Results tagged ‘ Gary Glover ’

Rays Tantalizing Morsels

 


 

Gary Sheffield
 

It seems like some of the dominoes around Major League Baseball are beginning to fall as the Detroit Tigers took the first big step by releasing their old star Gary Sheffield today. What is more amazing about this release is the fact that the Tigers were willing to eat his $ 14 million dollar contract than to even use his services this year at all. Considering they do not even see him as a Designated hitter for then this year is a major departure from their 2008 scenario concerning Sheffield. What might also seem a bit odd is the fact that he is only 1 home run shy of 500 for his career. Usually a team would see that and use it for the promotional value it has for ticket sales. But I guess the Tigers are done with “Sheffy’s” antics and big white puffy Chef hats in the stands in Comerica Park.
 
 

You have to believe that the Tiger have already tried to shop Sheffield around the league, but with his huge salary on the book for the 2009 season, it makes him a bit unattractive to teams right now. By releasing him, the team will eat his contract and he will be available to all 30 teams in any capacity this season. I believe the only requirement to sign him would be that the team taking him on in 2009 will be responsible for paying the league minimum back to the tiger’s for his services. You might want to keep an eye on the Toronto Blue Jays, who might come a round and snatch the aging outfielder and DH to try and help their offense this year.

It is also known that Sheffield would love to play for his hometown Tampa Bay Rays. the only problem would be that he would have to demonstrate that he can play the outfield most of the time, but could be a bargain pick-up by the Rays. Considering they would only be on the hook for $ 400,000 of his $ 14 million contract this season, he could be a attractive alternative to one of the two Gabe’s currently manning the right field spot for the Rays. But this is purely speculation until he clears waivers later this week. But in an interview with the St Petersburg Times, Rays Manager Joe Maddon  did say that, ” That’s very complimentary that he would want to come play for us. I saw him during the off season, and he’s in great shape, he’s a strong person. And I like him.” To even consider this type of addition to the team, the Rays must think long and hard as to the advantages and disasterious situation concerning the future Hall of Famer.

Fitting him into the current Rays roster would be creative at best. But the team has never been shy about upgrades to their team and could possibly entertain the addition.  But the addition of Sheffield might be a defensive nightmare, and the Rays have been building a team stressing the fundamentals and advantages of defensive excellence the past two seasons.  Sheffield has been adamant that he “feels good” and can play the outfield for his next team.  Sheffield stated to reporters today, ” I have a lot left.  I know that.  If one person doesn’t think I can play in the field, that’s their opinion.  I know I can. No one else knows my body better than me.” Sheffield would be a offensive upgrade in right field for the Rays, but can that counter any possible defensive lapses or problems down the line. But  with only a $ 400,000 salary, could  the Rays actually entertain the idea of getting a former superstar, who is about to hit a monumental plateau of 500 home runs and just let him slip away without a second thought. After the star clears waivers he can be signed by any of the other 29 teams in the league. Who knows where “Sheffy” will land in 2009. But the odds are in his favor to find a team willing to take a chance on the aging star…… maybe even in his home town.


 

             

 
Jeff Niemann
 

In the last 24 hours the Tampa Bay Rays have been chatting with several teams about the possibilities of either, and maybe both Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann leaving the squad for destination unknown at this time. The San Diego Post-Union has an article online about their seeking of pitching with a picture of Rays starter Niemann attached with the article.  The San Diego Padres got more into the talks for Niemann after they found out that pitcher Cha Seung Baek’s  upper forearm strain would set the number 3 starter down for at least a week, and maybe more.  The Rays seem to be asking for lower level prospects ( Double-A and below) and the current asking price is not within the Padre’s considerations.

 

Besides the Padres, it is possible that the Pittsburgh Pirates also have a keen eye on Niemann.  But as happens at this time of year, other teams have now poked their fingers towards the Rays to see just how interested they are in maybe moving the duo. In the past 24 hours the Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians and the Washington Nationals have expressed some questions towards the Rays about the pair. It might also be possible that the Milwaukee Brewer’s might also be sniffing around considering their unhappiness with their starters this spring.  One name that will not come up again with Niemann is the L A Angels, who were high on the tall rightie last season, but seem to be uninterested at this time.

 
                                

Jason Hammel
 

As the second part of the Rays quest for s fifth starter this year, Jason Hammel seemed to have a leg up on the competition, but after a strong 6-inning shutout by Niemann yesterday, the duo might be closer than ever in the Rays eyes. By finding a suitor for either of them, the Rays would take the guesswork out of their decision and also benefit by obtaining some new blood into the m
inor league farm system. Hammel has been the most consistent this spring, but do the Rays really consider him a starter after his impressive displays in the Bullpen in 2008.

 
He also did start for the team during Scott Kazmir’s time on the D L early last spring,  and proved to be a great fill-in as Kazmir regained his strength and happily went to the Bullpen without incident in 2008.  During the year Hammel did have a few bumps in the road, the he seemed to have adjusted to life in the Bullpen for the team. Never considered a back-end alternative for the team, he did get his first MLB save in a late inning appearance in Boston by holding the Red Sox scoreless until  the Rays finally countered to win the game. Hammel’s name has come up in recent articles on Fanhouse.com as the Rockies are seeking a few upgrades to their current starting pitching rotation too.
 

Hanley Ramirez Wigging Out

 
I recently saw this article on Sun-Sentinel.com about Florida/Miami Marlin shortstop/superstar Hanley Ramirez getting upset over the new team hair and jewelery policy.  It was said that Ramirez had such a displeasure of the new rule that he actually walked through the locker room with a message across his chest in black sharpie.  It was said that he had ” I am sick of this S*** ” written on his chest for all to see in the clubhouse. It seems a bit odd that the team would try and alienate the one guy who they seems to value in their clubhouse for his abilities and talents.
 

You might not know this, but Ramirez has his hair in cornrow ala Manny ( no relation) Ramirez and had to cut his coiled locks to conform with the new team directive.  Rumors are running rampant on why the team front office has made these changes since they are the same front office that has been here for several seasons. Could the show of respectability and maybe clean-cut appearance be a precursor to the team getting their lion’s share of the local bonds to finally start construction on their retractable roof stadium?

 

 

Weirder things have happened in Miami than this.  But to be honest, not only Ramirez was effected by the new rules. Also trimming their locks were pitchers Josh Johnson, Lou Nunez and outfielder Cameron Maybin.  It is usually a rule like this that can bond a team over the season, but because of Ramirez’s response, could it actually drive a wedge into his mindset and effect his performance in 2009.  Also in the new rules is a no exposed jewelery mention, but no one on the team currently seems to dress out for games looking like Tony Montana at the disco, so there will be no sharpie incident on this point. Even though jewelery can glitter and cast a nice gleam off your skin in the Florida sun, it can also be considered an annoyance to hitters or even fielders at time in the high noon sun of South Florida.

 
 
Cromier and Izzy
 

Another duo that might bring the Rays a few sleepless nights is how they can posture to keep two members of their Bullpen without maybe losing them either by the waiver wire or by trade. Lance Cormier has been impressive this year for the Rays since signing on January 16, 2008.  He had produced a 1.23 ERA in 10 appearance so far this spring for the Rays with 10 strikeouts in 14.2 innings.  He is considered a huge upgrade to either of the Rays 2008 Bullpen mates Scott Dohmann and Gary Glover, who made the team’s 25-man roster out of Spring Training last year.
 
 

Another interesting piece to the Rays Bullpen is the great pitching of former Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen. Since his many physical and mental situation of 2008, Isringhausen has been the find of the 2009 Bullpen and could be valuable to the Rays in many situations. Considering he has 293 saves to his credit, he could be a valuable member of the late inning corp for the Rays. But even with the renewed vigor and vitality of current closer Troy Percival, it give the team another option, and even a solid 8th inning alternative to Dan Wheeler.

 
 

Both men could make the Rays 25-man roster coming out of Spring Training, but there is only one position at this time barring a trade of another member of the staff. Both are huge additions to the Bullpen and will be great additions to the improved look and fear factor of the 2009 possible Rays Bullpen. The team can not possibly get Cormier through waivers since he signed a $ 675 major league contract. They would have to find an alternative, or trade a member of their current pitching staff to keep him safely on their roster. Isringhausen could possibly be put on the DL for a short period to continue his workouts and eventually come back onto the Rays 25-man roster. But considering he has pitched effectively this spring, this kind of manuver might only stall their decision for a short period of time.

 
 
 
 
 
Photo Credits:     1) www.sportsnet.ca
                           2) Associated Press ( Steve Senne )
                           3) www.Bradenton.com
                    &n
bsp;      4)
www.news.yahoo.com
                         

Checking in on some Ex-Rays this Spring

 

 

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

 


 

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



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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 
                         

 

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

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

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

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

Are the Rays Finished Adding Pieces for 2009?

 

 

 

So after the latest signing of former Phillie Pat Burrell to the roster, are the Tampa Bay Rays going to stand pat for the 2009 season, or is now when the real magic is going to happen for the team. You want to believe that the Rays holy trinity of Stuart Sternberg, Matt Silverman and Andrew Friedman have not closed the coffers and still might have a few tricks up their sleeves for 2009.

 


You have to believe that the recent activity by the team is not the total resetting of the roster. That there are still a few deals sitting in the corners gathering a bit of dust, but not without merit here. I see the roster as 75 percent complete, with some Spring training signing recently maybe pushing it to 80 percent done for the season.

 

 


With the signing of former Marlin Joe Nelson before the New Year, the Rays did more than just get a qualified reliever for their Bullpen. They got an upgrade to the Trever Miller or even Gary Glover or Scott Dohmann additions in 2008.  Nelson can carry a bit more of the load than either of those three guys by actually closing games if called upon to do so for the Rays. And with the health of Troy Percival basically being that only he knows EVER if he is healthy, and even then still wants to pitch in games.

 



There is a time when being a  strong competitor can actually weaken you ball club. If you need any examples of that, just look to the mound conversations that Rays Manager Joe Maddon had with Percival during the season in Boston, Oakland, and even at Tropicana Field. You have to admire the bravery and the commitment to your team, but the sacrifice has to be mutual. You do not give up yourself if you also upset the balance and the strength of your Bullpen, which Percival did for a short period of time twice in 2008.

 

 


Some people have already called out the  signing as Pat Burrell as mediocre at best for the Rays. I do not understand how you can even signal such a sign to the nation when the guy has been consistent with his bat almost his entire career. And also has been a key member of his last squad and not a replacement or second tier player. The signing of Burrell will help protect Evan Longoria, and it is a role that Burrell knows well from doing the same job with the Phillie’s for years.

That is right, Burrell’s numbers might be a bit weaker than you might want, but after years of sitting in the order behind Ryan Howard and giving teams the option of who to pitch to in games, he might actually see more of those meatball pitches this season because of the two guys in front of him. With Longoria and Carlos Pena penciled into the lineup in front of Burrell, he will see more pitches, and considerably more fastballs than he has seen in recent years. And to top that off with the fact that Stat guru Bill James thinks that with Burrell added to the power grid in Tampa Bay, the Rays “Big 3 ” might top 100 homer in 2009.

 

 


But what about the other holes in the Tampa Bay armor that need to be addressed. The two mentioned above are upgrades on the 2008 model without a doubt. But people are still pointing to right field and saying that the team did not get better there in any shape or form. Again, that is your own perception, and to forget about either outfielders’ Gabe Gross or even new Rays Matt Joyce is an insult. Both of these guys could be great parts of the Rays puzzle in 2009. Both are great professionals who work hard and hit the ball with power.

 


You never know, Joyce could surprise everyone on the Rays coaching staff and come away with the starting nod in Boston for the first game. I actually loved the trade for it’s youthful side, plus the added feature of Joyce played well against the Rays in 2008, so there is a track record of the guy rising to the occasion. If this was to happen, then you have someone like Gross who could fetch a good level player in return in a trade, or even maybe two if a team is desperate for a great outfield addition.

 

 


2009 will have more surprises before the guys clean out their Spring Training lockers in Port Charlotte. I actually think that there is about 2 more trades that need to be addressed even before the beginning of the season.  Another guy who might not be a member of the Rays when they head to Boston is reliever Chad Bradford. He did exceptionally well in 2008, but his over $ 3 million dollar salary might be a problem more than a solution in 2009.

 


Bradford is a extremely unusual pitcher in his style of pitching and also his way of inducing those ground ball outs for the Rays. I remember when he played for the Baltimore Orioles, I could not imagine watching his pitches come in and actually rise towards you instead of break away from you. The adjustment and the concentration needed to hit that kind of pitch is extreme indeed. So Bradford might not have a different home in 2009, but it is not like the Rays do not have options in the matter.

 

 


We actually have a guy invited to Spring Training who might equal Bradfords ground ball numbers, and if the both make the roster, it could be a two-fold gift for the Rays. Randy Choate has played in the American League before, and is another guy who throws sidearm with gusto. Most of the Rays fans might remember him as a member of the New York Yankees, who was a leftie specialist, and also a great ground ball pitcher. With both of these guys on the Rays roster, the Rays defense will see more possible plays in the infield, which translates into more possible outs by that stellar group.

 

 


So the Rays might need to hope that Choate makes the squad to boost that percentage up to 90 percent prior to the 2009 Opening Day. One piece that I still fell might be missing from the Rays actually might be their own device right now. Rocco Baldelli has been approached and swooned by a few clubs this past off season, but they have not gotten him to sign. I think the Rays need to open the coffers just a small bit and sign him as soon as possible. You know he will give the team a bit of a discount because of everything the team has done the last few seasons.

 

 


Truly, do you think if you matched an offer from Cincinnati or even Boston, Rocco would not sign with the Rays?  You have to know that the team must have been thrilled to learn the news that the first prognosis of his illness was incorrect. The Rays must have been jumping for joy in the aspect that Rocco maybe could become an everyday player again in the league. And if that happened, doesn’t that also open the door to him taking right field as his own and truly pushing the naysayers away with gusto that the Rays upgraded themselves in every position that was weak in 2008.

 


The Rocco possibility is just that right now, a possibility, but it gives a new light and a new direction to the team that was not there a few months ago. The only weaknesses on this team to the eye was at Designated Hitter, Right Field, and another possible “lights out” reliever. With the past two signings, and the possible addition of Choate as a left-hander to the Bullpen, the team might have improved  even more than in 2008.


 

 


And it is what the Rays will need to do in 2009. They must improve in a few areas to even try and make a run at a post season bid again in 2009. The Yankees have loaded up and will have a few kinks during the season as always, but then Boston is retooled in their pitching to stop people in their tracks in 2009. The AL East will be a battleground in 2009, with maybe the winner of the division only winning 90 games this coming season. 

 

 

 

Also do not forget that Toronto and Baltimore will have a lot to say about who gets the crown in 2009 for the American League East.  All 5 of the squads in this division know that it is “put up, or shut up” time in the division. Teams are beginning to look at the Rays method of success and will try and build their team in a shadow of that image in 2009.  It is not a question of “Who will be the Rays of 2009″. It is more a question of, “Are the Rays batter in 2009?”  If the answers come out right, there will be more champagne celebration in our future. And a lot of second guessing by other teams.

 

 

 

Rays Top 5 Goals for 2008 Revisited

 

 

The Tampa Bay Rays  went into 2008 wanting to gain respect and admiration in the major leagues from teams and fans. The main objective was to be competitve and to show that the Rays belonged in the rough and tumble AL East. 

 

No one could have imagined that the team would be raising the AL East and AL pennant flags in their home Opener against the New York Yankees in 2009. Most people had the realistic goal of a .500 season and a puch hard towards the playoffs. What transpired was the same majoc and karma that made the 1969 Mets and the Florida Marlins darlings of the baseball world.

 

We had a team that believed in itself to the point of pulling off amazing endings and outstanding feats of sweeping some of the best teams in baseball at home. The Rays proved that if you can believe, you can achieve. The following list is the Top 5 goals that I set for the team in March of 2008. Yesterday I blogged about numbers 6-10, today is the time to see what reality did to the Top 5:

 

 

The 5th goal I put on my list was the idea of starting lineup leading off with  3     “lefties.  In the beginning of the season, the Rays had a  up-and-down bout of     success and failure with their lefties’ by committee lineup arrangement. Akinora Iwamura, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena had the talent and the ability to take over    the lineup, but the opposition right-handed pitchers’ were stacked against the trio.

 

 

Finally, Rays Manager, Joe Maddon inserted B J Upton into the 3-slot and the cycle was broken. Upton began to see  alot  more  pitches to hit in 2008. He did a  remarkable job both at the plate and on the base paths for the Rays. He did not       have a banner year because of a nagging shoulder injury sustained during an early series in Baltimore in May.

 

 

But Upton did pace the Rays when they needed help and finished 2nd in the stolen base race in the AL. Upton then moved up to the 2nd spot in the lineup to be the meat between the Aki and CC sandwich. It further helped him evolve in the lineup and he became comfortable and relaxed in the position.

 

 

The final success to the banishment of the 3 “leftie” regime came near the end of the season and the playoffs. With the team more balanced in the lineup, the Rays had the flexibility both on the field and on the bench to matchup more effective with any team.

 

 

Upton and Longoria both benefited from the 3 lefties in the lineup with more         right-handers going to the mound against the Rays. The leftie revolution might not have been a success, but the experiment also proved to the Rays that they had  great options up and down the lineup and the bench.

 

 

The fouth goal had to do with extensions for the anchors of the team. Unknown to the general public, during the last week of Spring Training, the Rays and the agent of Evan Longoria were working on a long term deal to contractually secure the budding star for years for the Rays. The deal was suddenly annouced the day   Longoria was called up to the Rays, but was in the works for some time while he was down in the minors at Durham.

 

 

It secured a hole in the infield for the Rays for at least 5 years and also gave both sides a feeling of confidence going into 2008. Scott Kazmir also got a extended  deal right before the season started and it also secured a valuable piece of the starting rotation for years. James Shield was also secured for an extended contract   and gave the Rays a bit of relief that their top 2 pitchers were under contract for several years.

 

 

Carlos Pena has a sealed deal for 2009,  in whole, only Jason Bartlett, the team’s 2008 MVP is the only person not under contract for 2009 who plays in the infield.  He is in his first year of arbitration and the team might be working on a multi-year  deal to keep him in a Ray’s uniform until they can decide about the shortstops they have in their minor league system. 

 

 

Behind the plate, Dioner Navarro is in his first year of arbitration , and he did alot to   be sure he will get a nice raise in 2009. With the improved year he had behind the plate, and at the plate, Navarro has done nothing to diminish the vast upward swing   on his stock with the team. I will go deeper into who is up for arbitration in another blog.

 

 

 

Goal number 3 seemed a bit out of line when I first wrote it in 2008, but it proved to    be a monster move for the team. To say that the team needed a healthy rotation   would be a monster in our division sounded a bit far fetched, but it was a true key to 2008 and its success.  Not counting the early glitches in Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza’s season, the Rays had a fantastic run of luck by having all 5 of their starters’ the entire year.

 

 

Not only is this rare, but it is almost unheard of that a team could go through most of the season with the same 5 day in and day out. There were aches and pains and displays of emotion throughout the year, but  a treu key to this year was the fact they stood on the mound daily and did not give up starts. The consistancy of these 5 guys lead to a flow and a confidence in each other to fulfill their goals everytime they hit the rubber.

 

 

All 5 starters’ went over 10 wins this year, and even the guy who everyone outside     the organization thinks is the weakest link, tied for the team lead with 14 wins. To have that kind of production out of a lineup where the oldest stater is 26 years of       age is outstanding. The future of this franchise is based in the fact that they could    have these same 5, or a variation of the 5 for the next 4 years on the mound for the Rays.

 

 

 

The second goal of the year is really something that all teams hope and wish for………Health, health, health. What is so amazing about 2008, is the fact that      injuries did happen and the team did not miss a step in the field or at the plate.     When Kazmir and Garza went down early both before the season, and in it’s first weeks, the Rays pitchers’ took up the slack and gave it 110 percent. Jason Hammel  and Jeff Neiman came on and threw their best in the absence of the team’s top pitchers.

 

 

In the infield, Willy Aybar came to the Rays with a sorted past, but you would never know it by the way he played in his limited roles all around the infield in 2008. He was one of those true finds that can help a ballclub reach the next level. It did not matter if Carlos Pena went down, or Evan Longoria, Aybar brought his “A” game   every night both at the plate and in the field.

 

 

In the outfield, when Carl Crawford was out nursing his groin and then his operation  on his hand, Eric Hinske and Justin Ruggiano came out and tried to fill the gap as if Crawford had not even left. They played to mix reviews, but did an admirable job and proved the depth of this team’s minor league system. When Fernando Perez came up to fill in for B J Upton after an injury, his athletic ability and his speed did not even make you miss Upton.

 

 

Perez became an instant favorite of Rays Manager Joe Maddon for his work ethic and his willingness to learn and help the team. But he area that sealed and  secured itself even when injury hit was the Bullpen. They saw multiples guys go down this year, from Gary Glover and Al Reyes, to their closer being shut down  several times during the year.

 

 

These guys just bucked up and took it all in stride and closed the wounds and     played their butts off. J P Howell became a fixture in the Bullpen, and became one of the best lefties in the game as a reliever in 2008. Grant Balfour also became a force in the Bullpen and his antics on the mound became legend in the AL. All year long people stepped up and were successful for the team out of  the Bullpen.

 

 

 

The number one goal of the team in 2008, was set in motion early by Maddon.    Mindset can be a effective tool to the confidence and emtion of a ballclub.      Maddon’s formula of 9=8 has been around the globe by now.

 

 

The theory of 9 men in a lineup playing 9 total innings would eqaute into one of the 8 playoff berths in the MLB.  A simple philosophy, but it goes even beyond that theory. It is also expanded by Maddon that if they got 9 more wins from the pitching staff, 9 more wins from the offense, and 9 more wins from the defense and Bullpen, they would be able to secure a playoff spot.

 

 

The combined 27 extra wins along with the 69 the team had in 2007 would add up to 96 wins. Wow, consider that for a moment, Seriously here, going inot their last game against Detroit on Sept 30th, the team had a record of 96-65. Did Maddon really think he would or even could imagine a increase like this in one season.

 

 

In 2008, there were moments where mondset played a huge part in the team’s     success. The All-Star break actually might have come at a perfect time for this team after getting shutdown by the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox in straight road series. The break from playing actually might have played into a positive for the team becuse it gave them all a time frame to forget and forgive the bad results and take on the second half of the season with vigor and vitality.

 

So here we are with the final 5 goals of 2008  examined and I feel that this team is indeed ready and willing to try and make another run at the AL East in 2009. The worst thing the Rays have to adjust to is not being the underdog anymore. Mindset might be the first goal again next year as the Champions are always on the top and people love to knock off the big guys.

 

 

 

Middle Reliever “Wish List ” for Rays Hot Stove Simmerings

 

 

 

Just wanted to let my fellow MLB bloggers and the rest of the world know about a huge soda promotion happening only this Sunday.  Dr. Pepper, one of the biggest producers of soft drinks in the world will be giving everyone in America one 20 oz Dr Pepper product FREE on Sunday.

 

This is because of a promise the company made during 2008 that if the band Guns & Roses were to release an album in 2008, Free soda for everyone. So starting at midnight on Sunday, you can go to the Dr Pepper website at www.drpepper.com and get a printable coupon for your FREE soda.  The only bad thing is that it is limited to  1 soda per household………….bummer.

 

 

 I seriously feel that one of the owrst jobs in the majors is to be a relief pitcher.  Think about it, you have to ready within a minutes notice and have to be abreast of the entire lineup and how they are hitting a certain pitch at all times during every game. And above all of that you have to be able to get loose fast and go in when you might not be totally loose and ready to throw.

 

It is a thankless job, but one that the Rays have proved in 2008 can be inproved in just one year. The Rays went from haviong one of the worst Bullpen ever in the majors, to posting a huge improvement and a great ranking in 2008. One of the reason the team got to the post season was based on their improvements in the Bullpen and the versatility fo everyone in the Bullpen to swap roles without problems.

 

So my “Wish List for 2009″  for our Bullpen might be  a bit small, but it could always get better. Every year you have to do some form of upgrade to your pen, or batters’ will figure out the pitchers and then you have problems.

 

There are 10 former Rays in the mix as free agents in 2009 in the major leagues. Guys from former starters Tanyon Strutze ( Dodgers), Casey Fossum ( Tigers) and Doug Waechter (Marlins). All 3 of these guys have positives that could land them again with the team, but I thiunk that the Rays Bullpen have moved beyond just filling positions now and can compete every year with some of the best Bullpens in baseball.

 

                    

 

We also have such guys as 2008 Rays, Gary Glover ( Tigers), Al Reyes ( Mets), and Scott Dohmann( Durham Bulls) looking for teams in 2009. I really do not see any of these guys getting another stay in Tampa Bay. I think that Glover is just a bandaid type of guy you can use with injuires on your staff, and Dohmann is just not the right guy for the Rays anymore.  

 

Dohmann made the 2008 roster and we sent Grant Balfour to the minor leagues. Where Balfour made the adjustments and did the work on his pitches, Dohmann did outstanding for the Bulls, but is not the sort of guy we need in 2009. Al Reyes, well he simply has not gotten the giddy-up back on his fastball since his first injury and might not even be healthy now.

 

The you got guys that have been gone from the franchise for a bit like Lee Gardner ( Marlins), who had a huge upsdie a few years ago and fought to be the team’s clsoer, but did not have the killer instinct needed to pull the trigger for the Rays. Or you guys like Todd Jones ( Tigers) who have retired, but might try to come back for a last paycheck. Jones was only here for a Spring Training run, but he did go on to produce for the Marlins and the Tigers after leaving the Rays.

 

                     

 

Then you have the enigma that is Jorge Sosa. He left the Rays and had a few great seasons rolling with the Braves, Nationals and Mets before inploding and becoming a liablity to your staff. He was released by the Mets and signed by the Mariners’ to a minor league contract only to get hit with a 50-game suspension for a drug related offense. He had a great future in the game, but might have resorted to help to get back to the majors. I wish him luck and more if he can get himself straight.

 

 

Okay, the only ex-Ray I want for my staff is also one of the guys that is hot right now in the MLB. Joe Biemel (Dodgers) is a great pitcher who has gotten better since we traded him to the L A Dodgers a few seasons ago. The guy is a leftie (plus) and he hit his marks in the strike zone ( plus).  His stuff is not overpowering, but his hard slider can do in the best hitters in the league at times.

 

Other guys that have hit my “Wish List” have a bit of an imtimidation factor to them. Doug Brocail ( Astros) is a huge leftie that can a hard fastball and a really hard breaking curveball. He can also sometime bring an amazing slider and a nice changeup and has been one of the most consisitant relief pitchers for years in the MLB.

 

 Ron Villone ( Cardinals) has a unique sliders that can cripple a right-hander at the plate. Mix that with his fastball and changeup and you have a effective reliever. He does sometime show his fastball by a head-jeck motion to the plate, but he can be unhittable at times.

 

                          

 

But the 2 lefties that I would “wish” for the Rays are actually guys that we have looked at and wanted to trade for in 2008 during the trade dealine. Will Ohmann ( Braves) is my number one choice as a leftie addition to the Rays Bullpen in 2009. The guy is a baller and can get the job done period.

He brings to the Rays a slider that he throws often, and for good reason. His slider breaks bats, and that is a great guy to have on your staff.  He can either be your leftie specialist or get a few innings for you. That type of versatility could means alot to the Rays in the late innings in 2009.

 

My other leftie of choice is a guy who has bounced a bit around the league and is no stranger to Rays batters’ Darren Oliver ( Angels) has imporved yearly on his pitches and might just be hitting the peak of his potential in the next year or two. He has found most of his success recently as a long reliver, but is also poised to go head-to-head with the big boys in the American League.

 

Oliver has been a pest to the Rays in the past with the Angels. Oliver has improved to the point that sometimes his moving fastball can miss bats at times. It has a great last second drop to it that confuses hitters and can be a great out pitch for him. He also has an above average slider, curveball and changeup to round out his selections.

 

When you think of righthander relivers, you think of guys who can pull the trigger and bring the heat to the plate. The Rays already have one guy like that in Grant Balfour, but to add at least one more pitcher who can throw heat would be a huge plus to the Bullpen. 

 

                         

 

One guy who comes to mind is the mind master, Julian Tarvarez ( Braves). He has a a great sinking splitter and a lurking slider that doesn’t have the bit it did in recent years, but is still a plus pitch when it is on. His mound antics can get you a bit upset at him, but he is a professional who can get you the outs and the innings along with the drama.

 

Another rightie that peaks my intrest is young Jamey Wright (Rangers). He is still learning at the plate, but has a up side to him that could be huge in the next year. He does get a few too many walks, but his moving fastball and biting curveball have shown mass improvement in 2008. He is also showing a great changeup that looks more like his fastball before it tails away from hitters. Mix in a daily improving cutter and you got a great reliever in the making just looking for the right team.

 

Juan Rincon ( Indians) has always had great stuff, but off the field situation in the past years have made a few clubs doubt he might be a 162-game guy. But to his credit, he does have still have three quality pitches to throw at guys, but he might be losing velocity on them.

 

Another guy who has peaked my intrest is Russ Springer ( Cardinals). He has been around a long time and can still bring it to the plate.  His cutter can bore in on righthander hard and leave them thinking it is outside the strike zone. He has a nice 12-6 curveball that he likes to use to get guys to swing and miss on alot at the plate.

 

He would be more of a temporary fit for the team. More for his experience and his knowledge than to be there long term, but the guys did improve under the watchful eyes of Trever Miller and Troy Percival last season. Maybe another veteran is the key to the lock for the Rays Bullpen.

 

                                

 

But the prize that I want as a rightie for the Rays Bullpen is a guy who has rattled the Rays cages a few times and is a great clubhouse guy. I think that the addition of Kyle Farnsworth ( Tigers) wouls send a rattle through the MLB about the Rays having2 of the best competitors on the mound in Balfour and Farnsworth.

 

Farnsworth is not shy and will throw up and in if you are crowding him at the plate. That is something the Rays did not have last year, a guy who can throw 97 plus to “buzz the tower” on guys leaning in on the plate. He would be a great tool to use against the Red Sox and Yankees batters’ who like to stick their heads and arms over the outside corner of the plate and dare you to pitch them inside.

 

Farnsworth brings to the table a  a really nasty slider and a knack for lack of control, that I think is more an act than a huge part of his game.  He also has a 4-seam fastball that can dart away from batters and his fastball is his trademark, sometimes hitting the upper 90’s without a problem. 

 

My second “Wish List” reliever with a right hand that has gotten better and better in recent years is Jorge Julio (Braves). Something I am finding alot this off season is the huge amount of ex-Braves out on the free agent market. Julio first caught my eye years ago when he was a young Orioles reliever. He has the fastball and the mound persona to make yo take notice of his pitches.

 

Because he has been on 7 teams since 2005, most people think it is for lack of effort. I think this guy is just a high powered pitcher that gets lost in his fastball sometimes. I think Jim Hickey, the Rays Pitching Coach can control this guy and show the league he is a quality pitcher.

 

His high 90’s moving fastball has gotten alot of baseball GM’s to take a chance on him, and time might be running out on him. But, his slider can be altered by his delivery point, and I think it has been a problem spot for him because of the change in delivery points. He might seem like a project guy, but he has a huge upside and might be worht at least a Spring Training Invite to check him out.

 

Well, there you go with my list of lfrt and right-handed relievers for my “Wish List” for the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays need only a few select guys to put into place to secure a solid Bullpen unit. An additional two or maybe three pitchers could make another huge impact on the team’s success in 2009.

 

 

2008 Rays Team Photo……..No Where Else but Here

 

 

Finally I got my picture from theTampa Bay Rays today from the day that I took my  Team Photo with the 2008 American League Pennant winning Tampa Bay Rays.

 

All year long I had this weird feeling about this years team, but  not until the Rays Radio Pre-game host Rich Hererra started calling it a “Miracle Summer”  did it dawn on me how special it could become in 2008. It seemed different, but I could not place the vibe in the air at the time.

 

I have been wanting to work in the Rays clubhouse for about 3 years. I missed the fun and the charades that went along with being in a loose locker room. Some of my fondest moments happened in locker rooms on teams I played with in high school, college and beyond.  It is that feeling when you step into the room that this was your peaceful and energetic focuepoint. That this locker room was the beginnig of the whole sha-bang. There is truly nothing like the spirit and the bond  that pulls together by a team on a streak, or a winning season.

 

                                      

 

Sitting there watching them come out in Feb. 2008 at the St. Petersburg  Namoli complex for the first workout of the Spring, I had a gut feeling it was going to be one to remember. I yelled over to Chris Westmoreland, the Rays Clubhouse Manager and shook his hand and just chatted a bit about the upcoming year. The guys as they came out to the fresh mowed grass had a different air about them. Something felt different about this workout, and about 2008 in general.

 

A few days earlier, the Rays had their annual Fan Fest at the Trop., and as ususal I was there bright and early and checking out all the auctions and the items up for sale around the stadium. One thing caught my eye. “A photo opportunity with the 2008 team during the Team Photo Day.”

 

I jumped at the opportunity to jot down my name and have a chance to be positioned in a keepsake between these great baseball players.  I went about my day and came back a few times before putting down my final bid and heading home for the day. I got a call the following Monday that I had won the auction and they would call me when the team had a opportunity to all get together and take the picture. That day turned out to be May 10, 2008.

 

 

I got out there around 3 pm on that day to get down to field level and get a  white Rays jersey and chat a with a few of the guys I knew before everyone got into place for the pictures. I took these pictures as we were getting set into position for the photo.  As the guys came out to the field, a few saw me sitting there and were laughing and wondering how I could of wrangled this opportunity. I had been the Pepsi rep for the team for several years and had worked around the clubhouse in the spring and during the year. Everyone who knew me knows how much this baseball team means to me personally. 

 

Chris Westmoreland and Dave Barr, the Rays  Strength and Conditioning guru came over and shook my hand before PR Direcotr Rick Vaugh started arranging everyone for  the photo. By that time the guys were all chatting amongst themselves and just enjoying the moment. But little did all we know just how special this photo would end up meaning not just to me, but to each and every one of the team on that stage.

 

 

I was a bit nervous before getting out there and getting into position. Not because of the guys around me, I knew enough of them to know that they are a great group of guys and would make this picture a true treasure for my collection.  I had seen alot of these guys come up as rookies ans now they were taking on verteran leadership roles for the first time and truly leading this club by example.

 

But what I truly found amazing was a few facts surrounding the picture that if you did not know the team well, or the players, you might miss the subtle differences in the picture.

 

 

So I had a few minutes to just take in all the surrounding before getting into the photo and saw some of these funny situations:

 

1) Usually in a team photo you try and put the tall trees in the back row or above the height-challenged members of your roster. In the back row today were Rays’ back-up catcher, Shawn Riggans and Reliever Al Reyes. Both are over 6 feet, but seem a bit short compared to the height of  Reliever Gary Glover on their left and Outfielder Rocco Baldelli on their right. So becuase of this height ripple, it looked like a wave going across the front row and rolling up and down.

 

                    

 

2)  One of my favorites, Rocco Baldelli was in this picture on May 10th with a full on Grizzly Adams look-alike beard. The beard was a wild look for Rocco. But since he was the disabled list at this time, he used it as his own measure of coping with his situation. Little did wqe know at the time to what extent Rocco would play in this teams playoff push.

 

3) If you notice the two groups on the left and right of the players, you have the Clubhouse crew to the left, and the teams’ trainers and physical staff to rhe right. And among the characters to the right is Kevin Barr. He is the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the team, and refused to wear the  dark carolina blue polo tops that the rest of the staff wore that day. He stands out real good in his white top and black long pants, while the medical staff wore their dark blue tops and tan shorts.

 

Kevin is not a fan of the University of North Carolina, and it would be a personal insult to wear those colors.  Kevin, I understand, you could never get me to ever wear any FSU colors even on a threat of death. You sometime have to make a moral decision on things. He stands out real good in his white top and black long pants, while the medical staff wore their dark blue tops and tan shorts in the picture,

 

4) in the  official Team Photo, but not with the team much longer after the photo were: Rays reliever Kurt Birken and Elliot Johnson.

 

 

So then it is my time to get situated in the photo somewhere in the middle of everyone. You can definitely tell where I am in the picture, because I did something that intially looked a bit dumb at the time, but it makes it easier to find me because of it.

I have heard in the final picture that I am making into a 11X16 photo with a lettering spelling out “2008 American League Champions”  I will look the same as everyone else.

What I did was cross my hands in front of me instead of behind me in the picture. Yes, that is me right behind Rays Manager Joe Maddon, who was laughing that I  must have paid someone off  to get that close to him. But he knows me from the “Maddons’ Maniac” group and we have chatted many times in rightfield during BP.

 

They decided to put me between Akinora Iwamura and Willy Aybar for the photo. Great choice considering we are all three about 5 10-ish and would make a better height blend for the photo. To get into that spot I had to cross over the feet of Jason Bartlett, Evan Longoria and Gabe Gross. The chairs in front of the risers were right on the shins of the guys in the second row and it was a tight space to get in there for the picture.

 

As I was passing by them, my Bullpen buddies Scott Cursi and Bobby Ramos were giving me a bad time as to not step on their toes since the guys had to play that night.

 

As if to curse me, I then stepped on Evan Longoria’s right big toe. I did not hurt him, but went gentle into position for the photo. Skip, the team photo guy then took about 3 picture before I pulled myself out of the picture for the official team photo in the media guide.

 

I did not get in that photo, but I do have a wall photo that is as orignal as the guys in the picture. We might never have a team like this in Tampa Bay again. Not because of talent or event ability, but the personalities from the Coaching staff up to our closer was one of the best I have ever seen on a field.

 

This team not only were impressive on the field, they were even more impressive as to how they reacted to each other off the field.  This photo might have cost me a bit in money, but the experience was priceless.

 

And I know it took some time to get this photo finally up and posted, but Tricia Johnson, who works in the Community Relations department for the Rays did a great job hunting down the photo and getting it to me. She tried to get it to me by e-mail, snail mail, and finally we just put it on a disc and I came and got it after the World Series. I love the photo and the memory will be one that will be told over barstools for a long long time.

 

It is a memory not only of spending time with a team of champions, but watching friends mingle as they took a photo that would be priceless in the annuals of our team’s history.

 

 

 

Rays have Sweep Brooms broken by Jays

 

 

Blue Jays 9, Rays 4

 

 

Sundays are usually full of kids running the bases, and adults trying to gain a few minutes of calm after the kaos of chasing said kids for 9 innings of a game.  You always see the Rays’ pitchers come out and toss a few minutes getting loosened up for the game.

 

Most of the staff comes out and either do a side session with Pitching Coach Jim Hickey, or just gets stretchedfor the game by doing some casual long toss, then some guys wander over and give some of the fans autographs.  I usually pop open my laptop and check out the daily Rays Pregame notes to see if anything interesting pops out at me.

 

Well, today’s edition had an interesting note.

 

Troy Percival had just been brought back to the active roster, and Gary Glover has been put on the 25 day DL for a  mild calf strain. What is so interesting is the fact Glover is tossing the ball not even 10 yeards from me at this very moment. And he is not showing any signs of pain or pulling back at all. He is squatting down and taking pitches, and seems to be in normal sprits. I have a feeling, the press release got to the Internet faster than the coaching staff got the word to Glover.

 

At gametime, there was no Gary Glover on the bench, or walking with the guys to the back  Bullpen clubhouse behind Section 140 in the Trop. Glover usually follows the group of Trever Miller, Dan Wheeler and Troy Percival into the back area to stretch, relax and just focus for the task later in the game.  I know teams use this kind of mirror tricks all the time to keep a guy who is out of options, or think are still very much in their future plans.  But couldn’t they at least pulled Glover before going out and stretching, and showing their cards to the fans and the media?

 

 

A year ago today, Edwin Jackson was going for only his 2nd win of the season by pitching 6 innings against the Yankees. That game saw the Rays post 14 runs for Jackson in his winning effort.  Only his second win.

 

And some fans’ are tense and eager to throw him away this year and he was going for his 6th today to even his record at 6-6. And do not forget, Jackson lost 2 decisions to blown saves earlier in the season. With those 2 wins, he is  almost on level with James Shields and Matt Garza for total wins.

 

Jackson pitched  4.1 innings today, and is only the second Rays’ starter to not got 5 innings in the last 34 starts. Jackson seemed to stay out of trouble early today with doubles plays in both the 1st and 2nd innings. But the damage had already started in the 2nd, when the Bluejays scored their first run of the game on Jackson.

 

Jackson went to the mound today seeking his career high 6th win.  Edwin was also pitching on 10 days rest, the largest  pitching gap in his career. The Rays are 8-3 when he lasts 6 innings, but 0-7 when he leaves the game early.  People seem to forget, this is the same Jackson who ealier in the season had 20 scoreless innings, and had a 2-0 record for the team. 

 

Unlike Scott Kazmir and Andy Sonnanstine, Jackson is a converted outfielder who took up pitching in the minor leagues. He is going about the same path as an ex-Ray who did pretty well on the World Series stage. Astros’ Brandon Backe was also a converted pitcher who helped the Astros get to the World Series and pitched a classic 1-hitter in his only start.

 

I think with the improvements over last year, and the constant adjustments he is making on the mound, Jackson is becoming a better pitcher every time he goes out to the mound for the Rays.

 

 

Evan Longoria has done more for this squad this season then the statistics show. He has garnished extreme attention from the MLB community for his defense, and for his power at the plate. Longoria hit a grand slam in Sat. night contest that is going to be a huge highlight on the Rays 2008 season review clips.

 

Longoria, hits his 18th homer of the season in the 3rd inning, was only a small part of the action for the Rays in the 3rd.  Toronto starter John Parrish got in trouble early in the inning by Akinora Iwamura reached on a infield single to start the inning, and removed on a force out at second on a B J Upton single.

 

Upton then stole second and went to third on a throwing error by Parrish on a pick-off play at second. Carl Crawford grounded out to first, but Upton scamped home to bring the score to 3-2.

 

Parrish, then in the span of 6 pitches gave up the homer to Longoria and Carlos Pena, his 15th of the season. Pena;s homer traveled 425 feet and hit the second pane of windows in dead centerfields’ restaurant before coming to rest on the turf. All Rios did was look up at Pena’s blast, knowing he did not have a play on it. These two blasts put the Rays up front for the last time in the contest 4-3.

 

After a Marc Scutaro 3-run homer in the 5th, Jackson exited the game losing 6-3, Jason Hammel and Trever Miller pitched the next two innings giving up 3-runs on 3-hits to sink the Rays into a deeper hole.

 

Hammel pitched 1.2 innings and  gave the Jays’ run on a Rios liner to right. Miller then came in and relieved Hammel and walked 3 straight Jays’ hitter before Adam Lind hit a Sacrifice Fly to score the final Jay run and push the lead to 9-4.

 

A bright spot for the Rays saw Jonny Gomes playing in rightfield and he made several great plays out there and contributed at the plate. Gomes hit a ground-rule double down the leftfield wall that had Lind, playing leftfield stunned that it did not go out on the fly. Gome also walked in the game and  this game began a series of starts where Gomes will see more action due to mostly left-handed pitchers starting for the in-coming Oakland A’s. 

 

Upton and Gomes also stole bases on Sunday, with Upton collecting his 28th of the year, and Gomes getting his 7th of the season. Upton is currently 3rd in the AL.  Gomes is also 7-8 in steal situations this year.

 

Al Reyes and Troy Percival pitched the last two innings for the Rays, each having good outings.  Reyes, who had been rocked a bit the previous night, went 1.2 innings and thre 10 strikes on 15 pitches. This stat tends to show maybe Reye was shaking off the rust last night and might still have a good 40 games left in his arm this season.

 

Percival saw his first action since coming off the DL and pitched the 9th inning for the Rays throwing 17 pitches, with 12 being strikes. Percival did give up 1 hit to Scott Rolen and hit Kevin Mench. But Percival got Greg Zaun to ground out to Ben Zobrist, who threw to Pena for the 3rd out of the inning.

 

From the end of the 3rd inning, the Rays did not score any runs in this ballgame. In the 4th inning, Gomes walked and stole second and went on to third on a throwing error by Zaun. Gomes  then tried to score on a Zobrist fly to shallow centerfield and was thrown out at the plate by Rios to end the Rays threat.

 

In the 5th, Crawford doubled to deep center and Longoria walked before Pena popped out to second to end the inning. In the 6th, Willy Aybar singled to lead off the inning, and stole second on a wild pitch by Jays reliever  Jason Frasor. The Jays then retired 9 straight Rays to garnish the victory.

 

As you can see above, the Rays had scoring opportunities the rest of the game but did not capitalize on them.  The Rays stranded 5 baserunner in the game, all 5 in scoring position at second or beyond.  

 

  

 

Tribe Scalps Rays to 4th loss in a Row

 

 

Indians 13, Rays 2

 

I was just reading a article about changing and updating the All-Star game on ESPN.com. It was a very interesting article and had alot of great changes that could and should happen to liven up this 3-day carnival of baseball. One of the unique ideas was to have a roster spot or two added for a “living legend” participant.

 

Now that would be a veteran that might be winding down a fantastic career who doesn’t have the offensive or defensive muscle they had in their primes. I think this could be used as a “Thank You” spot on the roster.

 

An example, Ken Griffey Jr. could have been this years legend.

 

We all know how much he has meant to the game, and will be in Cooperstown without a doubt. But this stage gives baseball, and the fans a chance to truly give him a standing ovation or the send-off with respect and admiration for his feats. I would stand up and clap for at least 5 minutes for his feats and amazing career.

 

Another idea was to set a spot on each team with a designated “set-up” guy.

 

You know, a J P Howell, or Dan Wheeler who is on top of his game, and who is feared by opposing batters. The All-Star rosters are full of back-end closers and no true set up guys who do a boatload of work to get the closer in a position to save a win. Wheeler for example has 20 “holds” this season. That is one more than the entire Royals relieving corp, and is one of the best in the AL. Should he have a spot on this roster?

 

Another great example is the Cub’s setup guy,Carlos Marmol, who has allowed only 23 hits in 50 innings. Seattle’s Brandon Marrow,who has a 0.65 ERA as a setup man.

 

There are more ideas, but these two caught my eye and should be put into effect in next year’s All-Star game. These roster spots would increase the players invited, but aren’t these positions more important than a 4th catcher, or a 3rd second baseman.You make the call………

  

Before I get started here, we need to truly understand why the system worked for Evan Longoria in the Monster  Last Vote to the All-Star game. It could have been the pounding and repetition voicing and reminders by  the radio and television broadcast teams about voting for Longo.

 

It could have been the Rays video supporting his inclusion with ESPN/Rays Guru Dick Vitale, or it could just be that we finally believe we have a true All Star in this guy. I am going to go with the last one.

 

I think we truly have a guy we all can enjoy here. In the past, Delmon Young was so standoff-ish to the fans he could have been invisible before he steps on the turf. So he would not have won such an honor by our fans. But, Longoria has been a delight from the day he signed his first contract.

 

And, by the way, it might have been the fastest signing of a 1st pick in history. Evan wanted to play baseball, plain and simple. And he did work his way up the right way. He won championships in Double-A, he struggled but found himself in Triple-A, and when he stepped on the field in the 12 game of the season, he was cheered and applauded. He had arrive, and we were more than happy to welcome him into our home (Trop.).

 

 For that reason, I think we all banded together and did multiple and massive votings online and by text to get this kid in the All Star game. By the way, he had more than 9 million votes…………9 million reason more to love watching this guy play ball.

 

 Here are a few fun facts about the All-Star game voting for Longoria:

He is the first Rookie ever voted into the game on the Last Vote concept since its inception in 2002.  He is only the 3rd Rookie third baseman to be selected to the contest. Also selected were KC’s Kevin Seitzer (1987), and the Twins’Rich Rollin (1962).

The first Rookie third baseman to make the roster since the Red’s Chris Sabo in 1988.

 

 

 

 

Andy Sonnanstine was going for a place in Rays history last night. The problem is, he might be remembered more for the loss in this contest than for trying to establish a great pitching record.

 

Andy was going for his 11th win of the season, which would have been 1 win more than Rolando Arroyo and Scott Kazmir before the All-Star break. Instead, Andy had a 5th inning that he would love to forget.

                                  

 

In the Cleveland 5th, Sonnanstine lost all sense of control around the plate and seemed to leave the ball up constantly in the inning. His breaking ball was not hitting it’s sharp points and rolling through the strike zone.

 

 When the 5th started, the Rays and Indians were tied at 2-all in the game. By the end of the inning, Sonnanstine had lost the game, and it started an avalanche towards one of the Rays worst losses this year. Sonnanstine’s 5th inning started great as he got the first two Cleveland batters out in order, but with 2-outs in the inning, it began to unravel for him.

 

The next six batters hammered him for 5 runs, including 2 homers. Sonnanstine for the night gave up 3 homers in 2 innings. He had last given up a home run on May 21st in Oakland. Andy had gone 46 innings and faced 202 batters since his last homer. Sonnanstine will finish 10-4 at the break, and is the only Rays pitcher with 10 wins this year.

 

                                     

 

Jonny Gomes has been itching to show he still has the stuff to play every day, and can still hit MLB pitching. In the 3rd inning, Gomes connected on a curveball up in the zone and deposited it in the leftffield stands. Willy Aybar was on base, and the homer put the Rays 2-0 at the time.

 

It was Gome’s 7th homer of the year. The homer out some confidience in the Rays offense who had been held in check the previous 2 games in New York against the Yankees. The last hit for Gomes was his pinch hit homer in Pittsburgh on June 28th. This stadium has not been good to Gomes, who is 5-26 lifetime at Jacobs/Progressive Field.

 

                                

 

Andy Sonnanstine was not the only pitcher to have a rough outing in Cleveland Thursday night. Gary Glover probably had the worst relief appearance of his career last night.  Glover entered the game with the score in favor of Cleveland 8-2. In the 8th inning, Cleveland would sent 11 batters to the plate and score 7 runs off Glover. Glover pitched 2/3 of an inning and gave up 6 hits and 2 walks to the Indians.

 

Glover also had 2 wild pitches during the inning. Glover threw 46 pitches in the inning before being replaced by Trever Miller for the final out of the inning.

 

In the 9th inning, the Rays got walks by Carlos Pena, and Eric Hinske, and a single by Willy Aybar to load the bases with 2-outs for Ben Zobrist. He ended tp taking a called 3rd strike to end the game for the Rays.

 

In this roadtrip, the Rays are hitting 2-33 with runners in scoring position. This statistic shows the struggles by the Rays offense right now to get rid of this 4-game losing streak. The Rays are also hitting .189 during the recent slide.

 

The loss also added to the Rays woes in this stadium where they have lost the 10th straight game here. The last win in this stadium was on Sept. 28, 2005. The Loss drops the Rays another game closer to Boston. The Red Sox are currently only 1.5 game behind the Rays for the lead in the AL East division. The NY Yankees did not pick up a game since they lost their make-up InterLeague game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

 

 The Rays did have some great news last night. ESPN did a Sunday Conversation with Rays’ Manager Joe Maddon. This is a first for the Rays, and should be great PR for the team.

 

Also the Rays are still the best team in baseball with a 55-35 record. The Rays are on pace to win 99 games this season. That would give them a 33 game improvement over last season. That would match the 1946 Red Sox for 3rd best turnaround in MLB history

 

Trop no longer a vacation stop for Red Sox

 

Rays 7, Red Sox 6

 

 

Lately at the Trop., there has been a small cottage industry developing every 3, or 4 games that could mean big profits for its enterprising owners. It is an industry that might be confusing local hardware stores, and even making the Tampa Bay area look like the cleanest towns in America.

                                                             

It is the new and inventive act of selling brooms on the way into the Trop. property. I think it is actually a bit inventive that you go to a store and buy these brroms in bulk and then sit on a corner and ask every Tom, Dick or Harry if they need a broom. Actually, I wish I would have thought about it first, but I am only focused on the games, not the money in my pocket, or leaving my pocket.

For 6 dollars you get an authentic blue handles broom. I like the fact they at least tried to color coordinate with the Rays colors with their wares.  You get  a multi- tasking item that can be waved and clean your section in one item.  What a bargain. You might even be able to resell it on Ebay as a game used broom complete with ticket stub.  Wow, this could be the beginning of something really amazing and profound, or it could be just a broom to sweep the grass clippings off the sidewalks after a loss……………..It is your mission to find the best way to use this new unofficial Rays merchandise to ite fullest potential.

 

                    

 

Evan Longoria collected 3 RBI’s last night to be officially put into the club as only the third Rookie to be put in the exclusive 15-homer, 20 double, and 50 RBI club. He joins charter member Fred Lynn and Devon White at the head table of this great group of Rookie performers.

In a few days we will also find out about the Rookie of the Month award from MLB. Evan will be in serious contention for this honor after destroying the ball the last three weeks. Longoria currently leads all rookies in June with 8 homers and a rookie leading .650 Slugging Percentage, along with 19 runs scored and 11 doubles. If he wins the award, he will be the first Rays to garnish such an honor.

Back to the game, Longoria went 3-4 last night with 3 RBI’s to raise his average to .275 for the year. Longoria got the scoring started in the first inning by singling to center to score B J Upton. The run tied the game at 1-1.

In the Rays big 7th inning, Longoria hit a double to center that scored  Upton and Carl Crawford. The hit put Evan on second, and the Rays up 5-4 for their first lead of the night.

 

 

Scott Kazmir last night was not the dominating  pitcher we have come to know and love as Rays fans. He is trying to be more deceptive and use his pitches to entice instead of blow hitters off the plate. His slider is still not an effective as last season, but can be used sparingly to confuse hitters. Kazmir went 5 innings last night and gave up 4 walks to his 3 strikeouts. This is the first time this season Kazmir’s walks have surpassed his strikeouts in a game.

 The biggest difference I have seen in Kazmir is the realease of pressure that he can go out and throw his pitches now and not have to carry this team on his back to a win. He acknowlodges and accepts that he has a good defense behind him and can sometimes just pitch now instead of try and be a firethrower most outings. This will lead to a development and a maturity that will put Scott in the next level of pitchers in this league.

When you can trust the guys behind you totally, you become a better pitcher and teammate.  As Crash Davis once said in Bull Durham, “Throw some balls, it is more democratic.”

 

                                   

 

When we traded for Jason Bartlett this past off season, I was one of those guys who sat there and wondered what he would bring to this club. He has always had an average bat and was a dependable shortstop. I really did not look deep into our past and see we never had a guy who could  both items with great success.

Jason batted a club high .392 during the InterLeague series, and is batting .277 in his last 52 games after bottoming out at .200 this year.  Bartlett has also turned into a basestealing weapon for Rays Manager Joe Maddon. He has effectively stolen third base on numerous occasions, including last night in the 7th innig after doubling to lead off the inning.

But with the good, we have to also take the bad. Last night, Bartlett also had his 7th throwing error of the season, and the second in two nights. It was his 11th error of the year.  Bartlett’s only downfall is not following through on his long throws from deep, deep in the hole at short, and the ball sails on him. This will come with practice and time.

 

                                 

 

Rays reliever Gary Glover came on in the top of the 7th inning and pitched the Rays to his 1st victory of the year. Glover used his off speed pitches to get 2 strikeouts and  get the Rays a scoreless inning.

 

In the game, Rays and Red Sox saw second base umpire  Sam Holbrook call an unusual play.  With Julio Lugo bearing down on Jason Bartlett at second, Lugo knew he had to take out Bartlett to break up the double play.  Bartlett got the play off at second, but got the throw a wee second late to Carlos Pena at first.

With Jacob Ellsbury called safe at first by Bruce Dreckman, Holbrook called Lugo for baserunner interference, which would complete the double play and got the Rays out of the inning.  It is an unusual call, but one that on tape showed was the right call at the time.

Akinora Iwamura also got his second error of the year on an errant throw to first.  Aki now has two erros in the last two series after going error-less the first 48 games of the year for the Rays.

 

Rays go Extra Innings to Lose to Pirates

 

 

Pirates 4, Rays 3

 

Considering the game was delayed almost 45 minutes due to a thinderstorm roaming through the area we got treated to a funny and interesting Bloopers reel by FSN.  I was amzed and relieved at the same time that we did not see any early Rays bloopers, or even any Bucs bloopers from the Creamsicle days.

When the game finally got started there was a threat all night of a potential downpour, but just intermitten streaks of rain fell on the stadium crowd. The Rays were dressed as the Jacksonville Red Caps, complete down to the red pocket top on the pants. Pittsburgh was dressed as the Pittsburgh Crawfords for the contest.

I love seeing these old uniforms and hearing the history of these two teams, but hopefully C.C. got one of the Crawford jerseys for himself. I could see Carl sporting that out on the town while shopping for groceries.

 

********************************************************************************************************************

Trivia Fact of the Night:

On April 18,1956, Ed Rommel was the first umpire to wear glasses in a regular season game.

********************************************************************************************************************

 

                    

 

The Way the Rays have been playing the past few months, Rays Manager Joe Maddon looks like a genius. Well, Maddon did himself one better last night by using two pinch-hitters that connected, and reached base for the Rays.

It was kind of interesting that Rays pitcher James Shields was batting in the 12 inning for reliver Gary Glover. Shields was 1-3 on the year at the plate, and truly seemed to enjoy hitting. Shields hit a soft liner back towards the mound that Pirates reliever T J Beam knocked to the ground, but could not get it to first in time to get Shields. Beam was charged with an error on the play.

The first pinch-hitter gave it his all before striking against the Pirates. Jonny Gomes battled for 15 pitches before connecting on a homer to deep center to tie the game at 3-all for the Rays.  It was Gome’s, 2nd pinch-hit homer of the season.  The last time a hitter got a homer on his 15th pitch was Montreal Expos first baseman Termel Sledge on July 7, 2004 when he connected on his 16th pitch off Braves reliever Antonio Alfonseca.

It was the most pitches a Rays batter had ever seen before hitting a home run. The previous best was Jorge Cantu on Aug 29,2006 when he homered on the 13 pitch from Chicago’s Neal cotts.

 

                                  

 

It was another example of a game that Edwin Jackson did not deserve to get a no-decision on the night. Jackson battled and held the Pirates to 3 runs in his 6.2 innings of work.  Jackson gave up 6 hits and struck out 3 on the night.

Jackson has not been given the greatest run support by the offense on the night that he has pitched this season. Jackson has gotten 2.67 runs out of the Rays batters in his 15 starts this season. That is currently the worst run support of any of the Rays starters. Only Jason Hammel has gotten a lower number ( 2.6 ) in a spot start earlier in the season.

 

          

 

The Rays need to step it up for Edwin when he is on the mound. Because of this lack of power when he is on the mound, the opinion is that he is not a great pitcher. When in reality, he is head over heels better than last season in all areas of his game. His pitches were consistant last night and he only got in a jam once for the Rays. When you have an offense like the Rays, 3 runs allowed in a game should get you a victory.

Jackson is tied with Scott Kazmir for second on the team in quality starts with 7 for the year.

 

The Rays started the game looking like they might blowout the Pirates for the second night in a row.  B J Upton hit the first pitch of the game out to center. Carl Crawford came up next and hit another single to center to move Upton to third.  Crawford the  stole second for his 20th base of the season.

 Evan Longoria came up and hit a Sacrifice Fly to score B J , and it looked like another long night for the Pirates.  In the bottom of the 6th, Eric Hinske doubled to deep left. Dioner Navarro came up and singled to center and Hinske came around to score for the Rays.

The Rays collected  10 hits off Pirate’s pitching, with Jason Bartlett getting 2 hits.

 

The Rays will reach the All-Star break as only the 8th team to post a winning record the season after having the worst record in the league. The Rays are .166 percentage points better this season than last season at this point, the best in the majors this year.

The Rays had their 4-game winning streak snapped last night in their 4-3 defeat at Pittsburgh. It was the Rays longest road winning streak since June 15-22, 2004. The Rays are 10-4 in the last 14 games, all against NL teams.

The Rays will play their 81st game today in Pittsburgh. They are currently on a pace to win 97 games, which is an increase of 30 games over 2007, which would be the 10th best imporvement since 1900, and the best ever by a team that was the worst team in the league the prior year. The current record is 94 wins held by the 1991 Atlanta Braves.

Carl Crawford needs 3 steals to become only the 9th player since 1900 to reach 300 steals before the age of 27.

The Rays Bullpen has held opponents to a .211 batting average this season. If the season ended today, it would rank as the 3rd best  by a MLB Bullpen in the last 50 years. Last year, the opponents batted .303 off the Bullpen, the third highest in the last 50 years. 

The Bullpen’s ERA this year is 3.16, best in the majors. Last season it was 6.16, the worst in the last 50 years

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 278 other followers