Results tagged ‘ Fernando Perez ’
Momentum Swung like a Pendulum
I still can not believe what I saw last night during that game against the Minnesota Twins. These are the types of games we used to come out on top of in 2008. For some reason the karma or the magical ingredient is missing so far in this 2009 edition of the Rays. I mean that is a perfect example of the way we won games in 2008. We would fight and claw and produce hits and run scoring opportunities, then magically, a hit or a homer would open the floodgates for home plate celebrations. It is still time for this team to get back into that same groove, but we might have to dig to find it right now.
The person I feel the sorriest for right now is Rays reliever J P Howell. The guy is 0-2 this year after going 6-0 to begin 2008, and he should not have even had to go to the mound last night. How many defensive chances did we have in last nights game that could have turned the tide the Rays direction. Seriously here, there were plays that the usual Rays were adapt at getting, and one that would have secure the win even before Justin Morneau came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning. Is this defense the same reproduction of the 2008 model, or is it lacking a bit of intensity right now.
I know a barrel of hard hit balls can get through the holes in the infield, but when you do the “Maddon ” twist and add another infielder to the mix, a sharp hit ball should not take you out of the game. I mean on that special shift in the ninth inning, with the bases juiced, you know the pressure is at its highest level of the game. Morneau hit a screamer that takes a bad hop right in front of Akinora Iwamura and he has to field the ball off his stomach. With the Rays maybe still having a chance to end the inning, and a chance to win it, Aki tosses the ball to second base to get the force out on Brendan Harris. With Harris out, the ball is quickly thrown to Carlos Pena at first base, but not in time and Twin’s catcher Jose Morales hit the plate with the winning run.
The split second that the ball hit Aki in the stomach might have gave the Twins that victory. For if he had been able to cleanly get the ball and toss it to second an instant earlier, the Rays would have been up to bat in the top of the 10th inning. Those plays used to seem routine to the Rays in 2008, but in 2009, they are having to work for every out and run. Minnesota did what it took to win the game.period. They played the perfect National League scoring card to a “T”. They got Morales on base with a lead-off single. Nick Punto put down a nice bunt to move him over to second base and into scoring position. Denard Span hit a beautiful ball just past the mound for an infield single and put Morales 90 feet from the win. Then the ex-Ray Harris came up to pinch hit for Alexi Casilla and got walked. Then Morneau hit a routine grounder to Aki………..the rest is history.
Three Key Moments in the Game
I saw three moments in that game last night that seemed to seal the loss for the Rays. If any of these events had gone the other way, that is in the Rays favor, it would have been a Rays win. I know it is speculation that these events could have, or would have been different, but you got to believe they did have a momentum change for the team. Let’s start with the one that had me on the edge of my chair cursing out a base running blunder.
The first incident happened in the fifth inning, with the Rays down 2-0. Willy Aybar lead off the inning with a one-hopper to the left field wall for a double. With Aybar already in scoring position, it seemed like a easy chance for the Rays to cut into the Twin’s lead. Gabe Kapler hit Aybar over to third with a grounder to second for the first out of the inning. Then Dioner Navarro hit a ball to short that Punto decided to come home with for a force out at the plate on Aybar. Now the thing that got to me here was that Aybar was not moving on the play to the plate, or he would have scored before the throw. Instead he took a late break to the plate that Punto saw and he changed his throw from first to the plate.
The ball was there in enought time for Morales to post up in front of the plate perfectly to keep Aybar from sliding past him. Aybar was straight up when he bashed into Morales and sent him flying backwards, but he had enough time to firmly secure the ball and the aggressive thrust by Aybar was moot. I am sorry, but maybe it is the football player in me, but I used to dig my shoulder into the catcher and drive him off the plate from below to give him a sense of fear from landing on his head, not politely send him reeling backwards like a possum.
Incident number two might be more 50-50 to some people, but every time I saw that replay on television, I think I saw more of a chance to get that ball. In the bottom of the first inning, Rays starter James Shield issued a lead-off walk to Span. These lead-off incidents always come back to haunt you unless you get a quick double play ball out of it. Alexi Casilla then came up and struck out to post the first out of the inning. Morneau then came to the plate with the ability to hit one out on every pitch. Shields tried to go inside on him and the ball caught more of the plate than he expected and Morneau drilled the ball deep into left-center field.
Carl Crawford was there with a bead on the ball as it began to slowly come out of the air. He jumped high along the 7 foot outfield wall as the ball began to fall rapidly. He made a perfect play on the ball, but it somehow managed to dribble from his glove and Morneau had himself a 2-run homer to start the game. You want to yell Fan Interference, or something when you see a play like that. But there was not a Twins fan near the seat before it hit the concrete beyond the wall. Crawford seemed to have had the ball, but it slipped out of his grasp and it gave the Twins an early lead. 9 times out of 10, Crawford is coming down with that ball for an ESPN Web Gem, but tonight, it was instead labeled as Morneau’s fifth homer of the season.
Incident number three was not as obvious to a lot of people.
But it is beginning to destroy offensive chances for the Rays. As of today, Evan Longoria is hitting the cover off the ball at a .365 clip. His power hitting and timely singles have been a major player in the Rays wins. His 10 doubles also are a team high and makes him a scoring threat every time he hit the plate. But there is another Longoria stat that is beginning to rear its ugly head, and it is taking the Rays out of numerous scoring chances this season. The reason I mention this is that every time this has happened recently, it has taken the Rays fastest base runner off the base paths and made Rays rallies more difficult.
It is something everyone does during their year hitting, but so far in 2009, Longoria is making a bad habit of hitting into these plays day in, and day out. Longoria is currently ranked tied for second in the American League in this category. It is an “offensive” category to me, but not in a good way. So far he has hit grounded into 6 double plays this season. He is the only member of the Rays with over 2 this season. And in last night’s game in the fourth inning, after Crawford walked to lead-off the inning, Longoria took two pitches to take the Rays scoring chance off the board. Most people would say, ” So what” to this, but it is a pattern in recent games.
Do I need to go back into the 21 game annuals and show you key moments this has happened? Number 6 is listed above, but how about a few other recent examples.
Example number 5 .
This past Sunday during the Rays 7-1 loss to the Oakland A’s. In the third inning, with one out and Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford both on base, Longoria hit a ball to second baseman Mark Ellis that he tossed to Orlando Cabrerra, then to Giambi to end the inning and the Rays rally.
Example number 4.
During the Rays last home stand, on Sunday, April 19th in the sixth inning, with again two men on base, Longoria hit into a inning ending double play. That day he had Michel Hernandez on second and Gabe Kapler on first base when he hit a ball to Alexi Ramirez at short that he flipped to second and on to first base to complete the inning.
I am not trying to throw anyone under the bus here, but this is a habit that the young Longoria can fix before it gets to be a situation for him. Considering the Rays have only hit into 14 double plays all season long shows that Longoria is heads above the rest of the team in that category. In two of the three examples listed, his action of hitting into a double play might not have changed the course of the contest. But last night, it could have made a monumental change to the game.
Zorilla Needs More Plate Appearances
He was one of those hidden gems on the Rays roster in 2008 when he made 48 starts for the Rays. His bat was just developing into the creature it has further morphed into in 2009. We saw glances of his increased power and his ability during the season. His . 249 average does not jump out at you, but his 10 home runs and 48 RBI’s in limited at bats does make a bold statement about him in 2008. He even put an exclamation point on the last series in Detroit in 2008, by stroking three home runs, including a 420 foot shot to dead center field in that game. His two Grand Slams in 2008, the first against Baltimore on August 29th, then added one against Sidney Ponson in the Rays versus Yankees night cap of the double-header on September 13th.
Now consider he hit all of those in only 193 at bats. that is right, he hit 11 extreme homers in less than 200 plate appearances in the year. Considering he spent the first 38 games of the season on the disabled list with a left thumb fracture, I guess we can say that Zorilla has made his full transformation into not only the “Super Utility” guy, but also a needed tool for the Rays offense. Yes, I am very high on this guy. Not because he is on my countless Fantasy teams ( Which he is), but because I can see the desire and the drive for several years finally peaking with him gaining more time to show his wares to the Rays coaching staff in 2009.
Considering he did not come back up to the Rays until August 5th, for his fourth tour of duty with the Rays, what could he have done if he was healthy all season long and not missed a stretch of the year rehabbing and gaining at bats in the minors. But in 2009, he has done nothing to push him onto the bench, or even be considered a secondary player. Right now I truly feel you play your “hot” card. And right now, he is the hottest guy on the Rays roster. Last night is a classic example of his pinch hitting in 2009. He comes up in place of Gabe Kapler in the top of the ninth inning and blasts a shot into the baggie in right-center field to tie the game up for the Rays.
Pressure, what pressure? This season, Zobrist is 2 for 4 as a pinch hitter with 5 RBI’s. Both of those hits have been home runs, including a Grand Slam pinch hit on April 17th. Before this season, in his three prior years with the Rays, he has gone only 0-12 in that role. So the 24-year old is stepping up his game in 2009, trying to gain either a spot in the field every day, or just be a top option off the bench for Rays Manager Joe Maddon. Now let me throw another wild fact at you about Zobrist. And no, it is not the fact that his wife is an extremely talented singer ( Julianne Zobrist ), but it a Rays career record that might impress you. Zobrist is currently tied with Carlos Pena ( 3 ) for the team franchise record for Grand Slams. Oh, and he has hit all three of those Grand slams in only 86 total at bats. He could run for mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida right now and win by a landslide.
**** In last night’s game, 3 of the Rays 9 hits were doubles off Francisco Lariano. The Rays have now hit 74 extra base hits this year, which is ranked fifth in the American League. Their stolen base percentage of 87.1 is also fifth in the AL this season. The Rays are also fifth in the AL in homers, with 24 this year. But the team is ranked third in doubles this season with 46 so far. But on a bad note, they are also ranked third in the AL , with 165 total in strikeouts this season.
**** In last night’s game, the Rays had their best chance of the season to increase their win total against left-handers. As it stands now after the loss, the Rays
are 1-8 against southpaws this season.
The only left-hander the Rays have defeated this year was Boston’s Jon Lester in their second game of the season. In that 7-2 Rays first win of the season, they tacked 8-hits and 5-runs on the young leftie. In the upcoming 4-game series at home against the Red Sox, the Rays will not face Lester again as he is starting the Wednesday night game against the Cleveland Indians to conclude their series in Progressive Field.
**** Injured literary Ray Fernando Perez will be adding the title public speaker to his resume tomorrow as he will be the guest reader at the Rays “Open Doors for Children” event at the law offices of Holland & Knight ( 100 N. Tampa Street ) in downtown Tampa at 10:30 am. The Columbia University graduate will be reading the popular children’s book, H is for Home Run to about 35 children from ” A Brighter Community” Day Care”, which is one of the oldest day cares in Tampa.
**** Tickets still remain for the Thursday and Friday games of the upcoming Boston Red Sox series. There are limited numbers of seats for the Sat. and Sunday games, but plenty of variety seats for the first two games of this series. The Rays are currently ranked fourth in home attendance in 2009, even with only 7 home games so far in the season. The average of 28, 986 after the seven games is a 60 percent increase over last year’s attendance figures for the team in 2008. The team will play only 13 of their first 35 in the confines of Tropicana field in 2009.
Rays 9, Mariners 3
C C Comes Alive
To say that Tampa Bay Rays fans have been waiting for Carl Crawford to warm up at the plate might be a bit of a lost moment in time. The slugger had been mired in a bit of a slump where he seemed to be just swinging kind of flat to just make contact with the ball. It has been a increasingly difficult time to see our Second guy in the order struggle like this when the team really needed his bat to come alive. But he finally did come out of that slump and he did it with gusto going 4 for 5 last night, while crossing the plate 3 times for the Rays. It looked like the Crawford of 2008, when he used to use his speed and the playing surface to get hits based on his speed and played upon the agility and performances of the opponent’s infield players.
He started showing his renewal early by hitting a ball straight at Seattle first baseman Mike Sweeney, but the ball was hit so hard and also took a nice hop right before it got to Sweeney and it handcuffed him to give Crawford his first hit of the night. Crawford ended scoring on Carlos Pena’s 2-run double to the wall to help the Rays take an early lead in the game. Crawford again got a chance in the second inning on a slpa single to left field, but he was overly aggressive and Mariner outfielder Endy Chavez was able to cut him down trying to advance to second on the throw. I understand the aggressive nature of the team, but sometimes it just runs your team out of a potential rally.
Then in the fourth inning Crawford put his speed again to the test as he hit a ball hopping over the mound after hitting right in front of the plate and second baseman Ronny Cedeno had no play at first base to give him his second single of the night. Crawford again came around to score on Evan Longoria’s double to right-center field gap. That would be his second plated run of the night. In the sixth inning the Mariner’s went to the Bullpen and Crawford got a walk out of reliever Roy Corcoran to lead-off the inning. That marked the fourth time tonight he was on base. Longoria again hit a screamer into the right-center field gap and crawford scored from first base to score his third run of the night.
The Mariners finally got Crawford off the base paths in the seventh inning when he struck out against Seattle reliever Miguel Bastista to end the inning. His final chance came in the ninth inning when Seattle brought in reliever Mark Lowe to finish out the game. With two-men on base at second and third, Crawford hit another single up the middle to get his only RBI of the night when Jason Bartlett crossed the plate. The inning ended two batters later when Pena hit a ball to Ichiro in right field, but you want to think that Crawford looked skyward and loved his night at the plate. Sometimes a slump at the plate can follow you into the field and it gets into your head when making plays in the outfield.
I truly think this did happen to him during the Chicago White Sox series and during a few fly balls in this series. In the White Sox series he seemed to give up on balls hit in front of him a few times, including at least three on Sunday afternoon. But when you confidence is growing, you will stride faster and take a few more chances on balls. Crawford’s night at the plate saw his average rise from a suspect .224 to a more .270. All that in one night. Crawford might have been one of those guys that Rays Manager Joe Maddon worked with before the game with extra B P today trying to instutue more ground balls and using their team speed and abilities to test a defense. It paid huge dividends for crawford and the Rays last night as they broke out of their slump of scoring and putting their aggressive nature to the test against the Mariners last night.
Elaine Thompson / AP
Evan Oh Mighty!
Who would have thought more than 135 games ago when Evan Longoria finally made his Major League debut we would be talking about this feat at such an early juncture in his career. But the pure fact is this guy has risen above expectations and is now moving at his own speed towards the top to be spoken in the same sentences as some of the greats who have played third base in the majors. Considering this guy makes it look so easy only compounds the fact he might just become a true force on the Rays for many years. First off, only two other players have stroked the ball like Longoria to post their 100th RBI earlier than him. And neither of those guys even plays on the same side of the field as him.
Cardinal Superman Albert Pujols and Brewers Home Run wonder Ryan Braun are the only players to reach this feat faster than the Rays hot corner guy. Not let’s just take a peak at this a bit here. He is in the company of Pujols, who was the 2008 National League Most Valuable Player, and a true superstar in the making with his fellow State Farm Home Run Derby participant Braun. No predictions or forecasting here, but the future is so bright, he better wear shades. And all of this is coming in a time when the media and writers are forecasting a sophomore slump for the slugger. But Longoria is also taking a shot at putting his name up there for early consideration for his second All-Star bid with a some impressive offensive numbers.
Coming into tonight’s 6:30 start, after a great 3 for 4 night , with 3 RBIs, he is currently sitting in the number 3 spot in hitting with a .415 average. But that is not his only posting in the League Leaders right now. His 3 RBI’s last night put him in a 3-way dogfight in third for the RBI’s with 16. Of course he is trailing team mate Pena, who is sitting in the two spot with 17 this season, But that puts a total of 33 RBI’s into the thrid and fourth slot of the Rays lineup. That is impressive because with Longoria getting on base, it increases the chances for Pena to be able to produce runs and get the Rays into the Wins column. And his record 100th RBI in the fourth inning came off his 7th double of the year. Oh, and by the way, he is tied for the lead in that category too.
Longoria might have thought last season was the magical one, but so far in 2009, he is exceeding expectations and also seeming to just be letting us all go along and enjoy the ride. I am not saying the Rays should hitch their wagons to this star, but you always ride the hot hand, and right now Longoria
is as hot as the sun. And if all the above was not enough, he is still the top dog in Slugging Percentage, hitting a robust .830 right now with hard hitting Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler right behind him. How much of a compliment is that, Kinsler is a hitting machine and is trailing Longo. I do not know about any of you, but I am truly enjoying watching this guy hit, field and also wreck havoc on the base paths this year. I compared him to Mongo last year played by Alex Karras in “Blazing Saddles”. Not for the character’s brain power,or lack of it, but for the brute force and ability he showed. Longo is making all of us rethink third base, and maybe even that sophomore slump idea.
Navi reverting to Old Habits?
I really like Dioner Navarro. The guy has been a force behind the plate for the Rays for several years, but his current hitting struggles make you again question what is going on with him. Granted it has been almost two years since he started off like this, but if you remember back at the All-Star break in 2007 when he was hitting an anemic .177 for the Rays. I am seeing some of the same swings and desperate slices at the ball hoping for contact again this year. He is currently not at that mark, but after last night contest his average has dipped to .184. But what is more upsetting is this might creep into his defensive work soon, and the Rays do not need that to happen.
Last night was not his night in several ways. First he is the only Rays hitter to not get on base last night going 0-5. A good sign id that none of those 5 at bats resulted in a strikeout, so maybe his salvation is only a stroke away. But his night was hampered by another play that he should not have been pegged with an error last night. In the fifth inning, Seattle catcher Rob Johnson hit a ball high into the sky underneath the roof of Safeco field and Rays pitcher Jeff Niemann was pointing it out to Navarro, who came from behind the plate and was camped under the ball for the easy out.
But at the last moment, Rays first baseman Pena came in and bumped into Navarro causing him to lose focus and the ball fell to the grass. Luckily for the Rays, Home Plate Umpire Larry Vanover called the ball foul, or it would have been Johnson standing on second base after the play. Navarro was given an error on the play, which I do not agree with, but he did seem to have a clear shot at the put out, and for that fact he should have been given the error. But here is the place that the official scorekeeper can also have given the error to Pena for his interference in the play.
It did not work to the Rays disadvantage, but was an example of the piling on right now of Navarro’s woes. He did however have a bright moment in the sixth inning when he mowed down Ichiro, who was trying to steal second base. Niemann, becuase of his large size can be a bit slow to the plate, but Navarro got the ball and sprung up throwing and got the tag perfectly online so that Bartlett could apply the tag to his left shin for the out. That might just be the one thing that could spark confidence in him and he could again begin to rebuild his hitting, just like in the last part of 2007 when he went .289, or in 2008 when his .295 average showed everyone he had the abilty to hit and play great defensive catching for the Rays.
Elaine Thompson / AP
Niemann looked Golden in Victory
Rays starter Jeff Niemann must have thought he was in a dream before the beginning of the fifth inning. He was sitting on a chance to put an exclamation point on the reason he should be the fifth starter for the entire year. He had been able to work out of the wind-up the entire game and did not have any worries about base runners. Since those first five batters he faced in 2009 in Baltimore, Niemann has ressurected his season by posting a 2.61 ERA in the last 10.1 innings for the Rays. But coming into the fifthth inning, he was facing a blank slate in hits and runs, but that soon would change for the 6 foot 9 inch right-hander.
In the matter of a few batters his night would completely change dispite an impressive and entusiastic outing in Seattle. In the fifth inning he seems to begin to show signs of maybe second guessing himself and the fatigue of the night. The inning started off with Adrian Beltre hitting a hard ball deep into the hole to Jason Bartlett at short, but Bartlett was high with his throw and Pena could not come down with the tag in time to get Beltre on the play. It went in the books as an E-6 on the play saving Niemann’s bid for the moment.
But the next hitter, Ronny Cendeno, who had come in after Mike Sweeney went down with a back strain, gave Seattle only their second base runner of the night when he walked on 4 pitches. Niemann was beginning to show signs of letting this game get away from him when Jose Lopez came to the plate. Lopez had hit 18 home runs in 2008 and had the ability to ruin Niemann’s bid in one stroke. After working the count to 0-1, with a called strike, Niemann tried to put a ball on the insdie corner that Lopez turned on and hit into the Mariners’ Bullpen in left field for a 3-run homer.
After the inning, the scoreboard showed only one-hit on the night for Niemann, but the three runs put the Mariner’s in striking range 7-3 at the time. Niemann ended the night in the sixth inning when Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out and got him after going 5.1 innings and giving up 3 hits and 3 runs on the night. Niemann’s effort lowered his ERA to a more respectable 5.40 this season, which is the same ERA as Scott Kazmir this season. That might put some emphasis to just how far he has come in his last few starts on the mound. He has a better ERA than Andy Sonnanstine and is equal with Kazmir. If you take away those first five batter, he might even be the most productive pitcher this season for the Rays. Not bad for a guy who was fighting for a chance not less than three weeks ago to even be on this team’s roster.
Hump Day Happenings
I thought it was great that the Rays let Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi take out the official line-up card to the umpires before last night’s game. The guy has been one of the hardest working people on this Rays staff for years. The guy does a hard job with a smile and it was a great sight seeing Scottie at the plate before the game. With that in mind, do you again send him to the plate with the line-up card tonight? Do you toy with the Baseball gods and break from superstition, or do you ride the karma of Cursi and his aura of professionalism to the bottom of the wave. I hope he again gets shot, because you might remeber that he did it also during the 2008 season and team also won that contest. Cursi is 2-0 in that position, can we go for 3-0 Joe?
Another Rays blog, the Rays Index came up with this gem that current Rays DL candidate Fernando Perez is doing a column for the New York Times. As many Rays fans know, Perez is a graduate of Columbia University and is a well-versed guy on the bench right now rehabbing his wrist injury. You can still see him before the Rays games doing his running in the field with his light blue foam cast hoping the days come fast that it can be removed and he can resume baseball activities. Here is a link to that column for those interested: http://bats.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/17/fernando-perez-rays-fandom-up-close/. You will not be disappointed in his style or impressions of life as a Ray. I look forward to more of his writings this year for the publication.
I still think it is funny when something goes wrong with a uniform or a team plays a joke on a player with mis-spellings or an alteration on their jerseys. I remember when the Rays put only “Rocco” on Rocco Baldelli’s jersey a few years ago to play a joke on the center fielder that he should be like Ichiro and have only his first name ob his jersey. Baldelli actually played an inning before it was pointed out to him by an umpire at second base as he was running into the dugout. I could see guys falling off the top seat rail in the dugout and it was a priceless moment in Rays history.
But I do have to say that the recent embarrassing moment for Majestic, who make all of the formula game issued jerseys for MLB really did show a huge vulnerable situation in their Quality Control department when two Washington Natinals players were spotted with grammarical errors on their jerseys during a game. I can see it getting by the QC department and getting shipped to the team, but the teams put their own names and numbers on the jerseys in-house, so the blame has to also go with the Washington Clubhouse staff. I would think you would double-check your work before you hang it up in a professional player’s locker for game use.
I know the job is some times bang, bang in the Clubhouse, but to let something like that get to the field is a major problem. I mean,there have been names wrong on jerseys before, and even patches upside down or even wrong. But to put a jersey out on the field that displays your teams name wrong is a huge insult to the organization. I bet from now on there is going to be a huge amount of double-checks and balances in place to keep this from happening again in Washington. And by the way, Majestic should not have issued such a huge apology, it should have been caught before it hit the player s back, or at least before the beginning of the first inning.
So there I was yesterday staring at the ball field beyond my laptop screen and wondering what the day will bring. I am I know I will see some great Rays baseball, but I also had a 3 pm “live draft on ESPN.com for the newly formed MLBloggers League. I man in the last week people in the league have been sending up all sorts of smoke signals that they ” did not know how to play”, or that they ” Were there just for fun. Well, I am not sure about the first and last part having much reality considering the first few draft rounds of the draft.
I mean I do have a few teams on ESPN.com, and I do play Fantasy games on there year round, but this is the first time I have participated in a “live” draft and a league setting. I usually go it alone, except for Fantasy Football, which I won my division for the fifth year in a row. But I was note if I was up for the unsettling reality that the guy on my board might be picked right before me, and I would have less than 2 minutes to regroup and find another way to get it done. So as I was sipping a cold Dr Pepper at the Rays complex in Port Charlotte, Florida waiting for the league’s time to come up, I watched the Rays versus the Pittsburgh Pirates game from a shady area near the Rays offices in right field.
I wanted to sit at the Miller Lite Tiki Bar, but decided that I might have too many armchair managers if I tried to even involve one person in my decision process. So I sat out by the Kid’s area among the young moms and their kids rambling around me like the Indians to Custer. I even had a few Rays officials strolling back to the office and locker rooms come on over and tell me a few sleepers picks they had on their minds. I have to be honest, I am using one of them tomorrow when the players come off waivers. I will explain it more a bit later in the blog.
So I wander on into the chat room segment of the draft and do my usual run around the room and see what the climate was like. Believe me, these people were set for a winner takes all poker challenge and no one really let their hand be known ahead of time. I mean I had two different lists of the top 4 guys for my selection next to me ready for the first pick. I was going for power ans steals in my offense, and wins and strikeouts on my pitching staff. I was getting more and more anxious as people were beginnig to bluff who they might want…or might be willing to trade for in the daily doings of the draft.
I mean we had the youngest member of our league picking first in Elizabeth of “The Future Sox Blog“. And considering we had 14 members in our two divisions of the league, I was too upset getting the eighth slot to start my draft. So as it gets hit the 3 pm hour, Elizabeth of course takes the top player on the board, Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins. But then we had the first pick of the day that mystified me, not because of the pick, but it was only the second pick of the draft. “Mets Main Man“ decided to take Phillies starter Cole Hamels with the first selection. I am not sure if that was a wise decision, but if he goes and wins 20 games………..I will be the first to admire that pick. Julia of “Julia’s Rants” picked Red Sox Kevin Youkilis with her pick, but that was not a huge shocker to anyone in the room. the only thing that worried me was why she did not get Dustin Pedroia, who by far the best second baseman on the board.
My first selection was all power. Ryan Braun of the Brewers had a great second half, and I have the feeling he is now feeling more secure in his MLB skin. He is also having a great World Baseball Classic tourney, so he was a no brainer for me. The we had the first controversy of the day. “Braves World” decided to mess with “Team Clemson” by drafting Grady Sizemore. I could feel the tension through the computer screen knowing that “Team Clemson” missed it by one draft spot of getting her man. But Melissa of “Team Clemson” rebounded nicely and acquired Dustin Pedroia with her first pick. That was actually one of the guys that I thought would never fall beyond the first 8 picks. Maybe people are believing that MLB2009 commercial.
The next two draftees went toward their team alliances when Jen, from “Team Diatribe” stayed true to her White Sox roots and took Alexi Ramirez, who will be getting a bulk of the time at shortstop in 2009. Then “How Bout Them Orangebirds” took his hometown hero, Nick Markakis with his first round pick. Was is interesting about Orangebird is the fact he dad was helping him in the selection process. I only mention this because he proudly admitted it in the chat room that he dad was awesome at Fantasy Baseball. So he might be the guy to watch today.
I ponder back and forth if I should pick Cleveland ace Cliff Lee or Peavy. But considering the power that is coming to light in the American League Central, I decided that the National League West might be more compatible for wins this year. That being said, two picks later team alliance again came to light as “Team Clemson” took Cliff Lee, and “Team Diatribe” put her faith in a full recovery for Carlos Quentin of the White Sox. Both are solid picks and should do great for them. The last pick of the third round did make me scratch my head. Joe Mauer of the Twins is going for a second opinion now about his back pain after having his off season operation on his kidneys. I am not seeing this as a positive reinforcement to take him so early in the draft. But, if he comes back soon ” The Metsblog of Raleigh” might have a beautiful sleeper pick.
Power pitcher who also gets a lot of strikeouts and limited walks
Fifth Round: Tampa Bay Rays Left Fielder Carl Crawford
Increasing power and steals and triples are a bonus
Sixth Round: Seattle Mariner Starting Pitcher Felix Hernandez
He is power all day long, and his walks are decreasing finally.
Seventh Round: Chicago Cubs closer Carlos Marmol
I am banking on him getting it done with a low Opponents B.A.
Eighth Round: Baltimore Orioles 1B/3B/DH Aubrey Huff
I think this one might have upset Orangebird a bit. Power and great numbers throughout his MLB career.
Ninth Round: Los Angeles Angels closer Brian Fuentes
First he is a leftie, plus a closer……….double whammy on hitters.
Tenth Round: Chicago White Sox DH Jim Thome
I always see power number from Thome, plus he is in a good lineup to see pitches every at bat. You can not walk him to get past any good hitters.
11th Round: Tampa Bay Rays Left Fielder/ DH Pat Burrell
I just think he is the real deal. I also got a Trade Request to give him up for Josh Willingham…….Please…………
12th Round: Colorado Rockies Outfielder Brad Hawpe
25 Homers, 85 RBI, .283 average
13th Round: Florida Marlins Starting Pitcher Ricky Nolasco
15 wins, 182 strikeouts, 1.10 WHIP
14th Round: Cleveland Indians Shortstop Jhonny Peralta
23 homers, 83 RBIs and 104 runs scored last year
15th Round: Detroit Tigers catcher Brandon Inge
I consider this one of my sleepers. He is due for another breakout year.
16th Round: Colorado Rockies 1st Baseman Todd Helton
He might be hitting the twilight of his career, but he can still hit the ball.
17th Round: Milwaukee Brewer 2nd Baseman Rickie Weeks
I always thought the Rays should have drafted him. He is about to have a breakout year in 2009…………..Sleeper.
18th Round: Tampa Bay Rays Set-up Man Jason Isringhausen
The guy has 283 saves and he fell to the 18th round. He pitched great in front of me why I was drafting him yesterday. Nydol Sleeper Pick.
19th Round: Tampa Bay Rays Reliever J P Howell
I love watching this guy pitch. He also got plugged by a Curtis Granderson B P ball and has not pitched since in the WBC.
20th Round: Detroit Tigers Starting Pitcher Armando Gallerraga
Another sleeper. Had 13 wins and 126 strikeouts last year.
Kahili Greene, SS, St Louis Cardinals. Change a scenery will do him good also at the plate. Could ne a light SLEEPER.
Jason Giambi, DH Oakland A’s. I got him in the 22nd round. He might not a great fielder, but 32 homer and 96 RBI’s for the 22nd round is a STEAL.
Jeff Niemann, SP Tampa Bay Rays. I might be going out on a limb, but I am picking him to be the winner of the fifth rotation spot for the Rays in 2009.
Bronson Arroyo, SP, Cincinnati Reds. I am still shaking my head as to why he fell to the 24th round, but I am predicting a come back year.
Willy Aybar, Utility Guru, Tampa Bay Rays. To me he is the best super utility guy in the league. He hit 10 homers and 33 RBI in less than 330 at bats.
Frankiln Gutierrez, OF, Seattle Mariners. Another great young outfielder that was traded in the off season and maybe people forgot where he went.
Aaron Heilman, RP, Chicago Cubs. I have had this guy on my teams for three years and he has always given me good numbers. Stabilizing career, no big highs or lows.
Ryan Church, OF ,Washington Nationals. He was the best available player, but 12 homers and 49 RBI’s was during an injury plagued season.
Edwin Jackson, SP, Detroit Tigers. I have made no secret I am a “Action Jackson” fan. His 14 wins in 2009 was not a fluke… Mild SLEEPER.
David Purcey, SP, Toronto Blue Jays. With the flux in the Blue Jay rotation this guy will be the number 3 guy, and no one knows him. The Rays faced him twice last year and he held them to a .196 batting average…MAJOR SLEEPER.
My last eight picks after that were to fill my roster and most will not even start the season on my team. When the waiver period ends tomorrow I am going to go on a hunt for a few hidden gems. I know of a few that were not picked, including one pitcher who is coming off an injury-filled 2009, but rumors are he is throwing harder than he did in 2007 when he was totally healthy. I am not going to tell you his name, because you will then just go out and scam him for yourselves. But he was a starting 5 pitcher for a division leading team. That is all I will give you.
Now come the time where people are going to evaluate and re-evaluate their teams in the next few days and trades will be passed along by the league members. I only have three concerns, and they are not huge ones with my squad. I have gotten a few trade requests, but I have declined both of them so far. I have designated my three “keepers“, or players I want to retain again in 2010. If you really must know, they are pitcher Jake Peavy , outfielder Josh Hamilton, and Carl Crawford. I did get a bit of a surprise today when I went into the message boards on the league site. So far I have 3 votes as the Draft Champion. The total votes are only up to 6 right now, and that could change, but I am happy with my draft and only missed out on maybe 4 guys I wanted.
I do have to admit, sitting in the shade with the Rays baseball game going on right beyond me made me a bit flustered and nervous at time, but I was able to track the outs and also do my draft without only one incident. My last two picks were fast picks because my touch pad on my laptop began to act funny and did not work correctly. So I just drafted whoever was up on my draft board in the left side of the page. They are drops anyways, so it was no biggie. Well, I hope everyone else had fun. Now it is time to read just and fine tune all our rosters and look forward to the 22 match ups during the season. In advance, everyone I wish you luck, great waiver pick-ups and no crying in baseball. It is almost time to PLAY BALL!!!!
Photo credits for today’s blog: 1) WelcometotheWitze’sWorld@Flickr.com
For a last couple of years, the Tampa Bay Rays have been one of the models people have used when they are considering re-tooling or acquiring players to fill their outfield slots. the team has used its draft picks and trades to fortify their outfield to be one of the youngest and fastest in the major leagues. And along those lines, they also have two of the best snipers in the outfield at gunning down runners from any angle or position. And the Rays have truly done it from the draft and the trades they have made in the last several years.
This first piece of the current Rays puzzle arrived in July 20, 2002, when Carl Crawford made his major league debut for the Rays. All this guy did his first five years in the majors was increase his batting average and rule the bases in the American League. His speed has kept catcher and pitchers at bay since he first stepped onto the bag at first. In his first 7 years in the majors, Crawford has 1,111 hits and 84 triples. That figures out to 12 triples a year and around 159 hits a season. And you do not want to even try and consider what he has done on the base paths. Okay since you really want to know, how about 302 steals, or an average of 43 a season.
He might not have the strongest arm in the league by any means, but if the ball is in the air, there is a good chance he can get to it before it falls to the turf. He has one of the quickest reads in the league, and has demonstrated his ability to leave his feet to make plays countless times on ESPN Web Gems over the past 7 seasons. He is the 2-time All-Star who hit a monster homer in the 2007 All Star game in A T&T Park. He is recognized by his peers and the media alike as the cog that turns the wheels in the Rays outfield. With his two injuries in 2008, he did not spent his usual time in the Rays outfield last season.
His hamstrings and quad muscles seem to not play well on the turf at Tropicana Field. And an odd finger injury shelved him for the last month of the 2008 year. A tendon on top of one of his fingers some how torn away from the tendon and it would flip and flap when he swung his bat. He tried to play through it, but it was no use. He finally opted for surgery, and made it back to the team in time to help the Rays in the 2008 playoff run. This off season he consulted a trainer to focus on his hamstrings and quads and strengthen this region and also learn better stretching and observe more adaptability to the stresses of playing on turf. He is feeling better than he as in a long time coming into the Spring Training, and his 2 triples in a recent game shows he is here to play in 2009.
With left field pretty sewn up for the year, we turn out attention to center field and the budding star that decided to try his hand outside of the clay and grass regions of the infield for his place in this squad. B J Upton has become one of the rising young stars in the outfield because of his graceful effort to gain ground an hard hit balls and make plays on them seem effortless and without stress. His long strides make him look like he is not running at full speed as he closes in on strongly hit balls even towards the gaps in the Trop. Some question why he plays so shallow in the outfield, but if you have watched the way he tracks the ball, you know he has the closing speed to get almost any ball hit within his range, at any time. What is great about Upton is the fact he wanted to try out this new position.
That fact that he has had a few problems adjusting in the past have also been mirrored by the fact he has a rocket in his right arm and can throw out anyone, anytime, from anywhere on the field. His play is still a work in development, but it is rare for a ball to be out hit to him in the field. His arm was fully on display in 2008, when he gunned down a total of 12 base runners in 2008, third in the American League. But where he is going to make the biggest impact in 2009 will be at the plate. Upton got off to a great start at the plate in 2008, but after suffering a separation of his shoulder in a series with Baltimore early on in 2008, he struggled a bit at the plate the rest of the year. But near the end of the year he found his stroke again and started to put up some power numbers that were very evident during the Rays playoff run.
During the 2008 off season, Upton underwent shoulder surgery to correct his problem and has yet to participate in Spring Training games for the Rays. He has been a recent participant in batting practice, but no tentative schedule is in hand for him to be back in the Rays lineup before April. But the absence of Upton from the lineup has given certain Rays players time to show their stuff in hopes of securing a fourth outfielder spot on the Rays 25-man roster. Justin Ruggiano, who the Rays got in a trade for Toby Hall and Mark Hendrickson back in 2006. Ruggiano was the “player to be named later” of that trade. His ability in the outfield has proven useful in the last year as he was the guy the Rays turned to when Crawford went down with his injury on September 19 of a groin injury.
He might have played only 7 games at the major league level in 2007, but his catch off the bat of Rod Barajas late in the game against the Toronto Blue Jays at home will be remembered for a long time. He went full bore into the left field wall catching the ball just as me hit the plastic of the outfield wall. His bat was not his strong point during the 2008 season, but so far this spring, he is hitting .269, with a .423 Slugging Percentage. He has combined for timely hits and has 2 stolen bases this spring. He will probably get a long look by the Rays after the recent injury to Fernando Perez. Ruggiano might get the call to start the season with the Rays during the first road trip as Upton gets in game shape to take over after the Rays return home on April 13th.
Fernando Perez has everything the Rays love in a out fielder. He had blazing speed on the field and the base paths, and he hit with intelligence. He came up late in 2008 and rallied the Rays with his base running abilities in the playoff run. He got 14 starts in 2008, 10 in center field for the Rays. In 2008, he was picked by Baseball America as being the fastest man in the International League. There was some talk around the dugout that he might have been able to supplant Gabe Kapler for the Rays right-hand platoon partner with Gabe Gross for right field in 2009. But his recent wrist injury will side rail him for at least three months with a dislocated wrist. This will put an end to the chatter in the stands for him to break camp with the team in April. With Perez in the lineup, the Rays would have had the fastest outfield in the majors.
If you consider that Crawford stole 25 bases and Upton had 44 last year. Then if you factor in the 5 bases Perez stole in 23 games ( could be a total of 35 bases in 161 games) , you might have a trio who could steal over 125 bases in a single season. That would make the team threat anytime either of these three hit the base paths. But before his injury, Perez also was not lighting up the Spring Training scoreboards with hits or stolen bases. He might have only had 19 at bats, but he is hitting a lowly .211, with 2 stolen bases this spring. But another face had emerged out of the darkness and might be on the Rays radar right now.
In a recent two-game home-and-home series against the Boston Red Sox outfielder Jon Weber was trying to make a name for himself on the base paths for the Rays. In that series he garnered 7 RBI’s in two games, with a timely home run and a 3-run dingle. Weber has been very effective in the field this spring and also is hitting .364, with 10 RBI’s and 5 stolen bases. He is making an outside run at making the Rays decision difficult for him to be sent down to Triple-A this year based on his spring numbers. But if his numbers are making the Rays salivate for their depth, the recent slump of Gabe Kapler is making them question his signing.
Gabe Gross, who the Rays acquired on April 23, 2008 for minor leaguer Josh Butler, played in 78 games for the Rays in 2008. His bat and his outfield play were the reason for many of the Rays late innings triumphs, and his arm became a great weapon for the Rays. In one game against the Seattle Mariners at home, he was the first player to gun down Ichiro as he tried to stretch a double into a triple. He also combines to throw out a total of 5 base runners, which was second on the team. He is currently hitting .308 after getting off to a rocky start this spring. He is currently tied with Pat Burrell for the team lead with 6 walks this spring. Gross will be with the team this season in right field barring an injury. Who will be his combo mate might still be up in the air.
Another name that could be fit into the mix is super utility man Ben Zobrist. In recent games he has been a late inning replacement in center field as a insurance policy this year. He has regained an awesome power stroke and could be another guy who could help the team get over the first week absence of Upton by filling in for him until the home stand. No one can discount his abilities in the outfield where he played 3 games there in 2008. Last year was his first playing the utility role and he appeared in the outfield a total of 12 times in 2008. But his new power might be his ticket to getting more playing time this coming season. He hit 10 homers in only 189 at bats. This is a new addition to his game, which has always included solid defense on the diamond.
So the Rays are pretty set in the outfield in 2009. There are other names that have made huge strides for the team in spring training this year, but they might not get a chance to break camp with the big club. Another name to keep an eye on is Ray Sadler, who is currently playing a lot if the outfield for the Rays and is hitting a nice .316, with 3 homes and 7 RBI’s. But he probably a guy looking in from the outside of the current outfield package. All indications show that the Rays will have a great outfield in 2009. There is talk that Upton might have his breakout year this season following his off season surgery. He is capable of a 30-30 season, but his swing and his power will need to stay consistent during the year. Crawford, who feels fast and truly healthy this spring might also spell doom for catchers and pitcher this season. This unit has a huge upside of potential, and they might be the trio of outfielders’ to be feared both at the plate and in the field this year. But for the Rays to even consider making a run at their 2008 record, or another shot to the post season, this outfield unit has to play above its 2008 level.
here we are with the second half of the home and home series today in Fort
Myers. The Rays kind of put the Red Sox fans in the back of their seats
yesterday, but today’s contest is a whole different ball game. Not only will the
Red Sox be in their home stadium, but they will have the multitudes of Red Sox
fans who love to cheer on their team. I do have to make a note that yesterday’s
game had a total of 7,148 fans in and around the stadium, which is a new record
for this young stadium location. I do have to say that at some point in the
berms and the outfield it was total standing room
have a huge suggestion to the Rays and the Sandcrabs for future games in this
stadium. It seems that we need a secondary speaker system throughout the
outfield section of the stadium. Maybe a series of those upside down speakers
that look like free standing light poles could be put in areas around the kids
area and near the boardwalk and Tiki Hut. You can hear the game, but you get a
delayed sight to sound response because of no audio out in that area of the
ball park. I play my game day audio from my laptop to hear it no matter where I
am in the stadium, but some games are not on the radio. Just a thought. Now
let’s get back to our Sunday recap of the Rays versus the Red Sox
sent Wade Davis, one of their top prospects from Triple-A to the mound today.
Davis has been tweaking a few of his pitches and has had a few outstanding
performances this spring. But he is penciled into be sent to the minor league
camp sometime in the near future to begin his season in Triple-A again for the
Durham Bulls. Davis will make his major league debut sometime in 2009 with the
club, but I do not see him winning the fifth rotation spot this spring. With
that said, another guy who might have pitched his way out of contention for the
fifth spot is Mitch Talbot. But if you really consider the top three pitchers
for the Rays at their Triple-A level in 2009 of David Price, Davis and Talbot.
There are club throughout baseball who would love to have that kind of
consistent staff starters in their
game got off to start with the Boston Red Sox sending Justin Masterson to the
mound. The wild thing about Masterson is that he can be in the same boat as Jeff
Niemann and Jason Hammel this year. He can be both a starter or a reliever for
the team and might make some heads turn with a great outing today. With Brad
Penny not throwing yet in Spring Training, he could get a start or two early in
the year, then settle into the Bullpen for 2009. Fernando Perez lead off for
the Rays today and quickly hit a grounder to Julio Lugo, who was
playing shortstop today for Boston. Adam Kennedy then struck out. Evan Longoria
then hit another grounder to Nick Green who threw out Longoria to end the
inning 1-2-3 for Boston.
Davis came out for the Rays and gave up a sharply hit single down the third base
line that eluded Longoria. Rocco Baldelli then came up and hit a ball to
Longoria that he quickly threw to Kennedy at second base to force out Lugo.
Jason Varitek then came up and struck out. J D Drew then walked to put me at
first and second base. Lars Anderson then hit a RBI single through the hole at
short into left field and the throw to the plate was cut off and Baldelli scored
to put Boston in front 1-0. Zack Deages then struck out to end the Boston rally
stranding two runners on base.
Masterson again came out for the top of the second inning and got
Carlos Pena to strike out to lead off the inning. Dioner Navarro then hit a long
fly ball to left field that Zack Daeges caught for the second out. Gabe Gross
then hit a single to right center field for the first Rays hot of the day.Morgan
Ensberg then came up and struck out to end the Rays chances in the
also again took the mound for the Rays and got Jonathan Van Every to hit a ball
down the first base line and covered first for a flip from Pena for the first
out. Green then took the first pitch from Davis and drilled it past the left
field fence and onto the adjacent field’s dugout for a solo home run. Ivan Ochoa
then put a nice bunt down the third base line to get an infield single. Lugo
then came up and hit a screaming RBI double to left center field to easily score
Ochoa. Baldelli then struck out. Varitek came up and hit a single to left field
that split the outfielders, but Lugo tired to score from second base and was
thrown out at the plate by Ray Sadler in left field to end the inning. Boston
was ahead at that point 3-0 over the
Masterson came out for his third inning and quickly got Sadler to
hit a grounder to Lugo, who got him in time at first base. Elliot Johnson then
hit a fly ball to Drew in right field for the second out of the inning. Perez
then came up and hit a ball to the left of Masterson that he quickly picked up
and fired to first barely getting Perez in time. At that point, Masterson had
gone 3 innings and had given up only 1 hit, with 3 strike outs against the
came to the mound in the top of the third again for the Rays and got Drew to hit
a quick fly ball to Gross in right field for the first out. Anderson then
walked to give Boston their first runner of the inning. Daeges then hit a
2-run home run to right-center field. Van Every hit a foul pop-out to Longoria
and quickly the Red Sox had two outs in the inning. Green then came up and hit a
double to left field and after that Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out to make a
pitching change. The Rays brought in Calvin Medlock, who quickly gave up a RBI
single to Ochoa to right field. Lugo then came up and hit a double to left
field that scored Ochoa. For the day, Lugo went 3-3 against Rays pitching.
Baldelli then came up and hit a foul pop-up to first base to end the inning with
the Red Sox up 7-0.
In the fourth inning, the Red Sox sent closer Jonathan Papelbon to
the mound to face the Rays. He got Kennedy to strike out to lead off the inning.
Longoria then took his first pitch to right-center field for a single. Pena then
struck out to give the Rays one last out in the inning. Navarro hit a single to
left field, but Longoria stopped at second on the play. Gross then came up and
struck out to end the inning. Even though Papelbon gave up two hits in the
inning, all three outs were
Day came out for the Rays in the bottom of the fourth inning. He quickly got
Varitek to ground out. He then fooled Drew with a nice breaking ball for a
strikeout. Anderson then came on and hit a hard smash to Chris Richard, who was
now on first for the Rays. Day was backing up Richards on the play and Richards
tossed the ball to Day, who dropped the ball. Day was given an error on the play.
Daeges struck out to end the Red Sox
heralded prospect Daniel Bard then took the mound for the Red Sox. In a recent
game, Bard had thrown over 100 mph on the stadium’s jugs gun. He got Ensberg to
strikeout for the first out of the inning. Sadler then followed with a
strikeout. Bard completed the trio as he got Johnson to also strike out to send
the Rays down 1-2-3 in the inning. At that point in the game, the Rays had
struck out swinging in six straight at bats, with only Gross being a called
out again for the Rays and walked Van Every to lead off the inning. Green then
hit a fly out to Sadler that he easily caught for the first out. Ochoa was
fooled on a breaking pitch outside for a strikeout. Lugo then walked to give
Boston two men on base in the inning. George Kottaras then pinch hit and was hit
by the pitch to load the bases with two outs. With Varitek at the plate, Day
threw a wild pitch and Van Every tried to score from third base on the play.
Navarro quickly got the ball to Day, who tagged out Van Every before he reached
the plate for the third out of the
pitcher Junichi Tazawa then came on to pitch for Boston. Tazawa was the young
pitcher that did not go into the Japanese Baseball League before signing with
Boston this off season. He might not make the 25-man roster of the big club
this year, but this was the first time the Rays would see him pitch outside of
Japan. Tazawa’s first pitch to Perez was rifled into center field for a lead
off single. Kennedy then hit a double into left center field that scored Perez
from first base. Longoria then struck out for the first out of the inning.
Richard also struck out, and Varitek threw a strike to third base to nail
Kennedy who was trying to advance on the play for the final out of the
Abreu then took the mound for the Rays. He got Varitek to quickly fly out to
right field for the first out. Josh Reddick, who came in to replace Drew in
right field then hit a fly ball to Johnson at shortstop. Anderson then hit a fly
to Longoria to complete the first 1-2-3 inning for the Rays today. But Boston
still lead 7-1 in the game. Tazawa came back out for the eighth inning and quickly got Reid
Brignac, who came in to play shortstop to strike out. He then got Ben Zorbrist,
who came in to play second base to fly out to center field, The Ensberg struck
out to give Boston a 1-2-3 inning against the
again took the mound for Tampa Bay and he went straight to work striking out
Daeges to lead off the inning. At that point, Abreu had gone 4-up, 4- down for
the Rays Maddon again came out and swapped Abreu for Chad Orvella with one out
in the inning. Orvella, who is fighting for a roster spot after coming back from
a shoulder injury gave up a towering solo shot to right field to the next
batter, Van Every. This is the second homer in two days against the Rays for Van
Every. Gil Velazquez then hit ball to Chris Nowak at third base. Nowak got off
a bad throw that seemed to two-hop before Richard dug it out at first for an out.
Ochoa ended the inning by striking
sent Rule-5 player Derek Rodriguez to the mound for the 8th inning. Rodriguez,
who the Rays picked up off the Rule 5 draft from the Red Sox, quickly got
Argenis Diaz to fly out to right to start off the inning. Kottaras also hit a
long fly ball to right that Justin Ruggiano caught for the second out. Pinch
hitter Carlos Maldonado then hit a slicer to Brignac at shortstop that he
quickly threw to first to get Boston 1-2-3 in the
inning . In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Red Sox sent Michael Bowden to the mound. Rugginao lead off the inning with a single to center field. He then stole second base to put himself in scoring position for the Rays. Johnson then walked. The Rays then attempted a double-steal with Johnson and Ruggiano taking second and third base respectively. John Jaso the struck out for the first out of the inning. Jon Weber then hit a sacrifice fly to left field to score Ruggiano. Weber has no produced 7 RBI’s in the last two games for the Rays. Chris Nowak then hit a pop-out to first base to end the rally for the Rays.
Jones took the mound to try and preserve the Red Sox victory. Jones is a
prospect in the Red Sox system who once broke his arm in three spots and had to
have multiple plates in his arm to heal the bones correctly. He gave up a
lead-off single to Richard to right center field. Brignac then struck out on a
nice called third strike. Zorbrist hit a ball to center that was easily caught
by Van Every. that left the Rays with one out to play with against the Red Sox.
Tim Beckham came up as a pinch hitter and hit a sharp ball to Diaz, but he
quickly threw the ball to end the game for the Rays. the final score was 8-2
Boston. It also marked the first win in three tries against the Rays this
Rays, the game seemed to bring out some impatience in the Rays batters. For the
day they struck out 15 times, including 4 times to Tazawa in the game. For the Rays to
be productive against any team, mush less the Red Sox, they must be patient at
the plate. Tomorrow the Rays will again travel to Fort Myers where they will
take on the Minnesota Twins in a 1:05 contest. Leftie Scott Kazmir will be
making his spring debut on the mound for the
Over the past weekend, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox played a home and home series for the first time this year. Much like the regular season in 2008, the home teams got the better end of the bargain in the final scores. But what is amazing is the set-up this is going to play in future Spring Trainings in Florida. With Tampa Bay moving down 2 hours from their regular season home to Port Charlotte, they have seen incredible increases in attendance and in merchandise sales this spring. But is much of that subject to the new location and the initial buying of the team wares by the locals, who also helped sell out the regular seating areas of the stadium before the first pitch was ever thrown in this ballpark.
Rays 2009 Opening Day starter Jame Shields took the mound for the first time this spring. Jacoby Ellsbury lead off the game with a fly to center field for the first out. Shields then got Jed Lowrie to strike out to get two quick outs in the inning. Chris Carter then came up and hit a nice single to get the Red Sox started in the inning. But he was stranded on base as Brad Wilkerson got a quick out to snuff the Red Sox attack.
Tim Wakefield then came out for the Red Sox and hit Rays lead-off batter Jason Bartlett to start the game. He then stole second and Carl Crawford hit a grounder to short that pushed Bartlett to third base with one out. Gabe Kapler then hit another grounder to second, but Bartlett was already running on the play and the Rays went ahead 1-0 in the game. Gabe Gross then walked and stole second base before Adam Kennedy struck out to end the Rays inning.
Shields came back out to the mound in the second inning and gave up a lead-off double to Jeff Bailey who put the ball down the third baseline. Paul McAnulty then hit a shallow fly ball to left field, and Bailey did not advance on the play. Then catcher Josh Bard came to the plate and Shields threw a wild pitch to the backstop that advanced Bailey to third with 1 out. Bard then hit a ball to second that Kennedy quickly got to Chris Richard at first, but Bailey scored on the play to tie the game at 1-1. Nick Green then hit a fly ball to Crawford in left field for the last out of the inning.
Shields did not come back out in the third as the Rays sent reliever Brian Shouse to the mound. Argenis Diaz lead off with a sharp shot to Olmedo at third base, but he bobbled the ball and then overthrew Richard at first for an error on the play. That gave the Red Sox a runner at first base with the top of the order coming up in the inning. Ellsbury then hit into a 4-6-3 double play to erase Diaz from the bases. Jed Lowrie then hit a single into left field to give Boston their second base runner of the inning. Chris Carter then hit a grounder to Kennedy that he quickly converted to first to end the inning. Wakefield came out again for Boston in the third inning and got Kapler to hit a grounder to Lowrie at third base that he easily threw to first for the first out. Gross then hit a long fly to right field, and Kennedy hit a sharp liner to Green at second to send the Rays down 1-2-3 in the inning.
Grant Balfour came on to relieve Shouse for the fourth inning. This was also Balfour’s first action of the spring. Brad Wilkerson hit a fly ball out to Gross in right to start the inning off. Bailey then hit a ball to the right center field wall for a double. McAnulty then popped up to Balfour for the second out of the inning. Balfour then showed some of his own rustiness as he walked Bard to put two men on in the inning. Balfour then had a liner hit right back at him by Green that hit him between the bicep and tricep muscle oh his pitching arm. He quickly got the ball and threw to first to complete the inning. Balfour just shrugged off the bruise and walked to the Rays dugout.
Wes Littleton came on in relief of Wakefield in the fourth inning and lead off the inning by walking Zobrist on four pitches. Zobrist then stole second base and put himself in scoring position for the Rays. Riggans then hit a sharp ball down the third baseline that Jed Lowrie had a bit of trouble with, but got off a throw to Carter. But Carter could not turn and tag Riggans and he was safe with an error on the play. Littleton then hit Richard with a pitch to load the bases for the Rays with no outs. Olmedo then came on and got jammed and hit a ball back to Littleton that he threw to Bard to force out Zobrist at the plate. With the bases still loaded, Bartlett hit a shallow fly ball to center field, but Riggans did not try to advance on the play. Crawford then hit a ball to the right of Carter at third base, but Littleton came over and took the toss from Carter to get out of the inning with no runs scored against him.
In the fifth inning, the Rays sent Jason Hammel to the mound. Hammel, who was still in the running for the fifth rotation spot also is being considered by the Rays for a reliever role. He quickly got Diaz to hit a grounder to third that Olmedo got to Richard in time to post the first out. Ellsbury the hit a triple over the head of a pulled in Zobrist in center field. On the throw back into third base, they almost got Ellsbury, but the relay throw was a bit high coming into the bag. Lowrie then hit a sharp ball down to first that Richard snagged, but had no play at home and covered first unassisted for the second out. With Ellsbury scoring on the play, it put Boston within two runs 4-2. Carter then struck out to end the inning.
The Red Sox then sent Devern Hansack to the mound for the bottom of the fifth inning. Kapler lead off the inning with an infield single to third. Gross then hit into a 4-6-3 double play to erase both players from the base paths. Kennedy then walked to put another Ray on base. Kennedy then hit a grounder to Green, who quickly threw to first to end the Rays inning. Hammel returned to the mound in the top of the sixth inning and got Wilkerson to strikeout. He then got a called third strike on Bailey to get two quick outs in the inning. McAnulty then hit a sharp grounder to the right of Richard, who scooped the ball to Hammel, who came over to cover first for the third out.
Hansack again took the mound for the Red Sox, and Riggans took his first pitch to center field for a single to lead off the inning. Richard then struck out. then the Red Sox game plan started to come apart a bit on the field. Olmedo hit a hard grounder to Diaz, that he juggled but could not get either man out on the play. He was given and error on the play. Bartlett then hit another ball to shortstop that Riggans seemed to straddle and then break Diaz’s concentration and it lead to his second error of the inning. Morgan Ensberg then hit a sacrifice fly to center that scored Riggans. Kapler then walked to load the bases. Fernando Perez then came on to pinch hit and slammed a liner to Green at second base that he could not find the handle on and Olmedo scored on the play. Jon Weber then came up and hit a double down the right field line to score three Rays runs as the ball 3-hopped to the wall. Red Sox Manager Terry Francona then came out and replaced Hansack with Marcus McBeth, who got Zobrist to strike out to end the inning with the Rays on top 9-2.
Hammel again took the mound in the seventh inning and gave up a quick homer to right field to George Kottaras on a hanging fastball in the zone. He then hit Green with a pitch to put him on base. Diaz then struck out for the first out of the inning. Jonathan Van Every then hit a 2-run homer to left field into the Red Sox Bullpen. It was an opposite field homer for Van Every. Gil Velazquez then hit a single into the right-center field gap. Lars Anderson then was hit by a pitch and the Red Sox had two men on base with one out. Chip Ambres quickly struck out to give the Red Sox one more out in the inning. Bailey then hit a sharp ball towards third base that was quickly converted for the third out.
Billy Traber took the mound for Boston in the seventh inning. Justin Ruggiano lead off the inning with a grounder to Lowrie at third for the first out. Rays Sadler the hit another hard grounder to Diaz at shortstop, who easily threw to first for the second out. Olmedo completed the 1-2-3 inning by grounding out to third again. Jason Childers took the mound for the Rays in the seventh inning. He quickly loss control of the inning as he walked both McAulty and Kottaras to start the inning. With two men on base with no out, Green then hit a flair to right field that loaded the bases for Boston. Diaz then hit a RBI single to center that scored McAnulty. Van Every struck out and Rays Manager Joe Maddon emerged to take Childers out of the game. Lance Cormier replaced him and got Velasquez to hit a ball to short that forced Diaz at second base to get two outs.Kottaras did score on Diaz’s grounder to give him an RBI in the game. Anderson then struck out to end the Red Sox inning. The score was now 9-7 Rays.
Dustin Richardson took the mound for Boston in the bottom of the eighth inning. He quickly got behind and walked Michel Hernandez on 4 pitches. He then walked Ensberg to put two on with no outs. He then walked Tim Beckham to walk the first three batters in the inning for the Rays. With the bases now loaded, Fernando Perez came up and hit a sacrifice fly to left field that scored Hernandez. Jon Webber the came up and hit a 3-run homer to left center field. That gave him 6 RBI’s on the day for the Rays. Chris Nowak then hit a grounder to Velasquez at third that produced the first out of the inning. Francona then popped out of the dugout and replaced Richardson with Mike James. Ruggiano then hit a grounder to Velasquez that was bobbled and Ruggiano reached on an error by the third baseman. Sadler then hit a 2-run homer into the pond beyond the left field fence. Olmedo hit a grounder to Diaz at short that he quickly converted to get the Red Sox out of the inning.
Cormier took the mound again for the Rays in the top of the ninth inning. He quickly got Ambres to pop out to Nowak at first base for the first out of the inning. Zack Daeges then hit a double to left field that gave the Red Sox a chance in the inning. But the next batter, McAnulty hit a grounder down the first baseline that Cormier took a pitch from Nowak to record the second out. With one out left in the inning and a man sitting at third, Kottaras struck out to end the Red Sox hope of mounting a comeback. Final score Rays 15-7 over the Red Sox. The win gave the Rays a record of 5-4 on the year, their first above .500 this spring. the game also saw Cormier get a save because when he came into the game, the Red Sox had the tying run at the plate.
So tomorrow they strap it on again and this time play in the Red Sox home park in Fort Myers. One of the Rays top prospects, Wade Davis will probably be making his last start of the spring before being put into the minor league camp sometimes during the next week. The Red Sox will be putting Justin Masterson on the mound for the contest.
I remember a line that Rich Herrera, the Rays Radio pre-game and post-game host used to say about winning. “Your wife looks better, the kids are smarter, and life just feels great.” After watching today’s game I have a few more to add to that list. When you are winning, the cocoa butter smells like ambrosia and the long drive home flies by and you seem to be driving on air. Okay, I might be embellishing it all a bit, but the first win the the spring can make you believe again. It is not like I have been down in the dumps or sitting with the local winos complaining about lack of hitting and spotty pitching. Okay, I have been sitting with the winos, only because they are friends of Rays Manager Joe Maddon from his “Thanks-mas” celebrations.
But the real key to today’s game was the change in traffic priorities that saw almost everyone into the parking lots and at least going towards the gates by the first pitch. The Rays did some fast work to upgrade and facilitate the need for a speedy coming and going to the ballpark. Me, I have not left yet. I am sitting in the shade here at the Charlotte Sports Park trying to decide if I want to eat dinner down here before taking the drive back to reality. Because it is Friday, and nearing beer-thirty, I am hesitant to hit the lonesome highway yet. I might just wait for a few of the Rays players and ask them what is their choice for fine dinning aka bar food with a gorgeous server in the Port Charlotte area. That is right people, I am not in the mood for the dollar value menu today, I want some hot wings and I want them now!
But let’s forget about my stomach and talked a bit about the game today against the Boston Red Sox. It is the first time since Game 7 of the ALCS that these two teams have squared off. Missing were most of the Red Sox starting staff, who were back at their training complex doing workouts and maybe a little shopping. But it was the first time for all of us in the Rays Republic to try and get used to the fact that Rocco Baldelli was wearing the Red jersey today. I guess I will be used to it about the time they also use the green jersey for St. Patrick’s Day. Rocco did come on over and was very cordial to the Rays faithful and chatted with former manager Joe Maddon during Batting Practice today. He looks rested, cheery and ready to rumble this season.
But Bowden did have bad case of the nerves also and Rays lead-off hitter Fernando Perez took his pitch up the middle to also give the Rays a baserunner to lead off the ballgame. Perez then stole second base on Bowden and after an apparent off throw to try and pick Perez off second, he advanced to third base on the bad throw. All this time Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett was standing at the plate, and he eventually hit a nice flutter ball towards Angel Chavez and third who had no play at the plate and threw to first to record the first out of the inning. Evan Longoria got the second out of the inning and D H Pat Burrell came up and hit a sharp grounder towards Chavez that he knocked down, but could not control in time to get Burrell. Willy Aybar the came up and stroked a single to right field to put men on first and second for the Rays. Dioner Navarro then came up and hit a sharp ball to second that was handled and quickly thrown to first to end the inning with the Rays up 1-0.
Niemann came out again for the second inning and got the Red Sox to go down 1-2-3, with two strikeouts in the inning. The Rays quickly got going again as Ben Zobrist lead off the second inning with a walk. He was quickly erased from the basepaths on a 6-4-3 double play ball hit off the bat of Gabe Gross. With two outs in the inning, it looked like Bowden might have survived and would leave the game with a nice line for the day. But Elliott Johnson had other plans as he Hit a double into left field that seemed to confuse Jason Bay. The Red Sox outfielder seemed to have lost the ball in the sun and it one-hopped to the left field wall. Perez then came up and walked to give the Rays two men on base with two outs in the inning. Bartlett again came up and hit another nice looper over Bay’s head to score both Johnson and Perez and put the Rays up 3-0. Boston then made a pitching change and Bowden was done for the day.
Enrique Gonzalez came on for the Red Sox and still needed only one out to get out of the inning. He did not fair any better than Bowden as he left up a breaking ball and Longoria smacked the ball into the boardwalk area above left field for a 5-0 Rays lead. Gonzalez finally got Burrell to fly out to Ellsbury to end the inning. The Rays sent Brian Shouse out to face Boston in the top of the third inning. In the inning, Shouse gave up only one hit, to former Rays player Nick Green before settling down and getting out of the inning with no other problems. Quickly Navarro and Zobrist got on base for the Rays Gross then hit a single to center field to load the bases for the team. Johnson then came up and hit a hard grounder to center that scored both Navarro and Zobrist. Johnson ended up on second base advancing on the throw home and was in scoring position for Perez. He then hit a nice ball to the left field wall and tried to advance for a triple, but Bay got the ball into Green who gunned him down at third for the first out of the inning. Bartlett then came up and hit a single to left, but was stranded on base after Longoria and Burrell got quick outs.
At that point, the Rays were up 10-0 on the Red Sox. Jason Childers came on in relief for the Rays and got Youkilis to strikeout before giving up a towering foul ball down the right field line to Baldelli. He ended up walking Rocco and gave Boston a baserunner. But Bay hit a ball to Bartlett, who scooped it over to Johnson to start a 6-4-3 double play and get out of the inning. The Red Sox brought on Devern Hansack to face the Rays and the team went down 1-2-3 for the first time today. Hansack got two strikeouts in the inning.
The top of the fifth inning saw Rays 2008 Rule-5 draft pick Derek Rodriguez come on to pitch. Rodriguez did not have a lot of major league experience, and it showed as the Boston hitters took advantage of him quickly. Non-roster invitees Brad Wilkerson and Dusty Brown got on base quickly, with Brown putting ball over right fielder Gross’s head. Then Green came up and hit a soft fly ball to center field that Perez could not get to before it fell to the grass . That scored Wilkerson and put the Red Sox finally on the board in the game. Chavez then got on base and Ellsbury hit a ball to rookie Tim Beckham at short that he could not handle to start a double play.
Beckham was given his first error as a Rays even before he took his first at bat for the team. Jed Lowrie then hit a sacrifice fly to center that scored Brown and tacked another run on the board for the Red Sox. Youkilis then came up and hit a hard fly ball to center, but the runners did not advance on the play. Baldelli then came up and stroked a single and was replaced by pinch-runner Lars Anderson. Baldelli ended up scoring Green on the play and picked up his first RBI as a Red Sox. Bay then came out and got a quick out for the Red Sox before James Houser came on to pitch for the Rays. Houser got Wilkerson to commit on a bad pitch and the inning ended with the score Rays 10-4. In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Red Sox got the Rays to go down 1-2-3 for the second consecutive inning.
The sixth inning saw Mark Wagner get on base with a lead-off walk, but the Red Sox did not take advantage of the situation as Houser closed down the team on three straight batters. Boston sent non-roster invitee Charlie Zink to the mound for the bottom of the sixth inning. Zink, a knuckleballer had the Rays guessing and quickly outs from Justin Ruggiano, Reid Brignac and Morgan Ensberg to again post a 1-2-3 inning against the Rays. The Rays sent Lance Cormier to the hill in the seventh inning and he got a quick strikeout from Zack Daeges. Then he got Chris Carter to hit a pop up to Ray Olmedo at third base. Anderson then came up and quickly was deposed of to end the inning.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Rays took advantage of Zink to get a walk by Rays catcher John Jaso. Then Chris Richards came up and hit a towering homer out to right field that struck the murals on the side of the Rays offices for a two-run home run. Tim Beckham then came up and got an infield single in his first at bat as a Ray. Jon Weber then struck out, and Ray Sadler got the honor of getting plucked by Zink with a pitch. If you are ever going to be hit by a pitch, being hit by a knuckleballer might be the best gig in baseball. But the Rays could not capitalize with two men on base as Olmedo and Ruggiano both flied out to center to end the inning.
Jason Comier then came on to face Boston in the eighth inning and Got Daeges to strikeout before also getting Chris Ambres to commit to an out. With two outs in the inning, Wagner hit a nice ball into the center field gap over Ruggiano’s head for a double. But he ended up stranded on second after a strikeout by Ivan Ochoa ended the inning. Boston sent a reliever named Green to the mound to start the bottom of the eight. You can tell this is Spring Training when a player is not even listed on the traveling roster and he gets to pitch in a game. Green got the Rays out quickly in the inning to again post a 1-2-3 inning for Boston pitching. With Neal Frontz now on the mound for the Rays, he got Ochoa, Gil Velazquez and minor league player Johnathan Van Every to go down to end the game for the Red Sox.
All in all it was a great day for baseball in Florida as the sun was extremely hot, around 79 degrees at first pitch, and a breeze did not hit the stadium until the fourth inning. It would have been a great day to come out to the ballpark and sit in the grass berm and suntan, or just relax ans watch some baseball. In the game, the Rays aw that Niemann is not going to make their decision easy as to what to do with the tall former pitcher from Rice University. Niemann was not perfect, but he did bounce back and showed some great off-speed pitches today to get some critical strikes on batters.
Johnson and Perez got long looks by the Rays coaching staff today. Both players also made their decisions a bit more difficult by going an identical 2-3, with 2 runs and 2 RBI for the Rays. The only difference in their box scores is a walk in the second inning by Perez. Johnson is hitting a robust .429 in the first three games of spring and might be making a name for himself this time around for a roster spot. The Rays also had another pair who went 2-3 on the Day. Willy Aybar and Jason Bartlett also were busy on the basepaths today, with Bartlett also getting 3 early RBI’s in the game.
The only real disappointment for the Rays might be in the performance of Derek Rodriguez. But considering that this was his first real exposure to major league hitting, his one innings might not be as bad as the line score shows for him today. He did give up 3 hits and 4 runs, to post a 13.50 ERA this spring, but he got great experience today by facing a great hitting team that will help him in his pitching development. During the day, Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman spoke about Rodriguez and basically said that he cost the team only $50,000, and to get a look at a guy for six weeks and maybe hold onto him all year, that is a small price to pay.
Tomorrow’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Networks field in Clearwater, Florida will be shown on MLB.TV. If you have purchased the MLB.TV package, come on over and see one of the best looking ballparks in the minor leagues. I love the way this ballpark is set up, and I always have a great time when I come out here for a game.
I will be in left field at the game tomorrow, and hope I can make some type of catch in the game. But you can never expect things in baseball so here are the tentative pitching match ups for both teams: Starting for the Phillies tomorrow will be Kyle Kendricks ( RH ), who will be followed by Drew Taylor ( RH ), Clay Condrey ( RH ), Scott Eyre ( LH ) and then Brad Lidge ( RH ). The Rays will counter with Mitch Talbot ( RH ), J P Howell ( LH ), Dewon Day ( RH ), Jason Hammel ( RH ), Randy Choate ( LH ).
Photo credits for today’s blog go to: www.stpetersburgtimes.com, RRCollections.
The Tampa Bay Rays went into 2008 wanting to gain respect and admiration in the major leagues from teams and fans. The main objective was to be competitve and to show that the Rays belonged in the rough and tumble AL East.
No one could have imagined that the team would be raising the AL East and AL pennant flags in their home Opener against the New York Yankees in 2009. Most people had the realistic goal of a .500 season and a puch hard towards the playoffs. What transpired was the same majoc and karma that made the 1969 Mets and the Florida Marlins darlings of the baseball world.
We had a team that believed in itself to the point of pulling off amazing endings and outstanding feats of sweeping some of the best teams in baseball at home. The Rays proved that if you can believe, you can achieve. The following list is the Top 5 goals that I set for the team in March of 2008. Yesterday I blogged about numbers 6-10, today is the time to see what reality did to the Top 5:
The 5th goal I put on my list was the idea of starting lineup leading off with 3 “lefties. In the beginning of the season, the Rays had a up-and-down bout of success and failure with their lefties’ by committee lineup arrangement. Akinora Iwamura, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena had the talent and the ability to take over the lineup, but the opposition right-handed pitchers’ were stacked against the trio.
Finally, Rays Manager, Joe Maddon inserted B J Upton into the 3-slot and the cycle was broken. Upton began to see alot more pitches to hit in 2008. He did a remarkable job both at the plate and on the base paths for the Rays. He did not have a banner year because of a nagging shoulder injury sustained during an early series in Baltimore in May.
But Upton did pace the Rays when they needed help and finished 2nd in the stolen base race in the AL. Upton then moved up to the 2nd spot in the lineup to be the meat between the Aki and CC sandwich. It further helped him evolve in the lineup and he became comfortable and relaxed in the position.
The final success to the banishment of the 3 “leftie” regime came near the end of the season and the playoffs. With the team more balanced in the lineup, the Rays had the flexibility both on the field and on the bench to matchup more effective with any team.
Upton and Longoria both benefited from the 3 lefties in the lineup with more right-handers going to the mound against the Rays. The leftie revolution might not have been a success, but the experiment also proved to the Rays that they had great options up and down the lineup and the bench.
The fouth goal had to do with extensions for the anchors of the team. Unknown to the general public, during the last week of Spring Training, the Rays and the agent of Evan Longoria were working on a long term deal to contractually secure the budding star for years for the Rays. The deal was suddenly annouced the day Longoria was called up to the Rays, but was in the works for some time while he was down in the minors at Durham.
It secured a hole in the infield for the Rays for at least 5 years and also gave both sides a feeling of confidence going into 2008. Scott Kazmir also got a extended deal right before the season started and it also secured a valuable piece of the starting rotation for years. James Shield was also secured for an extended contract and gave the Rays a bit of relief that their top 2 pitchers were under contract for several years.
Carlos Pena has a sealed deal for 2009, in whole, only Jason Bartlett, the team’s 2008 MVP is the only person not under contract for 2009 who plays in the infield. He is in his first year of arbitration and the team might be working on a multi-year deal to keep him in a Ray’s uniform until they can decide about the shortstops they have in their minor league system.
Behind the plate, Dioner Navarro is in his first year of arbitration , and he did alot to be sure he will get a nice raise in 2009. With the improved year he had behind the plate, and at the plate, Navarro has done nothing to diminish the vast upward swing on his stock with the team. I will go deeper into who is up for arbitration in another blog.
Goal number 3 seemed a bit out of line when I first wrote it in 2008, but it proved to be a monster move for the team. To say that the team needed a healthy rotation would be a monster in our division sounded a bit far fetched, but it was a true key to 2008 and its success. Not counting the early glitches in Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza’s season, the Rays had a fantastic run of luck by having all 5 of their starters’ the entire year.
Not only is this rare, but it is almost unheard of that a team could go through most of the season with the same 5 day in and day out. There were aches and pains and displays of emotion throughout the year, but a treu key to this year was the fact they stood on the mound daily and did not give up starts. The consistancy of these 5 guys lead to a flow and a confidence in each other to fulfill their goals everytime they hit the rubber.
All 5 starters’ went over 10 wins this year, and even the guy who everyone outside the organization thinks is the weakest link, tied for the team lead with 14 wins. To have that kind of production out of a lineup where the oldest stater is 26 years of age is outstanding. The future of this franchise is based in the fact that they could have these same 5, or a variation of the 5 for the next 4 years on the mound for the Rays.
The second goal of the year is really something that all teams hope and wish for………Health, health, health. What is so amazing about 2008, is the fact that injuries did happen and the team did not miss a step in the field or at the plate. When Kazmir and Garza went down early both before the season, and in it’s first weeks, the Rays pitchers’ took up the slack and gave it 110 percent. Jason Hammel and Jeff Neiman came on and threw their best in the absence of the team’s top pitchers.
In the infield, Willy Aybar came to the Rays with a sorted past, but you would never know it by the way he played in his limited roles all around the infield in 2008. He was one of those true finds that can help a ballclub reach the next level. It did not matter if Carlos Pena went down, or Evan Longoria, Aybar brought his “A” game every night both at the plate and in the field.
In the outfield, when Carl Crawford was out nursing his groin and then his operation on his hand, Eric Hinske and Justin Ruggiano came out and tried to fill the gap as if Crawford had not even left. They played to mix reviews, but did an admirable job and proved the depth of this team’s minor league system. When Fernando Perez came up to fill in for B J Upton after an injury, his athletic ability and his speed did not even make you miss Upton.
Perez became an instant favorite of Rays Manager Joe Maddon for his work ethic and his willingness to learn and help the team. But he area that sealed and secured itself even when injury hit was the Bullpen. They saw multiples guys go down this year, from Gary Glover and Al Reyes, to their closer being shut down several times during the year.
These guys just bucked up and took it all in stride and closed the wounds and played their butts off. J P Howell became a fixture in the Bullpen, and became one of the best lefties in the game as a reliever in 2008. Grant Balfour also became a force in the Bullpen and his antics on the mound became legend in the AL. All year long people stepped up and were successful for the team out of the Bullpen.
The number one goal of the team in 2008, was set in motion early by Maddon. Mindset can be a effective tool to the confidence and emtion of a ballclub. Maddon’s formula of 9=8 has been around the globe by now.
The theory of 9 men in a lineup playing 9 total innings would eqaute into one of the 8 playoff berths in the MLB. A simple philosophy, but it goes even beyond that theory. It is also expanded by Maddon that if they got 9 more wins from the pitching staff, 9 more wins from the offense, and 9 more wins from the defense and Bullpen, they would be able to secure a playoff spot.
The combined 27 extra wins along with the 69 the team had in 2007 would add up to 96 wins. Wow, consider that for a moment, Seriously here, going inot their last game against Detroit on Sept 30th, the team had a record of 96-65. Did Maddon really think he would or even could imagine a increase like this in one season.
In 2008, there were moments where mondset played a huge part in the team’s success. The All-Star break actually might have come at a perfect time for this team after getting shutdown by the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox in straight road series. The break from playing actually might have played into a positive for the team becuse it gave them all a time frame to forget and forgive the bad results and take on the second half of the season with vigor and vitality.
So here we are with the final 5 goals of 2008 examined and I feel that this team is indeed ready and willing to try and make another run at the AL East in 2009. The worst thing the Rays have to adjust to is not being the underdog anymore. Mindset might be the first goal again next year as the Champions are always on the top and people love to knock off the big guys.
In the beginning of the season I set 10 goals or written items that I hoped the Tampa Bay Rays would complete to become a more productive and successful team. At the time we all did not know the type of franchise success we would see in 2008.
Also stuffed into that list was a few personal obsevations ands wants for the team in 2008. I did a middle of the year evaluation of the list on July 18, 2008 and saw that the team was focused and moving forward in achieving outstanding success on the field.
I am again going to go over the high and lowpoints now after the season is over. I am no longer going to assign a letter grade to the options because this has been a totally “A” year in all aspects. There is no way I could see this coming, and the team took the region by storm in 2008.
The blog today will focus on the items 6-10, and the logo unveiling last November in St. Petersburg, Florida at Straub Park.
As everyone might remember, 12 months ago we set out changing the basic style of the team with a logo change and a uniform retro-fitting. Gone was the old “TB” on the hat that had a ray centered beneath the “TB” symbol. In came a clean looking “TB” in a great marine blue color. Then you get to the uniforms that were streamlined into a more uniform design without the old “Rays” on the chest area of the uniform.
The uniforms went from a white and green basic jersey with blue pinstriping on the sleeves to a retro looking White and Blue model with a logo that popped with the odd shaped “R”, and the sunburst in the center of the logo blasting out for all to see. The team held a fantastic outdoor event to unveil the new look with most of the players coming in for the event.
The new design was met with some crtics wanting the old Rays look becuase it had a modern flair without being boring. Others were upset that the away jerseys would not have the “Tampa Bay” moniker blazen across the chest of the players anymore. It was replaced with the new logo “Rays” across the chest.
Other were debating why to let go of the entire past for the new look. One thing the Rays did leave “old” on their jerseys was the flying ray patch on the sleeve. The team decided to continue that tradition and replaced the dark black and colorful ray with one that matched the teams new blue and white jerseys. All in all, the new look showed the team was trying to move beyond the loveable losers’ of the past and were hoping for a new attitude in Tampa Bay.
Starting with the bottom of the list at number 10, was the Akinora Iwamura must feel at home at second base. To sya he did not do a superb job this year would be an insult. the guy went from a position where he has won Gold Gloves in Japan to a new position for the betterment of the team. Not only did he do it with grace and style, but he made himself a front runner for years at the position.
Iwamura was one of the people nominated for a Gold Glove this year at second in the AL. He only committed a handful errors all year long and ended up ranked 4th among AL second baseman in his first year ever at the position. He became a vital cog in the Rays double play combination working with Jason Bartlett like he has been playing to position all his life.
The hardwork and the determination of Iwamura to make his transition flawless was carried out to a “T”. Aki stood tall and in the pivot long to make sure the team got a chance to complete every double play in 2008. He was also instrumental in the field making countless great plays behind second and relaying the ball into home. Iwamura has found a new home at second base, and will be even better in 2009.
Number 9 stated that catching had to hit a new high this year. Well, that will be an easy one. Dioner Navarro started the year off on fire and got hurt. When he returned, he stayed above the .300 mark well into the second half of the season before falling below that mark for the only time in 2008. Behind the plate he took more control and exercised his own playcalling alot this season.
But the action with Matt Garza in Texas in the ruffle on the mound and in the dugout finally put him on top. It showed that he had the heart and the determination to lead this team behind the dish and put his stamp on the team. With his new confidence at the plate translated perfectly to his time behind the mask.
For the season, His batting average for the year was only behind Minnesota’s Joe Mauer at the position in the AL. That is a huge change from the guy battling to stay above .191 during the first half of 2007. Navarro continued during the first half of 2008 getting better and better every game. He was rewarded with his first All-Star invite and was key to the tying and winning run for the AL in the game. He caught 8 innigs in that game and solidified his place among AL catchers with is performance.
Number 8 was about the 1-2-3 setup guys securing the game. Well, this one is a bit tricky. the Rays Bullpen showed a huge upswing in 2008, but the closer role was up in the air alot more than expected in the year. Troy Percival was signed to make a solid end to the Bullpen but went down numerous times during the season.
His back and knee did show the wear and tear of all his MLB years, and by the end of the season he was on the DL and did not even get posted to any of the Rays post season rosters. His health situation put the pressure on the young Rays and they responded brilliantly in most cases.
From J P Howell and Grant Balfour securing the 7th inning for the Rays nightly, to Dan Wheeler or even Jason Hammel being called on to put out the fires in late innings, the young squad held together and mixed and matched nightly to get the Rays the victory.
It was not your picture perfect way to run a Bullpen, but the Rays did make it happen and post one of the best turnaround years ever for a Bullpen. The young guys matured and got valuable experience, and the veterans stood tall and made the plays when they were needed in 2008.
Number 7 was that the right-field guy has to be consisitant and kick butt. You would have to define that a bit more to really decide if it was a successful year or a failure. I have it more at a banner year for finding the right guys finally, but it could have been a lot better organized.
Jonny Gomes and Eric Hinske got most of the early reps in right during the beginning of the year. With the trade for Gabe Gross, the Rays brought in a guy who had never been counted on like this to raise the bar for the team. Gross came in and put his defensive and offensive stamp on the position early.
Gross made countless great play in the field and became a electric guy at the plate. He hit a 436 foot homer on August 6th that just showed the improvements he had made with the Rays. Gross made a massive improvement to the position to the Rays before the trade dedeadline.
After the return of Rocco Baldelli, the right-field platooning took on a more effective mode. You had the defensive skills of both guys as a plus in the field and had bats fron both sides of the plate to balle pitchers’. The Rays had a solid core in the last half of the season, and the addition of Baldelli proved amazing at the plate during the rest of the year and in the playoffs.
Number 6 was our prospects need to improve. This became a double-edged sword to the Rays in 2008. We saw guys like Elliot Johnson, Reid Brignac and Ben Zobrist come up and solidify the infield when needed, but the additon of these prospects did not make the difference for the Rays. Zobrist was the most consistant of the guys from the minors in coming in and making the job his in 2008.
Zobrist was being counted on to be the “go-to” guy in the Ray’s lineup in 2008. An early injury set him down and it took some time before he came back up and made his mark offensively this year for the team. He developed a offensive style that was not seen in his game before 2008.
Pitching saw Grant Balfour come back up and not back down an inch the rest of the season. Balfour came on and argued and grunted on the mound and held batter at bay most of the year. His willingness to not back away from heavy hitters made him a valued player in the Bullpen this year. But the guy who made the entire minor league system tremble this season came up in September, and will not have to even think about the minors in 2009.
David Price was the Rays first selection in 2006. He had been annointed by many even before stepping on a MLB mound to be a phenom. Price did nothing to set that rumor to expectation down after his stint against the New York Yankees in New York. Price got better and better every time he hit the mound and became a inspiration to the team.
To out this into prospective, the Rays had enough confidence in this rookie in the ALCS to put him on the mound to finish off Game 7 against the 2007 World Champion Boston Red Sox. Price performed brilliantly and helped paced the Rays during the playoffs.
The rest of the prospect system got a bit muddled in 2008. Desmond Jennings went down with an injury and saw limited time this season in the minors. Jake McGee went down with an arm injury and had to have Tommy John surgery. But even with these high ceiling guys going down, players like Fernando Perez came out of no where and made you know that the Rays prospect system is alive and well.
So here is the first of 2 end of the year goal realization blogs. Goals 6-10 were finalized today and I will write about 1-5 tomorrow. All in all you have to admit that the Rays saw a increase in every aspect of the game in 2008. Every player on the team stepped up in the season and made it magical in their own ways.
2009 will be a year of expectations and the either success or failure to improve over 2008. It will be a harder road for the Rays in 2009. People will be gunning for the team and will not be broadsided anymore. That in itself might be the biggest challenge for the team next year. Living up to the expectations of the local fans and media after a darling season.
Starting today, Free Agents all over Major League Baseball will begin to show their wares and try to entice teams to take a chance on them in 2009…………or beyond. I decided to do a blog today about my wish list for a right-fielder for the Tampa Bay Rays. Now take into consideration that most of these players will not be traded by their teams to us, or might not even be on the block at the Trade Deadline in August, but I just want to think outside the box here for a bit.
Some of the guys on my list are former players that we have tried to pry from their ex-teams like Jason Bay ( Red Sox ), Xaivier Nady ( Yankees ), and Jermaine Dye ( White Sox). All of these players were being considered by the Rays in the last 2 years as possible options to our right-field problem. Jermaine Dye was also being courted by the Rays before he signed with the Chicago While Sox on his multi-year deal. Bay and Nady were under heavy consideration during last season’s Trade Deadline and they slipped out of the Ray’s hands and into the pocket of American League East rival teams.
There are several ex-Rays also being considered more for their past glory than for what they might still have in their tanks. Players such as Jose Guillen (Royals) is considered off limits right now, but might be available again in August. Ex-Rays farmhands like Emil Brown (A’s) and Ryan Freel ( Reds) could become available for the right collection of trade options. The Atlanta Braves even have 2 ex-Rays that might be in consideration since both have shown that they do have power and are healthy now. Matt Diaz and Greg Norton did not leave the Rays on their own terms, but that was also before the present front office was in control and it might not have been for money reasons at the time.
Randy Winn ( Giants) has always intrigued me as a guy who would come back and play here, with the right conditions. He loved hitting here and could be a great asset in the right-field corner with his arm. He can also still play a mean center-field in case of an injury. I have even thought of a fantasy trade where B J’s brother Justin comes here and plays right-field to make a really broadcasters’ nightmare outfield tandem of Upton and Upton, side by side.
But there is a huge amount of great athletes out there who could come here and be a contributing part of this squad. I even though about a few ex-Rays troublemakers who made the Rays’ lives a living hell when they played against them. Players like Reed Johnson (Cubs), Gabe Kapler ( Brewers), Brandon Boggs ( Rangers), and Ben Francisco ( Indians). These guys would be like Jose Cruz Junior and be taken out of the loop to terrorize our pitchers’ and become a threat for out opposition.
Then I thought about some wily veterans who might be going for their last contract, or major move. People like Ken Griffey Jr ( White Sox), or maybe even Garrett Anderson ( Angels). Both have talent still in the tank and could be a great leadership role model as well as great player for the team. Then I thought about players who hurt the Rays in 2008 that might be a great fit on this team, like Ryan Ludwick ( Cards), Matt Murton, who when he was with the Cubs almost cost us a sweep at the home (A’s). And how can you forget Hunter Pence who had a cannon in right-field and a rocket-launcher on his shoulder to help the Astros take 2 from the Rays at home in Inter-league play.
But then you got some of the up-and coming guys like Chris Young ( Diamondbacks), Reggie Willits ( Angels), and Reggie Abercrombie ( Astros), who are starting to make a name for themselves and still have potential to burn in their tanks. Power bats like Cory Hart ( Brewers) and Matt Kemp ( Dodgers) who can change a game on 1 swing of their bats. Most of these players ares till under team control for a period of time and will take a good selection of players to even be considered, but this is my dream sequence……………so let’s press on.
The you have to old veterans like Bobby Abreu, the first Rays; field player taken in the Expansion Draft. Daily I try and think of what this guy could have done in right-field for the Rays in the early years. Would he be here today, probably not, but it is a fantasy that would have been a pure joy to have one night.
Then I think about the little scrappers that a running throughout the outfields now. Sprinters like Lastings Milledge ( Nationals), Cory Ross ( Marlins ),Nyje Morgan ( Pirates) who are never out of range of balls hit into the gaps. Even guys like Delwyn Young ( Dodgers) and Lou Montanez ( Orioles) come to mind when I think of deceptive speed and power at the plate.
But there are still other big names that I have not even mentioned yet because of the cost of obtaining them for years to come. Guys like Pat Burrell ( Phillies), who would be a monster in right at the Trop., but is looking for his last contract and it will have big numbers on it.
Or guys still under contract with their teams like Jason Michaels ( Pirates), who are great hitters and fielders, but might not have a price on them right now that is obtainable for the Rays. Or even players who have a mystery about them because they play so well at times, then disappear for a while.
Guys like Jay Payton ( Orioles ), who have such promise and never seem to get over that hump when it counts. Or even Juan Rivera ( Angels) a guy who plays his heart out, but is not a top caliber player anymore. But you reward his heart and determination knowing that you will get 110 percent daily. Now I am going to list my personal 3 outfielders I would really consider trading for hard and heavy in 2008 for the 2009 right-field vacancy:
So here are just some of the guys and their teams that are on my fantasy list for right-field for the Rays. You never know with this team. They could just rely on rookie Fernando Perez and Gabe Gross to supplement the outfield until later in Spring Training and someone might pop off a roster and play right into the Rays hands. But nothing is in stone in baseball. Remember a few years ago when we signed Danny Bautista to play right-field and he retired before even playing 1 regular season game for the team.
You also forget that starting today, Rocco Baldelli will get his first look at what is out there and what extent people want him to play on their teams. He is still not out of the Rays’ plans, and you could still see him back again with a incentive-laden contract and a possible platoon position in right-field. The next 10 or so weeks should be fun for everyone. I know I am going to be dreaming of a repeat in 2009 all Winter long.