Results tagged ‘ Gabe Kapler ’

Defense Bends, but the Rays break in Loss

 

 

Mariners 4, Rays 2

 

Ted S Warren / AP

 

Joe’s 500th Moment

 

It did not feel like a celebration, but come on, does it really feel like we have seen Rays Manager Joe Maddon out there 500 times in a Rays uniform? It feels like it was just yesterday that we were introduced to this guy who looked more like your Logic or Statistics class professor than a baseball manager. But little did we know that the “statistics” label would still seem fresh today. It is so refreshing to see him still have the same type of managerial style that he displayed on the first day. When the Rays first manager, Larry Rothschild hit his third year, you could not even recognize his style, much less his smile.

 

But here we have the bold glasses of Maddon still gracing the dugout steps with grace and confidence in his team and their chances. How refreshing is it to know that the guy who took the Rays reins in 2006 made his debut on April 3rd in Baltimore. It took him two more days to celebrate his first win, a 2-0 victory thrown by Mark Hendrickson. But who would have guessed this guy would still be here when he first was introduced. We have seen it before in Tampa Bay, first Larry Rothschild the mastermind behind the Florida Marlins pitching staff during their first World Series victory was hired to build the franchise in the image of the Marlins.  This team has chewed up and spit out managers like a guy eating conch fritters at Frenchy’s on Clearwater Beach, Florida.

 

But why is it that Maddon has lasted so long? Could it be that he actually has a master plan, and has been able to implement it without stress and the front office blocking his thoughts and ideas. That is the great thing about his hiring and the team getting a new ownership at the same time. Both came in as blank pages to the Rays fans. Both had huge upside and confidence in them was sky high. I think even with the recent downward offensive woes, the energy and the chemistry on this team is high this season. You can see in the game that certain breaks have not gone our way that fell into our laps in 2008.

 

But I believe Maddon has the ability to steer the team’s thoughts towards recognizing these game changing moments and will turn them into positive events soon. But who would have guessed it when he got his 125th victory on  September 23rd against the Boston Red Sox at home. Here he was 25 percent of the way to his 500th game and he had been pushed by defeat and success.  He missed hitting the .500 mark in 2006 in his first season by one win. But even with the 61 victories, you could feel the tide changing in Tropicana Field. You knew this guy understood what was needed to hit the next level.

 

So here we are today at Safeco Field in Seattle with the Rays playing a late game start against the Mariners. Funny how last year these teams were headed in different directions, but now they have reverse mirror-image records, with the Rays fighting to get out of the American League East basement with a 5-9 record and the Mariners on top of the American League West division with a 9-5 mark. But there was Maddon like  a proud general leaning on the rail and watching his team go to battle against the Mariners. He has currently posted 229 wins in those 500 contests. That is amazing considering this is a franchise that did not win before he stepped into the head job. 

 

Who would remember that in his first year he finished 36 games back of the AL East winner, and in two years he would be the one on top looking down at everyone else. I was checking out some old Maddon quotes, and this one from the Tampa Tribune caught my eyes,” “The fourth manager in ( Devil ) Rays history is a book you can’t put down. A concert you rock to, a story that begins in a mining town and ends in a baseball dugout, sometimes cruising with the girlfriend to an L.A. beach, Springsteen blasting from the convertible, for a glass of red wine at sunset. Something for everyone.”  Wow, that was written the day he was hired by the Rays on November 14, 2005. People forget, we could have lost him to the Boston Red Sox in 2004, but they decided to hire Terry Francona for their managers position.  We need to celebrate Maddon. Not for what he has done for this franchise, but for what is going to do this year and in the future. I look forward to again celebrate his 1000th game on the 28th game of the 2012 season.

 

               

                Ted S Warren / AP 

 
Same Bat Channel, Same Bat Station

 

Watching the first inning of last night;s game I got excited that maybe this road trip might be the right thing to get our bats again stroking the ball and producing a few more runs than the opponent. Little did I know that the walk and those two hits in the first inning would be the highlight of the Rays night. There was excitement knowing that lead-off man Jason Bartlett was 5-8 lifetime against Seattle starter Jarrod Washburn. And when he lead off the game with a walk, you knew something was about to happen. After Carl Crawford hit a flutter ball to short for a quick out, the Rays began to flex a little muscle.

 

 Evan Longoria kept his bat going by stroking a nice RBI-double into the left field corner that Endy Chavez had trouble with as it bounced oddly off the wall.  Pat Burrell, who had been hitting at a .357 clip in his last 4 starts, hit a ball up the middle to score Longoria and put the Rays up early 2-0.  But after that, the Rays again fell into their recent funk of going down 1-2-3 both in the second and third innings. Burrell did again try and get something started in the fourth inning when he hit another ball up the middle for a single, but after a Ben Zobrist hard blast that landed just at the bottom of the left field wall, both men ended up stranded on base for the Rays. 

 

It is not frustrating that Zobrist hit that laser beam to left, but it did get there too fast, or the Rays might have had a chance to get Burrell home. It was one of those moments where a great hit hindered the end result. And that has been one of the foundation points to the Rays not getting some of their needed runs this year. Either we are popping the ball with mustard, or we are not stringing them along to make a sustainable rally to win. Scattered hits and walks will not win games, but they are showing that the ability is there and the formula can work. That is what is so unnerving about the slow start to the 2009 season. The team is doing the right things and getting hits, but not in a consistent manner by stringing them together and posting rallies of any duration.

 

Feast or fathom is the word for their offense so far in 2009. And Maddon is confident that the team will shake this and be fine this year. It is early, and we know this is a better team in 2009 than the AL Pennant-winning club of 2008, but getting into the AL East cellar early might not play well in the long run. From that fourth inning on, the Rays had 4 base runners the rest of the night.  Longoria walked in the fifth inning, Gabe Kapler hit a awesome double, his fourth of the year in the seventh inning, and Carlos Pena finally got on base with a walk after three straight strikeouts. And in a last ditch effort to get a victory, Dioner Navarro lead-off the ninth inning with a single to center field, but was left stranded after two quick fly outs and Bartlett being called out on strikes to end the game.

 

Ted S. Warren / AP

The Best Offense is a Good Defense

 

You know that quote had to come from a military leader, because a baseball manager would love the essence of that quote, but hate the result. But the Rays again showed some tremendous defensive effort, which included some nifty and classic Longoria moments. At least three times in the game, the Mariners were testing the Rays third baseman. This included two times just by Ichiro, but he completed the outs all three times gunning down even the speedy Ichiro.

 

But one bunt did go a bit  wrong in the first inning. Ken Griffey Jr., who has been known for knee problems put a ball down in front of the mound and was speeding to first as Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine picked the ball up and threw off line a bit to give the Mariner’s their second base runner of the game. Sonnanstine did get an error on the throw, but the play did not end up coming back to haunt him tonight.  But in the third inning, Akinora Iwamura made one of the best plays of the night when he took a ball hit by Adrian Beltre up the middle and went deep into the hole just on the outfield grass and gloved the ball and threw blindly to first to just get Beltre and retired the Mariners 1-2-3 for the first time tonight.

 

But the play of the night came from the outfield. Gabe Kapler got the start tonight in place of B J Upton, who is still rehabbing a slight quad pull. Kapler did not begin his fourth inning in a great way, but he did end it in classic style. After Mike Sweeney started off the inning on base after Sonny got him with a breaking pitch in the back hand, Jose Lopez hit a single to left to give the Mariners two quick base runners. But Seattle catcher Rob Johnson had a surprise for Kapler as he hit a long fly ball over Kapler’s head and to the wall for a RBI-triple. 

 

But a testament to the Rays defense was shown  when Johnson did not try and score off of Franklin Guttierrez’s fly ball to right field. Seattle Third Base Coach Bruce Hines held up Johnson not wanting to test Zobrist’s arm. Zobrist did end up throwing the ball into the plate with a strong straight throw that  surely would have pegged Johnson. Yuniesky Bentancourt then hit another drive over Kapler’s head that one-hopped to the wall and gave the Mariners a 4-2 lead in the game. After Ichiro tried to again test Longoria for the second time tonight, Endy Chavez hit a long and curving ball to left-center field. On the play, Kapler had a great read on the ball and got to it just as it was about to dip away from him. Leaving his feet he caught the ball in stride going horizontal for the final out of the inning. The play ended up being the number 1 Web Gems last night on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight.

 

           

            Ted S. Warren / AP

 

Tuesday Tidbits

 

I found it kind of interesting that the Mariner’s adjusted their rotation to get Rays-killer Jerrod Washburn on the mound last night. For his career, he was 11-3 against the Rays, with a 2.60 ERA coming into the game. It was a bold move by the Seattle coaching staff, but it did work out for them as they got their 9th win of the year. Washburn was in control of the game from the second inning on, and posted 9 strikeouts on the night.  He mixed his fastball and his breaking pitches well last night.  The victory put him at 3-0 on the season. The loss was only the second in the last 8 games against Seattle at Safeco Field.

 

Todd Kalas is the Man

 
I have always had a lot of respect for Todd Kalas and his broadcasting abilities. Last night was the first time we have seen the strapping-young lad since his father passed away last week. Todd came on before the game and thanked the many fans, players and broadcasters who have expressed their feeling to him in the previous week. He spoke of the great memories of working with his dad in the past, made sure everyone know how sincere he firmly felt their notes and messages to him and his family. But, the last comment by him really got to me. In his last words he expressed, ” Dad, pop the top on a cold one, it is time for the game!”  Classic moment from a classy guy.

 

Happy  Early B’day Safeco Field

 

We already know how I feel about this monument to baseball in the Pacific Northwest, but I forgot that it was entering it tenth year this season. I might have to go out for a series this year because I remember being at Jacob’s Field during their tenth year also and it was quite a environment. It doesn’t seem like July  15,1999 when they  played the first game in this stadium.  From its ground-breaking in March 1994, to the first pitch by former Mariner Jamie Moyer at 7:15 pm ( called strike), this stadium has been a centerpiece of the Seattle skyline.

 

From the time in September 1996, when they decided on this location just south of the old Kingdome, this stadium had been on the forefront to be a regional landmark. The first plans for the stadium did not include the retractable roof. But after a study showed that over 50 percent of the ballpark visitors came from beyond local King county, the commission formed to watch over and also manage the project asked local architect’s NBBJ about the roof options.  More than 30,000 fans came out on March 8, 1997 as fan favorite Ken Griffey Jr. shoveled out the first dirt on the stadium project.  Then on July 15, 1999 over 47,000 fans greeted the new digs during the Inaugural game against the San Diego Padres.

 

Bites and Nibbles

 

Carlos Pena ended his 12-game hitting steak just two shy of his personal best 14 games by going 0-3, with three strikeouts.  Pena is currently tied for second in the AL in strikeouts with  the Indians Grady Sizemore with 17 for the season. Dioner Navarro and Akinora Iwamura are tied for 13th with 13 strikeouts each so far in 2009.

 

Evan Longoria slipped to 11th in hits in the American League. He has 19 so far this year. He is however still tied for the second spot with 6 other AL batters in doubles with 6 this year. Longoria is also in a 5-way tie with 5 homers this season, and is in a 4-way tie with 13 RBI’s so far this year for the Rays. He is also second in Slugging Percentage hitting for a .816 average, only .090 below the Ranger’s Ian Kinsler who leads the AL. So far in 2009, a sophomore slump has not been bothering the young third baseman.

 

Jason Bartlett is currently rocking to fifth spot in overall AL batting average with a .391 this season. He is also currently 20th in the AL in runs with 20 for the Rays. He is also tied with Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury for fourth place in stolen bases in the AL with 5 so far in 2009. Carl Crawford also is tied for second in triples with twenty-seven other hitters in the AL right now.

 

David Price had his best performance of 2009 in his latest game for the Durham Bulls. Last night Price threw 71 pitches and gave up 2 hits and two earned runs in the 7-3 Bulls win. Two of those runs were given up on a homer by the Gwinnett Brave’s Reid Gorecki in the third inning. After Gorecki’s homer, Price did not give up another hit in his five innings.  It was his first victory in 2009. The Rays still have the future star on a 75-pitch count at Triple-A to conserve his arm.

 

 

 

Can Zorilla Overtake the Gabe connection?

 

 

Chris O’Meara / AP
 

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

 

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

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

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

 


Gail Burton / AP

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

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

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


Mike Carlson / AP
 

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

 
 

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

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

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


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



Chris O’Meara / AP

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

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


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

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

 

 
 
Gail Burton / AP

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

Rays Raise the Banner and the Roof

 

 
                       Rays 15,             Yankees 5

 

 
 

 
 
Pena  Ripped 6 RBI’s Tonight
 
 
Carlos Pena has been one of the most consistent players on the Rays for his power hitting efficiency the last several seasons. But so far this year his two blasts have only given Rays fans a glimmer of hope the old El Presidente was still in power. But after his 2-RBI double to deep right-center field, and his Grand Slam in the second inning, I think with his 6 RBI’s we can anoint the Presidente again in charge of the Rays Revolution. Pena for the night went 3 for 6, and only struck out one time.  He also was able to glide across the plate twice in the game .

 
The Rays power is pretty centered in this lineup in the 3-4-5 spots in the lineup. But Pena  has been coming around slowly, and he just might be peaking his swing and his power at the right time for the Rays. When he does lean back into a pitch, it can be a beautiful thing to watch glide over the outfield wall and see him trot the bases. For the Rays to even have a chance at a playoff spot in 2009, he will have to again be the consistent power in the Rays lineup. You can also include Evan Longoria and Pat Burrell in this conversation, but Pena has told the media and the fans before he wants this team on his back, and is willing to carry the load.

 

 

 

Jason Bartlett-Powerhitter
 

 

I thought I would never, ever even consider using that  phrase to describe Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett in my life. But you know what, the guy is delivering at the right time. He is battling Longoria for the top batting average, and also pacing himself for a banner year on the home run front. Bartlett saved his lone home run in 2008 until he faced his old team, the Minnesota Twins in September 2008. He did greet the playoffs with one dinger, but that was on a pitch that just was begging to be hit out of the park by him that night. 
 

 

But here we are in 2009, and the guy has already improved on that 100 percent by slamming his second homer of the season, and it also was not a shot that would be considered weak by any means of the word. He is making the Tampa Bay Media members look like Mensa candidates by selecting him as the team MVP in 2008. And in 2009 so far, it is the Longo and Bartlett show. After last night’s game he was hitting .444 for the young season.  He ended up last night going 3 for 4, with a lone RBI, but also scored two runs.  This is what is expected out of the leaders on a team, to provide the energy and the presence of greatness. Bartlett might not be the first name you consider when you think power, but the way he is playing right now, he is surely electric in the batter’s box and on the bases.

 

 

 
                  
 

Welcome Back B J 
 

 

Isn’t it grand to know that for the first time in the Rays short history, they have been anticipating and yearning for tonight ever since Spring Training began. It has been one of the most talked about and wrote about situation concerning the Rays this year. And now, here we are sitting here just waiting for it to happen. No, I am not talking about the banner ceremony, or even the introduction of the Rays players during this Home Opener. I am talking about our speedy outfield weapon, B J Upton. Ever since his off-season shoulder surgery to repair a problem that popped up in a late season Baltimore game on the road, the fans and media have been yearning for this day.
 
 
 

For some reason, the pulse and blood flow of this squad in the outfield has moved a bit away from left field and is now centered squarely on Upton and his second campaign in his learning process about one of the hardest positions in baseball. I heard a quote one time that the best center fielders are not made, they are born that way. Well, Upton might not have done a huge amount of time in the minors , or even outside of the infield in his life, but now his life’s blood is warming up the center field  blue star on the turf.  The guy is one of the games new exciting players to watch both in the field and on the bases. His potential could be a 40-40 man, but could the sky really be his limit?
 

 

Every newspaper and website was excited to report that he would be back today, just in time for a trip into Tropicana Field by the Yankees. but what is so amazing, is the fact that Upton might not even be 100 percent, and he is still better than our current options in center. And he did nothing to discredit that in his first time back on the field with the Rays. His first inning bunt down the third baseline was textbook, and started the Rays rally against Chien-Ming Wang.  He lead off the inning with that bunt, but he might as well just hit it into the corner and stood on third base because the minute he was on first, he had Wang’s attention, and it truly effected the right-hander.

 

 

 

 

He kept Upton in his sights before releasing the ball, but the preoccupation with him cost Wang as Upton first stole second, then completed a double steal with Carl Crawford in the same inning to put both of them in scoring position for Pena. For the night, Upton only went 1-3, with that bunt, but his three walks did most of the damage as he ended up scoring 2 times tonight.  For a bit, everyone questioned the idea of Upton in the lead-off role because it might hurt his power production and RBI capacity. Well, if you really do feel that way, then you did not pay any attention to last night’s game.
 
 

With Akinora Iwamura and Jason Bartlett going to be swapping the 8 and 9 slots during the year, if either of them are on base when Upton comes to the plate, he has the potential to score one or both of them in one swing. Think about this for a moment. the Rays now have power and speed at the 1 and 2 spots, and can use either of them in multiple situations besides just stealing bases. then you have the possibility of Iwamura and Bartlett to also be speed demons on the base paths and set up RBI situations for Upton and Crawford. That to me is a well-balanced offense with another slot of power coming in the middle of the lineup. 

 
 
           
 
 

Nick Swisher was the Yankee “Ace” last night
 

 

I am not going to sit here and blow smoke about the state of the Yankee pitching last night. It was a bottomless pit for a few innings. I am not going to throw Wang under the bus too much, but what is up with the gifted right-hander. He did not even seem to have the mental ability to throw strikes last night. Is he still hurt and afraid of saying something for fear of the retaliation of the New York media circus? The guy was a rock for the team in the past, but now just looked confused and down right awful. I mean the poor guy did not even last more than 1 inning tonight. He gave up  as many hits ( 6 ) and runs ( 8 ) in that one inning that used to take over 8 innings of his past pitching skills. His ERA at the beginning of the game was a robust 17.18, but that was very kind considering he left in the first inning of tonight’s contest with an inflated 28.93 ERA.


 
 

I thought I was seeing a pitcher totally implode into himself tonight, and unlike a recent Rays game, this pitcher did not salvage anything good after the initial inning. But the guy behind him were not any better for this game. It was not until the bottom of the eighth inning when Nick Swisher took off his first baseman’s mitt and got his outfield glove that the Yankees seemed to have a pitcher who could mow people down. Now I am not sure of Swisher’s credentials as a reliever, but he did impress me a bit last night. Not for the fact he made the Rays Gabe Kapler look foolish by striking out, but by his control. 
 

 

He was an upgrade on a bad night. Yankee Manager Joe Giardi might have done an extremely difficult thing to some people, but it was a pretty good situational idea to me. He knew this was going to be a long series, and he needed all his relievers intact for possible long innings, or even short stints. By him placing Swisher out there, it might have sent the signal of surrender to some people, but it actually saved his Bullpen arms for another day.  Sometimes managers have to leave a struggling pitcher out there because he can not sacrifice his Bullpen arms to save the guy. This was just that same kind of night. 
 

 

With no true long-reliever on this staff, he had to anoint inning by inning the way be wanted this to play out. He knew after the third inning that he was not going to score 11 runs on a hot pitcher like Scott Kazmir tonight. So he cut his losses a bit and used an alternative to burning another Bullpen arm. For his credit, Swisher threw  22 pitches, with 12 of them for strikes. His basic sidearm delivery did seem to catch the Rays hitters off guard. Think about it, when was the last time someone scouted Swisher on the mound?  High School maybe.  He did give up a hit and a walk, but considering that the Yankees pitched a total of 239 pitches in that game, his 22 might have been the best of the night. 
 
 

 

 

 

 A-Rod and Tex take in the Game

 

I was asking this to fans about the second inning of the game last night. What do you get when you place A-Rod and Mark Teixeira on the bench at the same time?  You get the entire payroll of the 2008 American League Champions payroll. That is right, the Yankees sat down the almost to the dollar amount of the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays entire season payroll. $ 46 million dollars sat on the bench last night and took in the debacle. I know A-Rod was not happy seeing  Cody Ransom blunder at the plate ( 1-4 ) and in the field. His misplays and mishaps might have cost at least three of the Rays runs just by himself. His error in not calling an infield fly ball cost his team a sure out, but also gave a error to Robinson Cano that he caused by almost backing into him before he misplayed the ball with his glove.
 
 

 

Swisher did great for Teixeira, going 1-3 with a huge home run and also playing the relief pitcher role with grace.  I think when the Yankees traded for Swisher this off season, it was for his bat and his defense, not his reliever skills. But sometimes you have to take one on the chin to get up and fight again. Even though it might have been the biggest defeat of 2009 for the Yankees this year, I am a bit concerned about tomorrow night game. Usually when a score get to this type of blow-out, the team bus on the way back to the hotel can be a lonely place where everyone questions their ability and their roles.

 

 
             
 

 

It can make or break a team, and with the talent and the experience that the Bronx Bombers have, it might just be the opening of a can of whoop *** tomorrow.  But then again, sometimes an emotional night and a huge explosion on offense can also be met with a false sense of security by the other team. Since it is the first meeting of the season for both teams, I would be afraid of that rubber band effect. You know what I mean here, you stretch and stretch that rubber band until it is tight and ready to go, but then when you think you have a fraction more of power and ability, it snaps and gets you right dead center of your own head. If I was the Rays, tomorrow I would wear a batting helmet all day long.
 
 

 

Photo Credits:  1) RRCollections
                          2) Steve Nesius / AP
                          3) Steve Nesius / AP
                          4) Steve Nesius / AP
                          5) Steve Nesius / AP
                          6) Steve Nesius / AP
 

Rays Come Alive for Road Finale

 

 
                      Rays 11,           Orioles 3
 
 

 

Rays Even Road Trip Out 3-3

 

If you asked Rays Manager Joe Maddon if a .500 split on their first road trip would be acceptable, you might be surprised at the answer. Considering the Rays actually played 8 games on this road trip including 2 games in Philadelphia to close out the Spring Training schedule, they got a usual 10 day  regular season road trip. you could hear it in the voice’s of the Rays Radio Network commentators the other night. Everyone wanted to go home. It is rough to start on the road, and the Rays have done that consistently since 2006.
 

Early in the month, it was reported that in 2007, the Rays requested to start at home this year. Since that time it has been learned that they in fact only petitioned this year to start 2010. The information I got off the Internet was incorrect. I am only bringing this up because I try and get the right stuff and the right information for you all the time.  It is not unusual for bad information to get out here, but sometimes it gets nipped in the bud before the blogosphere picks it up. For that, I am sorry. But I know I am not the only one who got this. A few respected newspapers also got this bad information, but I doubt you will see any retractions.


Sleepy Offense Wakes Up Big Time

 

To say the Rays offense took a deep nap during Saturday night’s game would be an extreme understatement. But for what they lacked in that game, they more than made up for in this Sunday’s series ending contest.  The Rays even started off first thing today as Akinora Iwamura lead-off the game with a single through the hole to right field. An interesting fact is that is the first hit ever given up by Orioles starter Adam Eaton to the Rays.  After a strike out by Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria kept up his hot hitting by lacing a shallow single to center field to give the Rays two base runners early.  Longoria then got his running shoes on and stole second base to put both himself and Iwamura in scoring position.

 
But the Rays floundered in their attempts to get both runners across the plate in the inning. The last out was made by Pat Burrell, who was 0-7 lifetime against Eaton. But the Rays did get Eaton to throw 27 pitches in the inning, which could lead to an early day for the Orioles starter.  But in the top of the second inning, the Rays again began to pressure early on Eaton when Ben Zobrist hit a “Texas Leaguer” into left field that dropped in left field before the foul line. Gabe Gross then got walked on 9 pitches. Gross fought off Eaton from a 3-1 count in his favor with 3 straight fouls before Eaton threw a ball high for ball four.

 
              
 

Jason Bartlett then hit a single to left field to load the bases for the Rays. But Iwamura, who was 4 for 13 with the bases loaded in 2008, could not convert and was struck out. Crawford then came up and laced a ball into the right field that Nick Markakis had to hustle to get to, but not before Crawford unloaded the bases with his 3-run triple. Longoria then hit a long ball to right that went over Markakis’s head and landed just shy of the right field wall for an RBI double. At that point, the Rays were up 4-0 on the Orioles.

But in the 4th inning, it got really interesting for the Rays. Gross lead off the inning with his second walk of the game, this time on 6 pitches. Bartlett could not move him over after popping a ball in foul territory taken by Aubrey Huff. But Iwamura then laced a ball between Huff and Brain Roberts to move Gross into scoring position at third base. With Crawford at the plate, Iwamura stole second and put both men into scoring position. Crawford then hit a one-hopper into center field that Adam Jones came up throwing towards home plate.

 

 

Gross was heading for home and Orioles catcher Chad Moeller got situated in front of the plate. Gross did not plow into Moeller, but instead decided to try and side-step him. But there was a problem in that plan. Moeller had the plate blocked and Gross ended up falling over Moeller’s ankle and missed the plate. Bot men went sprawling backwards with Gross flipping behind the left side of the plate. He then realized he had not cross the plate and scrambled to try and get back to the plate before Moeller could tag him out. He was not successful and he was tagged out at home on one of the oddest play I have seen in a long time.  The Rays did not score in that inning and stranded both Iwamura and Crawford on base.
 
 

In the fifth inning, the Rays again went for the jugular after Carlos Pena struck out to lead-off the inning. Burrell was walked by Orioles reliever Brain Bass, who came on for Eaton in the top of the inning. But the next batter, Dioner Navarro, laced a liner to the right field wall for a double. Zobrist then came up and crushed a shot over the out-of-town
score board in right field for a 3-run homer, his first of the year.  But that was not all for the Rays in that inning. Bartlett got on infield hit when he hit a slow roller to Robert Andino, who was playing short for the Orioles today.  Aki then hit a gapper into left-center field that scored Bartlett to give the Rays a 8-0 lead.

 
 

In the sixth inning, Burrell got his first extra base hit off Bass when he got a double into the right-center field gap. He was stranded on base, but it showed that maybe Burrell was beginning to climb out of his season opening slump. When he was Philadelphia, Burrell was infamous for streaks, both good and bad.  The Rays got a bit of a surprise in the seventh inning when Bartlett hit his first homer of the season to dead center field. Bartlett hit only one homer in the regular season in 2008, and 1 in the playoffs for the Rays. It was a welcome sight to see him rounding the bases.
 

But in the eight inning, the Rays finished their scoring in great fashion. After Crawford was called out on strikes to start the inning, Longoria hit his 5th homer of the season off Bass’s misplaced cutter to left field. Carlos Pena then hit his second homer of the year to right field to complete the scoring for the Rays and post an 11-0 lead on the Orioles in the top of the eighth inning.  Seeing both Pena and Burrell go a combined 3 for 9 might be a great indicator of both men beginning to come out of the darkness and begin to produce some more scoring chances for the Rays. Before today’s game, they were a combined 6 for 36 with a homer and 2 RBI’s, both by Pena.
 
 

Balfour’s Game Went Down Under
 

 

Grant Balfour’s 2009 time with the Rays has not been his favorite times. This spring he fought some control issues, and thought they might be gone now that the regular season has arrived. Little did he know before yesterday’s game that the problem was about to crest and produce one of his worst performances in some time. This spring Balfour  appeared in 9 games for a total of 8 innings and 12 hits and 6 runs. But, something else happened that was not your usual Balfour signature, he also had 7 walks to go along with his 9 strikeouts. His release point and mechanics seems to be off a hair or two.
 

And so when he made his second appearance of 2009, he expected to be in a better frame of mind, and also a renewed vigor on the mound. But what ended up happening is that he had a minor meltdown on his release points and ended up throwing 24 pitches, 10 for strikes in the outing.  He came on in the ninth inning to preserve a beautiful pitching performance by James Shields, but ended up worrying both Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey as to his value with the club right now with the Yankees and White Sox coming into Tropicana Field for the next 7 games.
 
 

Balfour was officially credited with 0.0 innings pitched yesterday, but he allowed 2 hits and 3 earned runs, plus gave up three walks to balloon his ERA to 20.25 in the young season.  He started off the bottom of the ninth with a 11 run lead, but he did not even last until the first recorded out of the inning. Markakis lead-off with a walk on  6 pitches. Then Huff managed to again beat the Rays shift for a single into left field. That was the second time this series Huff had popped a ball down the left side of the infield for a hit. He then gave up another walk to Ryan Freel on 6 pitches to load the bases for Baltimore.
 
 

Luke Scott then hit a ball to right field  for a RBI single that broke the shutout for the Rays. Balfour then walked Felix Pie on 4 straight pitches to force in a second run. At that point, the Orioles had Scott sitting on third base with no outs. Maddon decided to come on out and take Balfour out of the contest before it totally bombed his confidence. Rays Reliever J P Howell came on to get Moeller to hit into a 6-4-3 double play that scored Scott to make it 11-3 Rays. He then got Andino to take a called third strike to end the Orioles rally and send the Rays home with the victory. 
 
 

I am not sure what was wrong with Balfour last night, but it looked a bit similar to the pitching reversal of Rob Bell a few years ago for the Rays. Hopefully it is something mechanical that can be fixed in side work and he will again be back to old self. Sometimes just an inch can change a pitcher’s velocity and accuracy to the plate. Hopefully he was just losing his release point for some reason and it will just be a matter of throwing a bit to get back into a groove. If not, it opens a huge hole in the Rays Bullpen because of Balfour’s aggressive nature on the mound.

 
           
 

Shields wears Rare Road Win
 

James Shields made a  few changes to his routine on Sunday to try and figure out the reasoning for his odd road woes. If you noticed on the mound, Shields wore short sleeves under his uniform for the first time on the road this year. Sometimes superstitions and rituals can be the life breath of a ball player. Some like to eat the same thing on game days, or drive the same way to the ballpark. Other have uniform rituals like wearing an old t-shirt under their uniform, or wearing three pairs of socks.
 
 

Whatever it was that Shields did yesterday, I hope he wrote it all down so he can do it again after the Rays next road trip in about a week to the west coast. He started the game by retiring the first 8 men he faced in the game yesterday.  Shields did not even have a ball leave the infield until Andino single through the first and second base hole for the first hit of the game. He got out of that inning without a problem, until Jones doubled into the left-center field gap to lead-off the fourth inning. Then Shields shut down the next three batters in a row to strand Jones at third base.
 
 

A simple 1-2-3 inning in the fifth gave him more comfort as the Rays were then up 8-0.  And it wasn’t until Jones again came up in the sixth inning that he gave up his fina
l hit of the outing. After Huff struck out to start the bottom of the seventh inning, Shields gave up his only walk of the day to Freel on 5 pitches. But after two quick unassisted plays by Pena, the Rays got out of the inning.  Dan Wheeler than came on in the bottom of the eighth inning and Shields was done for the day. You could see him over there trying to convince Maddon to let him finish out the game.

 

 
But the Rays Bullpen needed to get some innings, and Wheeler, Balfour and Howell ended up completing the outing for Shields.  For the day, Shields went 7 innings of 3-hit shutout pitching, and ran his record to 1-1 on the year. He threw 88 pitches, 53 of them for strikes on the day. He did give up 1 walk to go with his three strikeouts.  Hopefully Shields did remember every move he made in his pre-game rituals and warm-ups to again try and duplicate it when the Rays again take to the road from April 21-29, 2009.  At that time the Rays will be making a west coast trip that will end with 3 games in Minnesota.

 

 

Sunday’s Scattered Thoughts 
 

Carl Crawford coming into Sunday’s game has hit .352 in his last 30 games with 13 extra base hits and 26 runs. He also has added on 18 RBI’s during that time. But right now the hottest duo on the Rays might be the two guys who will flip flop in the eighth and ninth slot in the lineup for a while for the Rays. Iwamura and Bartlett each went 3 for 5 yesterday, but Bartlett is  hitting .391 currently and is winning the batting average stats of the duo. Only person hitting better than these two is of course, Longoria who is at a lofty .481 right now and is leading the majors in homers, and is tied with Miguel Caberra for the hits lead with 13 for the year.

 
With B J Upton primed to rejoin the Rays on Monday at Tropicana Field for the home Opener, the Rays sent Matt Joyce down to the minors after the game. He will join the Triple-A Durham Bulls and be their primary right fielder for the season. Hopefully while he is down in the minors, Joyce can get some quality at bats against left-handed pitchers and give the Rays more confidence to give him the right field job for good upon his return up to the Rays.
 

The Orioles and James Shields have some interesting history together. It was the Orioles who first got a glimpse of Shields on the mound on May 31 2006 and gave up 5 runs on 9 hits in his Rays debut. The Rays have now won 8 straight wins when Shields has faced the Orioles.
 

I am going to be on “Good Morning Tampa Bay” with the rest of the Maddon’s Maniacs on  Monday to promote the Opening Day chatter and cheers for the Rays. Be sure to check it out since I know I actually have a speaking part in the telecast about the purpose of the “Maniacs”.  As usual, we will be loud and proud and cheering for the Rays today.  Also anyone coming to the ballpark early can check out our video we did with the Raysvision people a few weeks ago on the “Ground Rules” for Tropicana Field.
 
 

All Photos are from Gail Burton / A P

 
 

Hendrickson Dunks Rays in the Harbor

 

 
                           Orioles 5,        Rays 4

 

 

Rays Off a Few Clicks Tonight

 

This was one of  ” those ” games for the Rays. The were their usual selves, putting pressure on the defense and being totally aggressive on the diamond, but they were also a bit off mentally in their game against the Orioles. I man, how often is it that you have your normally pretty reserved catcher going ballistic on the Home Plate Umpire for calls. Dioner Navarro usually is pretty silent, and might only speak to him while they are both behind the plate. I almost want to call the brain farts last night. There were a few plays that defines the term to great accuracy, and then there was the way the Rays brought new meaning to the words.
 

 
I mean there was cause for alarm during the 5-4 loss to the Orioles because they actually had the base runners to make it an easy 7-5 win, but blunders and stumbles on the base paths made the score pretty one-sided most of the night. Let’s first look at a wild and curious play by Gabe Kapler in the fourth inning. After Kapler got on board with a walk by Mark Hendrickson, he subsequently stole second base and the n got involved in one of the most confusing plays to end the inning.

 
After Navarro struck out for the second out in the inning, Ben Zobrist came up and  slapped a nice ball to Melvin Mora at third base, who then threw the ball to Aubrey Huff and first base, but Zobrist has beaten the throw. But there was a late indication by the First Base Umpire Derryl Cousins. This put Kapler between third and home and in no-man’s land. He was then quickly tagged out by Cesar Itzturis to end the inning for the Rays. One wasted Run.

 

 
 

But that was not the only major aggressive move on the night by the Rays. In the first inning, Carl Crawford might have set the table for the entire night when he slapped a ball down the first base line and challenged Nick Markakis arm early in the game. Crawford could have easily been in for a double, but being aggressive tonight, he instead tired to stretch the play into a triple. Markakis quickly got the ball to Brian Roberts on the cut-off and he fired a missile to Mora , who tagged out Crawford on the belt  to end Crawford’s threat on the base paths. One
Wasted run.  But that is not the end of it all, Evan Longoria then took one of Hendrickson’s pitches to right-center field for his first home run of the game.

 

Both teams had sloppy moments in the game, but the Orioles rebounded from their mistakes and regrouped in time to save the game. In the top of the second inning, Orioles short stop Itzturis was going out for a shallow flair hit into center field and he pulled up at the last second fearing a collision with Adam Jones, and the ball fell to the turf as well as both players.  Crawford also had his moments in the field too last night. In the second inning a hard hit ball by Orioles catcher Gregg Zaun fell just in front of Crawford. Then in the fifth inning, Jones hit a screamer that Crawford missed by inches for a double.  In the same inning, Zobrist bobbled a hit from Mora for an RBI single.  If he had caught the ball, it would have saved one Baltimore run.

 
                   
 

Bird is the Word

 

Mark Hendrickson is only one of 11 players to ever play both in the MLB and the National Basketball League. He was the 1996 second round selection of the Philadelphia 76’ers. He was also selected the same year by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 20th round. And we all know which path he took to first in his career. After being selected by the 76ers, Hendrickson still played semi-pro baseball in the NBA off seasons, and  actually signed on May 20, 1998 to play for the Toronto club in their minor league system during the summer months.  He finally came back to baseball in 2000 after finally deciding his NBA career was over.
 

Who would have known how great a decision that was for him at the time. For a great example just look back a few years ago when Hendrickson was a starting pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays. Does anyone else remember that it was Hendrickson who started the April 6, 2005 game at home against the Blue Jays that saw the Rays scored 6 runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to defeat Toronto 8-5 Rays Manager Joe Maddon his first Rays win. By the way, the win went to another current Oriole, Danys Baez.
 
 

But also the Rays tonight were toying with their 12 game winning streak against the Orioles.  the Rays had gone 15-3 last season against Baltimore, and was looking to again take control early in the ball game. But Hendrickson bent in that first inning giving up two straight hits, but rebounded to only surrender Longoria’s blast.  The second inning had a few rough patches, but went smooth for the tall leftie. He basically cruised through t
he rest of the game to complete 5.2 innings and give up only 6 hits and a solo run in 91 pitches. Not lost on the fact is that in the month of April, there is no better pitcher in the last few years than Hendrickson. His 1.71 ERA is the best in the MLB for the month of April. 

 

 

Is 162 Homers Possible?

 

I know that this streak of homers by Longoria is going to end at some time, but isn’t it interesting that this young player is not even giving the sophomore jinx a look this season. I know it is way to early, and a slump or two is going to hit him somewhere, sometime this year. But what kind of magic is there in the air right now with him hitting the cover off the ball in almost every game. We have played 4 games, and we have 4 Longo long balls. I am not going out on a limb and say 162 homers, that is insane, but isn’t the fact this kid is scoring most of the Rays runs also a bit off the charts.
 
 

So he has four homers in four games. That is not the most impressive statistic. He also has a RBI streak going of 4 straight games. That is the one that is impressing me more right now. The kid is producing early, and the Rays are feeling his heat this season. But his multi-homer game last night might be huge right now, but what does the future hold for this young up-and-coming star. Too early to throw his name in the hat for anything, but could the All-Star voters already be looking at the Rays box scores?  I will leave you with this small gem from the Elias Bureau from yesterday prior to the Rays versus Baltimore game. Only two other players have had RBIs in each of their team’s first three games of a season after coming off a Rookie of the Year Award: Marty Cordova for the 1996 Twins (3 games) and Bob Allison for the 1960 Washington Senators (7 games).  I think we are seeing the light of greatness come early for Longo.
 


 
 
Steady Sonny Falls from Grace
 

You want to cheer for Andy Sonnanstine, at least I do every time he hits the mound. The guy is as dependable as the Swedish Volvo. I mean the guy just goes out there and throws and doesn’t get rattled or hit around often. But like the ads for the auto state, it is the safest car in the world if their is trouble. Sonnanstine had his own accident last night, but still is dependable and good for the long haul. the guy had a bad night, plan and simple. His pitches seems to not be hitting their marks last night. Rays Manager Joe Maddon is famous for saying the “Starting pitching sets the tone for the game.”

 
 

How true was that last night. Sonnanstine came out and gave up to straight hits to dangerous base runners Brain Roberts and Jones, and they made him play early. In the first inning he gave up three hits, and also saw his team behind 2-1 before Luke Scott hit a fly ball to right to end the inning.  But he also had a few innings that were vintage Sonny during the night. He got 1-2-3 innings in the third,fourth before getting into his final trouble in the fifth inning. But the fifth inning started out great with him getting two quick outs before Jones hit his drive to left field that Crawford could not pull in for a double.
 
 

From that point on, it was not his night. He then gave up a RBI single to right-center to Markakis.  Then former Rays Aubrey Huff found a hole between short and third while the Rays were employing their usual left-handed shift. that set up the long fly ball to right that could not be brought in by Zobrist. that put men at first and third with two outs, but a Wild Pitch by Sonnanstine pushed Huff across the plate for a 5-1 Orioles lead. And that was the end of Sonnanstines night as Maddon came out to get him. He ended up going 4.2 innings giving up 5 runs on 8 hits while throwing 92 pitches. 


 
Quick Thoughts:

 
Rays reliever Lance Cormier again came out and showed why the Rays had such high regard for him this season throwing  2.1 scoreless innings to  keep his ERA to 0.00 for the year. So far this season Cormier, who got the last roster spot this spring has appeared in two games and given up only 2 hits in 4 innings.  His control is impressive, and his long-reliever skills are much needed in the Rays Bullpen this year.
 

We all know that the Rays have seen an offensive explosion by Longoria so far this season. His second homer tonight was a 2-run blast to left field that was never in doubt.  But it was Navarro’s solo shot to the first row in left field in the top of the ninth inning that brought the team closer to a win tonight.   But both Akinora Iwamura and Zobrist could not repeat the magic and both struck out to end the Rays chances. Also another wild fact is that all 4 runs were scored on homers tonight. That is the same result from Thursday game against the Red Sox.  So at this moment, the last 8 runs scored by the Rays have been manufactured by the long ball.  that is not a great trend to repeat nightly.
 
 
 
 
Photo Credits :     1) Gail Burt
on / AP

                             2) Gail Burton / AP
                             3) Gail Burton / AP
                             4) Michael Dwyer/ AP
                             5) Gail Burton / AP

Tampa Bay take First Series from Red Sox

 
 
                            Rays 4,  Red Sox 3

 

 
 
Strutting like a Proud Turkey
 

Okay, I am going to shout loud and proud tonight for the Tampa Bay Rays. I do not care if you like it or not, because we have sent the message that we are for real again in 2009, and we want to win the American League East again. This was the kind of game that the Rays used to lose all the time up in Boston. It was the type of contest where the Rays let the Red Sox get back into the game, then let something happen that took the game out of the Ray’s hands. But that was almost the case this afternoon in Boston, but the Rays instead bent, but did not break to win the first series between the two powerhouses in the AL East.

 


The game was not in the bag until Gabe Kapler, who came on and pinch-hit for Gabe Gross in the top of the ninth inning, took a long fly ball in the triangular area of center field for the final out of the game. Boston did not sit down and die in this game, but played like a lion waiting for their chance to snatch the win away from the Rays. In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Boston Captain, Jason Varitek tried to get the rally going strong by hitting a solo shot into the Rays Bullpen in right field. The shot was almost brought back into the field-of-play for an out, but Ben Zobrist, who had just come on to play right field, could not pull the ball back from beyond the fence.


It was that close. Seriously, it was a few inches that separated the Red Sox getting back into the game, or the Rays taking it without a fight. Instead, Varitek awakened the Boston crowd with hid lead-off homer off Rays closer Troy Percival on a bad pitch down and in. Boston did not sit back after that blast. After two quick outs, David Ortiz walked to give the faithful some hope. That in itself was a major thing since Ortiz came into this game 1-12 ( 0.83 average) against Percival lifetime. So with a man on base, and the winning run at the plate with two outs, the hard hit ball by Kevin Youkilis  seemed to take forever to reach Kapler’s glove and end the rally.

 

If this is going to be the type of games that we are going to see in this series this year. I think I am going to get some Pepto and aspirin for the home crowd. This is what baseball is all about. It had the excitement of a late rally, and the back-and -forth pitching by one of Boston’s best pitchers. This is the type of game that will be the talk of the water cooler in Tampa Bay and Boston tomorrow for different reasons. In Tampa Bay, they will be talking about the powerful display put on by the Rays in this game. But in Boston, they will be talking about Kapler’s play and the pitching of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Dice-K was all over the plate early, allowing a lead-off homer, and also throwing 100 pitches in 5.1 innings.
 

It was a great game to watch for either teams fans. That is going to pay dividends for both teams during their next home stands featuring these two teams. We know that Boston will be sold out, but it will drive up the demand for tickets and also make the  people selling tickets a nice return. Even in Tampa Bay, where most Boston fans can take a plane ride and even buy tickets cheaper than getting into Fenway Park most nights, the ticket sellers will have a field day. But that is what playoff baseball felt like this past October, and hopefully when the Red Sox come to town the rest of the year, we can experience it over and over again.

 
 
            
 

Riggo to the Rescue

 
It was great to see Shawn Riggans get a start today against the Red Sox in the matinee. Anyone who knows me will not doubt know I am going to be happy to see him getting some time behind the plate. But I might not be the only one. During today’s FSN telecast, Rays analyst Kevin Kennedy, who is a former catcher, and a major league catching instructor, also talked glowingly about Riggans today. He made a point to show the way he would go down and block the ball correctly. That he was fundamentally sound, and also seemed to call a great game behind the dish.

 
Kennedy also noticed the great  confidence that Garza seemed to have in the back-up catcher, and that Garza had a winning record last year ( 5-2) when Riggans caught him. Not lost was the fact that Riggans was the catcher that caught Garza during his one-hitter against the Florida Marlins last season. The only blemish on that day was a home run to Hanley Ramirez.  During the game, with the center field camera focusing in on Riggans, you could see him give encouragement and calm Garza down after strikes were not called on a few close balls off the corners.

 
But that is why I like this kid. He had taken to this job after the Rays have thrown people at him to pressure him for the back-up spot in previous years. But this spring, the Rays did not bring in any one with a huge amount of experience because of their confidence in Riggans. That is the ultimate compliment to a back-up catcher. And Riggans did not disappoint the Rays today. He might have only gone 1-4 today, but his solo home run shot to right center field that went over the Red Sox Bullpen put them up 4-0 in the fourth inning.  Riggans, who has had his share of injuries the past few seasons is poised and confident this year. And with him and Dioner Navarro taking care of this pitching staff, the Rays know that they have the right guys behind the plate this season.

 
 

 
 
Rays do some funky shifting in the Infield
 

During last season, the Rays employed a few unusual plays during game designed to intimidate hitters by moving players to spot that show a huge spray pattern in a hitting chart. We saw the shift used against David Ortiz and other left-handed batters last year that looked like something out of an old fashioned managerial scrapbook. But Rays Manager Joe Maddon is a student of the game, and computer generated charts showing hitting patterns and also tendencies can be a useful weapon to beat opponents. Some times they work like a charm, other times they still sneak a hit through a hole somewhere in the defense.

 

Most people know the left-handed shift where first baseman Carlos Pena will play off the bag ( unless there is a runner on first) and Akinora Iwamura will play about 10 feet off the clay into shallow right field. Then you have shortstop Jason Bartlett either right behind the second base bag, or more towards the inside of the bag. All this time third baseman Evan Longoria is the man on an island in this formation. He usually lines up in the shortstop position, but sometime has to hug the bag because of some batter faking bunt attempts down the third base line. But then th
ere is the new formation we saw today.

 
 

It is a bit different, because before today it was foreign to see them also do a shift for right-handed batters. It was not used all game long, but they did employ it numerous times today, and it had mixed results.  Mostly the Rays used it against Dustin Pedroia and Jason Bay today to make them hit over the defense. Unlike the left-handed version, in this new variation you saw Pena more between first and second and not guarding the right field line. Iwamura basically played right behind second base, and the right side of the infield stayed at their positions.
 
 

Using this new formation today, the Rays seemed to be adjusting on the fly, but got Mike Lowell to hit a sharp liner to Iwamura behind second in the sixth inning that would have been a single to center if the shift was not used. Pedroia and Bay went 1-8 on the day, with Bay getting a single over Joyce’s head in center field into the triangle near the 420 sign in center field. It will be interesting to see this formation used again and again this year by the Rays. But like they always say, if it is not broke, don’t fix it. But in this case, if it shuts them down, keep doing it.

 

 

Evan Almighty to the Monster

 

I know it is crazy to think that Evan Longoria is going to keep hitting homers at this pace. I mean he has a few unusual streaks going on here. First off, this is the second game in a row where he has hit a double in his first at bat of the game. and both times they have been down the third base line into the corner.  Put that together with the fact he is hitting .429 so far this season, and you have a guy who is not showing any sophomore slump at this time. And that is great for the Rays. While Pat Burrell finally got his first hit of the season today, Longoria has been consistent at the plate so far for the Rays.

 
 

But it might be his other streak that people want to talk about in Tampa Bay. Not the fact that he has made awesome defensive plays so far this year. Stealing a few hits off the lines so far in the Boston series and turning them into easy outs. He did get beat fully on the lead-off bunt single down the third base line by Jacoby Ellsbury today, but he rebounded by taking a ball headed for extra bases by Pedroia in the ninth inning for the second out. No people want to talk about his second  home run in as many days into the Green Monster. Today’s slam went into the third row of the Monster seats, and he almost had another in an earlier inning, but the ball curved foul into the Upper Deck seats to the left of the Monster. Longoria is making people believe he is the real thing. Another good indicator that he is seeing ball well is the fact that he missed hitting for the cycle today by not getting a triple.  If Longoria was not seeing the ball the size of beach balls right now, the Rays might have been in a bit of trouble in this series.

 
 Today’s Rays Ramblings
 

I am curious on this new Rays promotion I was hearing on the radio last night.  It was announced that if the Rays score during the fourth inning of a game, a local eyeglass company Innovision will give 10 kids eyeglasses and examinations. How cool is that! Seriously, in this time when a lot of parents can not afford the medical insurance for kids, eye insurance and benefits might not be the first thing on their minds. So it is an great idea for this kind of promotion to take some of the worry and financial burden off some Tampa Bay families.

 
 

I also found it quite amusing last night during the game to catch a glimpse of the Red Sox scoreboard that kept track of pitches for the respective pitchers from both teams. It was kind of funny to see that when Scott Kazmir left the mound on Tuesday night, that he had thrown 445 pitches according to the board.  I am not genius, but to thrown that many pitches might take at least 3 1/2 games for a normal pitcher. I know it seems like when Kazmir pitches, he is throwing a huge number, but last night he seems to be finding that control that missed him a few times in 2008.

 
 

Not lost is the fact that the Rays plated all four of their runs via the long ball today.  They started in the top of the second inning when Matt Joyce got his first hit of the season by sending a ball over the head of J D Drew and into the right field stands. Dice-K had left a 2-seam fastball high and towards the middle of the plate, and Joyce made him play for the missed location.  Then in the third inning, after Iwamura walked to lead-off the inning and stole second base, Longoria connected on his shot into the Green Monster for a 3-0 lead.  Then in the fourth inning, Shawn Riggans got his first hit of the year by blasting a ball into the Red Sox Bullpen to complete the Rays scoring for the day.

 
        
 

Is Garza the New Red Sox Killer?

 

I know that might sound a bit premature to use that kind of terminology concerning Matt Garza, but considering he has now won his last three starts against the Red Sox it might be becoming more hip. In 2008, the Red Sox hit .250 against him both at home and at Fenway Park. In those games he only gave up 13 runs. And that is only during the regular season. It doesn’t even include the 2008 American League Championship Series when he started two games and held the Red Sox to  a .170 average, with 8 hits and 1 run in those games.

 
That would show that he is beginning to take an active role in being a key figure in stopping the Re
d Sox for his team. It is not to say that he was without any problems today. He did get called for going to his mouth in the bottom of the first inning and it gave Pedroia a free “ball” in his at bat. But it did not come back to haunt him as Pedroia hit a fly ball to Joyce in center field for an easy out. But today he did get his third victory in a row against the Red Sox, while only allowing them to hit  .154 today.  In his 7.0 innings today, he gave up 4 hits and a solo run in the sixth inning. In that inning he gave up a lead-off double to the left-center field gap, then two batters later gave up the long double to Bay that scored Youkilis.

 

All in all, Garza is beginning to show the signs of what the Minnesota Twins envisioned from him when they drafted him from Fresno State. He is gaining more and more control  of his pitches and is beginning to let the game flow and not get too upset on the mound. When he was called for the infraction in the first inning, the old Garza would have argued with Home Plate Umpire  Jeff Nelson and might have been thrown from the game. But today he just had a frustrated look and let it slide off his back and struck out Ortiz next. The maturation process might not be complete on Garza, but he is showing a huge improvement on the guy we saw on the mound early in 2008.

Photo Credits: All today’s photos are from the Associated Press and taken by Michael Dwyer.

Rays Blast Past Red Sox

 

 

                           Rays 7,      Red Sox 2

 

 

 
Knology Cable is a piece of _____

 
I just got off the telephone with my current cable provider, who has decided to not carry the Sunshine Networks broadcasts of the Tampa Bay Rays games this season. They said they decided that since Sunshine Network does most of the Florida Marlins games, they would not appeal to South Florida fans. First off, I do not live in South Florida, and I have been watching Tampa Bay Lightning games on the network for about 10 years. I did not get into the particulars about the cancellation of the broadcasts because this woman did not deserve my anger. But I did find it funny that Fox Sports Net, which owns Sunshine Network, is to broadcast 150 Tampa Bay Rays games this season.
 

 
So what is the real deal?  Are they going to try and extort a few extra dollars per month and put Sun Sports on a Sports package so we can watch our games. I know I am about to throw their DVR out in the road and do not give a damn about their equipment right now. So the change will effect at least 75 games this season. And guess which game was the first to be blacked out?  If you said last nights 7-2 Rays win in Fenway, you win a  stuffed animal. Not that I am screaming about having to go to the sports bars and actually watch sports, but the beer is colder and the wings cheaper in my house. So I am going to have to find suitable bar stool for the next 74 games in a lounge that caries MLB.TV.


 
I know I might be able to watch the game son MLB.TV, but at night my room mates kids use the computer between 6-8 to finish homework or do their research papers. I am a second class citizen in my home because of this cable fiasco. But this might be the last straw. Both Bright House and Verzion Fios is looking pretty attractive right now. I already called them and they confirmed that all 150 Rays games will be presented on their networks. but that is not the kicker people. Knology also has backed out of even considering adding the MLB Network to their system. Okay, I was calm until they told me that, then I am now doing the math to get them out of this house, and some respectable cable into my television.
 

 
I am past upset at this point, until I browse over both Bright House and Verzion’s websites and see not only that the games will be on their system, but way down there in the bottom of the listing is three holy words: “The MLB Network”.  I know MLB is not one word, but you can see my excitement that they are carrying the programming, and now I can enjoy it with the rest of you. I have been feeling like the guy typing on an old IBM 386 computer with AOL 3.0 since January. Now, in less than 2 days ( they are quick) I will have HD quality MLB Network, and the last 148 Rays games at my disposal. Plus if I am a good boy, I am getting $ 150 back…….someday.



 

Rays Doing it “The Rays Way”

 
When Rays Manager Joe Maddon took the Rays coaching position a few years ago he stated he wanted to change the way of thinking in the Rays clubhouse. With his years in baseball, Maddon had seen that attitude and confidence can sometime overcome the biggest obstacles. He instilled a new way of even playing on the field. And his 2009 team is so primed into that frame of mind that the unusual plays are beginning to look simple and planned out. Maddon loves to run, he is also a huge fan of “opportunity hitting.”  Basically, he is a huge fan of the way most National League teams win in the major leagues.
 

 
The acts of bunting, pressuring the opponents defense, and also  taking advantage of what they give you are key components to the Maddon machine. Let’s take a look at a few pays in last night’s game to illustrate that fact.  In the third inning, Carl Crawford hit a ball down the first base line that might have been a sure fire double play a few years ago. But running  towards second base at that time was Jason Bartlett, who got a good jump on the ball and forced Kevin Youkilis to throw above him as he was sliding into second base. The ball ended up rolling into center field and both Crawford and Bartlett were safe on base with no outs.
 
 

 
That ended up being a key moment in the game for two reasons. It gave the Rays a bases loaded situation with young slugger Evan Longoria coming up, plus it opened the Red Sox eyes to the fact the Rays are going to play aggressive baseball this year.  That style of run-and-gun actually fits the young team. they have very speedy guys who can contribute amazingly on base, and even some of the veterans have been known to throw their body into steals and even bunting so far this year. The second big thing about this play was the fact they got into Youkilis’s head. He committed a rare error on the play, and it stayed with him the entire game. 


 
 

But the best example of this new style inaction came in the Rays big fifth inning. With Gabe Kapler on third base after Akinora Iwamura completed a perfect hit-and-run to put both men on the corners with no outs. Jason Bartlett, who was hitting in the lead-off spot tonight, then put down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt to score Kapler. Bartlett put the ball down towa
rds the first base side of the plate, and Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester picked the ball up and hesitated for a moment before tossing it to Jason Varitek, who was upright in front of the plate. The play was doomed from the start for Boston. It was a perfect bunt on a situational hitting style that is very popular in that “other’ League.

 

 
But that is the way Maddon wants his Rays to play in 2009. Aggressive play will be tolerated and encouraged. Take last night’s double steal by Bartlett and Gabe Gross, that is the style of play that puts huge pressure on the opponent’s defense to then make plays. It is also the style the team played in 2008, but this year they seem more at ease and more determined to make the system work for them this year. The Rays have the potential on their roster to again lead the major leagues in steals. But I know there has to be a statistic out there somewhere to show the effectiveness of using this style of play both in 2008 and this year. Somewhere there is a fact and figure that will tell you that the Rays also lead the MLB in those situational plays. And if there is not, they might as well invent it…….this type of play is not going away in the Rays games.

 


 

Kazmir is Grounded

 
Scott Kazmir ( 1-0 ) seems to be having fun on the mound again. And that is not a good sign for the rest of the American League.  But he did have a few unusual thing happen to him last night. First thing is that he actually got through more than 5 innings of work by actually throwing his unusal 111 pitches in 6.0 innings.  But that is where the similarities ended for a usual Kazmir night. Last night also had a weird twist of its own, he posted  4 strikeouts on the night. Two of those strikeouts cam early in the first inning. He got Kevin Youkilis on a nice change-up for his first strikeout of the night, then took out former Rays Rocco Baldelli for the second strikeout to end the Red Sox rally with two men stranded on base.
 

 
He peppered two more strikeouts throughout the appearance, while also not having a ground ball out recorded until the fifth inning. And that out was a nice grounder to Evan Longoria at third base that he easily converted for the third out of the inning. you heard me right here, he did not record a defensive putout on the ground until the Red Sox’s 15th out of the game. This is a new wrinkle in the Kazmir arsenal, but it might not happen every night. His fastball and cheange-up are still his primary pitches, but his slider is coming along great and will add to him becoming a more complete pitcher.  No longer does Kazmir have to throw total heat to get outs. His strikeout totals might suffer, but his win totals might balance that out for him.
 

Wild Facts That Made Me Go Hummmmmmmmm

 
Before last night’s 2-run homer to true center field in Fenway Park, Carlos Pena has connected on 77 homers in the last two full Rays seasons. It might have been his first hit of the season, but it is also his statement that he has found his swing again, which is trouble for everyone else in the AL. 
 

 
Also on the Home Run front was Evan Longoria poking a ball over the Green Monster and reminding the Boston faithful that he is also ready to go this year for the Rays. Longoria, who went 2-5 last night is feeling more comfortable in his three slot in the lineup. Longoria could have increased his RBI total last night, but instead hit into a double play in the third inning. Iwamura scored on the play to give the Rays a 1-0 lead.
 

 
The Rays will have to become early Road Warriors this season as they will play 22 of their first 35 games on the road.  Also a little known fact is that the Rays have now started the season on the road consistently since 2005. the Rays have petitioned MLB to start their season at home in 2010.  In the past the team has requested the road first and gotten it without a hitch. But in 2008 they originally asked to start 2009 at home and the request was not granted to them.
 

 
It is sometime hard to believe that Rays starting pitcher Scott Kazmir, who already owns several Rays lifetime pitching records is only 25 years old. He is still the youngest member of the Rays starting rotation, even though he now has 47 major league wins.  It is still amazing that we consider him the old veteran on the rotation, and he is the youngest one of them all.  When David Price come up this season, depending on the date, he will be the youngest on the rotation, but will be either 23-24 years old depending on the date ( August 26th birthday).
 

 
Dunkin’ Donuts

 
The Rays have again partnered with the Boston-based  pastry power for 2009. “When the Rays win, You Win” promotion will again be held in 2009, but there will be a catch. Unlike 2008, when you could go into any Dunkin’ Donuts and tell the cashier, “The Rays Win” to get a free sugary donut. This season the franchise has added that you must purchase a beverage to get your free doughnut. The added beverage addition probably will not stop most Rays faithful from getting a free sugary snack in the morning. Maybe it was those 280,000 plus free doughnuts in 2008 that paced this change in the policy.  Yummmmmmm.
 
 
 
Photo Credits:  All Photos were taken by the Associated Press by photographer Elsie Amendola
 
 

Hot Pitcher + Cold Weather = Rays Loss

 

 

 

Hot! Hot! Hot!

 
The worst thing you can do as a team is come up against a hot pitcher in the beginning of  a series. It was the kind of performance the Rays might have feared, even with a game time temperature of 46 degrees. Well yesterday, the Tampa Bay Rays came upon a pitcher that was as hot as the surface of the Sun. I mean, do not take into consideration that he only struck out Carlos Pena, who tried to bunt a ball down the third baseline in the top of the second inning,  three time himself in the contest.  I mean, the guy was just so hot that he got 5 one-two-three innings, including the first two innings before running into a buzzsaw inning where he threw 23 pitches and only one run. I mean he threw only 93 pitches in seven innings, but shut down the Rays offense totally.  It seemed like only yesterday these two teams met on October 19th, down in St. Petersburg to decide who would face the Phillies in the World Series.
 
 

In this start, he only gave up 2 hits, and struck out 10 batters. And some of his pitching just fooled and perplexed the Rays hitters. Consider in the second inning, He struck out Pena to begin the inning on 3 pitches, then he got Pat Burrell to fly out to Jason Bay in left field on the first pitch he saw from Beckett. Then, Beckett got Matt Joyce, who was making his Opening Day debut, to take the first pitch and hit a wobbly fly to Dustin Pedroia for the third out. He had Joyce so ahead of the swing that his bat ended up in the stands behind the Rays dugout.  It was a beautiful massacre at the plate for the Rays as they combined all day for only 3 hits.  In his seven innings, Beckett only surrendered one solo run to the Rays.
 
 

And the top three men in the batting order were the only one to hit off Beckett and the Red Sox Bullpen.  Akinora Iwamura got the first hit in the second inning when he slapped a single to left field to move up Gabe Gross and Jason Bartlett. But the Rays had to wait until the sixth inning, when Carl Crawford hit a double into the left-center field gap for their next hit. But that would be all that Beckett would give the Rays. But that is what many people feel is the true Boston strong point this year is their starting pitching. Beckett proved that with this outstanding outing. Considering that the Rays hit only .209 against him in 2008,but they did hit a robust .342 against him in the 2008 post season. But even with that playoff blurp on his record,  it seems that Beckett has been coming up big for the Red Sox against the Rays for several seasons. And him posting a opponents batting average of .091 to begin 2009, might spell a long year for hitting in the American League.
 



 
Opening Day
 


It was a fitting Opening Day. It had all the splendor and frills you hope to see on the first real day of baseball for either team. I was especially taken back by the Boston Red Sox players coming through the crowds,down to the field during their introductions. That was a very classy move, and looked even better than the one done by Philadelphia a few days earlier. This one actually looked more “fan friendly”, and the ladder was not taken away before Red Sox Manager Terry Francona reached the turf. I still do not know why Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel did not smack someone in the head over that blunder on Sunday night. 
 

 
But Fenway Park looked great decked out in all the colors and ribbons fit for a king. And the crowd was very supportive of former Red Sox Gabe Kapler during his introduction. I believe that it was the first time he has been back in the old yard since he left. Between him and Rocco Baldelli, it seemed to be a tie in the vocal cheers and jeers. But how fitting that the Rays seem to be playing their playoff roles in 2008 in reverse the last three games. First two in Philly, now three in Boston. That is a pretty ironic setting considering that the MLB schedule was made up last summer, and the league had no idea the Rays would rise to the top.

 


 
 
I mean we got to hear the Boston Pops perform the National Anthem in a small assembly of members. I was taken aback by the fact that the Boston Pops had released a baseball-themed CD the day before. I never knew they did that kind of music, but they are in Boston. I might have to wander on over to ITunes later and check it out.  Opening Days are special to everyone. the Rays had three of their five Opening Day “rookies” make players their debuts on the opening Day rosters yesterday. Among them was Evan Longoria, who came up after 11 games in 2008, and then rolled on to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award. 
 
 

But then you have guys like new Rays Matt Joyce and Joe Nelson, who were making their first Opening Day rosters, and appearances. Joyce, who was acquired in the Edwin Jackson trade this off season fought to get to this point by changing the minds of the Rays coaching staff and front office to get a shot at playing center field for the Rays while B J Upton rehabs back in Florida. This was the first time Joyce had ever been to Fenway Park, and he certainly did not know the nuances of playing the outfield here. So he went to the Rays resident expert on Fenway Park, Gabe Kapler and got some valuable knowledge and insight to the corners and odd angles out in center field.
 
 
Joyce did not make the greatest debut at the plate, going 0-4, with two strikeouts. But he did make a basket catch running towards the wall in the fourth inning off the bat of David Ortiz. He also made a second catch with his back towards the infield in the seventh inning off a blast by Jason Bay for the third out of the inning. But Joe Nelson might not be the guy you would pick to not ever being on a Opening Day roster. The 34-year old reliever has been around for a while. He has played  with the Florida Marlins, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Royals, and a short stint in 2004, with the Boston Red Sox. At no point in his previous appearances has he been on the roster this early in the season. Two other Rays players were making their first Opening Day rosters. Both pitchers Grant Balfour and Jeff Niemann were with the Rays Triple-A affiliate, the Durham Bulls to begin the season in 2008. Both were in attendance at Fenway Park yesterday, but neither got a chance to appear in the game.
 

 

Rays Moments of Light 

 
There were not a huge amount of great moments for the Rays in their season opener against the Red Sox. But there were a few hints that the team is not going to sit back and relax either in 2009. The rays again began their quest to be the best running team in the league by stealing three bases on the day off of Boston pitching.  Gross got it started after walking in the third inning by stealing second off of Varitek and Beckett.  Then in the eighth inning, Bartlett, who was hit by a pitch, and Iwamura, got got walked by Hidecki Okajima, converted a double steal on the Red Sox to both get into scoring position.  It is a positive sign to see the Rays running early in the counts, and trying to take pressure off the Rays hitters.
 

 
The Rays did have limited scoring chances in the game, but they also stranded 5 runners, including 3 who were in scoring position with two outs. But they did come through in the clutch in the third inning when Crawford came up with the bases loaded and hit a sacrifice fly to Jacoby Ellsbury in center field for the first Rays run of the year. Gross came in to score that first run of the game for the Rays.  The Rays did try and make another scoring opportunity in the sixth inning when Iwamura walked to start off the inning and Crawford hit his ball into the left-center field gap. But the Rays went  down 1-2-3 after those plays to strand both men on base.
 
 
The Rays did convert against the weakest point of the Boston pitching staff, their Bullpen in the eighth inning. With Okajima on the mound, the Rays lead off the inning with Bartlett getting hit with a curveball. Then Aki walked to put two men on base for the Rays. After Crawford struck out, Red Sox Manager Terry Francona brought in reliever Justin Masterson to face Longoria. He ended up hitting a 2-run RBI single through the gap in center field to bring the Rays within 2 runs at 5-3. Masterson then shutdown Pena and Burrell to get out of the inning with no more runs.  That was the Rays last great chance at scoring in the game as Jonathan Papelbon came on in the ninth inning and got Joyce to pop out to Pedroia before striking out both Dioner Navarro and Gross to end the game.

 


 
 
Broken Shields

 
Shields looked better than the score in the game yesterday. His command was just a bit off at times, but he also made some incredible pitches for outs during the game.  He did start the game off great by getting Ellsbury to strike out looking with a great pitch on the corner of the late. But he also got into trouble early in the game giving up a solo shot to Pedroia off the Sports Authority sign above the Green Monster for an early 1-0 Boston lead.   Ortiz, got a single off the first pitch he saw today, and J D Drew hit a beautiful shot off the Monster for a double. Shields walked Bay before getting himself together and got Mike Lowell to pop out in front of the plate to Navarro to end the inning with the bases loaded.
 

 
Shields then seemd to be gaining control by putting the Red Sox down 1-2-3 in the second inning. But in the third, he gave up a lead-off walk to Pedroia. Keven Youkilis then got his first hit ever off Shields to left field. Shields then seemed to have a bit of concentration problems as he went to his mouth on the mound, and Home Plate Umpire Tim Tschida issued a “ball” to Drew.  He then hit a  sharp ball down the first base line that Pena had to dive to save extra bases and runs. Drew did get an RBI on the play. Bay then hit another ball right through the same hole down the first base line to drive in another Red Sox run.  Lowell then hit a ball high off the Monster for an RBI double. Then Jed Lowrie hit a short looper between Bartlett and Crawford that neither could get to in time. Varitek then hit a hard ball to Gross in right to stop the bleeding at 4-1 Boston at that time.
 
 
After a 1-2-3 inning in the fourth, Shields got a great bit of defensive help after giving up a lead-off double to Youkilis in the fifth inning. Drew then walked and gave the Red Sox two early base runners. Bay then hit a sinking liner towards Crawford, that he tried to grab, but it went off his glove. But Crawford’s quick thinking had him fire the ball to third base, and Longoria applied the tag to get Youkilis out at third base. Lowell then hit a grounder to Longoria that he simply stepped on the bag for the force play on Drew, then fired the ball to first to complete a 5-3 putout and end the inning. Shields last hit given up was a solo shot by Varitek around the right field foul pole. 
 
 
Something to take into consideration here is the fact that as the weather does get a bit colder, a pitcher can lose his feel for his breaking pitches. I am not trying to make excuses for Shields today, but his fastball and slider did seem to pop on the corners at times, and his change-up did have a bit of a lack of bite at times in the outing. I would be curious to hear from Shields if the weather did have a bit of a factor in his control problems with his breaking balls at time during the game. 

 


 
 
Wild Sights 
 

Every stadium in baseball has those revolving signs behind home plate that seem to turn every innings or two to show sponsors and events coming up. I had to chuckle a few times during the game yesterday as the Red Sox has an ad for Wise potato chip products up there for most of the first three innings. What is wild about this is the fact that is is a logo of a owl’s eye. When batters are in the box, the eye seems to glare out at you on the mound just beyond the back-side of a left-handed batter. I am not saying it might be a bit confusing, or even a distraction on the mound, but it did give me a few chuckles during the game.
 
 

 
We should see Rocco Baldelli make his Red Sox debut today to face left-hander Scott Kazmir. How wild will it be for Baldelli to actually take an at bat in the field that he fantasized about as a kid playing for the Red Sox. We all know he has played here before with the Rays, but this will be his first time in the batter’s box wearing the Red Sox colors in Fenway Park. Also, a wild fact. Rocco Baldelli’s picture is actually on screen during the movie “Fever Pitch”. He became friends with a few of the people on the movie’s production crew, and there is suppose to be an audible mention of him coming up to bat in the movie, and his photo on the screen above center field.
 
 
 
Photo Credits:      1) AP ( Charles Krupa )
                            2) AP ( Elise Ameadola )
                            3) AP ( Elise Ameadola )
                            4) AP ( Charles Krupa )
                            5) AP ( Lisa Poole )
 

Rays Cancel the Gabe and Gabe Show

 

 

 
 

During their daily pre-game news conference in the Rays dugout, the Tampa Bay Rays have just announced that they are going to release both Gabe Kapler and Gabe Gross this afternoon to make room on their roster for two additions to be announced later today.  This is a huge departure from the scenario that was evident a few days ago where the duo would be a platoon action in right field for the Rays. It seems that their Spring Training averages, and their scaled back defensive play might have been a factor in the decision. ” I was extremely shocked, ” Gross told the Clearwater Sun. ” I thought after I signed my one-year contract, this would be my home for the year, defensing right field for the Rays.” 
 

 
One main factor in the decision might be the lack of power this spring by both Kapler and Gross. Gross currently has a single home run and only 8 RBIs, which pale in comparison to fellow Ray Jon Weber’s 3 homers and 14 RBI’s in the same time period. Even non-roster invitee Rays Sadler , who has 4 homers and 8 RBI’s has shown more power and ability this Spring than Gross. But it might be the .164 batting average posted by Kapler that might have sealed his fate this spring.  Kapler has gone 9-55, which is a masked improvement over going 0-14 to start the spring.
 

 

Even thought the announcement goes against the Rays previous defensive movements, it is said that the team might be making a roster spot for Gary Sheffield, who will clear waiver this week after being released from the Detroit Tigers. In a vertical move, it seems that former Tiger, Matt Joyce might have done enough to secure not only a 25-man roster spot, but also a change to platoon with Sheffield in right field for the team. “We consider Joyce a kid who just might have lightning in a bottle right now” Rays scouting director Syd Finch told the media. ” With him growing and Sheffield tutoring the young guy, we have a current win-win situation on our hands.”

 



 

 
Gabe Kapler, who gave up a chance to again manage in the minor league system has been given the same option in the Rays minor league system if he so desires. “I was told I could manage the Tampa Bay Rays rookie league team if I desire until they can find a suitable position for me.” Kapler told the Evening Independent. ” I actually think this might be a great start to a long and prosperous managing career and I want to thank the Rays fans for not being an ex-Red Sox this Spring.” Kapler also will be still conducting his daily pose-offs with Rays designated Hitter Pat Burrell while he is in the Tampa Bay area. 
 

 

” The reason that the Gary Sheffield situation is so enticing is the PR potential of this move,” Gary Kroger, Fan Excitement Manager of the Rays said before the packed media house in Port Charlotte today. ” Think about this for a moment, here we have a guy who is about to hit his 500th home run, not even our fan favorite Fred McGriff was able to do that in his career. That means PR money in the bank.”  Even though the move might be considered dramatic by most Rays standards the team decided to go “outside the box” on this one because of the demands on the Rays showing their true potential this season.  

 
 

 

 

“For us to defend our American League East pennant, we have to get out of the gate early to exhibit the passion and confidence in obtaining our second trophy.” Finch added. But what is more amazing, is that this is also the day, a year ago when the Rays declined their 2009 option on Rocco Baldelli.  A decision will also be announced later today on the 2010 $ 11.5 million option for Carl Crawford.  Is there some sort of romantic significance to this date in Rays history for contracts and major announcements to be made by the franchise. ” There really is not set goal or objective on this date, ” said Kroger. ” What is amazing is that the Rays and the world take such pride in the date, and truly feel that April 1st is a magical date both in history and in practical jokes.”  I am not sure what to make of that statement when Adam Friedman runs into the room and proclaims loud and clear, “April Fools!, you really did not think we would dissolve the two Gabes’ did you?”
 


Photo credits:   1)-3) www.stpetersburgtimes.com
 
 
 

 
 

Rays beat Pirates in First Night Game of the Year

 
                      
 
I can tell you it has been a wild couple of days here in the old Renegade lair. I went to the game, as we all know on Sunday and my laptop worked pretty well during the draft. I was able to save my copy and only had to add the photos and the credits and it would be done. Well I charged the new little toy up and took it again to the game on Monday night to Bradenton and did my blog doing play-by-play with that game too. But when I got to the house, my new toy decided to act like a spoiled Christmas toy that stops working 24 hours after the kids play with it for the first time.
 

I was scared I might have gotten a virus or maybe even fried the hard drive already.  But I took it into a friend’s computer shop on Tuesday and he told me that there was  small cache of missing files that went along with Window Mail that would prevent the sending or even the opening of mail on that application.  Somehow the computer itself decided to deep six itself into the deep deep green of the cyber seas. So I took it to the store where I bought it, and they had a Tech Department. I told them how I had two word files and two recorded files on the computer, and I needed to extract them before I gave them the unit to send back or try and fix for me. I decided I just wanted to exchange the unit, but that I could not access them because of the touch pad and the odd files being missing in action.

 
Well, they attached a exterior mouse and got to the two Word files and downloaded them onto a disc for me that day, and I finally got Sunday’s game online tonight. I was only using the WIFI to connect to the Internet and check mail and do comments update left on my blog.  I had not tried to use the Mail system either on my Windows or Yahoo account until Monday night. But for some reason, and it had a time stamp of Monday afternoon, the files were missing that could coordinate those requests. He told me that maybe there was a glitch in the system at the source and during a update it might have erased it by mistake. So now I had to fear that a exterior source could swallow up a chunk of my internal programs.

 
 I asked if I did anything wrong here, and they stressed that sometimes things go wrong before we get our computer and usually programs inside them correct the situation , or at least alert you to a damaging scenario. I did not get a warning, a “Danger Danger Will Robinson” or any type of Bells or Whistles. But with the Cowbells around me the last few days I am not hearing all that well right now. Anyways, they happily replaced the unit and also threw in a 1 year maintenance program free of charge. Who say customer service is dead? But considering I paid about over $ 700 dollars for a top of the line system that will be obsolete by December 2009, I liked the gesture. So here I am finally getting Monday night game on here at 2 am on Weds.  No jokes, the things I do for my baseball love is sickening sometimes ( Not really, but it does tickle).
 

 
Rays 6, Pirates 4
 

 
During the second game of this home-and home series with the Pittsburgh Pirates the last two days, the Tampa Bay Rays have seen their offense and their relievers show some polar opposites in plus and minus situations. Today would mark one of the first night games of the season for the Rays and they now know that the season is just around the corner. With less than 21 days until the ball goes to the plate for real, the team can  now focus on their seasonal objectives and get ready for the second run at a divisional title or pennant. Starting for the Rays today will be their number four starter, Andy Sonnanstine. You know the thing I love about this guy is that he is the consistent member of the rotation in 2008. If it was not for a stroke of bad luck in late August and September, he would have lead this team with over 15 wins last year. No one has ever done that as a Ray, much less a guys less than the number 3 starter for the team.

 
 
               

 

Pittsburgh will take the field wearing their St Patrick’s Day green caps because this is their last home game before they hit the road tomorrow to play the New York Yankees in Tampa. On the mound for the Pirates will be Paul Maholm, who is predicted to be one of the front runners of their rotation this season. Leading off for the Rays tonight will be shortstop Jason Bartlett.  Maholm gets an 0-2 count on Bartlett before he get s nice call over the outside corner for a called third strike  and the first out of the game. Gabe Kapler then comes to the plate and hit a hard grounder to Adam LaRoche, who takes in the ball and throws to Andy LaRoche at first base tonight. Evan Longoria then swings at an outside breaking ball for a swing strikeout and the Rays are retired 1-2-3 in the top of the first inning.

 

 
Sonnanstine ends up with his warm-up tosses and  faces Nyger Morgan as the first Pirate hitter tonight. Morgan hit a long fly ball to Justin Ruggiano in center field for the first out. Freddy Sanchez, who is playing second base tonight then comes up and hits a soft grounder to Ray Olmedo at second base. He takes the ball and quickly throws it to Willy Aybar, who is manning first base tonight for the Rays. Nate McLouth then hit a swirling ball of the end of his bat that drops in front of Bartlett, but he can not get control of the ball in time to get the swift outfielder. McLouth is on with an infield single.  On the third pitch to Ryan Doumit at the plate, Dioner Navarro can not control a breaking ball in the dirt and McLouth scrambles down to second base, and into scoring position for the Pirates. Doumit then misses a great breaking pitch by Sonnanstine for a swing strikeout.
 

 
 
One of the wild thing about the stadium tonight is the green bases. That is right, the usual pearl white bases have a green paint job tonight in honor of the Irish holiday tomorrow, but there is no green beer in the stands.  Maholm again take the mound for the Pirates and faces Pat Burrell for the first time tonight. Burrell quickly strikes out to put one out on the board for the Rays. Aybar then comes up and hit a grounder to Sanchez at second base, that he quickly gets over to LaRoche in time for the second out.  Ben Zobrist then comes up and hits a single into center field for the Rays first hit of the night.  Dioner Navarro then comes up and hits a ball straight to Jack Wilson at shortstop and he flips the ball to Sanchez to complete a 6-4 force out of Zobrist to end the Rays chances this inning.
 



 

Sonnanstine again came out for the Rays, who will have St Patrick’s Day off and will probably spend the day working out at the complex. Tomorrow also marks the first day of the minor league players beginning to play inter-squad games with other teams to get ready for their season. The first batter to the plate this inning is Adam LaRoche. He hit a sharp ball towards third base that Longoria takes in stride and quickly throws to Aybar to secure the first out. Jose Tabata then comes up and is  a victim of Sonnanstine’s off-speed pitch for a called third strike, and the Pirates second out. Craig Monroe, who has been pretty successful on the base paths this spring then comes up and hits a long fly ball to Kapler in right field for the third out of the inning. It is an easy 1-2-3 inning for Sonnanstine and the Rays.
 
 

 
Maholm again comes out in the third inning and the sun is setting here in Bradenton, Florida and we get set for our first time under the lights this year. Ruggiano comes up first for the Rays and gets walked by Maholm to start off the inning. Olmedo then hit a sharp grounder to Sanchez, who tosses the ball to Wilson who then throws a strike to first base to get a nice 4-6-3 double play on the Rays. With two quick outs, Maholm is in control and get Bartlett to strike out for the second straight time tonight to end the inning.
 

Sonnanstine comes out again for Tampa Bay and first faces Andy LaRoche. He then hit a ball up the middle out of the reach of Bartlett and Olmedo to lead off the inning with a single. Wilson then comes up and hits a weak grounder to Olmedo, who turns and fires to first bases because LaRoche is almost to second by the time he gets the ball in his glove. Morgan then hit a sharp ball towards Aybar who get the ball and tosses it to Sonnanstine for an easy 3-1 put out. The Pirates now have a man in scoring position and two outs in the inning. Sanchez then hit a ball down the third baseline past Longoria that travels to the corner for a RBI double. LaRoche scores on the play and gives the Pirates an early 1-0 lead in the contest. McLouth however hit a grounder to Olmedo that he easily get to Aybar to retire the side.

 

Maholm then comes out again for the top of the fourth inning with his first lead of the night. Kapler is the first batter he faces and he drive a ball towards Adam LaRoche at third base that he misplays and over throws first base for an e-5 on the play. So that give the Rays a base runner to lead off the inning. Longoria then hit a ball off the end of his bat high in the air over second base, and Sanchez takes it in for the first out of the inning. Burrell then comes up and hit it towards Adam LaRoche at third base and he begins a perfect 5-4-3 double play to get the Pirates out of the inning.  At this point in the game, the Rays only have a single hit by Zobrist in the top of the second inning. 
 

Sonnastine does not come back out for the bottom of the fourth inning and the Rays send out reliever Brain Shouse. For the night, Sonnanstine went 3 innings and gave up 3 hits and a single run and two strikeouts. The first batter to face Shouse will be Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit. He hit a hard ball toward shortstop the handcuffs Bartlett and he can not get the handle on the ball in time to get Doumit. He ends up with an infield hit on the play. Adam LaRoche then  gets fooled on a sidearm breaking pitch from the Rays leftie for the first out of the inning. Tabata then hit a double down the right field line and puts both men in scoring position with one out. Monroe then hit s a ball to Bartlett that his only play is to first base and Doumit scores on the play.  Andy LaRoche then walks to put two men on base again for the Pirates. Wilson then hit a bouncer back to Shouse on the mound that he throws to first base to get the third out if the inning. At this point, the Pirates have a 2-0 lead on the Rays.
 

Maholm again comes out for the top of the fifth inning and faces Aybar first in the inning. Aybar hit a ball towards McLouth in center field for the first out.  Zobrist then hit a high fly ball to Tabata in left field for a quick second out in the inning. Navarro then comes up and hit a ball towards Wilson at short stop that he can not get a good handle on and  he is on the outskirts of the infield when he attempts to try and get Navarro at first base. He is awarded a infield hit and the Rays have a base runner with two outs. But Pirate Manager John Russell has seen enough and goes out to relieve Maholm with Dave Davidson. For the night, Paul Maholm went 4.2 innings and gave up only 2 hits and got 4 strikeouts for the Pirates. Ruggiano is the first Rays batter to face Davidson, and he quickly hit a ball to LaRoche, who fired to Sanchez at second for the force out of Navarro to end the inning.

 
The Rays send David Price to the mound in the bottom of the fifth inning. This is Price’s second appearance of the spring. the first batter to face him will be Morgan. He hit a solid liner towards third base that is snared by Longoria for the first out.  Sanchez then hit another ball towards Longoria that he easily scoops and tosses to Aybar for the second out of the inning. McLouth then walks to give the Pirates a base runner with two out. With Doumit again at the plate, Price ends up throwing a wild pitch and McLouth advances to second base on the play. Doumit ends up hitting a ball to Ruggiano in center field to end the inning for the Pirates.

 

Davidson again takes the mound for the top of the sixth inning. Olmedo then walks on 6 pitches and steals second base during Bartlett’s at bat. On the next pitch, Bartlett hit a ball down the third baseline past LaRoche for an RBI single. Kapler the  comes up and is walked on 5 pitches to put men on first and second with no outs in the inning. At that time, Russell again comes out and takes the ball from Davidson. In comes reliever Brian Slocum to pitch for the Pirates. To this point, the Rays have scored a run, and have gotten two walks and a hit in the inning. With Longoria at the plate, the Rays call for a double steal and both Bartlett and Kapler move to third and second base  safely on the play.
 
 

Longoria is also walked and the bases are loaded with no outs in the inning.  Burrell then comes to the plate and gets an RBI without hitting the ball as Slocum also walks him for the second straight walk of his outing and ties the game for the Rays.. Aybar then hit a hard shot to Adam LaRoche at third base for the first out of the inning, but he scores Kapler to give the Rays the lead in the game, 3-2. Zobrist then comes up and is walked to again  to put another runner on base for the Rays. Navarro then hit a shot down to first base that Adam LaRoche take unassisted for the second out of the inning. But on the play, Longoria came in to score to put the Rays  up 4-2. Ruggiano then came up and also walked to give Slocum 4 walks in the inning. But Olmedo hit a fly ball to Tabata in left field to get Slocum out of the inning. But the Rays had scored 4 runs on 1 hit and 7 walks in the inning.
 
 

Price again took the mound for the Rays in the bottom of the 6th inning with the first lead of the night.  He gave up a lead-off ground rule double to Adam LaRoche that was touched by a fan down in the right field wall ( wearing a Yankee hat ) area right before the Pirates Bullpen cut-out.  the ball would have been at least a double, but if the fan had not touched it, he could have stretched it into a triple. Tabata then struck out swinging for the first out of the inning. Monroe then hit a ball  that one-hopped to the wall in the gap in left-center field for an RBI double. Andy LaRoche then walked to put two Pirates on with one out. Wilson then came up and struck out swinging to give the Pirates one more out in the inning. Morgan then was called out on a called third strike and Price got out of the inning only surrendering the lone run.  But the Pirates pulled back within one run 4-3.

 
Darryle Veal came out to pitch the top of the seventh inning for the Pirates. Adam Kennedy got a single to left field to lead-off the inning for the Rays. Veal then walked  Ray Sadler to put two men on with no outs. Gabe Gross then hit a long fly ball to McLouth in center field, but it was not deep enough for Kennedy to advance on the play.  During Michel Hernandez’s at bat, Veal threw a wild pitch and both Sadler and Kennedy advanced a base on the play. Hernandez ended up being called out on strikes to give the Rays their second out of the inning. Morgan Ensberg then walked to load the bases for the Rays. But it was short-lived as Reid Brignac hit a foul pop-up to Adam LaRoche at third base for the final out of the inning.

 
Price again came out for the bottom of the seventh inning and Luis Cruz lead off for the Pirates. He ended up sending a Price change-up back up the middle for a lead-off single. Jeff Salazar then hit a ball to Ensberg, who took over for Longoria at third base and he threw to Kennedy at second to get the force out.  Rays Manager Joe Maddon then came out and replaced Price with Randy Choate. for the night, Price went 2.1 innings and gave up 3 hits and a lone run, but also had 2 walks and three strikeouts. The first batter to face Choate was Robinzon Diaz. He hit a single up the middle to advance the runners, but they did not test Ruggiano’s arm in center field. Garrett Jones then came to the plate with two men  on and one out. He hit a ball in front of the plate that new Rays catcher Nevin Ashley took and threw to Chris Richard for the second out. Both men advanced on the play.  Tabata then hit a ball to shortstop that Brignac threw to Richard to end the inning for the Pirates.
 
 

The Pirate then sent Jesse Chavez to the mound for the top of the eighth inning.  Ashley lead off for the Rays and walked on 6 pitches. Jon Weber then hit a towering shot to right field for a two run homer to put the Rays up 6-3. Richard then hit a liner to Tabata that he did not have to move to field for the first out of the inning. Kennedy then struck out, but the ball got away from Diaz behind the plate, but he regrouped and threw to first to record the put out. Sadler then hit a ball down towards third base that Neil Walker took in and threw to Garret Jones to end the inning.
 
 

Choate came out again for the Rays in the bottom of the eighth inning. Monroe was first to the plate and hit a single to left field to start off the inning.  Walker then struck out on a nice breaking pitch from Choate for the first out of the inning. Brian Bixler then was called out on strikes to get two quick out on the Pirates. Morgan then hit a ball sharply towards Brignac that took a high bounce near the side of the mound and he could not control it in time to get Morgan at first base. So the Pirate now had men at first and second with two outs. Cruz then came up and hit a ball towards Ensberg at third base. He took the ball and stepped on the bag to complete the force out of Monroe to end the inning for the Pirates.
 
 

Jeremy Powell came out for the top of the ninth inning. the first Rays to face him was Gross, who hit a ball down to Jones that he easily took and stepped on the first base bag for an unassisted out. Hernandez then walked on 6 pitches to give the Rays a base runner. Ensberg then struck out swinging to give the Rays one last out in the inning. Brignac also hit a slow roller towards Jones that he easily took for his second unassisted play of the inning for the third out.

 

 

The Rays Rule 5 Draftee Derek Rodriguez took the mound for the Rays trying to preserve the win for the team. The Rays will have to make a decision in the next 20 days to either return Rodriguez to his former team, or try and find a spot for him on their 25-man roster. they could also offer him back to his old team and then work out a trade to keep him in the Rays farm system. First up in the bottom of the ninth is Salazar who hit a fly ball to Ruggiano for the first out. Diaz then comes up and rips a ball down the first base line past Richard and it hits the wall and bounces out to Sadler in right field for a double. Jones then also hit a RBI-single down the line past Richard for his 8th RBI this spring. Tabata then hit a ball towards Brignac that he flips to Kennedy to get Jones. With Tabata on with a fielder’s Choice, the Pirates have a man on base, with the tying run at the plate. Steve Pearce then  hit a ball towards Kennedy, but the ball is rolling slow since Pearce shattered his bat on the play. Kennedy easily get to the ball in time to throw out Pearce and end the game with the Rays taking it 6-4.

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

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