he was being traded to a Japanese team in exchange for a player named Kobayashi Iwamura. When the practical joke finally fell to it conclusion, you could hear Meyers yelling, “You got traded for a Hot Dog eater!” If you have not seen it, be sure to check it out on www.Youtube.com. I still check it out when I am in a bad mood.  The funny part is both the media and the Phillies front office played along with it until someone could not help but laugh out loud and the gig was up.  Classic Spring Training fun!

 
 

 

So, Kendricks took the mound and had a bit of a rough time in the first inning. Justin Ruggiano, who was playing center field today got on the board in the first inning on a error by Phillie Miguel Cairo at second base.  Ruggiano then tried to steal second, and Phillie catcher Ronny Paulino cut him down for the second out of the inning. A few pitches later, second baseman ( for the day) Willy Aybar hit a ball that one-hopped to the wall in center field for a double. With Aybar is scoring position, Pat Burrell came up for the first time today to an explosive ovation and proceeded to pop out to Cairo to end the inning.  The Rays sent minor league prospect Mitch Talbot to the mound. Talbot, who was making his second appearance of the spring, is still in the running for the Rays fifth rotation spot.

 
 

But after the first inning against the Phillies normal starters, he might have hurt his chances a bit because of the wind. Talbot has a very heavy sinker ball that usually produces some great fly ball outs. But in today’s game, those pitches were added by the up force of the wind and made for an interesting afternoon. Jimmy Rollins came up first today and hit a soft floater that was heading for the third base foul line before falling in between left fielder Ray Sadler and Ray Olmedo. Shane Victorino then came up and stroked a nice ball down the third baseline that Gabe Kapler could not get back into the infield in time to catch the speedy Rollins from scoring. This was an interesting point because Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel wants to use Victorino in the second slot in the lineup. One of the main characteristics of this spot in the lineup is hitting to the opposite field to help get the man in front of him into scoring position. He did a prefect job today of that in his first at bat.
 
 

But that was not the end of the inning. After Raul Ibanez hit a nice long fly to Ruggiano to left-center, the fun was only about to begin for the Phillies. Ryan Howard then came up and hit a 2-run shot into the chair area of the Rays Bullpen for a 3-0 Phillies lead. The opposite field homer was never in doubt once it left his bat. John Mayberry Junior then came up and slapped another ball 5 rows above me in the Tiki Terrace to add another run in the inning. But that was not the end of all the fun yet either. After Greg Dobbs hit a nice fly ball to Kapler in right, Miguel Cairo came up. Cairo was brought into camp to fight for a utility position, and might get added playing time until Chase Utley comes back into the Phillie lineup. Cairo hit a long towering ball that cleared the Tiki Bar for another homer, and staked the Phillies to a 5-0 lead.

 
 

 

Kendricks came out again in the second inning and got Chris Richard to hit a foul pop-up that took third baseman Jason Donald into the stands, but he held on for the first out of the inning. Morgan Ensberg, who is trying to get some exposure hit a grounder to Howard at first and he took care of it unassisted for the second out. The Sadler came up and hit a monster into the Phillies Bullpen to give the Rays their first run of the game. Shawn Riggans then hit into a 4-3 to end the inning with the score 5-1 Phillies.  Talbot might be guilty of not making the correct adjustments during the innings, and because of it, got hit around pretty good.  Talbot did come out with a better mindset in the bottom of the second inning, and he sent down the Phillies 1-2-3 to finish the inning with no more damage.

 
 

In the third inning, Kendricks started the inning by giving up a infield single to Olmedo on a ball hit to Cairo. Olmedo then tried to advance on a hard hit ball by Kapler that was caught by Rollins, and got doubled up on the play to produce two quick outs. Ruggiano then came up and hit a nice dropping ball to center field that eluded Mayberry and ended up with a triple on the play. Kendricks was then replaced by reliever Drew Naylor, who got Aybar to hit a grounder to Cairo, who threw to first to get out of the inning. Rays Manager Joe Maddon let Talbot take the mound for the third inning and he got Ibanez first with a sharp fly to Sadler in right for the first out. Howard then came out and beat out a throw from deep shortstop by Olmedo for an infield single. The Talbot produced two straight ground ball outs from both Mayberry and Dobbs to end his pitching day.
 
 

In the fourth inning, the Rays again has Naylor on the mound and Burrell put a slicing ball down the third baseline to the corner for a lead-off double.  But Burrell got not help this inning as Chris Richards flew out to Ibanez, Ensberg popped out to Howard, and Sadler was caught looking for a called third strike to end the Rays rally. Rays reliever Lance Cormier then came on to replace Talbot and Cairo quickly took advantage of him for a double down the right field line. Donald then hit a nice looper to center that scored Cairo. Cormier then hit Paulino with a pitch, and Rollins put down a nice bunt that Cormier picked up the threw to Richards for the second out. Victorino then struck out, and Ibanez hit a grounder to second to get Cormier out of the inning with no problems.

 
Naylor still remained on the mound for the fifth inning and the first batter, Shawn Riggans hit a sharp liner to Cairo, but he held onto the ball for the first out. Olmedo then hit a single to center field. Naylor tried to pick off Olmedo, but the ball went off Howards glove and he went into second base on the error. Olmedo then stole third base and put himself in scoring position. Ruugiano then produced his second hit of the day to drive in Olmedo for the Rays second run. Adam Kennedy and pinch-hitter Fernando Perez quickly produced the last two outs to get Naylor out if the inning with only one run scored on him.  Cormier again came out and got the Phillies 1-2-3 to finish off the 5th inning. At that point, it was the Phillies leading 6-2
 
 

The Phillies then  sent out non-roster invitee Mike Koplove for the sixth inning. Richards got a walk to lead off the inning, and after  a fly out to center field, Sadler hit into a 6-4-3 double play to make quick work of the Rays in the inning. The Rays countered with sending reliever J P Howell out and he quickly got Donald to hit a grounder to Ensberg at third who threw him out easily at first base. Howell then  tried to sneak a curveball by Paulino, who hit the ball beyond the Tiki Terrace for a solo home run. Ozzie Chavez then struck out to end the inning for the Phillies.

 
 

 

The seventh inning saw reliever Scott Eyre come out and get a quick out from catcher Michel Hernandez. Olmedo then came up and hit a soft grounder to third base that Donald could not handle in time to get the quick runner. Elliot Johnson them got a quick out and give the Rays little hope in the inning. But Jon Weber hit a double down the left field line and scored Olmedo to bring the Rays within 4 runs. Kennedy popped out to third base to end the rally for the Rays. The Rays then sent prospect Dewon Day to the mound and Eric Bruntlett got a quick single off him to lead-off the inning. Bruntlett then stole second base and got into scoring position for the Phillies.  Geoff Jenkins and Andy Tracy both struck out to give the Rays hope with two outs. But Mayberry hit a broken bat single that scored Bruntlett and put the Phillies up 8-3 in the game.

 
 
 

In the 8th inning, the Phillies brought on reliever Clay Condrey. He quickly got Perez to strike out looking, then got Chris Nowak to hit a grounder to third that was easily handled by Donald for an out at first. Ried Brignac then hit a soft grounder to second that was thrown to first to end the Rays inning. Dewon Day stayed on the mound for the Rays after a single by Pablo Ozuna, Donald hit a long fly ball to Nowak in center for the first out. Then Phill
ies catcher Lou Marson hit a sharp grounder to Brignac, who quickly got the throw off to first base.  Chavez then hit another sharply hit grounder to Brignac that handcuffed him and the Phillies quickly had two men on base. Bruntlett then hit a low liner to center field that scored Ozuna. Jenkins then hit a fly ball down the left field line that Sadler took his eye off and it fell to the ground for an error, but both Chavez and Bruntlett scored on the play. Tracy then hit an RBI single that scored Jenkins and gave the Phillies a 12-3 lead.
 


 

 
 

Jake Woods came out for the Phillies in the top of the ninth inning and made quick work of Sadler getting him to hit a high fly ball to center field. Hernandez then hit a hard ball deep and over Bruntlett’s head for a double to start a Rays rally in the inning. Olmedo then struck out to give the Rays only one more out in the game.  With the end in sight, Woods left a breaking ball over the plate and Johnson crushed it for a 2-run homer into the Rays Bullpen. But the Rays rally ended as quickly as it began as Weber struck out to end the game and begin the celebration in the Phillies dugout. It was their first win in the Grapefruit League this spring, and it came against the team they had beaten just a few months ago for the World Series title.

 
 

I was trying to find our MLBlogger Phillies Phollower before the game, but I got mobbed by a few fellow Rays fans that I knew from the “Maddon’s Maniacs” group at Tropicana Field.  Yes, I did hear a few cowbells in the stands, but it was not the loud and vocal group that usually owns the Trop during the season. I know I was not hassled for bring mine in, but I only hit it during the home runs and scoring chances by the Rays and did not abuse the musical instrument.

 
 

 


But I did have to explain the origins of the cowbell and why we use them in games. People know the reasoning that our Owner, Stuart Sternberg is a devote SNL fan, and loves that Christopher Walken skit where he wants “more cowbell”. That is the primary reason, but there are secondary reason that make total sense too. An additional great one is that it tends to frustrate and drive the Boston and New York fans in the Trop. nuts. They can not finish their chants or even do their New York “name roll call” during the game without being interrupted by the blanky blank cowbells. And third, it give the Rays fans a audible image. I am sorry, I really can not see over 25,000 fans blowing on kazoo’s making more noise than those pesky Latin percussion cowbells.

 
I just want to take a second to let local Rays fans know that the Team USA squad that will be reporting to Clearwater, Florida on Monday morning have opened the first practice to the public at Bright House Networks Field at 11:30 am. So if you have nothing planned, and might want to take in some sun and maybe get some autographs or just come cheer for Team USA team before they leave for Toronto. So come on down to the field and show your spirit on Monday. I am thinking of coming on down and seeing Rays reliever J P Howell, who told me he will definitely be here on Monday. Also, the Rays will be without the services of Willy Aybar starting tonight since he will be leaving to report to the camp of the Dominican Republic squad.
 
 

The Team USA will face its first test against Team Canada on March 7, 2009 in the Rogers Centre, in Toronto.  The Dominican Republic team will face the  Netherlands team on the same day, but in Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico. But they will not be the first teams to take the field for the 2009 World Baseball Classic. That honor will fall to the squads from China and Japan, who take the field on March 5, 2009 in the Tokyo Dome, in Tokyo, Japan.

Photo credtis today go to: RRCollections and Eric Mencher of the Philadelphia Inquier.

 
 

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