Results tagged ‘ Eric Hinske ’

Who’s On First?

I was entranced the first time I saw the comedic team of Abbott and Costello perform this routine on our family television console one Sunday afternoon. I was mesmerized by the ingenious wordplay by the duo to the point of repeating it so often the following week in school I got a isolated seat in the library by myself to perfect my comedic nuance.

That same hilarious routine comes to mind so vividly for me now with the Tampa Bay Rays current conundrum at their first bag position. Scanning the players listed on the Rays current 40-man roster, it is quickly evident that none of them has seen ample time at First Base to breathe any confidence that the team has answer so far in their quest for a secure and reliable player on the first base corner.

Last season’s inspiration Casey Kotchman is a free agent, possibly speaking in confidence with the Rays, but also entertaining other offers, situation and pondering his own 2012 M L B existence. You would have thought it a no-brainier to try and sign “The Magic of Kotch” to a multi-year contract, but so far the homegrown baseball prospect has been mute and silent on any transactions.

Dan Johnson, the Rays 2011 Opening Day First Baseman refused his re-assignment to the minor league and has set his sights on other M L B venues as a possible home for 2012. There is still a hint of a Rays reunion, but that would come at a significant salary reduction again for Johnson who seemed lost early on in the 2012 season before coming back and putting some late September magic onto his resume.

Leslie Anderson, the Cuban baseball reject at First Base played with a bit more consistency for the Triple-A Durham Bulls in 2012, but is his advancement been enough to warrant more than a Spring Training invite and a outside chance of securing a roster spot. This is a position on this team that is in dire transition, a black hole that has to be filled first, then the other cogs will fall into place.

For the Rays defensive existence relies on a solid guy with a ever expanding spider web glove at this spot. He makes Evan Longoria look better, converts the ill-thought out throws of Reid Brignac, and is the key end point of any double play consideration. This position has to be the Rays priority one this off season, or 2012 will be a step backwards akin to the 2009 season.

Where is that definite piece of the puzzle the Rays have found in the past with great 1B names like Fred McGriff, Travis Lee, Tino Martinez and even Carlos Pena. This team can not feasibly afford the bevy of current First Basemen seeking salaries for 2012. The Albert Pujols and Price Fielders’ of the MLB will not accept a price slashing Rays payment slip as their productive years reach their summit.

Even a established young player like current Cincinnati Red First Baseman Joey Votto might come with a price the Rays would balk at paying for a productive bat with ample defensive skills. Some say a run at Votto will cost them at least a duo of pitching prospects and possible a catcher. But in this regard the Rays do have a quickly approaching pitching surplus problem, but is possibly taking on Votto’s 9.5 million dollar contract could possibly eat into a huge chunk of the Rays other “wish list” this off season.

Then there is the attractive but expensive option of the Rays flirting with the possibility of bringing on ex-Yankee C/1B Jose Posada as a short term solution with an eye on his trade deadline value and bat being a easy positive for the Rays. Posada is actually the only Yankee since Bernie Williams I could respect and see as a member of the Rays.

Posada is a true competitor, and walked a thin line in the Bronx in 2012 knowing his diminished skill behind the plate, plus a multi millionaire in front of him (Mark Texiera) prohibited him from getting more than a sampling of his skills at First Base last season. The only huge bind in this logic is the fact Posada made $ 13.1 million, or 1/3rd of the Rays 2011 total payroll. This fact by itself might eliminate
Posada’s name immediately considering the Rays will possibly be slicing even a bit more off their payroll to begin 2012 with an eye on a late July addition if they are within sight of a Wild Card or better post season berth.

The Rays in-house options currently within their farm system besides Anderson is limited to Double-A Montgomery Biscuit duo Henry Wrigley and Matt Sweeney. The problem here is both have not ventured past that Double-A plateau yet, and their addition besides a possible Spring invite would be suggestive at best. The Rays have a deep farm system but not currently at this vital cog in their defensive machine. The answer might be an internal transition for the Rays to save money plus utilize their current players sequencing them into roles that build upon Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s 2011 mantra of “Find Another Way”.

Should the Rays implore current diamond journeyman Ben Zobrist or even Sean Rodriguez or Elliot Johnson to do a bit of off season prep at First Base. Possibly getting reps and game action in a Winter League, or maybe sending them to an isolated camp site to work on it in private and then introduce their transition as a “team united” surprise come Spring?

The following few weeks should be interesting as the Hot Stove season begins to simmer and choices begin to be eliminated from the First Base list. This is a key off season position for the Rays to secure an ample and reliable player who can be a catalyst for this young team. Be it a young player or possibly a grizzly vet, this first base bag has to have solidarity and consistency both in their defense and their bat to be a great addition to this team.

Pujols is not an option, Prince would not get the royal treatment in Tampa Bay. Votto might be established enough to warrant the player fodder needed for a trade, but will the Rays commit a huge chunk to solidify one position? Anderson, Wrigley and Sweeney might not be viable options, but could be future consideration, possibly in 2013 or 2014.

If the Rays want to save their funds for other player options, then a Zobrist, Johnson transformation might be in line with the Rays fiscal reality. Zobrist will make $ 4.5 million plus a possible $500,000 assignment bonus. His rising salaries will institute him into new roles, or define him in 2012. Johnson will be a meager salary option, but with his limited time at this side of the diamond, is it worth the gamble and possible implosion?

I still remember watching Bud Abbott clutching his baseball cap in his mouth in utter confusion and dismay at the swirling names of the players on the field during that routine, but it all comes down to that ultimate question still pondered by the Rays this off season, “Who’s on First?”

Hellboy Might Need a Handyman

I can imagine that Tampa Bay Rays rookie Jeremy Hellickson will have a special carpentry project to complete in the near future. I can definitely imagine a particular DIY (do-it-yourself) project to be penciled in bold letters on the Hellboy’s off-season “Honey-Do” list.

I can visualize him now peering over expansive pile of timber with the same intensity and commitment he showed 29 times during 2011 as he took the mound. Bet he is even wearing a Rays game day cap on his head, with a pencil fashioned behind his ear. Just like sheriff Brody needed a “Bigger boat”, Hellboy is definitely going to be in the market for a trophy case addition soon.

Recently Tampa Bay Rays rookie starter Jeremy Hellickson got the fantastic news back home in Des Moines, Iowa that he had been selected as the 2011 Baseball America M L B Rookie of the Year. Joining the ranks of Baseball America past R O Y winners such as Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols (2001), Diamondbacks SP Brandon Webb (2003), Tigers SP Justin Verlander (2006), Brewers OF Ryan Braun (2007), Tigers, Cubs C Geovany Soto (2008) and Giants C Buster Posey (2010).

Major League Baseball and the Baseball Writers Association of America (B B W A A) will not officially announce their respective National League or American League Rookie of the Year Award winners until November 14th but history is definitely tilted Hellboy’s way as 8 out of the last 11 M L B seasons, the Baseball America R O Y selection also heard his name announced as their respective league’s R O Y award winner in mid-November.

Hellboy also ended the National League’s 4-year grip on the award and Hellickson became not only the first pitcher to stake claim to the award, but also the first American League player to win the honor since Detroit Tigers rookie SP Justin Verlander back in 2006. This same Baseball America MLB Rookie of the Year honor eluded former Rays standouts Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford, Joe Kennedy, Rolando Arroyo, plus current stars 3B Evan Longoria and SP David Price. Interesting enough, former Rays 3B/DH Eric Hinske (2002) and SP Hideo Nomo (1995) won the same award, but not as Rays.

Amazing that Hellickson in his first full MLB season posted a .210 opponents batting average, which ranked 3rd in the MLB behind possible Cy Young candidates Verlander and Los Angeles Dodger hurler Clayton Kershaw. Didn’t hurt that the young Rays starter saved his best for later in the 2011 season as Hellboy bolstered a 2.64 ERA from the All-Star break to the end of the 2011 season, plus garnered a coveted American League Divisional Series pitching assignment.

Hellickson is definitely another reason to feel optimistic coming into the Spring of 2012 when he will not only have another year under his belt, but possibly possess even a few more tweaks to his pitching arsenal. With that in mind, maybe there should be a tweak to Hellickson’s DIY project plans, possibly re-configuring his carpentry plans to include an addition to his home. Got a feeling this is the first wave of many shiny pieces of MLB acknowledgment that Hellboy will receive in his career.

If you need help Jeremy, I am pretty good with a tape measure and a circular saw.

Sunday Rewind: “Open Letter to Andrew Friedman”

 

Sunday Rewind:

The following entry was a copy of a letter I sent to Tampa Bay Rays Vice-President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman on August 12, 2008.   It was an open letter to him after some concerns following the recent injury bug that has plaqued the Rays.

 

To:  Rays Vice-President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman
 
Dear Andrew,
 

Being a long time Season Ticket holder and fan of the Rays, I thought I might write you concerning my views on the recent injury situations hitting the club at this important point in our season. I hope this letter shows some insight into the thoughts and ideals that we, as vital Rays clogs in the machine, the fans, hopefully to see  fulfilled as we fight for our October destiny.

On the subject of irrational roster moves or acquiring  part-time players.
Please do not feel like you need to make a monster roster move or trade to suppliment the injuries suffered by All-Star leftfielder Carl Crawford. I think we have enough back-up experience in both Justin Ruggiano, Eric Hinske, Gabe Gross, and Rocco Baldelli to feel secure in our 15 days (hopefully) that Crawford will be out of the lineup.

Remembering, that Crawford has been extremely aggressive at the plate this season, and might be hitting just a tad below his usual awesome numbers. I want to also state that the time off for Carl might also help rehab that hamstring injury that has been plaguing him for much of this year. A few weeks rest might be good for Carl, and the Rays have more than adequate people in house to keep the position secure with the power and speed.

By using our Rays farm system instead of going out for over-priced vets like Kenny Lofton, you are making a confident message that you will not be “making a deal to make a deal,” and that you have a strong and secure feeling about the personnel already on board with the Rays.

By not sinking to a lower level and thinking about signing Barry Bonds to a contract, you are keeping the clubhouse chemistry alive and not tampering with  the team’s destiny or fate. the overall feeling in the Rays clubhouse right now is that they can overcome this  current set back and come out of it with a stronger team unity and unified purpose going into the playoff push.

The team chemistry on this Rays squad is at its highest point in the Rays history. I have never seen the Bullpen and the bench players root for their teammates as much as they have this season. The Rays seem to be more in tune with the entire team concept this year, and they adhere to it’s unwritten rules and conduct.


This squad oozes confidence and positive karma into the media like a stream down a mountain side. It would be a disaster to try and re-construct the team for a short haul and ruin this great team dynamic. It is rare that you have 25 players,and a coaching staff all feeling the same vibe at the same time.

There is no one with an inflated ego on this team that feels they are above the group, and the team has done great in keeping that in line this year if someone has gotten a bit “lofty” in their words. You have made great pitching decisions this year in giving Edwin Jackson a fair chance in the rotation, and he has rewarded you with career highs in wins and a lower ERA.

You made a unpopular trade at the time for a shortstop and a young pitcher that made it seemed like you got low-balled on the deal. About right now, the Twins might give you almost anything for those guys back in their fold. Matt Garza has grown, and his ceiling is only growing with every start this year. But he was not the steal of that deal by a long shot.

Even though Jason Bartlett has had a injury plagued season, he has been an instant sparkplug in the Rays machine by playing excellent defense, and coming up with timely hits for the Rays this year. He has been the hidden jewel in the Rays infield, and hopefully he will shine bright for many years.

In closing, I know there is only about 7 weeks left in this 2008 season, but do not make a forceful and hasty move just to save some sort of face with the media and fans base. Make the secure moves that might include a certain pitcher in Triple-A at Durham for security in the Bullpen or rotation, but do not be hasty to make the decision to stand pat if the Rays are rolling and it might hurt the flow.

In the end, you are the face in the front office of this franchise that the fans will look to if we fail or succeed. Either way, the season has been a wild ride, with plenty of more in store for this team in the next 5 years ………..or more.
 

Your Season Ticketholder for Life,

Rays Renegade


Sect 138, Row C, Seat 3

 

Something Special seems to be Missing?



Mark O’Meara / AP

Even before the Tampa Bay Rays started their 2007 season I had a gut level reaction that we were within a few years of breaking the “losers” curse and begin a winning tradition. That season I left my job at Pepsi and was anxiously seeking a position somewhere in the Rays organization. Something within me had me thinking that this franchise was about to turn a corner, and I really wanted a front row seat to the show.
 

Maybe the final piece was put into place during Spring Training in 2008, when Rays starter Scott Kazmir spoke of a playoff dream for the Rays that season, and the media snickered to themselves. But what they might not have known was the level of ease and comfort this team had with each other coming into this final season of Spring Training at Rays Namoli complex in St. Petersburg. 

That this team liked spending time with each other both away and at the ballpark. That veterans in the Bullpen wanted to have dinners accompanied by the entire Bullpen, not just small groups filing in when they felt like it. Small groups of leader began to emerge in the clubhouse, each with their own special flair in support of the team. Carlos Pena was the fashion plate who dressed like a million dollars and had a boat load of confidence and inner strength. Cliff Floyd was the new guy who had been to multiple playoff runs and knew what it would take to funnel this team into winners.

And then you had the odd broad-shoulder pairing of Eric Hinske and Jonny Gomes who could reduce the clubhouse into tears of laughter and  showed extreme amount of emotion and passion for the game. Then  you had the Rays rotation, all under 26 years of age who acted 5 years older than their birth certificates listed on any given day. From top to bottom, this team enjoyed each other not only as teammates, but as a sense of brotherhood.  And that can be a powerful tool when you are molding yourself to do something you team has never done before………..Win, and win now!


Steve Nesius/ AP

And we all know how far that confidence and that slight air of arrogance got this team. How dare they trample to pecking order of the American League East and sit on top of the division for most of the season. How dare they take the mighty Red Sox Nation to 7 games, then disregard them like rag dolls on their way to the team’s first World Series appearance. And all throughout this adventure was door and door being broken down by this bunch of Rays. They had changed their logos and uniforms in November 2007, and with that stripped the losing mentality along with the loss of the forest green caps.

The 2008 Rays even on the plane ride home after World Series game 5.5 were not looking forward to leaving each other yet. the bond of this squad was tight, and the general feeling was that to separate would be the end of that karma train. So as the team packed up after the trip home and had their baseball belongings sent from sea-to-shining sea, they hoped that vibe would continue for a a second shot at the title. They wanted that feeling amongst each of them to hibernate and spring to life in late February 2009, but it was never the same.

People have been trying to find multiple reasons for the wild mood swings and the odd chemistry this team seems to have in 2009. Some might say it is a little bit of the leftover World Series experience mixed with a new found respect for how hard it is to repeat in this game. But the meshing of this team out of Spring Training in 2009 did not have the same feeling to it. You could see it on the field. The powerful defense became average for some reason. The power stroke of B J Upton seemed to be stalled by surgery and unforeseen situations.

The all-mighty pitching staff, the saviors in 2008 seemed to be subdued this season. Almost in a calm serenity than in a mix of attitude and daring antics. Gone was  the fire you could see in their eyes and feel in their voices. Not extinguished, but down to embers. The offense still churned to its own beat just like in 2008 finding new heroes every night or so to prop up as examples that 2009 is better than 2008. But other key components of the hitting seemed to be lagging behind and could not adjoin with the rest. This team did not have that fundamental same feeling to it. Something critical was missing.


www.FSNFlorida.com

And some would say it was a few of the fire-breathers that were no longer here like Jonny Gomes, Eric Hinske and Cliff Floyd who inspired by example, and shined through by pure energy and power. You knew that Floyd would take the “father” role and try and nurture some of the guys into becoming better more productive members of the team. Hinske you knew would be fired-up and ready for battle at any time, and he carried that same energy out on the field with him. And Gomes was the ultimate confidence guy.

If someone did something amazing, he was one of the first to see you as you came on the bench. Each of the three had a key role in the bench players, the same way Trever Miller and Dan Wheeler did with the Bullpen guys. They always discussed things, always compared notes, and dined together out on the road. You knew that even young ace Scott Kazmir and the other rotation members keyed off each other to try and post a quality start every time out. People on this team genuinely rooted for each other day in, and day out to succeed. 

 

And this season there has seemed to be something missing from the beginning. Even when I went down to Spring Training for the first time in Port Charlotte, you felt a different vibe. Not a negative energy, just something different. Gomes, Hinske, Miller and Floyd, all left for other teams, and the incoming guys did not replace that lost energy or that instant energy levels. There was leadership in this clubhouse, and there was a sign of wanting to again reach the top of the hill, but it did not have any urgency or finality to it.

For some reason this 2009 edition of the Rays had the talents, abilities and the heart to produce a winner, but some of the classic energy and chemistry seemed to be lacking at moments. And those gaps in the system showed up from time to time. Lackluster performances without someone coming over and encouraging you. A more quiet bench than in 2008 when you never knew what would be said or visualized f
rom a distance. Plenty of times in 2008 the bench seemed alive and the 26th player on the team.

But this season that player is missing in action. Maybe he was lost in the charts and the schemes and the general “cool” vibe of the clubhouse. There is still a huge amount of fire in this team, but they have to spread the embers out again and add wood to that fire. As the losses total up the members grow darker and darker this year, with pillows of hot spots peaking out, and the general feeling of extended dread hanging over the game. And the Rays coaches might have sensed this too.


www.FSNFlorida.com

With traveling parties all dressed in black, dressed in all white and also cowboy wear it is a basic team building exercise to promote from within a pride and a energy among the team. And it has worked at times and had extended into the road trip and on into the next home stand, but the energy seems to dip down again and another action/reaction has to be pulled out of this team. Props and events like this can mold a team, but only if all of them want to mesh as one.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon, knowing the recent stress and daily barrage of expectations went with a “Ring of Fire” Johnny Cash tribute road trip. With this road trip now history and the team heading back to Tampa Bay with a 4-3 record on this trip, was it a success? Or is it going to be an ongoing theme for the rest of the season. Last year the rally cry fell under the guise of a “Rayhawk” with several players even going above and beyond the usual mode of hair. 

But for some reason the black hair sported now by Maddon has been christened the 2009 version of the “Rayhawk”, and again there have been a great response to the visual bonding agent, but it doesn’t feel the same. This team is a little more laid-back than the 2008 version, both in personalities and in outward bursts of energy. Maybe it is time for each of these guys to dig deep and know that for the Rays to again taste that Mumm’s champagne, they all have to crank it up a few notches and leave it all on the field.

I know I do not have a solid answer for this decline in energy and outward excitement. I wish I had the perfect solution, because I would march into the Rays offices with the answer. I would proudly ask to speak with Maddon and present this gift with nothing in return. Some times it is the simple things that get us the most confused. Maybe all the expectations and promises have clouded the goal. Something missing this year has been a long winning streak, a true defining moment that separates this club from all the others in the MLB.


Steve Nesius / AP

We have all seem the signs at different times this season. Players have shown us that even the “Team Meetings” at home plate after Walk-off wins seem more subdued compared to 2008. I know it is not a case of “Been there, done that!”, but it could be a symptom of the problem.  Maybe something as simple as playing like you are 10-years old again and remembering the fun will shakes the cobwebs and give the Rays back their mojo.

Like I said, if I had the right answer, I would bottle it and sell it to everyone else, but the Rays could have it for FREE. For I want to again see the smiles nightly on their faces for no reasons. See the bubble gum bubbles on top of players caps. I want to see the sunflower seed competitions between the Bullpen guys again. Maybe it is just wishing for the past, maybe it is hoping for the future, maybe it is just about something as simple as having fun playing a kids game again.

Who will get the Rays first Cycle?

 


David Zalubowski / AP

I remember back on March 31, 1998 a friend of mine and I were chatting up in the Beach area about our new Rays team and he asked me  who I thought would be the first Rays player to ever hit for a “cycle” for the team. I had to really think about that one for a few minutes since this first Rays squad had a few burners on the base paths and they could make the difference quickly in a game.

I thought for about three innings and came up with a list of three guys I truly thought had a chance to hit that magical segment of a single, double, triple and then a homer.  I came up with the trio of Dave Martinez (who got the Rays first hit ever), Quentin McCracken and Miguel Cairo.

But what is so amazing is that we have played 1,845 games as a franchise and we still have not had any player hit for that elusive prize. I mean we have had plenty come close, including 5 in 2008, but no one has gotten to that golden moment yet for the Rays. So it kind of caught me by surprise last night after the game checking out the box score and seeing that both Ben Zobrist and Gabe Kapler only missed the magical moment by not getting a double in last night’s 12-4 Rays victory.

What was truly amazing to me is that both guys had the worst part of the cycle out of the way by the start of the 7th inning with Kapler getting the early nod by getting both his triple and home run by the end of the third inning.  Another outstanding statistic is that Zobrist and Kapler each got hit in the same inning three times in that contest. 

They started their scoring in the top of the second inning when Zobrist got on with a infield single to third, then Kapler scored Zobrist on his triple to deep left-centerfield. The in the top of the third inning, Zobrist hit the first pitch he sees for a triple to deep centerfield to lead-off the inning. Kapler then comes up and homers to leftfield to again score Zobrist in the game. 

Then again in the seventh inning, Zobrist comes up with two outs and hits a 2-1 pitch out of the ballpark in leftfield. Kapler then comes up and get a single to rightfield.  Zobrist had another chance to get his cycle, but he hit a ball back to Rockies reliever Matt Daley that he easy converted for the third out of the inning. The night was a huge explosion for the entire Rays offense as they won their sixth game in a row and ended the Rockies own 11-game winning streak.

But was last night’s attempt by two Rays players a good indicator of the type of offense this team can post at anytime in 2009. Gabe Kapler is currently on a 4-game home run  and RBI streak, plus he has gone 7 for 11, with 10 RBI in his last four games. Could we finally be seeing the hitter the Rays envisioned when they signed Kapler on January 12, 2009. Then you have Zobrist, who has emerged as the Rays secret weapon after injuries have made the club utilize him everyday instead of as a platoon or late inning replacement/pinch-hitter. 


David Zalubowski / AP

Zobrist has also been on quite a tear recently going hitless in only two of his last ten games. He has gone 14 for 35 (.400) with 4 homers and 7 RBI, but it is his 14 runs scored that have been the biggest indicator of his surge for the Rays.  He has also walked 7 times in those 10 games and stolen 2 bases to become an all-around player for the team. And this is not the first time in 2009 that Zobrist has gotten near the cycle.

And to just show how explosive the entire team can be this year, including last night, the Rays have had 11 players just this season who have had chances to get the cycle for the Rays. Starting with Evan Longoria on April 9th needing just a triple to complete his during the Rays 4-3 win in Fenway Park. Longoria again almost got the cycle in another game against the Red Sox on April 30th at Tropicana Field during a 13-0 win over the Red Sox. He missed with only a triple again. But he was not the only Rays to have a shot at the cycle that day. Back-up catcher Miguel Hernandez had a career day going 4 for 5 and also missed the cycle with a triple that day. 

In a 7-3 loss to the Red Sox in their second trip to Fenway on May 8th, the usual suspect for the cycle, Carl Crawford only missed with a home run from getting the feat. He did have a ball bounce into the stands in deep centerfield that could have been a close inside-the-park home run if it had not gone into the stands.  Then on May 15th with the Cleveland Indians at home, B J Upton had a chance to put his mark on Rays history, but also missed out with a triple. Two days later Jason Bartlett got a chance at the mark, but he too came up short needing a home run to complete the feat.

Then someone you would not expect, Gabe Gross who has seen limited duty this year as a platoon member in rightfield got a chance to set the mark on May 22nd in the Rays 15-2 win over the Florida Marlins. Gross also missed the mark with only getting a single, double and a homer in the game.  And so far in June, the Rays have had four players now who have attempted to get a cycle for the squad. Before last night’s heroics, Matt Joyce, who was only up for a limited time also had a chance for a cycle on June 2nd in a 6-2 win over the Kansas City Royals. Joyce also came up a triple short of getting the first cycle in Rays history.


Jeff Zelevansky / AP


But the wildest part of it all is that Zobrist now has had two chances, just in June 2009 to get a cycle. Besides last night’s attempt, he had another on June 7th in Yankee Stadium against the New York Yankees, but he again fell just a double short of the cycle.  What is even more amazing is that he has now had three chances since September 27, 2008 to get the Rays cycle record. On the September 27th game against the Detroit Tigers in Comerica Park, Zobrist again came up short, but this time he could not get a triple to complete the cycle.

The Rays have had a chance 11 times in 2009. For the entire 2008 season they only had 5 players even get close to trying for  a shot at Rays history. It began with the Disney World series when the Rays took on the Toronto Blue Jays on April 22nd. Ex-Rays bat boy Jesse Litsch was on the mound and Eric Hinske hit three extra-base hits to fall only a single short of the cycle for the Rays. In that contest, in the only other at bat for Hinske in the game, he struck out swinging to end his quest in the eighth inning. One of the guys you might least expect to have a shot at a cycle actually got pretty close in 2008. Dioner Navarro was having a great first half to the season and picked a May 8th game against the Toronto Blue Jays to try and make a claim for the cycle record. 

In that game, Navarro hit a Grand Slam to win the game for the Rays in the 13th inning, but he missed the cycle by a triple that night. But the event was considered a turning point for the young Rays team, so missing the re
cord might not have been a bad thing that night. It was three months before anyone else had a shot at a cycle for the Rays when on August 2nd, Evan Longoria tried to make his mark, but he also came up a triple short in the Rays 9-3 win over the Tigers at Tropicana Field.

A wild statistic is that in the last three attempts by Rays players to hit for the cycle in 2008, they all came against the same team, the Detroit Tigers. First we had Longoria on August 2nd come up short. The next player to have a chance at Rays immortality was Upton on the same night( September 26, 2008) that the Rays clinched their first American League East title. Upton’s chance at the cycle was overshadowed by the big event as he only fell a triple short of the cycle after beating out a throw for an infield single to even have a shot at the historic mark. And of course, the next day, Zobrist had his chance to also add his name to Rays history. 

All in all since the beginning of the 2998 season, 16 Rays players have had a chance to finally put their name on the Rays history book as completing a cycle during a game. The Rays might have gone 0-16 in that time, but in 2008, they went 4-1 when a player was attempting to go for the record. And so far in 2009, the team has gone 8-1 when a Rays batter has been attempting to go for the cycle. And also of note, for the first time in two seasons, two player have been just short of cycles in two different games only 46 days apart.

With the Rays offense cranking on all 8 cylinders right now there will be more chances for the team to flex its muscle and give more guys chances to finally put their name into the Rays record books as the first player to hit a cycle for the Rays. I can not even guess who the first one will be anymore. Almost everyone in the lineup can have an outstanding game and transform a simple game into a historic event.

But I would not bet against Crawford and Zobrist right now, both players have the ability and the speed to finally give us an answer to that question asked back in 1998. Who do you think will get the first Rays cycle?

Can Zorilla Overtake the Gabe connection?

 

 

Chris O’Meara / AP
 

Wow, No Tampa Bay Rays baseball until 10 pm tonight. I am not sure what I am going to do with myself because the shows I want to watch also come on at 10 pm. Maybe a split screen will work, but then I might get confused and think that Tommy Gavin ( Denis Leary ) is playing DH for the Rays. Sorry, I am not going to get confused by that, but there are some thing that recently have hit the papers, internet and also the radio waves that have me scratching my head a bit. They might not matter to 3/4’s of the country, but they matter to us down here in Rays-ville. 

 

 
 
I mean we have a few questions, and I am thinking of putting on my special World Series game used Rays cap and try and figure out some of the possible answers. I think I am going to play on my mind’s thought right now and throw out a few examples and also maybe a suggestion as to our outfield situation and see what bubbles up to the surface here. So I am about to pop the old World Series cap given to me off the head of a Rays back-up and see what transpires, or even communicates itself to my little mind. They say that objects like this can store up energy and  stored thoughts, hopefully they have garnered some baseball thoughts that can help me evolve this problem into a solution,or at least a wishful thought.
 
 

 
Let’s get into the meat of this right field outfield quagmire. We might have a  more of a problem if B J Upton’s bum quad does need more down time. But hopefully we will not have to again do the Curly Shuffle to put the Two Gabes’ out there at the same time. I want to go on record as telling everyone that the Two Gabe’s can not play in the field at the same time. I think they both have ample ability to play in an MLB outfield, but with them both out there it opens a huge gaping wound in the Rays speed and agility in the  center field and right side of the stadium. If Upton is down for any length of time, this three-headed monster will have to adjust and put a member of it into center field for awhile. But which one of the three Amigos would make the best fit if this situation rears its ugly head?
 

 
 
 If you even saw an inning of the game on Sunday, you saw the massive drop off of even closing range speed on hard hit fly balls even into the shallow gaps in the outfield.  Combine that with neither of them wanting to shout out, or even call balls in the air, and you get both of them falling to the turf ala Rays 1999-style. The good thing in all of that is that Gabe Kapler did catch the ball and it did not dribble to the wall or fall from his mitt after the collision. But can we forget the base running mishaps by both of the Gabes’ this year that have cost this team runs. I know we are going to be super aggressive as a team this year, but to openly show your lack of concentration in plays in scoring position actually puts you in a bad light. They were moves that defied logic, but they will end up on someone’s Rays gag reel this season.

 


Gail Burton / AP

Both Gabe has their positives. Kapler brings an energy and a leadership that will spark the Rays they way Eric Hinske did in 2008. But he has lost a step or two from the Kapler that used to fling his body everywhere in the Boston outfield years ago in the Trop. But his bat might be waking up, and that would be a huge up-side for the Rays. I will never question his commitment to this team, but he has to also finally admit to himself he is not the same player and has limitations now.  But he is a good outfielder, but his arm and his closing speed on fly balls had dropped off in the last few years. He is not a liability as long as his average is creeping towards the Mendoza Line and above.
 

 
 
Now on to Gabe Gross. There is no question in my mind that he can, and will make a difference in this right field. The problem right now is that he seems to be a bit confused as to his role. He knows he is the swing guy on this platoon, but he also seems to be looking over his shoulder for Ben Zobrist to maybe steal his thunder and job soon. That might actually happen at some point this season. For the last year Gross has been the rocket arm for the Rays getting outfield assists because the American League questioned his true arm strength, but after posting some impressing plays to gun down people like Ichiro at third base, his arm is a true asset to the Rays. But is his offensive number going to compare this year?
 

 
 
That is s huge question. Last season he matched the Rays single season record for Walk-off RBIs, with 3 for the year, including his first home run off a leftie ( Matt Thorton / Chicago White Sox). For him to remain a vital part of this Rays team he has to again spark that second set of the lineup and get his average going northbound. Fans are already calling for Matt Joyce from Triple-A to supplant one of the two Gabes’ in this offense. That day will come. I can see one of them either being DFA’d or even traded after June 1st, but the Rays have to stay with their choice for now. But unlike some teams, they also have another option in the outfield.


Mike Carlson / AP
 

Joe Maddon is crazy about Ben Zobrist as a player, person and as a plug-in anywhere in the field for the team. He has grown so much in the last year in the organization’s eyes as a utility player. But he is also beginning to grow out of that role and might make it difficult for the team to leave him off the field in 2009. Take for example his playing time early on here in 2009. He had made play after play in right field, including an outfield assist in his start in Baltimore. He is growing more confident and secure in the outfield for the Rays, even in center field. I would not be surprised if he get the starting nod tonight in Seattle if the team decides to rest Upton for another day or two.  But it is not like Zobirst is a one-hit wonder, he has been building himself and his playing time up in the last two years because of his versatility and abilities.

 
 

He is the one guy on this squad, which includes the hidden talents of Willy Aybar that has gone unnoticed as a limited role player for the Rays. But no matter what you think of his playing talents on the field, his hitting ability has gone through the roof since his 2007 days for the Rays. In that season he hit .158 in   less than 100 at bats for the team. And in that time he only hit 3 extra base hits, which included a single home run. But after an injury in Spring Training in 2008, it seemed that Zobrist finally came into himself since we got him in that trade in Houston that also brought us pitcher Mitch Talbot, and jettisoned Aubrey Huff to the Astros.  We forget he spent only 18 games in Triple-A before the Rays brought him up in 2006. But between then and now he has grown leaps and bounds, especially at the plate.
 

 
If you take 2008 as his break-out year in the eyes of the Rays, you might be correct. He had been high on their radar for several years, but showed an extra gear in 2008 when he finally came up for good and hit .252 for the season in 62 games. But that is not the stat that impressed and also endeared him to Rays Manager Joe Maddon. Before 2008, he was basically only thought about in the infield situation and roles, but in that year he blossomed out into the grasses of the outfield and made his mark bigger on the team. He might have only had one outfield assist compared to Gross’s five, but it was the quality of play that inspired Maddon and his staff to give him more time out there. But if it was not his extreme improvement in his outfield play, his bat might have been the deciding factor.
 

 
 
In 2008, his bat came alive. His .253 average might not show this fact, but his extra power and also ability to cause some chaos on the base paths did not go unnoticed by the team.  He made 13 starts in the outfield in 2008, which was on surpassed by his 32 games at shortstop during Jason Bartlett’s injury. He had made his name a force in the outfield discussions for the Rays. His bat came out of nowhere this year and stuck in the minds of Rays fans and coaches. He hit two Grand Slams, the first in Baltimore on August 29th and another in Yankee Stadium on September 13th in the nightcap of a doubleheader. And add on his 12 homers in 2008 came on only 198 plate appearances. 
 


The Rays had found a bench power option who could also play every day in the outfield.  But Zobrist put the finishing touches on 2008 by hitting three homers in the season ending series in Detroit.  So let’s just pop out his finishing numbers for a second here, 12 homers, 30 RBI’s and 25 walks in less than 200 plate appearances. Tampa Bay had finally found their hidden gem, and their outfield ” can do” guy.



Chris O’Meara / AP

And his 2008 is beginning to look like another added chapter to this great story. We have only played in 13 games, but already Zobrist has appeared in 9 contests and gone to the plate 26 times for the Rays. He is boasting a .308 average with 5 extra base hits, three of them for homers. His 9 RBI’s is currently tied for 26th in the American League, and he is a back-up player. So you can probably read my mind here on the future of Zobrist with the Rays. My only concern right now is if we do move him into a more constant role in the outfield, will be leave the infield vulnerable to injury or even understaffed.  ( Hint: We currently have Adam Kennedy at Triple-A )
 

 
Why not play Zobrist in any spot where you need a bat and an able player. Seriously, players have made great careers having the versatility and abilities of Zobrist’s style.  He is grounded, confident and totally committed to doing things “The Rays Way.” If you ever see the camera panning the dugout, he is always up near the coaches probably easedropping on their conversations to learn more and more about the way they want this team to run on all its cylinders. I am thinking he might just be that extra gear, or even the NO2 that could move this team upward this year. So you have to ask yourself if he could fit into this platoon method that the team is trying to institute in right field this year. 
 


I actually think he is a huge upgrade over the current right field players, and could supplant either of them in a heartbeat. He has shown the effort and the stamina to dive for balls, make the difficult play, and proved himself at the plate. Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention above that he hit his third Grand Slam last week against the White Sox as a pinch-hitter. You want to talk about pressure situation……there is your kettle banging moment. But in the end, it is not my decision or any other bloggers as to the future of Zobrist. But here is something most people have forgotten about him. 
 

 
He is totally inter-changeable wit
h either Gross or Kapler. He can play, and has proven it in 2009. Oh, and forget all that rightie-leftie match-up garbage with him. He is a switch hitter who is plowing the ball  at a .400 clip from the left side this season, with an .800 Slugging Percentage so far this year.  Right field was a main concern of the Rays before Spring Training. They gave Joyce every chance to change their minds, and also saw some great things for the future  in his 5 games with the team before getting moved to Triple-A. But my choice for an everyday right fielder is no secret. I will give either of the Gabe connection some more time to show their want and desire to stay here, but a decision will be made at some point this year concerning them, why not make it early so they can hook onto another team.

 

 
 
Gail Burton / AP

Joyce might be the future, but Zobrist is making a huge play to be the present guy to bring this team some needed wins and offensive moments based on his offensive tear in 2008. Can Gross’s .136 average with no extra bases and a lone RBI be the key  to the team’s ultimate decision. Or could Kapler’s .173, with only 3 doubles be his ticket to the bench. The Rays are in a pickle offensively right now. They are hitting .266 as a team with a league leading 109 strikeouts. Could the injection of some positive Zobrist energy and play be the ticket, or will the current tandem, who went 2 for 13 in the recent White Sox series, with no RBI’s or runs scored for the Rays. Oh, by the way, Zobrist went 4 for 6 , with 6 RBI’s in that series. Can the choice be any easier right now?
 
 

Repost: Rays Last Spring Game in St. Petersburg

Update:

This blog was originally written on March 28, 2008 to celebrate and commemorate the last home game of the Tampa Bay Rays at their Spring Training home for the last 11 years. This day marked the last time the Rays would play as a team at the site, and would move to  the new sparkling complex in Port Charlotte in 2009. The writing style and the photos are also a sign of the changes made in the last year to my blog and the way I convey my blogs to you. So I hope you enjoy this “Blast of the past” that is a special part of the Rays history.

..

I am filled with both sadness and excitement on this perfect day for
baseball. I am about to see the end of an era in my hometown of St. Petersburg,
Florida. The local baseball faithful here in St. Pete., have been actively watching
and participating in M L B Spring Training games for over 80 odd years. And it all
comes to an end today. Our hometown team, the Tampa Bay Rays, will be training at the Charlotte Sports Complex in Port Charlotte, Florida  starting next season.



                 



It is sad because my grandfather,who lived within a stones throw of former
Yankees’ training site, Huggins-Stengel Field, and spent many a day at the old
Busch complex off 62nd Ave. He spent many an afternoon near Cresent Lake watching Spring Training games
both there and at Waterfront Park. That my dad, who loved the game of baseball, and counted a few  MLB players
as friends could not say a fond farewell to this stadium that he saw built and
watched  hundreds of games there from 1947-1976.



Being a third generation baseball fan is a huge responsibility to me. It
involves my commitment, loyalty and a sense of knowing the sky will not fall
for my team. The ending of the era at Al  F. Lang Field/Progress Energy
Park/Waterfront Park is special to me.



                   

 
Special because I spent a lot of my youth here in the Spring and Summers.
Both watching MLB and Minor League teams leave it all out on the dirt and grass.
Watching the St. Petersburg Devilrays win a championship, and the hometown M L B
squad wrestle for wins. Special because my old job with Pepsi Cola had me at the Training complex and
at Al Lang almost every day in the Spring furnishing them with product and
watching some of these players’ develop into stars. I would be on the phone
daily getting orders and securing the items for the team and its clubhouses,
both at the Ray Namoli Spring Training complex, Progress Energy Field/Al Lang Field, or Tropicana Field, just a few miles to the west of the stadium.



 I have pushed,pulled and sweated in these clubhouses’, under
the grandstands, and in the dark recesses of Tropicana Field. I loved
working with the Rays’ and I consider them  very special people in my
life. They have bestowed on me a place in their Wall of Fame for my
loyalty, and I have received numerous phone calls and smiles from the
Executive and Front Office staff when we see each other outside of the
stadium. I also hold dear a million memories that would fill a Myspace
server. From winning players “Jersey’s off their backs”, to winning
roundtrip airfare to Seattle for a 4 game roadtrip.

                                  

But back to today’s final game.

It had all the fanfare and tradition of an Opening Day. You had the local
political forces out. Both teams’ starting players were announced and stood on
their respective foul line before  a barbershop quartet sang the National
Anthem. It was pomp and circumstance at it’s best.



                            


There was a special flyover by a Air Force KC-135 tanker unit that had the
sell out crowd on their feet applauding the sight.


                                  


An anticipated event that did not happen today is that Hall of Famer, Monte
Irvin was not able to attend the game. He is a proud supporter of the Rays’ ,
the fans missed a rare opportunity to talk and get autographs from this great
former player. I send  personal best wishes and hope for a speedy recovery to Monte, and
hope to see him at the Home Opener this year. Another item I picked up on the sly was the fact that there were no special
collectibles or items listing the “last game” on them for sale in the entire
stadium. I thought the Rays’ missed a monetary gold mine here. But was informed
that the Rays’ wanted to pursue this angle, but M L B vetoed the idea. They  might
be afraid of a future conflict if a team ever trained here again. I can see
their point, but this stadium might be gone by that time.


You see, the Rays’ had a spot out in Right Center that was the spot for the
new proposed stadium’s home plate. The Rays hope that the city’s faithful voters decide in a  November
referendum to change the zoning for the area, or sell the stadium land to the
county for future ballpark considerations. Most of this is up in the air right now, but the Rays’ new complex is already
being constructed, and there is no turning back at this time.



                             


The game featured the third sellout game( 6,759 attended) of the season for
the Rays’, and even had some odd places for fans, and creatures to watch the
last contest
.
                            

                    



They were treated to a great contest featuring three bunts for singles, a
ground rule double over the Left Center field wall. A long towering homer, and a
odd play in  Right Center by B J Upton and Eric Hinske. It saw Rays catcher Dioner
Navarro go 2-for3 with a perfect bunt single and a crushing hit to Left field. It
saw Carl Crawford hit two doubles, and Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips hit a
triple. It was great contest no matter what the score. Of course, we know that
the Rays did not win today, but it was a thrill just to be there on this
historic day.

                     

                               



After the game, the Rays treated the fans to a hot dog,chips and soda
extravaganza in the Right field corner of the field. It was a time for the kids
to “run the bases”, for the all fans to toss a few balls around like the pros’,
and a time for all to celebrate this Spring’s great record and team. It is also
a time to recharge the batteries for the upcoming season. It was a great event,
and one that should be a yearly event, even in Port Charlotte next year.

                            

                          



I can not end this blog without a few pictures of Carlos Pena. My other half
is a true Carlos mark and she should get some good pictures of her guy in
action.  So, here are a few for your enjoyment:



                                  

                                      


In honor of the last game at Al Lang today, I am going to leave you two
Trivia questions. Please fell free to answer them in comments and I will let you
know if you are right, or might offer a few hints.  Good Luck

1,) In  1947, who hit the first Home Run in newly constructed Al F. Lang
Field?

2.) Who made the last out in today’s game?

 Photo Credits: All Photos RRCollections

Checking in on some Ex-Rays this Spring

 

 

 
 
 
I mentioned in a blog a few months ago that they Tampa Bay Rays had changed a bit when 10 members of the 2008 American League Pennant winning team either left via trade or were not resigned by the team. Well, I was sitting here today and was wondering what might have happened with those guys after they left the team in the off season. Well after doing a bit of research, I can tell you pretty much what they have been up to with their posted statistics as of last night ( March 20th). 
 
 
 
Some of the guys have fallen off the total Major League Baseball radar, but a few are having the type of spring that the Rays envisioned them having when they were with the club.  I guess the best one to start with is the one player who left via a trade this off season that was greeted by some with cheers and other with the true ability of filling one of the team’s biggest holes with a future budding star. When the trade first went down, I was not totally with it, because I envision a breakout year for this pitcher once he gains some control and confidence on the mound. But with his team tying 14 wins in 2008, I was expecting a little more out of him this spring.

 


 

 
Edwin Jackson is currently in the hunt for a spot on the Detroit Tigers starting rotation. I think he has a good shot to make the final 25-man roster even if he is not a starter this year. His ability to start and relieve make him an enticing pitching piece to the Tiger puzzle. If the Tigers can not agree upon a closer, you might even see him taking a few turns late in the game on the mound to further make the Tiger’s mouths water. But this spring, he has posted a 0-2 record in his 3 starts. He has thrown for 9 innings and given up 4 hits and 7 runs. The worst part is he has surrendered 3 home runs this spring, which was his downfall last season.  He has not gained total control in his pitch command yet evident by his 6 walks and 8 strikeouts. 



 
 
Cliff Floyd was again as free agent after the Rays declined his option on November 3, 2008. At the time, Floyd was considering the same surgery as  B J Upton, but decided to rehab his injury instead. That might have been a great idea as the former Rays Designated Hitter is hitting a robust .381 this spring with a .667 Slugging percentage. He is also still seeing the ball well at the plate getting 4 walks this spring. The only downfall is that he has been mostly DHing with the San Diego Padres, and during the regular season he will either have to play in the field, or be just a bench player for the team most of the year. His 2 doubles show he still has some ability left in his old legs, but it is his power ( 1 HR, 5 RBI’s) that will get him a chance with the Padres. 
 

 
Eric Hinske was one of the Rays major finds in 2008. He was signed for a simple $ 1 million dollar contract and only hit like he was making over 3.5 million. Even in his limited at bats, he made them count for the Rays and was always a constant positive influence in the clubhouse.  But the Rays did not try and resign him and he moved onto the Pittsburgh Pirates who were seeking outfielders. This spring, on Feb 26th, Hinske suffered a left ribcage contusion after smacking into the wall at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. Until recently he has been held out by the Pirates as a precaution, but is now starting to get at bats and time in the outfield. His average is not “Hinske-like”, as he is only 1-7 right now, but his .400 On-Base Percentage shows that he still has a great eye at the plate and will be an asset to the Pirates in 2009.
 
 

 
Gary Glover was the kind of reliever that you either loved or hated with the Rays. He had an up and down love affair with the fans, and his pitching with the team never hit a consistent point. But after being released by the Rays, he cleared waivers, but refused a assignment to Triple-A and became a free agent on August 2, 2008. He signed this off season with the Washington Nationals and is currently throwing some great ball for the squad.  Glover is currently holding a 0-1 record with a 1.80 ERA in his 4 appearances for the Nationals this spring. In his 5 innings he has only given up 4 hits and a solo run. He has seemed to gain a bit more control as he has only 2 walks and 5 strikeouts in those 5 innings. 
 
 

 
Al Reyes and Kurt Birkins are two relievers for the Rays that currently do not have any ties with a single Major League Team. Reyes was designated for assignment by the Rays and was not claimed, but he refused an assignment to Triple-A and was released as a free agent on August 18, 2008.  He did sign with the New York Mets organization and did have a small part in the New York Mets minor league system before he was released on September 18, 2008 by the parent club. He has not been invited or appeared for any club so far this spring. Birkins was released by the Rays on August 29, 2008. He did not get picked up by another club that season and is currently not on a Major League Baseball roster.

 

 

Rocco Baldelli
 
did not have his 2009 option picked up by the Rays on April 1, 2008. The Ray decided to not exercise the option because of his growing health concerns with his fatigue syndrome illness. But Baldelli made huge physical and medical advancements and finally joined the Rays roster in September in Seattle. He performed amazingly for the team in the final month of the season and was a pivotal player during thei
r first playoff run. But the team decided to not pursue Baldelli and he signed with his hometown Boston Red Sox instead. Baldelli is being viewed as a fourth outfielder and occasional DH for the Red Sox. He has been used in 8 games this spring, and had gotten 24 at bats, which produced 5 hits, and 2 doubles and 4 RBI’s for his new Red Sox team. It is still a bit unnerving to see him in the Boston red jersey after his entire career as a Ray.
 
 

Trever Miller was another player who had his option declined by the Rays on November 3, 2008. But Miller, being a lefty specialist did not hang out long on the unemployed list as the St Louis Cardinals came fast to sign him to a two-year contract. But with their hunt for a closer for 2009, he might be a few reps trying to close out games in the late innings this spring and during the beginning of the year for the Cardinals. So far this spring he has appeared in 8 games and has an 0-1 record. He has posted a 3.86 ERA and given up 8 hits and 3 runs in 7 innings of work. He has hit 2 batters and also gotten 6 strikeouts in his limited pitching performances this spring. He will be a valued member of the Cardinal Bullpen when they leave Florida and head north this April.
 

 
                         

 

Jonny Gomes
has been called many thing when he was with the Rays. He has been an inspirational figure, a feared man at the plate, and a great guy to have in your clubhouse. but the Rays decided to non-tender Gomes on December 12, 2008. Gomes is now fighting for a outfield position with the Cincinnati Reds, and is making quite an impression on Reds Manager Dusty Baker. He is considered to be fighting with Chris Dickerson for the left field spot in the regular lineup. Gomes had made quite a case for himself this spring hitting  for a .286 average, with a .679 Slugging Percentage.  He has appeared in 17 games and gotten only 28 at bats, but has produced 8 hits, 2 doubles to go along with 3 homers and 10 RBI’s for the Reds. I can not see the Reds going north without Gomes this April. He has the ability and the confidence to again be a daily member of a MLB squad.
 
 

 
Scott Dohmann was the last pick for the Rays Bullpen out of the mix in 2008. He beat out Grant Balfour, who was none to happy to begin the year in Triple-A. But Dohmann did not keep his consistent pitching and was finally jettisoned as the Rays put him on waivers on May 14, 2008. He did clear waivers and was sent to Durham, where he stayed the entire season throwing great ball for the Durham Bulls. But this past off season, he became one of four pitchers to sign contracts with the Japanese Baseball League. He ended up singing a one-year $ 650,000 guaranteed contract with the Hiroshima Carp.
 
 

Tim Boggart, who was the Rays Quality Assurance Coach also left the team this off season. In that post he sat basically in the Press Box and overlooked the Rays during the game and watched for subtle gestures or even player movements that might tip off the opposition to what the Rays had planned on the field or mound. This was the first time the Rays had instituted this type of position, basically acting as a internal scout during every game. In the off season he accepted a contract to take over the Third Base Coaching position with the divisional rivals, the Boston Red Sox.
 
 

So the Rays have changed a bit between the last game of the World Series in Philadelphia and today. But the spirit and the confidence in this team have grown from the signings of relief pitchers Jason Isringhausen and Joe Nelson and Brian Shouse. The Bullpen, which was one of the true Rays strengths in 2008 has been fortified with a bevy of better situational and late inning guys. The Rays took care of their right field needs by signing Gabe Gross and acquiring Matt Joyce from Detroit for Jackson. But the signing of Pat Burrell to replace Cliff Floyd might have been the biggest indicator of the Rays commitment to getting back and finishing the job in 2009. It is going to be a rough and tumble year, but the team seems set to again strive for excellence, even with a few pieces swapped out from their 2008 model.
 
 
 
 
 
Photo credits:   1) RRCollections
                            2) Associated Press ( S. Rakocic )
                            3) www.tbo.com.sports
                            4) www.sarasota.com
 
 

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

 

 
 
 
 

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


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

 


 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 


 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 


 

 

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

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

  
 


 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 
 

 
 

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

 

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

 

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

 
 


 
 

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

 


 

 

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

 

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

 
 
 



 

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

 

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

 

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

Balfour and Gross Come to Terms with Rays

 


 
 
 

With the deadline coming up fast for arbitration, the Tampa Bay Rays have gotten two of their eligible players signed to contracts for 2009. The Rays announced late tonight that reliever Grant Balfour has agreed to a one-year , $1.4 million dollar contract. He was the second Rays player to sign in recent days joining right fielder Gabe Gross, who signed for one-year, $ 1.255 million dollar deal on Weds. 
 

 

That leaves the Rays with only three players who might be going to the arbitration table to exchange figures for their 2009 season. Rays 2008 MVP shortstop Jason Bartlett, starting catcher Dioner Navarro and utility infielder Willy Aybar are the only unsigned arbitration eligible players left for the A L Pennant winning Rays. 

 


 

 

Most people will remember Balfour in 2008 as the Rays player who most resembles a patient from a mental institution based on his on-the-mound antics of cursing and screaming at himself. But besides that behavior,Balfour had a career season in 2008 after not making the Rays roster out of spring training for the Rays. The hard throwing Aussie went down to the Durham Bulls on April 2nd, and immediately began to work on his return to the Rays. While in Durham, Balfour appeared in 15 games in Durham and posted a 1-0 record and an outstanding .038 ERA, with 8 saves for the Bulls. On May 29, 2008, the Rays bought Balfours contract from the Bulls and he was brought up to replace Troy Percival, who began his first 15-day Disabled List visit for a left hamstring strain.
 

 

For the year, Balfour pitched in 17 of the Rays last 34 games of the season. During that stretch, he pitched  scoreless relief appearances in 15 of his last 16 appearances.  For the year, Balfour tied with J P Howell for the team lead in relief wins with 6, which was one win off the team’s current relieving record.  During 2008, Balfour lead all MLB relievers with a 12.66 strikeouts per 9 innings  pitched ratio, and also struck out 36 percent of the batters he faced in 2008, also tops in the majors.

 


 

 

His ending 1.54 ERA was the 4th best in the American League, and his .143 opponents batting average was best in the American League, but only  second best  in the majors behind only Carlos Marmol of the Chicago Cubs, who posted a .136 for the season. Balfour allowed only 3 home runs and 11 extra base hits all year long. His .230 Slugging Percentage was the second best average in the American League behind Joey Devine ( .168 ) of the Oakland A’s. 
 

 

During a second Disabled List visit by Percival in July for another left hamstring strain, Balfour earned 3 of his 4 saves in 2008. If you combined his time with the Rays and the Bulls in 2008, Balfour went 7-2, saved 12 of 13 save chances, with a 1.23 ERA.  Also of amazement is the fact he held batters’ at both levels to a .123 batting average in 2008. 

 


 

 

In the 2008 postseason, Balfour did not fare as well as during the regular season. The usually confident Balfour ran into trouble and  appeared in 10 games going only 8.2 innings and gave up 11 hits and 6 earned runs during the Rays postseason run. His 6.23 ERA  showed he was battling throughout the postseason with control, further evidenced by his 8 walks and only 7 strikeouts during the playoffs.

 


 

 

Outfielder Gabe Gross came to the Rays in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers on April 22, 2008. In his last game with the Brewers the night before, he came around to score the winning run in the team’s victory. To obtain Gross, the Rays sent minor league pitcher Josh Butler to the Brewers. During the course of the season, Gross began to platoon in right field with Eric Hinske and Jonny Gomes and was a key defensive substitution for the Rays in later innings in games.
 


Gross started in 78 of the 141 games since he was acquired from the Brewers. 4 of those starts were in center field  for the Rays. He entered the game 39 times in 2008 as a late inning substitution. During 2008, he hit a career high 13 home runs. His prior career best  season total was 9 home runs in 2006, with the Brewers.  Gross hit a monster 437-foot 2-run home run on  August 6th against the Cleveland Indians to tie the score for the Rays. During the 2008 season, Gross was credited with 5 outfield assists in right field.

 


 

 

Tampa Bay went on to win 10-7 on a 3-run blast by Carlos Pena later in that inning. Gross also combined to hit .293 in August with 4 home runs and 11 RBI’s for the team.  During the 2008 season, Gross had 3 walk-off RBI’s tying the clubs record for a single season.  The first came on May 13th against the New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera when he singled home Jonny Gomes for the winning run. The came his walk-off homer against Matt Thronton and the Chicago White Sox.  This homer was also his first homer off a left hander in his career. The last one came on June 21st against Houston Astros reliever Doug Brocail when he doubled to score the winning run.
 


During the 2008 postseason, Gross also did not have a very productive post season as he only  appeared in 10 games and went 1-19, with 2 RBI’s to post a .174 average for the playoffs. Gross was responsible for several defensive plays during the postseason playing 61.2 innings and garnishing one outfield assist for the Rays. It is expected in 2009, that Gross will be sued primarily in right field, but could start in center field the first week of the season while B J Upton is  still rehabbing from his off season shoulder surgery. The Rays have primary plans to use Gross as a rightfield starter against right handed pitchers in 2009.



 

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