Results tagged ‘ Evan Longoria ’

Did the Rays Gamble Heavy on Their Status Quo?

Wondering if the Tampa Bay Rays basically “ standing pat” will come back to either bite them in the hind quarters, or be a Godsend. So many factors were in play in the background today from medical reports on Evan Longoria’s rehab assignment, to equating if sending a piece of the franchise be it B J Upton or James Shields would stall their recent Wild Card forward momentum. I swear Rays Executive VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman will never have to hit Gamblers Anonymous because he only seems to bet on “ sure things”, or options that weigh heavily in the houses/ Rays favor.

I truly could not envision Friedman standing over a MLB gambling table surrounded by 29 of his peers holding the dice hard wishing for a 7 or 11. I imagine him more comfortable at the .25 cent slots bringing in a few dollars and making more sense of his money and movements. But still, it was good over the past week or so hearing the baited whispers and subtle glances towards Upton and Shields. Wonder how many of Friedman’s peers felt confident going into today that Friedman might part with the likes of Upton who is set to hit the Free Agent market this Winter. 

But then again, I could see Friedman playing Texas Hold-Em with a vengeance, and with the Rays on a West Coast road venture Friedman held his cards close to his vest hoping no one would venture to guess his intentions or call into question any type of bluff or stall tactic.


I felt sure Friedman might possibly throw down at least a Wade Davis baseball card towards an NL peer that might need an up-grade or stop-gap style player either in their 4 or 5 slots or in long relief. But Friedman has the luxury of knowing Davis is only gaining value, possibly with Davis becoming a prime piece of off-season gold that will be look upon with more value this Winter than at this time.

There were even cards in motion within the Rays farm system that hinted at some sort of planning or adjustments as RP Cesar Ramos was being primed and getting reps as a possible starter at Triple-A Durham. You had to have a feeling Friedman wanted to hold a distinctive wild card in his hand knowing a possible trade scenario involving a valuable and flexible southpaw would be considered a luxury heading into August and September as younger arms reach their yearly pitch counts. 

I remember reading in Dirk Hayhurst’s “Bullpen Gospels” about Ramos in the lower Padres system as a starter, so the idea is not foreign to him at all. Since I’m glancing towards the Bullpen, I truly thought Friedman might hold in his hand the cards of possibly relief pitchers Joel Peralta or Kyle Farnsworth as late inning pieces to another squad’s puzzle, possible also in the National League. But the Rays Bullpen stayed intact, possibly the best thing to happen to the Rays since Fernando Rodney’s first arrow flew deep and high into the sky.

Could Friedman have possibly mastered the art of the bluff this week by rebuffing advancements and trading cards being thrown down in his direction, Could the Rays not sending or receiving any players before the time ran out on this non-waiver Trade Deadline show contentment that in-house options are superior to the cards visible on the table, especially since Longoria and SP Jeff Niemann could be back in the dugout sooner rather than later.

No matter if Friedman was playing the game with all intentions of going through the motions, or waiting for the perfect scenario to be placed upon the felt and then plucking it with a grin and a giggle. We might never know the true story, but I do feel there were some potential MLB players trading cards picked up off that green poker table’s felt I truly thought the Rays might contemplate a bit on, or at least bluff towards plucking them for this team. 

The first player I thought the Rays might make a gentleman’s wager on was Miami Marlins 1B Gaby Sanchez who ended up becoming another valuable piece to the playoff hungry Pittsburgh Pirates. I actually thought the Rays might go “in heavy” on Sanchez as a possible 2013 replacement/younger hitting upgrade for the Carlos Pena. I thought Sanchez met the Rays criteria since he can be team controlled until possibly 2016, with his first venture into arbitration coming this Winter. Lest we forget Sanchez was a NL Rookie of the Year candidate in 2010 (finished 4th).

I also thought the Rangers picking up Geovany Soto from the Chicago Cubs recently might be a trading card piece of an evolving Texas trade hand for Shields since the Rays could definitely erase their need for a catcher with someone of Soto’s experience, especially since Soto will only be making his second trip trough arbitration this Winter, Soto’s past All-Star clout and his 2012 salary of only $ 4.3 million, he would be viewed as a solid backstop investment considering the question marks becoming larger with Robinson Chirinos and his concussion setbacks and if Jose Lobaton is a # 1 catcher or a career back-up back stop for this squad.

All that the Rays Republic is left with his wonder and maybe a little hint of want. This team has shown signs of an upwards trend against teams currently that they will battle throughout the rest of this season for a coveted American League Wild Card slot, but you have to wonder if Friedman had set down at least 1 hand in trade if the stakes and odds would have falling more into their favor.

 The Trade Deadline is one of those definite “He said, She said” types of moments where a season can be hinged or be separated by actions of standing pat. Personally, I wanted to see some down and dirty dealing via Andrew Friedman and his band of merry mongrels, but in the end we got only silence.

 Some venture to say the lack of Friedman playing any cards by the final toll of the bell at the Trade Deadline set the tone loud and clear for the Rays venture towards securing one of those coveted post-season slots. In the past the Rays have stayed muted and firm in their belief of their club’s talent and abilities and have come out smelling like roses.

Still, I would have loved to have someone like Sanchez chomping at the bit for that First Base job, or even Soto behind the dish providing offense and quality defense. Friedman decided to fold his hand, pay the dealer for his time and walk away empty-handed as the last cards were dealt today. But maybe by not making a gamble or losing in the process Friedman is way a head of the MLB pack. Only time will tell if he will be considered a winner or loser for his action with the cards.

 

Is Tatman the Missing Puzzle Piece?

Photo credit:  Fangraphs.com

On the surface most people might be scratching their noggins wonder what Tampa Bay Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman was thinking trading for another infielder. Here the Rays go again gathering up loose vital pieces from other clubs like they have previously with the likes of Will Rhymes, Jeff Keppinger and Brook Conrad.

Friedman however did buck the usual hectic Trade Deadline pattern by offering up a peace offering of a 2B Double -A prospect (Tyler Bortnick) for the services of Roberts, who will be under team control until 2015. This is usually the time of years where teams dispense or send lengthy and costly options to other vistas. It is pretty rare a player who was recently designated for assignment to let another Arizona infield player have his 40-man roster spot gets traded.

But the Rays followed their defined and articulated mindset of getting a player with some “meat on their bones” for future considerations instead of renting a body hoping they can help the Rays offense flourish. Underneath the surface, down near ground level the truth begins to appear, and it seems Friedman again possibly stole a player who could be a Rays fixture for at least 3 more seasons.

Even closer to the sand granules you will see past Roberts current .250 average and peek under the sand pile to actually see that Roberts has been on a bit of a offensive tear recently. Roberts might have been used a bit sparingly, but has hit for an impressive .438 (7-for-16) average over the last 15 days with a couple RBI and stolen bases to his credit.

Going to be interesting as Roberts makes his way to Baltimore to meet up with his new team. Might be even more interesting to see what transpires with Roberts Twitter account (@RRoberts14 ) now that he is a Ray and SP David Price has cemented his name with uniform # 14….I hear jersey # 41 has a vacancy. 

Recently we have heard the howls and hoots that Evan Longoria could soon be finally going on another rehab run, hopefully this time with no setbacks or stalls. But if anything would happen, or even with the possibility that Longoria with Luke Scott still out with back situations, and Hidecki Matsui gone into the brilliant sunset, Longo possibly could come back a bit sooner than later and man the DH slot for a bit while he gets into game shape and gets his defensive rhythm on track.

That is where possibly the addition of Roberts could bring about a few bonus points, possibly giving the Rays and Longo a DH option so the team can get his bat back into the line-up. Could Roberts be the long awaited puzzle piece that finally gets the Rays offense and defense running in unison and firing on all their cylinders? If his 2011 stats can come to life again in Tampa Bay, and his hard nosed style of play continues…..Tatman may be here for a long, long time as a Ray. 

First Half in the Books, Can’t Wait for Friday

Been a rough first half for the Tampa Bay Rays. Some things have gone as planned, while others have seemed to be spontaneous adjustments and hunches that either worked brilliantly or destined to be talked about, and dissected over and over again by the Rays faithful. Not once this season did Rays Manager Joe Maddon get to post the nine names he wanted on his line-up card together, the 9 names that he felt would make a difference, would bring him a consistent key to victory.

Not one line-up card in the first half carried all 9 of the Rays best players. That in itself proves something to me.  It also tells  a tale of how hard these first 86 games has been for the Rays coaching staff and Maddon to nightly present a consistent line-up card.  How frustrating  it must have been for Maddon over these first few months to consult his Medical staff before penciling in someone with clarity.  From B J Upton’s early season absence to Evan Longoria’s delayed return ( maybe mid-August), this team has been  a mire shadow of their 2011 selves.  

But with this All Star break comes a mini diversion of their 162 strife with a few days of life away from the ballpark to not only catch their breaths, but recharge and re-focus heading into their final 76 contests, I’m expecting to see some nervous energy and renewed excitement  bouncing from the roof catwalks to the outfield walls when the team again straps on their uniforms this Thursday in preparation of their second half kick-off against divisional rivals Boston.

Odd how that old Maddon mantra of “Fortune Favors the Bold” will again be in play this Friday as divisional rival Boston brings their bats and fans into the Trop. for a weekend shindig. Bold moves have been made all year-long with positional players doing a merry-go-round of nightly choices, with a few of them meriting longer looks and prolonged involvement for players who might not have made this squad if all were healthy. Still the seamstress known as Maddon has stitched some amazing embroidery so far this season with his patchwork quilt of players from Brandon Allen to Will Rhymes.

Got to hand it to the Rays skipper for keeping the positive front, going with his gut instincts and proving again and again sometimes stats do not lie about players and situations.  Only problem is Maddon will have to dig a little deeper over this final stretch, to find the pieces of the puzzle that fit each and every situation. Maddon has always preached the gospel of “Pitching sets the tone”, and it does, but when bats go silent or swing at dead air, even a brilliant pitching performance or quality start can be lost in the nightly box score. Maddon might have to listen closer to the Zim bear as he whispers into the Rays skipper’s ear.  Seize the day has to be paramount with  a hard-nosed defense again becoming the focal point of this club.

Might be kind of ironic that the group Train will perform on the Rays first night of their 10-game home festivities to begin their quest for another champagne soaked clubhouse and game dates in October. I got a nice vibe of reassurance from this squad in their final game in Cleveland on Sunday, that with all the strife, humbling injuries and peculiar results this team has had to endure over their first 86 games , the simple prospect of this team sitting just 1 game out of the American League Wild Card race is amazing.

I believe it was less than a month ago that the entire AL East was so jammed and reaching for the top spot you had to check the standing nightly to see who might be top dog.  This division currently has their entire corp of contenders at or above the .500 mark and are bunched within single digits from the top-tier to the cellar. Toronto and Boston currently are 9.5 games out of the top spot, but that could change as quickly as a 3-game win or losing streak by anyone in front of them. To put this into deeper prospective, if the Rays were to get swept in their upcoming series against Boston ( not going to happen), the Red Sox would not only jump over the Rays into third place, it could just as easily push the Rays from eyesight of the New York Yankees into the cellar.

Even with the Rays currently sporting a 45-41 record, ESPN has the Rays enthusiastically sporting a 26.8 % chance of again spilling champagne in late September.  For that to materialize, this squad has to re-mold itself into a more consistent fighting machine both on the field, and especially at the plate. Signs have been surfacing lately with Ben Zobrist rising his average up more than 50 points, Luke Scott finally getting the woodpeckers out of his bat bin, and Elliot Johnson no longer being the “secret weapon” no one knows about. Just a little more out of each of the Rays 25, and this club could be on track to again move onward and upward.

I know this Rays squad has it in them, we all saw it in their  early Walk-off victories that somehow got lost in all the clouds of frustrations both on the hill and at the plate.  When the Rays again get a few cogs of their offense back from their  injury hiatus, pieces of the overall Rays puzzle will click back in place. Matt Joyce is days away, Evan Longoria could be back by mid August, starter Jeff Niemann should begin some level of baseball activities soon, possibly being back before the roster expand in September.  This team realistically has their old magic just out of their reach right now, but it could be back sooner than we all imagine.  For now, patience is not only a virtue for this team, it is a necessity.

30 Minutes to Reflect, then Onto the Second Half

By the time I end up posting this on Sunday, the Tampa Bay Rays will either be celebrating their gutsy performance over the first half, or spending 30 minutes before thoughts turn to the second half, and the chase for another spot on the post season dance card. Expectation were sky-high in April, reality and gravity brought the surreal excitement to a halt with unforeseen injuries and players beginning a Conga line into and out of Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield’s humble office. Even with a victory today in Cleveland, this 2012 Rays squad will have posted the worst record of any Rays team since their re-incarnation in November 2007 by dropping the “Devil”.

From the hamstring drama of Evan Longoria, the fainting spell that possessed Will Rhymes, to the bats that turned to sawdust, the first half of 2012 has been a test of patience, determination and faith both in the dugout and among the stands. True fans have seen this before, but it was pre-2008 when the Rays Republic had to hold their breath as long, and pray to anything and anyone for a simple single victory during some of their awful losing bouts so far this season. Do not fret little Rays campers, for the 2012 edition of Rays complete with their patchwork quilt of fielders and hodge podge of Mendoza Line hitters might not be the defensive unit of 2011, but they have the courage, confidence and vital constitution that was forged in 2008 and is still rock hard today.

That might be the Rays saving grace with their line-up changing as much as the flight board in Chicago O’Hare Airport with rehab delays, hitting slumps for the ages and a defense that looks more like a piece of Swiss Cheese. Even with all these intangibles working against them, the Rays will end the day with an identical 44-41 record as the Cleveland Indians. But hidden just out of view is the travel this team has taken lately that took them from the 4th slot in the American League East standings, to possibly the second spot by nightfall. Even with all the toils and troubles on the field, this team still is in prime choice position heading into their home-stand on Friday to make an early run at solidifying their silver medal position.

When Longoria went down, this team did not fret, did not pout. Instead they called upon new additions to the Rays fight card from Brandon Allen, Drew Sutton, Rick Thompson and finally Brooks Conrad trying to piece together a consistent order both on the field and in the batters’ box. Some pieces of this amended puzzle proved moot, and have been cut away from this team either for good, or onto the Triple-A Durham Bulls roster. Farmhands Stephen Vogt and Chris Gimenez tried to show down home production, but both faltered and again found themselves again staring at the Green Monster in Durham wondering “what if”.

Hitting has been the throne in the Rays side for most of this season as the team will enter today’s contest with a Team Batting Average of .232, which is the lowest average at this point in a season , but then again the 2011 squad entered the All Star break with a .245 average last season and went onto a post season Wild Card bid. And their last 13 games has been especially cruel to the Rays as they have been held to 4 runs or less in 11 of those games, and have hit only .193 with RISP. But hope is shining on the Rays lately as Luke Scott shrugged off his hitting slump demon with two powerful blasts in C-town, and has looked more relaxed and selective in his appearances.

That is a good thing as the Rays Designated Hitter position has looked more like the 9th slot in an National League line-up than an AL powerhouse slot. Scott and Hideki Matsui have not been able to capitalize and make opponents pitchers pay for their mistakes, which is vital for this position. Sure the Rays have been Hit by a Pitch more than anyone else in the AL (36 times), but going into today contest, the Rays are tied with Baltimore for the most K’s (679) in the American League. Possibly with Scott again finding a groove he likes, the Rays DH spot again can bring some amount of fear and power heading into the final months of the season.

Defense has been so bad early on for the Rays they currently have 71 errors with a few innings to play in today’s contest. To put this into perspective, the Rays have had 19 multi error games including today’s game and seen 22 flaws coming out of Longo-land (3B), 14 out of the 6-slot, and 11 from the pivot (2B). For this team to again climb back into the Wild Card race and have any shot of catching division leading New York Yankees, this team has to hone their throwing and again look like a impervious defensive stalwart. This is not to say this team has to be flawless, but they need to be calculated mistakes that can be erased possibly with double plays or sneaky pick-off moves, not be free run scoring opportunities for their opposition.

One part of the Rays equation though has been up to the challenge and has consistently shown they have the field players backs, even if the bats did not respond in kind. The Rays Team ERA of 3.72 (3rd best mark in club history at the break) combined with a club record 676 strikeout heading into the All Star break has been the foundation for many of the Rays 1st half victories. David Price shared the best record in the AL (11-4) and combined with Rays greybeard James Shields, they have sent 214 hitters back to the dugout via the K so far this season. Matt Moore has found his rhythm again, Hellboy is ready to wreck havoc and Cobb is primed to prove he belongs here even after SP Jeff Niemann heals.

We saw another piece of the Rays pitching future come into the spotlight and perform as Rays prospect Chris Archer became the first non-Rays raised farmhand to take the hill as a starter in the long, long time. Archer showed just how valuable he will be for this team in the coming seasons, and Alex Cobb only cemented his reputation not only at this level, but as a solid MLB pitcher.

Expectation were high in April, but even with this fall from grace the last few months, the Rays are in prime real estate to again fight to the last game for another chance to play into October. Even with all the Rays perils, they are only a few well placed wins away from the top Wild Card slot, and with the momentum of their recent win in their old nemesis Cleveland, the Rays should be pumped to against strap on the uniforms this Friday when rival Boston invade the Trop.

I’m going to take a page from Rays Manager Joe Maddon mantra book and forget this first half in 30 minutes as soon as the Rays exit the turf at Progressive field and become excited and enamored with the second half and all its possibilities. This Rays team is one that is built for the long haul. With Longoria set to possibly still be out to mid to late August, and Matt Joyce possibly missing the 10-game home stand to start the second half, again faith, a slice of good luck and possibly a few bats finding the ball could help this team until their offensive brethren again don the Rays sunburst.

30 minutes has since elapsed since my first written word, time to forget the first half and stand ready, willing and able to help this team push a few squads out of their way in the second half of the season….or die trying.

 

Could the Trop. Pull Off a “Dog Day”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You Ready for Zilla-Mania!

All day long I have had Blue Oyster Cult’s classic “Godzilla” repeating on my truck CD player. Over and over the lyrics and words have amped me up to a point of mystic reality that a human “Godzilla” and the swallowing International entourage that encompasses his MLB mystic via frenzied Japanese media, a sudden influx of Asian fans with personalized and cryptic homemade signs around Tropicana Field.

You can bet the moment it was announced that the human version of “Godzillawas on his way to the hamlet of St. Petersburg, Florida, the Rays Communications Department’s cellphones and email addresses have been bombarded with requests both for video and photo of the historic first appearance of Hideki Matsui in a Rays uniform. I did not get into the Trop. early today to witness the explosion when Matsui finally ascended the dugout steps and into the media gasping and camera clicking frenzy.

Simply put, this might be one of the biggest moves the Rays have made in a while that could turn their Designated Hitter position into a true powerhouse spot in the nightly line-up. It is going to be extremely interesting to see how Rays Manager Joe Maddon juggles the animated Wolverine/ Luke Scott and Matsui in and out of the Rays line-up, especially since both smash the ball from the left side of the plate.

But think about this all for an extended second, with the addition of Matsui who is a finessed professional hitter, the Rays finally have a guy who Maddon can be put behind anyone from Desmond Jennings (when he returns from the D L) to Matt Joyce, Evan Longoria or Carlos Pena and they will automatically see more pitches that they might be able to clobber themselves. Matsui might finally be able to help elevate the DH position for the Rays the way we hoped Manny Ramirez would have in 2011 before his own personal substance debacle.

Even the idea of Matsui playing in the field is not far-fetched especially during the Inter-League slate of games in National League parks. With the idea Scott might play a bit of First Base or the outfield plus Matsui drawing time in the outfield too, it might take the usually lighting-quick Rays outfield and make it a bit more…positioned to keep the big play from dominating the inning.

Even though Matsui has 9 years in the major leagues, it has taken its toll on his knees, but with him missing almost 2 months of the grit and grind of baseball, his knees and health might be timed perfectly to get him through the Inter-League schedule, then DH and be a valuable pinch-hit weapon for Maddon.

Of course Maddon and the Rays will not elevate the call-up of Matsui and anything “special”, but the moment the whisper was first uttered he was destined for the MLB before June, people have been lying in wait for just his arrival. Of course he will have to get used to a new band of baseball brothers, who tend to keep their clubhouse loose and free of the media drama that unfortunately follows Matsui from his homeland.

But there is a hidden gem here some people have not realized yet, but they will as soon as the MLB and Rays Team site begin to see a run on personalized Matsui # 35 jerseys and any collectible that tends to fall the way of E-bay or the Rays Baseball Foundation’s charity online auctions. Instantly the Rays will get extra press and free advertising back to the television sets in the Far East nightly as video replays and Matsui box scores and highlights hit the Web.

Do not be surprised if you see more Japanese advertisements being showcased on FSN/Sun Sports during Rays telecasts, especially on the MLB Network where fans in Japan can watch the game at almost anytime, even in the middle of the night as they get their fill of Matsui. Don’t be surprised if the blue screen to the right of Home Plate gets a few more swirling Matsui-inspired signs that will rotate as Hideki digs into the left-hand side of the Batter’s Box.

This is a big thing people. Not only does the call-up of Matsui possibly give us a profession power hitting bit of muscle, but it will open a new segment of Rays marketing, far out-reaching into the Asian baseball market as well as bring some new faces and excited fans into the Trop. Going to be amazing tonight if Matsui gets a hold of a hanging curveball and deposits it into the right field stands. Do not be surprised if the Raysvision crew already have their own “Godzilla” inspired video clip keyed up and ready to go full ballistic on the Jumbotron at the crack of the bat. 

Joy and Agony Co-exist for One Rays Moment

I have to say watching the ball come off the bat of Tampa Bay Rays RF Matt Joyce last night, you knew if it was headed for Right field, it was as good as gone. But that is the thing about this new “replica” Yankee Stadium, it is designed with a nice air stream flight path for well-hit blasts by left-handers like Joyce.

Then Joyce did something that immediately took my joyous enthusiasm and turned into utter concern and a low agonizing groan. For some reason Joyce did something he usually doesn’t do when he hit the ball, he kind of laser-beamed on the ball and did an impromptu twist and turn with his left foot that somehow made him put his entire body weight on the outside of his left ankle as it sat perpendicular to the clay. Joyce then took a slow trip around the bases stepping gingerly each time he placed his left foot onto the clay surface.

I think if it was not for the extreme adrenaline rush of the moment, Joyce would have had a considerable time even walking around the bases after his unfortunate episode. And it brought a bit of bitterness to me in that moment in that Joyce could have been another on-field calamity to embrace this Rays squad. Already Evan Longoria and Desmond Jennings sat on the bench watching Joyce twist upon his ankle in that awkward position, and I know a few of the guys on that bench feared the worst for Joyce until he began to shake it off a bit.

In that instant, if Joyce had injured himself and somehow had injured himself just enough to warrant any considerable amount of time off-the-field, it would have benched another key ingredient of the Rays offensive arsenal with a lower body injury. Already hamstrings (Longo), knee (Jennings) and wrist (Fuld) aliments have put a damper on a offensive unit that most thought could dominate in 2012. If Joyce had been bitten by the injury bug, he would have been a huge cog missing from the Rays offensive machine.

Joyce’s 3-run bomb was the first blast of his career as a “go-ahead” homer in the 9th inning or later. Chalk another great feat by Joyce off his baseball bucket list. Considering Joyce leads the Rays in Home Runs (7) right now, and 6 of his HR have come in his last 19 games (17 starts). Put his 8 RBI and .400 OBP so far in May (8 games), and you get an idea Joyce is just warming up. His .598 Slugging Percentage ranks 4th in the American League, and Joyce also currently shares both the Rays and AL lead in triples with teammate Ben Zobrist.

After his scary moment last night Joyce may take a night off tonight to get some treatment and give a little extra tender loving care to his lead ankle. Let’s hope he can get well before the Rays head off to Baltimore this weekend where Joyce seems to love to play, and hit in that bandbox called Camden’s Yard. Still it was a frightening moment seeing Joyce roll over on his left ankle last night. Right now he is hitting the ball brilliantly, and we truly do not need to see another talented starter riding the pine awaiting his injury to heal. Last night we all witnessed the odd pairing of triumph and agony even before Joyce could take a full step out of the batter’s box. Hopefully we never get to see that pairing again….Right Matt?

Beckham Career Could Go to Pot

When I saw him during February in Port Charlotte, Florida weeks ahead of the report date for the Tampa Bay Rays field players, I thought he finally had his ducks in a row and was going to strike hard and fast to hitch his wagon to a Rays roster spot. His body seemed more toned and muscular than before, and his concentration in the cages showed he had a serious intention to stay in the “Big Boys” camp as long as possible this Spring.

It truly felt like Rays prospect Tim Beckham had made a decision in the 2011 off season to finally thrust his name into the running for a infield slot with the team, and I truly had the vibe that only thing that would defeat Beckham in this process would be himself. So it was beyond disheartening today to learn Beckham has been slapped for the second time in his minor league career with a suspension for a “drug of abuse”.

50 games is a long time in the minor league system. It is more than enough time for a fellow competitor to pass you in stats, experience and possibly be a direct link to your season ending around September 1st instead of having a month up with the parent club. I guess Beckham’s “drug of abuse” which was pot has its own opinions as to whether it should be legal or regulated, but it is still a banned and illegal substance. We could debate for hours, possibly days considering this substance, but the final say is that minor league baseball considers it illegal and a harmful drug and the suspension has merit.

Even though Beckham is currently on the Triple-A Durham disabled list trying to rehab and conquer his wrist ailments, immediately the focus has to be re-directed towards this “drug of abuse”. The most important thing right now is the first move Beckham makes post revelation of his pot smoking reveal. Does he do counseling, treatment or can he go “cold turkey” and beat the ganja gangster? Whatever his plan of action, it must be swift, concise and show an honest effort and chance for change both in his lifestyle and his demeanor…Without the combination, his career could evaporate.

Truly this event could not have happened at a worst moment for Beckham. You had to think the Rays would of at least entertained the notion of bringing up Beckham with Rays slugger Evan Longoria out of the line-up for at least 4-8 weeks with his hamstring injury. Possibly Beckham would of gotten ample chances at either side of the second base bag to leave a lasting impression on Rays Manager Joe Maddon just as he had this Spring, but now all that prior work, all that hustle and sweat might just be for not.

This suspension doesn’t mean the team will turn its head away from Beckham. The Rays have established a long history of helping their player conquer abuse problems, and have held players within their system fighting internal demons, some with success, and some to utter failure. The path Beckham takes now will determine if he is going to be a vital cog in the Rays future, or possibly just another example of great talent before the Draft, and a fall from grace while establishing himself.

I hope Becks finds the light, turns the corner and proceeds to get himself straight and ready to again claim a shot at a Rays roster spot. Wild how not even 90 days ago Beckham had his entire Rays world in front of him for the taking. He was more confident, physically and mentally prepared like no other time in his career and put up some impressive displays both at the plate and in the field this Spring. I still think Beckham has the right stuff to be not only a Rays player, but one we cheer and embrace for a long, long time.

But first, Beckham has to step forward, profess and cast off his demons, then work to get healthy inside and out, get back to playing the game he loves and the rest will take care of itself. I hope Becks can make that transition, find that serenity and peace to expunge his demonic partner and again thrive both on the off the field. If he can do that, I promise to be one of the first to stand and applaud and hopefully shake his hand and welcome him back not only as a Ray, but as a true baseball survivor.

“Oh No….Longo!”

I swear at that moment I saw the cloth fabric of Tropicana Field move like a sudden wind gust had enveloped it. The collective gasp and exhale after a botched stolen base attempt by Tampa Bay Rays 3B Evan Longoria made the Trop. silent as we watched Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield and Rays skipper Joe Maddon trot out to Longo. I immediately let out a long drawn out moan of “Oh No! Longo!” that made a few people laugh as it sounded more like the old SNL Mr Bill character than my usual voice, but it hit me like a rock that suddenly one of the true keystones of this amazing run by the Rays stood favoring his left knee and we all wanted it to heal instantly.

This season Longoria seemed to want to be the “go-to” guy, he wanted the pressure, the stress and the responsibilities that go along with being the player constantly in the spotlight for both praise and criticism. It is always a good sign for a player to leave the field on his own power, but when it is a central figure standing there trying to keep his weight off his sore and aching knee, the Rays Republic could only think the worst. Even before Longo hit the Rays dugout steps the dulled whispers and a active hum hit the stadium.

The early prognosis is that Longoria is suffering a bit of soreness in his left knee region, but then we heard the three letter that instantly horrified us all..M..R..I. That doesn’t mean as much today as it would 3-4 years ago as every athlete even with a minor aliment gets this imaging test nowadays as a precaution more than a insight to injury. Still, this one test can see deeper into the situation, and possibly bring to the surface our darkest fears, a extended bench vacation for the Rays offensive weapon.

That would put a deep crease in the Rays offensive machine as Longoria was a key figure in the Rays 5th ranked American League offense, and was experiencing a great start in 2012. Going into this match-up against Seattle, Longoria himself boasted a .550 average with runners in scoring position, which lead the majors. To put it into deeper prospective in Longo’s last 12 plate appearances with runners in scoring position before Monday night’s contest, he was an astronomical 9-for-10 with 2 doubles, 2HR, 2 walks and 11 RBI. Instantly by this you can see a major clog in the Rays machine has a sudden health issue.

Let’s expand a bit more into the offensive presence of Longo for this 2012 Rays squad. He already has 19 RBI in 95 plate appearances in 22 games. That is a huge improvement over 2011 when it took Longoria 151 plate appearances to hit the same mark. Longoria had 15 RBI in 13 road games this season as well as since last June, his 105 RBI in 120 games leads the entire tier of sluggers in Major League Baseball.

If Longoria spends any significant time off the field it hits the Rays in a multitude of areas. It takes a huge piece of the Rays hitting factor our of their 2012 equation as well as a team on-the-field General and leader. Even with his fumble-itus recently at the Hot Corner, his experience and solid foundation at Third Base will open a huge hole with only utility guy Elliot Johnson and possibly Jeff Keppinger currently on the Rays roster who can play the spot with any consistency. It would also throw a huge monkey wrench into the Rays winning formula that has already sparked an impressive 8-2 record over their last 10 contests.

It is too early to think negatively. Longo maybe needs a day or two off his feet in the field, possibly resting and icing the knee. I do not want to fathom the thought of 30 days or longer without the Rays spark plug at the Hot Corner, I would rather think of this as a short vaca to do some much needed R&R.

Possibly as early as this afternoon or tonight we will know more, so I will keep the negative Nelly stuff deep within me, hoping the MRI shows minimal or no significant damage. I know the Rays Republic are sending positive vibes and emotions to Longo, hopefully they have the power to heal and bandage this evolving Rays situation. I truly did have the shivers last night watching the event, and it was hard to stay positive. Hopefully Maddon will be the bearer of great news later today.

Rays Want to be “King of the Hill”

You remember playing that childhood game called “King of the Hill”. Of course in Florida we do not have many hills, but sometimes sand dunes, the rolling landscape or even a set of monkey bars can set the tone of the combatant game of skill and wits. As you push, shove and generally bully your friends to keep sole possession of that sacred space, in the back of your mind you always knew someone could or would topple you with a counter move or bum rush you never expected.

It always came, it put you firmly back on your heels or backside, and you always knew someone wanted the “Hill” as bad as you. That is exactly how I picture the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays right now. Both teams want to sit a top that hill all by themselves, and the Rangers, who have won 75% of their early contests is trying to dig in and stay firm for the long haul while the Rays are pushing, shoving and doing the general mayhem needed to irritate and cause mistakes of this Ranger squad.

Just like our own childhood backyard fights for superiority, honor and neighborhood glory, this 3-game knock-down drag-out square-off is as much a mental challenge as a physical one. Both teams know their own strengths as well as their oppositions weaknesses, but it was the Rays who forcefully shoved first last night pushing the Arlington crew back a step en route to the Rays 13th victory.

And the Rays did it the old-fashioned way by using their ace, James Shields who used his change-up and cutter to confuse and found the corners of the plate with sharpness and consistency last night, further helping develop the Rays chances of winning. Combine that with clutch hitting from Evan Longoria, some aggressive base-running that produced mixed results, but served notice the Rays are not standing in the base paths on their heels, and this team served notice it has come to take a few victories before heading back home for another home stand.

When I first saw this road blip on the Rays 2012 schedule I firmly thought this would be a nice checking point to see how this team will endure during the 2012 season. Usually around the 20 game mark teams show their developing interwoven character, and pitching begins to get closer to the hitter’s early season advantages. The Rays have fine-tuned their starter’s rough edges, and with that this Rays team has been rewarded with an impressive winning streak. For this to keep happening, the Rays have to keep doing what got them here, post up at least 6 runs in support for the starters and Bullpen, then find ways to secure outs and get this game quickly in the books.

Still, the Rays want to be the “King of the Hill”. For the Rays to keep pressure on the Rangers and possibly take the hill for themselves, they need to keep pushing the Texas squads mental buttons, shove runs across the plate and take it to this Rangers squad hard and rough especially when they are down. Aggressive actions along with calculated moves could bring the Rays another “W” this afternoon and with that, a clear advantage in this series that the Rays can bank and will clearly pay dividends down the seasonal stretch. I mean baseball and “King of the Hill” are kid’s games…right?

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