Results tagged ‘ Jake McGee ’

I Have Great Empathy for Relievers

I want everyone in the Rays Republic to think about something for a moment, then decide for yourself if you could handle this same zany job description day in, and day out.

You start off by sitting and watching a baseball game unfold in front of you while sitting in one of the best seats in the house, down in the Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen. You are not stretched out at all, possibly having thrown the night before and have a bit of a soreness to your body. Suddenly the Bullpen phone rings.

Someone points to you and the mound and you suddenly have to escalate your velocity from an initial soft, loosing throw to full bore heat in less than 20-25 pitches before you are whisked into the emotional swirling dervish of the game, possibly thrust head-first into an inferno hoping initially in your mind you do not get burned.

One wrong placement, one slight variance from the norm and you are standing there waiting for another ball from the Home Plate Umpire. That is the Topsy-turvy always unnerving world of relief pitching. I consider it one of the worst job in baseball. In no other sport can you go as quickly from hero-to-zero faster than being an Major League Baseball reliever. No other position on a baseball team mentally asks you to omit the previous day’s events and start a-fresh immediately with confidence and swagger.

Because relievers do not get extended outings, their ERA ‘s tend to balloon faster than Kobayashi’s stomach on the 4th of July. Their pitches are subject to Talk Radio fodder even if the previous pitcher left the bases loaded with no outs, it is that “reliever’s fault” someone hit a “Texas Leaguer” into the outfield. He inherits the trouble and his pitches are analyzed by everyone no matter if it brings a strike or a Home Run

Sitting on that Bullpen bench is the ultimate emotional and mental roller coaster which has to be re-programmed nightly, forgetting the previous game’s events and finding a new individual focal point for yourself, bringing a sense of renewed clarity and vigor for that next contest. No where else is Rays Manager Joe Maddon mantra of “thinking about a game for 30 minutes then forget it” have more intense daily mental rotational pull than the Bullpen.

Talk about stress. A reliever is usually not granted a 3 or even 5 run lead on most nights when he hit the pitching rubber. He is more apt to be glaring down a pair of runners in scoring position with a single out than have the luxury to pin-point three nice breaking balls, then take a comfy seat on the dugout bench.

People wonder why relievers have more meltdowns than field players, consider that a game usually hinges on their skills and when the bad things happen, they can not hide, they are bare to the catcalls and fodder of the fans as they walk to the dugout either after a pitching change or in the middle of an inning. It doesn’t carry the glamor or the prestige of being a starter, the reliever is the “housekeepers of baseball”, coming on to clean up a mess more than to accent a great pitching performance.

It almost seems like if you were an MLB reliever you would have a sports psychologist on your speed dial, possibly on-call 24/7 to vent, speak or exorcise the potential nightly hazards of a meltdown of epic proportions, or the annihilation of an opponent with a 9-pitch half inning. Relief pitching is where extreme opposites in game action tend attract. Every action has a reaction, even some that are not pleasant.

Think about this for a moment, as you walk, strut or sprint in from the Bullpen, every eye in the stadium is on you trying to dictate on an insane celestial plane if game day magic or horror awaits the masses during your performance. In one throw, one swing, one moment stamped in time, you can go from the penthouse to the basement, and then you have to throw another pitch.

Maybe that is why I never try and purposely throw relievers “under the bus” when something bad happens. Considering most of the time they are summoned because a bad thing is about to happen, how can you thrust all that guilt and judgment for an impending loss upon a pitcher who is just trying to produce an easy way out, get the perfect pitch to ruin a rally, who’s every pitch can potentially swing the momentum back and forth like a pendulum towards his squad and away from their adversary.

Relievers do seem to hold the balance of a game in the palm of their hand. One false move can change the course of a game,can provide a key moment of clarity for either side, and leave at least one person shaking their head in disbelief. Maybe that is why I vent, release but never blame or condemn a reliever.

Some have mocked this breed of pitcher for his zany actions, bi-polar like transformations from being so friendly and sweet before a game and then turn into a classic son-of-a-boitch when he needs to pull from his dark side on the mound. Acting like another person, possibly even cursing at the ball like former Rays RP Grant Balfour is his unique way to cope with the impending doom or glory.

For it is an extreme slippery slope from great outing to implosion, and as a reliever stands on that mound, he is alone. That is why I do not speak in anger ever to theses guys, not for fear of backlash, but because I know they do a job more difficult than hitting a round sphere going almost 100 mph. Take a special breed of player to let a game wash off their backs like a duck.

Maybe that is why I like relievers, maybe that is why I hold them in high esteem even when thing go terribly South for they are their own sculptors of the flotsam and jetsam surrounding this game. Without relievers this game would take on such a different dimension. That and they chew the best bubble gum. 

Intriguing Assortment of Rays Choices for Trade Deadline Shoppers

Always a great guessing game trying to decipher correctly the needs, wants and desire of any of the 29 other MLB squads for anyone on the Tampa Bay Rays roster. Sure there might be a few GM’s just coming by doing some future window shopping or prod and nudge a bit of the merchandise, but is there really any top shelf Rays that will exit before the end of the Trade Deadline?

Can’t be easy time span for a player either with a large contract or even a “ walk” season under their belt until the clock strikes midnight on August 1st. Sure even then deals can still be hashed out, but the large majority of the transactions will be at least attempted in the next few working days. But even the best deal can be stricken down by the might pen of the M L B Commissioner Bud Selig if it seems unfair or has too much cash considerations.

So who among the 25 currently rostered Rays players do you think will garner the most attention? Who do you feel will be showcased now for departure in the off season? There are plenty of options, including a few that could either make or break the Rays post season surge. Then again, if the Rays do go into a tailspin over the next few series( Kansas City/Oakland/Toronto), they could instead purge before the last moments in July?

Even the Great Kreskin would have a difficult time trying to summarize some of the gossip and whispers currently doing the rounds in the MLB circle. With the emergence of SP Alex Cobb and Rays Manager Joe Maddon staying with a 6-man rotation. Could this be a precursor to a starter leaving town?

James Shields has reconstructed his delivery and career to a point some teams are eager to get a guy who can push out innings and provide strikeouts. Shields might have de-valued himself a tad during his recent 4-game tailspin.  With a team friendly $ 7 million dollar salary for 2012, Shields is still affordable and could be in the plastic bubble until this time in 2012.

Do the Rays instead sell high on SP Jeff Niemann while he is on his own hot streak? The Tall Texan might not garner a top tier return, but a few teams do have veterans who might walk after this season, and if they fit into the Rays mold….Niemann could be on a flight by August 1st.

With that in mind, why not put SP/RP Andy Sonnanstine on the top shelf to see who wanders by for a long look. Sonny has all the qualities a good team needs with MLB experience, stability and is a solid “company man”. He can be used in a variety of ways, and his tenure with the Rays might be on unstable ground with the emergence of Cobb and others pushing hard to break through the Triple-A ceiling to the majors. Sonny, like Niemann will not collect a bevy of returns, but his shelf life with the Rays might be getting near its expiration point.

Cesar Ramos is a southpaw, and with the Rays currently having 3 in their Bullpen, excess might not be the keys to the Rays Bullpen success. He might bring in a better haul than Sonny, but knowing the Rays and their love of the crafty lefties, he might stick. Still, the Rays would not offer up fellow relievers Jake McGee or J P Howell unless the return was something they could not refuse.

That brings us to the Rays field players. A few names possibly jump out at you, but one that I truly think is “off limits” is First Baseman Casey Kotchman. The job he has done since he cemented himself at First has been incredible. With only 1 error this season, Kotchman might be tied to this Rays team soon for the next 3 years. I have heard a few whispers in the hallways.

In the infield, with the thoughts also swirling that SS Reid Brignac is taking backward steps, this effectively closes any possible discussions on Elliot Johnson or Sean Rodriguez. Their stability will be needed now more than ever, and cutting loose even one of the pair would be disastrous unless an infield MLB caliber upgrade is received.

With the recent injuries surrounding the catching position, it might be a hidden blessing for C Kelly Shoppach. Still, the Rays could deal the often offensively maligned backstop for prospects, or maybe even a little cash. The market is not seeking Shoppach with gusto, but a back-up with experience heading into the stressful last months of the season and beyond can be a blessing to a young team.

That leaves the outfield has one of the biggest question marks with at least 4 possible Rays players getting a few glances and maybe trade discussions. Still think Desmond Jennings is here to be looked at by not only the Rays, but by 29 other teams. I really think the Rays have a lot of questions about Jennings, and he could be traded for the right package.

You might have thought I would thrust B J Upton in the top spot for trade discussion, but I truly think the Rays will keep Upton until the end of the 2011 season, then listen intently to offers. Upton might not be the most attentive player on the bases, but he plays solid defense and has trimmed his swing a bit to be more productive. Who in their right mind thought he would get over 15 Hrs in 2011?

Still, with the Washington Nationals eager for Upton, and with names like INF Ian Desmond or RP Drew Storen being put on the end of the pole, the Rays could bite and fill a future hole in their team with young replacements who are starting to show their MLB potentials. Still it is a long shot these names are included with Upton’s’. Then again, Friedman can deliver brilliance with Bull-hockey pucks.

The guy who might garner the most outfield attention doesn’t actually play there on a daily basis. Johnny Damon could bring a nice haul in return from a team on the cusp of contention, or wanting to stay hard in the race until the end. But is he worth the gamble of leaving with the type of offense and ability to help charge up this team with a single swing?

You can’t buy that kind of massive production on and off the field this time of year. But if the Rays are truly in a mood to upgrade now, Damon might be the perfect carrot to dangle in front of the MLB herd. There is another player who has emerged to a point his status might be at its zenith, and a downward spiral is definitely in the cards.

I think the world of the abilities and freestyle aerial moves of Sam Fuld, but I also know MLB is treating him more like a novelty act right now than a budding star or long producing commodity. Here is another Rays player who might be at the peak of his trade value right now. Combine his on-field heroics with his solid base running and you get a nice threat either off the bench or in the field heading into the post season.

There is still the possibilities the Rays just bluff and stay with their current format, but the more realistic approach is someone will go, changes will be made. Upton should be planted in CF until the off season, Shields even though he turns 30 in December is a great anchor for this Rays rotation.

That being said, Sonny and Niemann could be on the “watch list” and be the two pitchers most likely to exit stage left. Shoppach could still be dealt even with the Rays catching corp down to their bare knuckles. This is one part of the Rays farm system that seems loaded for bear, and could endure a spell without remorse.

Jennings is the Rays top field prospect, and I have a sneaking feeling his up-coming promotion to “The Show” has a hidden agenda. Exposing Jennings to MLB caliber pitching with 10 days left could persuade someone to take a risk or gamble on a guy who might not be considered the best outfielder even on his Triple-A squad. But if the Rays do keep Jennings, Upton better look over his shoulder later in the season.

Fuld might be safe, but if his average goes South along with his “Legend”, his time and days will be numbered. Damon is the best Rays commodity right now and might be plucked. But Friedman will not trade him for a “rental” player or even a marginal player or prospects. When you have a guy who is putting up consistent numbers like Damon, the price tag has a few zeros in it, even for the short term.

This is the time of the year where guessing, predictions and even off-the-cuff remarks come with a glance from the baseball world. Teams want to chuck, acquire and sometimes streamline for different reasons. The only reasons any of these players might be plucked off the Rays roster is if this team truly thinks they have the horses for a playoff run.

Upgrading by trading would be the only reason right now the Rays would open their doors for change. 

McGee Needs to be a Viable Rays Relief Option

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Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jake McGee is one of the Rays young pitchers I worry about as the Rays Pitchers and Catchers report date (2/15) ticks closer. I’m not concerned about his past painful journey, or even his pitching arsenal. I am worried that McGee might get pushed into the same multi-functional category as New York Yankees starter/reliever Joba Chamberlain by possibly wear too many MLB caps instead of being focused in one finite direction.

On the surface the aspect of a MLB rookie to possessing such flexibility might not seem dangerous. It might be seen as ultimately valuable to the Major League squad to have a pitcher who can perform the multiple duties of both starter or a reliever in their bag of tricks. But that transformation comes with its own set of perils and dangers.

Some have speculated that Chamberlain has been flip flopped once too often in his short Yankee career swapping his role from starter to relief, and that his overall pitching has been effected by the juggling. There is a distinctive different make-up for a pitcher who performs every five days as opposed to a pitcher who has to ready at the beck and call of your Manager on a daily basis.

Not only are there many different mental aspects to take into consideration between the two options, but the modus operandi of each individual facet of pitching both in preparing and game day prep take on a completely different feel and clarity withg both spots in the roster. I would hate to see the Rays make the same Chamberlain type mistakes with McGee.

This is a southpaw who as recently as 2008 was considered by Baseball America to be the 5th best prospect in all of minor league baseball. Suddenly the mid-2008 Tommy John’s surgery to repair a left elbow unlar collateral tear instantly halted McGee’s meteoric rise through the Rays farm system.

When MLB.com issued their 2011 Top 50 Major League Baseball prospects list recently, McGee’s name was not anywhere to be seen on that list. That is why I am worried about McGee. Not that his confidence could ebb or that his talent has peaked, but with a fall from grace sometimes you get thought of in a different light by your organization. Possibly changing your whole future dynamic with the franchise.

You only have to look into the Rays Centerfield to see a perfect example of changing a player’s direction in their MLB career. B J Upton was considered to be the “Rays shortstop of the future”. Suddenly when a few clouds of doubt or concerns reared their ugly heads, Upton was on a carousel of positional stops from Third Base, to Second Base to finally landing in Centerfield. Ultimately the “Rays shortstop of the future” got to look in to see his supposed pre-destined position from a completely different angle.

I bring this up because there are whispers that McGee might not be brought into the Rays 2011 Spring Training as a relief candidate. He might again be stretched out as a starting candidate, possibly for Triple-A. Most would think this flexibility in McGee’s game is commendable, but I see it as a variation of the same familiar path that the Yankees took with Chamberlain early on in his development. I personally feel that New York ruined a talented ballplayer and made him mediocre by the year-to-year flipping of his job description.

Even during the 2010 Rays minor league season there are indications that the team might be flip flopping on McGee’s potential MLB abilities. When the Rays promoted McGee on September 14,2010  he had previously been appearing mostly as a reliever for the Triple-A Durham Bulls since his August 7,2010 promotion from Double-A Montgomery.

Here is where a huge Rays red flag begins to fly really high for me with possible Chamberlain type comparisons. McGee appeared in only 11 Bulls games, all in relief except for a solo start before his Major League promotion. McGee posted an overall Bulls  0.52 ERA in 17.1 innings with 27 strikeouts and a .148 opponents batting average. All stellar relief credentials that should show a talent for that relief side of the game.

The interesting side twist is that McGee started the 2010 season with Montgomery where he started 19 games, going 3-7 over 88 innings with 100 strikeouts. If you start a guy early on in the minor league season as a starter in the higher levels of your farm system, then why did he suddenly transform into a relief candidate upon promotion to Triple-A?

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Surely the Rays, who have a lack of quality left-handers in their relief corps would realistically have McGee come into Spring Training camp as a bona fide relief candidate. But there are more than a few whispers that McGee will be extended out again this Spring to become a starter, possibly for the Triple-A Bulls.

This flabbergasts me totally. Here is a player who demonstrated, even on a short term MLB relief test, that he can perform at a higher level and instead he might be considered to start games instead of hone his craft as a reliever in either the MLB or at Triple-A?

I really hope this is just one of those erroneous rumors that pop up about this time of the year just to test the waters, then proves to be totally false. McGee could be a great left-handed option for the Rays out of the Bullpen for a long, long time.

The idea of pushing McGee starting again with Rays left-handed farm system talent like leftie starter Alex Torres waiting in the wings is simply bananas. McGee could fill a huge need gap in the Rays system by learning the craft of relief while also gaining a boatload of confidence and possibly transform into a future closer option for the Rays.

The Rays have never been known to grow in-house relief talent at the back of the Bullpen, McGee could eventually be the key to breaking that farm system cycle.

Even if McGee didn’t make the Rays final 25-man roster out of Spring Training and went down for some intensive late inning work with Durham, it would benefit McGee and the Rays tremendously. Putting McGee into a rotation spot, even on the short term, could push McGee closer towards a possible Chamberlain burnout situation where McGee is being pulled in two distinctive different pitching directions.

I am not discounting McGee’s worth as a starter here, but his overall value as a reliever, even at the Triple-A level, fully trumps his consideration again for a starting nod. McGee is too good of a pitching talent to have to ultimately re-invent his pitching style on a monthly basis. His value right now to the Rays is as a key southpaw reliever, possibly even fulfilling the spot as the Rays designated left-handed specialist.

But McGee will need to work on his relief craft to push down his 2010 short term 3.87 ERA against left-handers. The talent is there, it just has to be tweaked and plucked and possibly pulled out from within McGee to flourish as a member of the Rays relief corps.  With the talent potential and possible chance for McGee to find some roster security, I truly feel the relief corps is his best possible position for the McGee and the Rays.

Because McGee has shown in his brief Durham stint that he has the kind of pitching to punish hitters in the late innings, it is all up to the Rays now With Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s constant juggling of pitchers and hitters to force favorable match-ups during the late innings of Rays contests, McGee is a valuable tool the Rays really need to succeed in 2011, but all that could be tarnished, or possibly dismissed if the Rays rumor is true that McGee will again be a starter. That would be a crying shame. 

 

 

2011 Rays Resolutions…Renegade Style

 


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With some of the after effects of the 2011 New Years celebration still pumping in our hearts and minds, it is that cherished time of the early year for all of us to solidify our midnight resolves and begin embarking on the tedious task of now trying to keep our promises.

Some of us at the end of the countdown professed to transform ourselves with hearty and healthy vows to lose weight, cut back on certain foods, or maybe eliminate a unhealthy or dangerous habit like smoking or texting while driving.

Then there is that other group side of the resolve coin that wants to initiate goals to help humanity and possibly try and “pay it forward” by helping those less fortunate or being more “green” in our every day lives.

Or possibly you are one of those people who really got excited when the thought of ecology was mentioned in classes and looked beyond our own visionary limitations to evoke a personal challenge or make a mental proclamation to enhance some external segment of this World’s by cleaning up a creek or riverbed or possibly helping bond in our communities building safer playgrounds for our next generation.

So on this first day of 2011 I thought it might be fun to try and make a few resolutions in the baseball sense for certain members of the Tampa Bay Rays. With pitchers’ and catchers’ set to begin reporting to their Rays Spring home in Port Charlotte, Florida in just 43 days, it is time to again bring our focus towards the 2011 season.
Evan Longoria: My resolution to you is to become the strong presence in the Rays clubhouse that evokes and proclaims the true meaning of the “Rays Way”. To take that next huge step to providing a dose of your own leadership ability that will ultimately mix with your teammates to concoct the perfect Rays team chemistry for 2011.

Secondly,if you find the guy who stole your cap and give the Rays Republic his name….We will take care of him.

 
David Price: My resolutionfor Price is pretty simple. Retain that same focused and calm persona that you have projected both on and off the mound. To accept the honorable challenge of being a bigger piece of the Rays puzzle while retaining a high level of confidence that your team is behind you in victory, or in defeat.

In addition, if you need a ghostwriter for a possible book on Pho eating establishments throughout the MLB cities…you know where I sit, and I work cheap (possibly for a steaming bowl of Pho).

 
B J Upton: I know this onemight be hard. I want you to finally let yourself go and go with the flow. Do not hold yourself so accountable for not achieving perfection. It has sometimes hastened your downfall as you tinkered, wallowed and self manipulate yourself into slumps, funks and a bad decisions. Woooo Saaaa!

Secondly I wish for your community/charity efforts to be fruitful. You are one of only a handful of Rays players who’s community interests (BJ’s Bunch) has opened to the Rays Republic another side of you that is sometimes hidden by game day bravado.

 
James Shields: My resolution for “Shieldsy” is to simply take a step back. Maybe by stepping back you can redefine that skill set that got you here to fully reclaim your spot as the Rays “Ace”.

As a two-time Rays Roberto Clemente Award recipient, the continued success of the “Heart Gallery”. I hope more baseball fans around the country in 2011 learn about this photographic and audio exhibit that helps kids in foster care find great family environments.

 
John Jaso: My resolve for you is to keep that internal competitive fire at its optimal level. Your rookie season showed the Rays Republic that your bat and your defense took major strides skywards.

Secondly, to provide inspiration to kids in Tampa Bay that an athlete can be book savvy and math friendly and still compete at the highest level of the sport. Most people outside of Tampa Bay do not know about your love of numbers and analytical equations.

 
Reid Brignac: My resolution for “Brigs” is to take the baseball and just grip it and rip it this season. You have the confidence of Rays Manager Joe Maddon that you can be the vital keystone in the Rays defense. It is time for you to make the rest of the baseball world to take notice and become believers too.

Secondly, we have to find someone else, possibly Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos to teach you to dance. Doing the “Dougie” for the cameras during the Rays postseason celebration made most of us cringe and wish you did the “Carlton” instead.

 
Matt Garza: This resolution is that you find that internal “happy place” for the entire season. That the events that have put extreme pressure on you in the past will find a path to melt away. Your talent will only be stopped by your own actions and reactions.

Second resolution for you is to somehow eliminate your bad habit of licking your fingers after you grip the resin bag disappears. Resin doesn’t taste good, has no nutritional value, and has solidified that “spittin’ Cobra” moniker. Maybe Price can get you a pail of Double Bubble for 2011.

 
J P Howell: My resolve for you is that you come back as the “Dude”. With that high spirit and confidence on the hill that made you a fan favorite. Even though we might not see you until May, you can be a key member of the Rays Bullpen by bringing your calm nature and competitive fire into the fray on a nightly basis. We really did miss you in 2010.

Secondly, that your charity “Discovery Your Path” which includes the “Healing Hearts Foundation” that helps children and youth facing difficult situations to find the mentoring and life path guidance needed to achieve a meaningful life.

 
Wade Davis: My resolution is for WD-40 to simply just grow into his MLB skin and experience more success in 2011. Some critics were very vocal about Davis throughout the 2010 season. But in reality, Davis posted a better 2010 rookie campaign (12-10 4.07 ERA 113 K’s) than Price’s rookie 2009 campaign (10-7 4.42 ERA, 102 K’s).
 
The second part of the resolution is for Davis and his charity, “Pitch In For Baseball” which accepts game used baseball equipment and distributes them to underprivileged children to finds more success and Nation-wide acclaim.

Jake McGee: My resolution for McGee is that he takes the critical next big step in his Bullpen transformation. McGee will be in competition for a spot in the Rays Bullpen this Spring. He could make the Rays Opening Day roster with a solid Spring with an eye into taking a bigger role with the team by the end of the 2011. Every good outing is another notch on his belt to helping McGee possibly develop into the Rays future closer.

My second resolution for him is a double dose of the first one. He is one of the future linchpins for the Rays.

Desmond Jennings: My resolution for Jennings is for him to develop a thick skin for 2011. He will hear more than a few jeers about Carl Crawford. They key for Jennings might be to put an early exclamation point on his rookie season by showing the Rays outfield game will not take a step back this season. Playing his style of game without compromise will be the ultimate key for Jennings MLB survival in 2011.

Dan Johnson: My resolve for DJ is that he finally feels he belongs in Tampa Bay. Johnson hit one of the more memorable Home Runs in Rays history back in 2008, but has never gained the Rays fans all out support. Whether he is at the DH spot or manning the First Base bag, Johnson needs to announce his presence with authority. A big first month impression can do wonders in silencing the Pena critics.

 

Secondly, DJ, we have to get you a good MP3 file so we can pick you a better walk-up song than “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats. It is catchy, but it drives me simply insane trying to not stand up and do the dance mannerisms…Seriously!

Sean Rodriguez: My resolution for S-Rod is that he can finally feel secure at Second Base for the Rays. We all know he has mad skills all over the diamond, but I would love for him to find a root system at Second. His timely hits and great defensive presence is a testament to his work ethic and his talents.

My second resolution for Rodriguez is that someone teach him the “Stingray Shuffle” this Spring so that we do not have to worry about his Gulf of Mexico activities on Rays home off days.

There are so many other Rays players in the Rays roster that need to have great resolute seasons to put their name on the lips of the baseball public in 2011.

Hope you enjoyed my small journey into some of my hopes and wants for the Rays in 2011. There is a link attached to each players charity if you would like to explore and learn more about their efforts outside of the ballpark to help those in and around our baseball world.

 

Rays Bullpen is On the Clock

 

 

As I look up at the big clock on the kitchen wall, I can see the second hand moving fast and it instantly reminds me that the Tampa Bay Rays only have a few more days to actively pursue their Free Agents without any outside interference. The clock seems to be ticking faster by the moment during these first five days after the World Series before the Rays Free Agents officially become fodder for the rest of the Major League General Managers and scouts.


There are more than a few players from the Rays current 5-days hold list who will probably never wear a Rays uniform again, including such highly valued names as 2010 All Stars Carl Crawford and closer Rafael Soriano. Two biggest names at their respective positions that should in all likelihood leave the Rays roster this Winter.

There are other who will also garner attention from all over the Majors after the 5-day grace period like former First Baseman and power option Carlos Pena, 2010 surprise RP Joaquin Benoit, plus relievers Grant Balfour and Randy Choate could harbor another home stadium in 2011.

But the Rays have five days, or a total of 120 hours to actively talk back and forth with their Free Agents before they are officially released to also have talks with the rest of the MLB mob. Five days really is not a long time to trade numbers back and forth and try to finalize a deal, but it is enough time for the Rays front office to make an impression on if they are actively seeking a return, or willing to watch their former players mosey on out to greener monetary pastures.

There were two more names thrown into the mix recently as the Rays decided to decline the team options on Rays reliever Dan Wheeler and utility player Willy Aybar. The move was considered a financial move to possibly save the club almost $ 2 million dollars by buying out the pair, then talking to them as a Free Agent (Wheeler), or a still arbitration eligible player (Aybar). Wheeler has expressed a desire to remain with the Rays for 2011, but it will have to be at a bit of a discount from his $ 4 million option.

 

Basically right now, the Rays Bullpen bench has been stripped almost bare with only Andy Sonnanstine, who is arbitration eligible for the first time this Winter the only player currently with any extended relief appearances. Sure there is still Mike Ekstrom and rookie southpaw Jake McGee who are still on the Rays 40-man roster, but beyond this trio, the rest of the Rays Bullpen is either heading towards the Free Agent market or already been released by the Rays (Lance Cormier). Right now the Bullpen is the biggest position of transition for the Rays this Winter.


Right now the Rays entire sixth through eighth inning options are within a few days of actively finding another pitching spot for 2011 unless the Rays decided to actively pursue any of them. In a perfect world I would love to see the Rays try and keep Benoit, Balfour, Choate and possibly Wheeler to bring some form of veteran stability to the Rays 2011 Bullpen. I would however personally hope that the Rays do not actively engage in discussion with reliever Chad Qualls who is also set to become a Free Agent soon.

Currently this drastic change within the back part of the Rays pitching game has to have more than a few fans sweating bullets, but there are loads of viable options that will soon be available to the Rays, but at a cost.

Every time you bring in a new pitcher to the Rays system there is always the possibility of them not adapting to the Rays pitching game plan and becoming a liability. That is why I am hoping the Rays at least think long and hard about the quartet of Benoit, Wheeler, Balfour and Choate before releasing them to the rest of the salivating masses in the MLB.


There is the underlying huge question mark concerning returning leftie J P Howell’s effectiveness, and the possibility that the Rays could decline him arbitration possibly this off season to set another storm into motion. Combined with Howell’s uncertainty plus the youth and inexperience of McGee, it might not be a huge leap to consider Choate as a viable option for 2011 at least until the two question marks are answered.

It might be unorthodox for the Rays to possibly carry three left-handers in their Bullpen, but would it be more of a disaster to count on the two question marks totally with only minor leaguer southpaw R J Swindle in the Rays system as a back-up plan.


 

The addition of retaining Balfour and Wheeler would give valuable experience and proven set-up power and abilities to a new Rays Bullpen. Balfour seemed to come into his mown after returning from the DL (thanks again Jim Hickey) in September to post some of his best outings of the season.
 
Balfour also seemed to have gained some extra velocity after his short mid-season rest. Of the two pitchers, Balfour might have the best Rays upside and could be the most fiscally affordable considering the Rays payroll downsizing to possibly between $ 40-60 million for 2011.


The Rays front office will have to scrape and save all over the place considering the team already have a projected payroll of about $ 15.45 million even before adding arbitration figures and considering Free Agent signings. The initial scraping of almost the entire Rays Bullpen will either be a blessing or a curse this Winter and a major discussion point by the Rays Republic until the Spring.

Can a team like the Rays that has already been considered a early favorite to head towards a post season run in 2011 sustain themselves if they purge and rebuild their Bullpen from within their farm system and the Free Agent route?

The next five days may hold a key to the Rays thinking, and their possibly plan of attack. Sure I would love to see Benoit possibly resign with the Rays and take on the closer’s role. Would be ecstatic to see Balfour and Choate become leftie-rightie bookends to extinguish scoring chances late in the game.


But the stark reality is that the Rays will be a team in late inning pitching transition this Winter. With a few left-handed question marks and only a handful of MLB experienced help currently on the Rays roster, this Winter the Rays Bullpen might be a total work in progress.

Hopefully the Rays front office will be sensible and find a nice balance between the old and new that will compliment the Rays starting rotation. This off season we might truly see just how good Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman is with his crystal ball and a desk full of statistical reports and flowcharts. Somehow the Rays need to pull that mythical rabbit out of the hat this Winter.
 

 

Upton’s Injury caused some Instant Trade Thoughts

 

 

Within seconds of B J Upton’s collapse onto the Tropicana Field turf last night, I went into General Manager mode trying to think off the cuff of any recent Rays possible trade scenario, or even a totally multi-team aligned situation for completing a trade with any clarity today. As I sat there last night with camera in hand watching our Centerfielder who has been mentioned in numerous trade rumors, lying on the green Field Turf in obvious pain, the trade wheeling and dealing cogs were turning in my head.

Upton had just made a routine Centerfield catch of Detroit’s lead-off hitter Austin Jackson’s fly ball into the middle of the Rays outfield, but Upton went down to the ground like a sack of potatoes clutching his lower leg. Instantly it was time to venture into Rays trade mode.

Somehow it seemed like something as simple as Upton catching his metal cleat a bit off center in the blades of the artificial turf had caused his to roll his ankle on his follow-through to get the ball back into the infield.

As Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield and Rays Manager Joe Maddon jogged out to Upton’s location, a flood of recent Rays trade names began to swiftly race through my head of any possible Major League players that could fit firmly within the Rays needs. Not even thinking at this moment if Upton’s injury was long term, or even day-to-day, I want to revisit a few recent trade whispers to see if they were still relevant to the Rays needs.


 

Knowing in the back of my mind, that there had been recent darkened hallway whispers that Rays top outfield prospect, Desmond Jennings might not be ready for the day-to-day grind of the Major Leagues, the sight of Upton laying on the field instantly put me on the offensive to find a viable MLB ready option. There have been more than a few openly discussed prominent names from around the Major Leagues possibly finding a home soon with the Rays.

There had been more than one mention of even Upton possibly being mentioned as a trade piece with the Philadelphia Phillies for future free agent/rental player Jayson Werth, but the Rays seemed to be firmly committed to using their highly praised and stocked farm system as the catalyst for any player changes and were not actively considering anyone on their Major League roster. A trade of this nature would have brought a few new challenges to the Rays. Considering a short term investment like Werth would be a totally new adventure for Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and the team.


The Rays have discussed bringing in short term players during the Trade Deadline period before, but the Rays have never pulled the trigger with any vigor. There was also some recent Rays trade chatter with the Kansas City Royals for a guy who could play almost anywhere, but that discussion was silenced and shelved quickly after multipurpose player David DeJesus suffered a broken thumb and could be out a substantial amount of time.

 

The Rays had discussing this trade with the Royals, and it seemed like the Royals were eager and willing to possibly trade for Rays farm hand LHP Jake McGee and send DeJesus to the Rays, but that scenario is just dust in the wind now. But would McGee have been enough to secure DeJesus?


There have been other names floating out in the MLB stratosphere with outfield possibilities for the Rays, but either the trade price would too steep, or the return product might not be a great trade-off. There was huge speculation a few weeks ago that Brew Crew member Corey Hart might find himself in the Rays outfield mix, but the demands from the Brewers were way too high, and could have made the Rays immediately discontinue any discussions. But there was a low cost option that was also floated by the Rays of maybe acquiring outfielder Jeff Francoeur from the New York Mets. The only problem with that scenario is that Francoeur is not the player he was two years ago when he was patrolling the Braves outfield.

But another scenario might have opened up just around the time of Upton’s injury last night on another baseball diamond up in Washington D.C. when Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg was shelved after findo out he had considerable inflammation in his right throwing shoulder. With Nationals starters Luis Atilano and J.D. Martin also on the mend, it could this recent injury bug within the Nationals rotation bring down the asking price of Washington slugger Adam Dunn, who has been known to be on the Rays “Wish List”.

A recent clarification by Dunn that he did not want to DH, but wanted to daily play in the field, might limit his possible usage for the Rays. But Dunn might be that missing right-handed bat the Rays have been eager for all season long. But at what cost will it take to even get Dunn? Would sending a minor leaguer like starter Matt Moore be enough of a trade off to get a rental player? The Nationals might be seeking a MLB ready guy like Wade Davis or Andy Sonnanstine to fill in until their young pitching staff gets healthy. So would a trade for Dunn who could be waltzing right back to the Nationals after the season be worth the two month rental price right now?
 
More and more this week I am considering the true option that the Rays might be better served with just staying pat with their current options and fighting for a Playoff spot with the guys who got them here.
With Rocco Baldelli getting into game day shape, there is a possibility he could be a useful right-handed bat the Rays could use down the stretch with minimal fiscal damage.

 

With the Rays announcing after last night’s game that Upton has a possible ankle sprain and might just miss a few Rays starts before possibly being in Centerfield for Friday night clash with the New York Yankees, the Rays have adequate in-house options like Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist to cover a short term absence of Upton from the line-up. But the moment Upton hit the turf, my mind was wandering through the rosters of a few clubs looking for the suitable replacement to garner the Rays the best chance of success. 

So I will put away my trade master cap and return to just being a Rays fan and trying to guess what direction Friedman and company might go before the end of the Trade Deadline. Will the Rays stand pat with the guys who got them here in the first place, or possibly rent a guy for a few months and hope for a great return in their invested trade. No matter what they do, there will be discussions and banter to go along with it. But that is the nature of the trade beast. Someone will always be unhappy, someone will always see holes, and people will always want more….That is the Rays Republic Way.

 

Choate is Alone on Leftie Island

 


Steve Nesius/AP

Being a fellow left-hander (writing) I can show compassion and a bit of empathy with the current stage that Tampa Bay Rays reliever Randy Choate finds himself in after a few disastrous early 2010 escapades on the pitching rubber. With the Rays letting former lefty-specialist Brain Shouse go following the 2009 season, and the early Spring shutdown of fellow reliever J P Howell, life has not been easy for the Rays lone leftie in their Bullpen.

But you also got to think of the extra stress and responsibilities thrown upon Choate from the first day of the 2010 season to be “the Man” when it comes to leftie situations and that his mixed bag of results have come with limited options for Rays Manager Joe Maddon.

 
And the situation gets more and more complex when you look at the other possibilities within the Rays Bullpen where only certain right-hander even have any remote possibilities of getting left-handed batter out with any measure of confidence. Choate is like a lone man on a deserted island with not even a lifeboat or ship in sight right now. Choate simply has to “sink or swim” right now, and I am betting he will end up looking like Michael Phelps again before all is said and done.

Left-handed relievers are a rare breed in Major League Baseball, and held as a commodity unlike gold by some teams like the Rays who have always tried to salvage and use left-handed relievers to their advantage. But right now with the struggles of Choate, and Howell still about a month away from rejoining the Rays, the left-handed duties are looking more stressful by the day.

 
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And before Choate’s recent problems he was considered a great asset and possible weapon against left-handed batters. But after appearing in 5 of the Rays first 9 games and only surviving 2.1 innings while surrendering 7 runs on 9 hits for a 27.00 ERA, Choate needs to stay out of his head and eliminate any other internal damage. And watching him pitch, you do not see any tell-tale sign of him either signaling or telegraphing his pitches, but this is not the same reliever who posted a 3.47 ERA for the Rays in 2009.

 
And Choate was extremely effective out of the Rays Bullpen appearing in 61 of the Rays final 115 games in 2009, which was the third most in the American League during that span. But more surprising was the fatc it was his first true season in the Major Leagues after providing only 23 innings over the previous 4 MLB seasons combined before his break-out after coming up from Triple-A Durham on May 25,2009. And his effective nature on the mound was quickly embraced by the Rays as only 9 of his inherited runners scored on him that season and led the Major Leagues in one-batter relief appearances facing just one batter in 29 of his 61 appearances. Choate became a specialist the Rays relied on and expected great thing from in 2010.
 
And who can forget the 5 saves he earned as a member of the Rays “Closer by committee” set-up in 2009 facing a total of 8 batter in those closing situation, and retiring all 8 hitters. Choate was on the fast track for a left-handed reliever as he held opponents in his first 10 appearances of 2009 to only a single hit and a 0.42 batting average in 8 innings. Even more impressive was Choate’s Opponents batting average against him with two outs and runners in scoring position.

In those situations, Choate posted a .111 average which was a superior mark for a reliever. Overall in 2009, lefties hit .144 against Choate while right-handers managed a robust .321 average. He was definitely a lefties weapon for the Rays, and a right-handers dream at the plate. So was it really surprising after Choate posted a 1.13 ERA in 7 appearances this Spring while also showing some signs of control issues with 3 walks in his 8 total innings. But nothing showed the signs of what would happen to him so early in 2010.

Choate looked effective in his first two appearances against the Baltimore Orioles at home when he threw for 1.2 innings and threw 12 strikes in his 17 pitches. Choate seemed in line and ready to provide great leftie situational relief appearances. But then on April 10th against his old team, the New York Yankees, Choate last .2 innings and 24 pitches but walked from the mound after giving up 5 hits and 4 runs to boost his ERA towards 15.43. And sometimes these situation happen during a season, but little did we know what was still on the horizon for Choate.

 

 
Mike Carlson/AP

Then again he took the mound against the Yankees on April 11th and this time lasted only 6 pitches while giving up 2 runs on 2 hits, one being a 2-run shot by Yankee catcher Jorge Posada in the sixth inning. That ballooned his ERA to 23.14 for the season and some concerns quickly mounted as to the lack of left-handed depth on the Rays Bullpen roster. Worst of all is the fact that both sides of the plate have feasted on Choate early this season with both left-handers ( 3 hits, 4 runs) and right-handers ( 6 hits, 3 runs) each showing high level of effectiveness against the Rays lone leftie option.


And with Wednesday nights 2-run shot by Baltimore left-handed pinch-hitter Luke Scott, Choate has now given up 2 Home Runs in back-to-back appearances. He gave up a total of 4 Home Runs over his 61 appearances last season. The event also boosted Choate to a 27.00 ERA, which have some within the Rays Republic both nervous and skittish about his effectiveness early this season. But the Rays do have a few viable options within their farm system right now, but might not consider them because of injury concerns or certain players needing more of the minor league maturation process before they are maybe considered later in 2010.

Sure there is the “waiver wire/ air miles traveler” leftie R J Swindle who seemed to be on a rollercoaster ride between Milwaukee, Cleveland and Durham for most of the end of 2009 before finally coming back into the Rays fold this Spring But Swindle is currently on the Durham Bulls Disabled List and he needs to show some relative progression towards health and pitching stamina before the Rays could even consider him a left-handed option this season. Swindle might be a viable option late in the season, but right now he would just be a liability.

And currently the shelf is mighty bear in Durham for left-handers as only big man Heath Phillips is the only other leftie on the Bull staff, but Phillips is actually a Bull starter and is not even adjusted towards relieving, even at the Triple-A level right now. And even at Double-A Montgomery, Darin Downs is still not ready for the aspect of promotion as a leftie reliever, and leftie Jake McGee who most Rays fans thought might have the fats track to the majors as a reliever has been stretched out and will again be a starter for the Biscuits.

So the Rays farm system has no viable options at this time to adequately bring up a left-handed reliever. But the free agents and trade aspects are there for a possible deal if the Rays lose their confidence in Choate before Howell returns in mid-May.

 
There are surely trade partners and even a few free agents like former Rays left specialist Brian Shouse sitting by the phone wondering if the Rays will go outside the organization for a leftie addition to their roster. And besides Shouse, there is always someone like Toronto Blue Jay Scott Downs who has AL experience and might be affordable to the team, but might not be available to team within the American League East, even this early in the season. Or there is always the Pittsburgh connection that might be willing to part with Javier Lopez or Jack Taschner with the right bait dangled by the Rays.
 

 
Mike Borcheck/ SPTimes

 Whatever the future holds right now for the Rays, they have to be concerned since their only option to facing left-hander is basically in a pitching funk. Fellow Rays relievers Lance Cormier and Grant Balfour have 0.00 ERA against left-handers this season, but they have only faced 4.2 innings of work against lefties in 2010 and it might not be an adequate measure as to their overall seasonal effectiveness.

It might seem a bit ‘ackward” and “goofy” right now for the Rays Coaching staff to have their total vote of confidence on their lone leftie right now, but then again….lefties have been fighting this leftie-rightie fight for a long, long time and are still in the right baseball frame of mind.

 

Rays 2010 Fan Fest Photo Blog 2 of 2

 

 


One of the biggest reasons so many fans came out to the Tampa Bay Rays 2010 Fan Fest on Saturday was a chance to chat and get autographs from their favorite Rays players in advance of the 2010 season. Also on hand were a few of the Rays minor league prospects invited to the Major League camp that started on Friday. The number of fans seen entering the building on Saturday definitely showed that the enthusiasm and the excitement is very much still alive within the Tampa Bay area for their team.

And there were a few big name players like Carl Crawford, Ben Zobrist, new comer Sean Rodriguez sent to the Rays in the Scott Kazmir trade in 2009 and Rays 2009 scapegoat Designated Hitter Pat Burrell. The autograph day went pretty uneventful accept for some late arrivals from players, and some people grumbling about the absence of Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett and leftie Jake McGee. I still have not heard a word on Bartlett, but McGee missed the event due to his wife Morgan going to a local hospital, but she has since been released and McGee is back with the team at the Port Charlotte complex.

 

But there were more than whispers from a few of the Rays Season Ticket holder I spoke to on friends not renewing their seats or even people downgrading from multiple seats to singles for the 2010 season. But the reality is also there that a small bulk of that inflated number in 2009 was for people who wanted to secure 2008 Playoff tickets and bought seats in the inexpensive sections of Tropicana Field to get guaranteed seating for the Rays playoff run. But there is a anticipated hope of people getting into the flow after Fan Fest and purchasing one of the many ticket packages or options for the upcoming season.

And there were members of the Rays Sales Department all over Tropicana Field ready and willing to discuss or show seating options to people all during Fan Fest. There are options starting as low as $ 273 (Friday or Sunday plan) and rising depending on the seat location. And beginning this Friday, February 26,2010 at 9 am, individual game tickets will go on sale to the general public for the first time in 2010. Another popular option is the Saturday game package that will include every game for the Hess Express /Rays Concert Series that start at $ 331 for T.B.T. Party Deck or Upper Deck Reserved seating.

And again in 2010, the Home Plate Club prices seems to have gone down a tab, so if you should win the Florida Lotto in time for the Rays season, you could purchase a seat in the All-Inclusive area starting at $ 13,256. And even as the Rays season Ticket numbers have dropped, it had to be anticipated by the local economic struggles and also the 2009 Playoff package ticket holders not renewing their seats for 2010. You can be sure within now and the beginning of the season, the Rays will announce some additional ticket options and also attractive promotions and events to get the Tampa Bay residents to come out to the Trop. for more games in 2010.  

 


And as usual, the autograph lines seemed to begin to get congested almost immediately as people bought their silver wristbands then stood in line almost two hours before Evan Longoria first stepped onto the first table location just after 12 pm. By the time he had stepped into his seat, the line formed around the white plastic chain links and circled out into the Rightfield Street hallway down past the Dipping Dots booth and almost to the Rays Carnival Games for the kids.

And there were all sorts of interesting items brought up to the players to sign this year. One fan, Christin Manfredo actually had new Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach sign her 1,000th autographed baseball during Fan Fest, with Rays prospect catcher Nevin Ashley becoming the 1001st autographed baseball in Manfredo’s collection. And there was the usual oversize baseball bats and  small scale batting helmets for players to sign, but the one item that caught my eyes was the oversize World Series ticket that were given to several players during the day. 


 

 

Everyone always asks who is sitting right there with me in my section. Well, here we see Michael, who sits in Section 138, Row C Seat 1 giving Evan Longoria one of the State Farm Home Run Derby balls from 2008 to sign.  Longoria took some time looking at the ball and remarked that it looked like it was actually hit, possibly by him during the event. It is a great collectible ball for Michael’s collection. Another item that came up just after Michael to Longo was an actual gold-colored fielding glove that looked a lot like the Golden Glove model glove on the trophy that Longoria will be presented at a Rays game in 2010. One of the great things about this event is seeing some of the fantastic collectible items fans have obtained during the past season from auctions, sales and even events like Fan Fest for the guys to sign.
 


 

 

People were complaining all day long about players getting to the Trop. late for their signings and not staying past their times to appease fans. I know that certain players had transportation delays on their travels up from Port Charlotte, while others had logistical situation going on with their belongings and equipment getting to Port Charlotte ahead of them on Saturday. For some reason, B J Upton took a huge blunt of this backlash, but he was not the only player who was delayed and did not stay any additional time to sign for fans.

And some Rays fans were quick to notice he was texting between signatures and also checking his phone a bit not aware of his transportation logistic situation. But then again,
when you are sitting at a table above the general public, they can see you every move and action and can develop negative opinions and reaction quickly based on your overall mood and attitude to the fans. Upton is excited to begin a new chapter in 2010 and is healthy for the first time in a few years. He has reached out to new Hitting Coach Derek Shelton for advice and has seen the errors of his ways in the past with his nonchalant base running and quiet demeanor. I think he is going to have a breakout year in 2010.

 

 

Gabe Kapler to me has become one of the greatest ” at ease” fashion sense guys on this team. And I mean that as a compliment. Here we see him in a great black hat and a pair of Chuck Taylor sneakers that seems to show his laid-back attitude and approach to this team. But he is also one of the guys who get into a “zone” during game day and is a constant figure helping other players both on and off the field. Kapler is one of those guys on the edges of the Rays roster in 2010 who could be beneficial to the Rays return to the playoffs in 2010.

 

Most people know these two guys as one of the best First Basemen offensively and defensively in the Major Leagues, and the other is the Senior Director of Promotions for the Rays. But Carlos Pena and Brian Killingsworth also have another “Kevin Bacon 6 degrees of Separation” moment”. Both were also members of the Wartham Gatesman who won the 1997 Cape Cod Baseball League Championship.  Funny story, Killingsworth actually called me on my cellphone the day we got Pena and told me about the signing. I still marvel at that moment I knew the Rays were bound for the playoffs with a guy like Pena behind the scenes.
 

 

One of the great thing I love about Rays Fan Fest is the way Rays Radio Network guru Rich Herrera gets time with the players to talk about the upcoming season, or even put an exclamation point on some issue. It was great how he started chatting about the limited edition Carlos Pena T-shirt being sold by the American Red Cross and the Save The Children Foundation.

Herrera told the crowd how the back of the T-shirt lists all the accomplishments Pena has accumulated since his arrival here in 2007.  About Pena’s 2007 Comeback Player of the Year Award and Silver Slugger Award, his 2008 Gold Glove, and his 2009 selection to the All Star game. But Herrera was quick to mention the one award Pena is most proud of is his selection as the Tampa Bay recipient for the 2008 Roberto Clemente Award.

Most people know that this award is given annually to the player who combines outstanding skills on the baseball diamond with their devoted work within their team’s community. Pena was actually honored to be presented his nomination by Roberto Clemente Junior during a ceremony at Tropicana Field on September 3,2008. As part of the Roberto Clemente nomination, Major League Baseball made a donation in Pena’s name of $ 7,500 to Fundacion Lumen 2000, a Christian Foundation which provides foster care for children. Pena and his wife, Pamela, also donate school supplies, medicine and equipment to this foundation annually. 

I have notice a weird pattern lately in the family units of players within the Rays roster. It is fascinating to me the number of “twos” associated with Rays players and their children. There seems to be a wild Rays parallel, especially in the Rays Bullpen where 4 players have two children. Included in that list is Dan Wheeler (2 boys),Randy Choate (2 girls), Jeff Bennett (2 girls) and Dale Thayer (see above photo).

But the duo’s do not end there as First Baseman Carlos Pena (1 boy,1 girl), Outfielder Gabe Kapler (2 boys), Starting Pitcher Matt Garza (1 boy,1 girl) and Catcher Dioner Navarro( 2 boys) all celebrate the “2′s”. But it can go one step further as First Base Coach George Hendricks, Senior Advisor Don Zimmer and Vice President of Communications Rick Vaughn also have two children in their broods. 
 

 

 

There was also a another wild moment behind-the-scenes as several members of the Rays showed up wearing some unconventional head gear for the autograph signings. From Rays starter James Shields, who should get the nod for the 2010 Home Opener against the Baltimore Orioles rocking a white cap, to new closer Rafael Soriano coming down the aisle dressed in black and gold and listening intently to his I-pod on the way to the signing table. Some websites around the Internet did not see his ensemble in its entirety. So the above photo is what he wore into Tropicana Field before he took the stage wearing the Rays new “Sky Blue”-themed alternative jersey.

 

 

And most of the Rays were in a really giving mood during Fan Fest. At one point, before Grant Balfour went over to the Season Ticket holder Photo area, he came down from the table and signed for a few minutes with a few more fans before heading over by the Leftfield foul pole to participate in the photo op for the Season Ticket holders only. But even as they were coming and going, several Rays players,including Upton posed with fans for pictures as
they were ascending the aisle to go back into the Clubhouse area following their autograph signing times.

 

Fernando Perez even took a moment out to come by my seat and tell me he read a bit of my posts during the off season, which really caught me by surprise. I had forgotten I told him about my blog following his poetry article back in 2009, and he advised me he likes my “personalized” view of the game and the actions. Got to admit, when you have a graduate of Columbia University in Creative Writing tell you he likes your stuff… I was on cloud nine the rest of the day. Fernando, in advance, got to tell you, I am also a huge fan of your articles and I am still going to push you to join MLBlogs.com and submit some stuff….You can count on that!
 

 

 

But this was also a time for some “old Friends” to reunite as former Rangers teammates Jaoquin Benoit and Carlos Pena chatted for a bit before Benoit and Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos made their way to the stage for their 4 pm autograph times. There were a lot of chuckles and writing down of information between the three of them before Ramos and Benoit descended for their time at the autograph tables. And as was custom for every Rays game since he got here, Ramos gave me a salute as he entered the blue-screened area for the signing. I am a lifetime fan of Ramos, and it is not just for the sideline Salsa displays either.
 

 


And the Rays organization has to be proud of its fan base that still had the roped off areas full and awaiting autographs at 4 pm. This is a great sign of the energy and the commitment this region has towards Major League Baseball. And it is also fitting that Maddon did not leave the signing table until everyone in the “Table 1″ line had their chance to come up and get their signatures. Even as the overhead lights began to dim within Tropicana Field, Maddon and his two Coaches stood their ground until the last fan got their items signed. Maddon did the same thing in 2009, and I suspect he will do it every season he is here with the Rays. And that is another reason to love him as this team’s manager.

  

 

 

 

As you can see by this last photo, the time is quickly upon us to begin our nightly patronage of all things Rays related. And those 45 days will seem to simply fly by as the Rays begin game within the next week or so. Once the team begins their Grapefruit schedule the days will pick up steam until that last Florida Home game at Tropicana Field against the New York Mets. And then with one more trip up to Durham, North Carolina to play the Triple-A Champion Durham Bulls, it will be only a matter of hours before we again assemble for another Major League Baseball campaign, and a drive towards playoff glory again.

Even with all of the outside distractions and riff-raff going on within this Tampa Bay area, the one constant is that the Rays play a brand of baseball other teams are now adapting for their own squads. They always say that imitation is the ultimate form of flattery. If that is true, then the “Rays Sky Blue” jerseys might be a great addition as expectations rise and the sky is the limit in 2010.

Rays Pitchers & Catchers Report…2010 Edition

 


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**** Within the next few days I will post a extended Photo blog of the pictures I took today after the Rays Fan fest tomorrow afternoon.


I could not sleep a wink last night and thank goodness AMC had a pretty good movie lineup until 6 am this morning. This felt like the first time I ever suited up for a baseball game. I had the butterflies early today and mixed with the anticipated assembly again with Tampa Bay Rays baseball players who I consider “baseball buddies”. And the long hours leading up to this special moment of the Rays pitchers and catchers reporting for 2010 more than lived up to all the previous night’s hype and anxiety.

Sure you would think the hour and a half drive down to Port Charlotte from the shadow of Tropicana Field would seem to take forever as the sun began to rise in the East, but the reality was it seemed to furiously fly by with only the time staring to ebb slower as I began to wait first in line this morning to get into the Charlotte County Sports Park and “officially” begin my 2010 Rays experience. And it was great to not have the over indulgence of the Mosaic Corporation’s name attached to signage surrounding the complex today. And as I was standing there as the Rays media members began to assemble, some just passed by, while others acknowledged me standing their in my Pepsi sweatshirt as I battled the 56 degree weather.

And while I was standing there, a wild figure in pink sweatpants, barefoot and a huge poof of hair began to walk up to the security checkpoint carrying his baseball gear in a Army green dufflebag. He had come to make the team, and Edgar Gonzalez was not going to take “no” for an answer. Sure he might not have had great baseball experience only playing Marine Corp baseball, but decked there in his USF baseball jersey ( but did not play at all for USF), he was energetic and wanting an audition today for a possible slot on the Rays.

 
 

And two assembled security guards were business like and totally professional as they tried to point him towards Tropicana Field and the Rays Front Office to arrange an “official arrival” or even a slot to participate when the minor league camp came in next week. But Gonzalez was persistent and totally seemed to have his wits about him, until he began to unravel his story into a million pieces by saying he was trying to hold correspondence with U.S. President Obama and the world leaders on the curing properties of baseball. So as Gonzalez began to fade to black in the minds of the security force, he was advised to “put shoes on, or vacate the property as a safety precaution”.

 
 
 

Just then, you could see the color drain from Gonzalez’s face and he knew instantly that he had blown his scheme to try and infiltrate the Rays first 2010 workout. But I do commend the security force for doing it with grace, class and not singling him out and making the situation difficult. So as he turned away he said he would rehash it out up in “Tampa” with the Rays officials and be back another day to formally take the field. Well, Edgar Gonzalez, I wish you luck, and I hope you do get that shot, but since you have, by your own admission, never faced a 90+ mph fastball or seen a slider in your life, the audition might last the $ 2 it costs to run the Batting Cage machine at the Mini Golf complex down the street.
 

 

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But as 10 pm came, I strutted in first in the line and was handed a Dioner Navarro and Matt Garza bobble heads and a great present of a Rays Spring roster cardboard placard that listed each invited Rays ” guest” to the 2010 Spring Training complete with the final statistics including every stop during 2009. I scanned up and down it a few time to see the names and former 2009 teams illustrated and saw a few extremely interesting names. Names like Mike Ekstrom who was claimed off waivers by the Rays this off season from the San Diego Padres , or former Ranger pitcher Joaquin Benoit, who might push some pressure on the Rays Bullpen spots, or Joe Dillionaire” Dillon who might push for a bench spot on the team and be an adequate third catching option on the Major League roster because of his versatility.
 

 
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As the guy all assembled around Rays Manager Joe Maddon for his first inspirational speech for 2010, and the brief speeches and chats by Jeff “Ziggy” Zigler, who is the Rays Traveling Secretary, the team got into stretching and began long toss to get their arms stretched out for the first time in 2010 in front of a live audience. Rays starter Matt Garza and Rays Bullpen reliever Lance Cormier put on the show of the day easily topping 200+ feet in their long toss segment before the squad split into three groups and began to start drills on retrieving the ball in front of the mound and doing basic drills like covering first base on a bunt or even shot towards the hole at first base.
 
 

And on another part of the field, the Rays field players were beginning their daily workouts in the batting cages under the watchful eyes of spectators and autograph hounds. Gabe Kapler, Jason Bartlett and a bulkier-looking Rays prospect shortstop Tim Beckham all took their swipes in the cage today before taking time out to sign for some of the fans and expressed excitement in returning to Tropicana Field tomorrow for the 2010 Rays Fan Fest. I took this time to chat a bit with Rays Communication Manager Carmen Molina and St Petersburg Times Rays writer Marc Topkin about the season and to see if I could get a few tidbits.

 

 
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But I was lucky enough to be within a good earshot of the conversation by Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to the assembled media when he began to discuss the Rays payroll, keeping Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, and the possible Rays stadium pot that is beginning to boil. He was his usual self showing total commitment to the St. Petersburg market place the team is currently in, but stressed the stadium will not be adequate up until the 2026 lease expiration date. Standing their in his own “Rays Sky Blue” sweatshirt he spoke for about 15 minutes answering volleys at him and providing in depth, complex answers that more than fulfilled the questions thrown at him on the fly. P. T. Barnum would have been proud.
 
 

And as the players began to split into their respective groups for their day ending run in the western-most field’s outfield, several players like J P Howell, Jeff Neiman and Rays prospect Jake McGee sprinted to the Rays clubhouse and shed their sweatshirts and came out again to do their running before taking time to chat and sign for fans before leaving for the day. I had a chance to talk to Howell, and his eyes lit up when I asked about his off season trip to Bora Bora for his honeymoon, or when I asked if we could do an interview sometimes during Spring Training about it.

 
 

And as I was asking that, Grant Balfour slapped me on the back asking if I was keeping my same seat. I quickly told him I was, and told him he better keep his same seat also ( on the Rays Bullpen bench) for 2010. He just smiled from ear-to-ear and told me he was going to do everything possible to stay put. Or when Randy Choate came up with his new facial chin hair and asked why I did not yell “Randy” when he saw me. And I began to tear up a bit. This is hard to explain, but over the past three years while I have been battling employment issues, these guys have been the solid foundation and the people I made sure to say something to before, or during every single Rays game.

 

 
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So today was special to me in a different way than most of the people assembled to welcome the Rays back from cold Winter snow-scapes, or even trips abroad with their new loved ones, this is my personal rite of Spring passage. Baseball is back, but better yet for me, Rays baseball is back. Even as I stood there talking with baseball buddy’s Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos or Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi, I could feel that inner fire kicking up again and was eager for the upcoming season.
 
 

Maddon did not bring out any mathematical equations this season, but offered confidence and a yearning to remember those steps made in 2008 to again get back to that ” special place”. For the Rays to revisit their 2008 roots, it will take sweat, blood and commitment by each and ever member of their 2010 roster. In the next month and a half guys will come and go from the Rays clubhouse either to the minor league camps, or even towards other opportunities in baseball, but Maddon stressed that they had to regain that passion, had to redefine and re-energize to again do things “The Rays Way”, and make those steps to again claim a top spot not only in the American League, but in their ever present difficult Eastern division. But for today, it was just great to see my buddies again.

 
 

Sunday Rewind” “Garza just misses Immortality”

 

Sunday Review:

As you might remember, during the off season I am going back over the 650 blog posts since 2007 and trying to find postings that I think were special over the years. Since the Rays news does get a little short this time of year, it was a way for me to still post daily and also give some of the newer bloggers a chance to see how my style has changed over the years.
 
 
I picked this blog from my archive for today because it not only shows the  writing style I was using in 2008, but it is a special moment in Rays history. With B J Upton finally getting the first cycle in Rays history on October 3,2008, I wanted to focus today on one of the past pitching performances by one of the Rays emerging starters.

In this series ending game against the Florida Marlins, Rays starter Matt Garza basically served up only one mistake all day long, and the Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez deposited it into the leftfield stands for the only hit,and run of the game for his team. It was one of the most dominating efforts by a member of the Rays starting rotation in 2008.
The blog was originally posted on June 26,2008.

    Rays 6,       Marlins 1
 

It was reported yesterday by the Montgomery Advertiser  that Tampa Bay Rays  pitching prospect Jake McGee will undergo season ending elbow surgery next week. The Biscuit starter was originally put on the Disabled List a few days ago, but an MRI revealed a torn elbow tendon and a Tommy John’s surgery looks to be in McGee’s not to distant future.
 

This could have been a huge blow to the Montgomery Biscuits chances for a third straight SAL title, but the Rays quickly promoted David Price and Jeremy Hellickson several days earlier from Class-A Vero Beach and  both pitchers’ should fit into the Biscuits rotation.  McGee will fly to St. Petersburg to meet with Rays orthopedic doctor, Koko Eaton, and was also scheduled to see Dr. James Andrews after the weekend to  get a second confirmation on the diagnosis.  If McGee requires Tommy John’s surgery, McGee will be lost for up to a year and a half from the Rays Farm system.

 

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Trivia Fact of the Night:

In 1953, respected and innovative National League umpire Bill Klem was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
 

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AP Photo 

Rays starter Matt Garza (6-4) will remember this game against the Florida Marlins for a very long time. Not because he got his 6th victory of the season,and the first complete game of his career,but for one floating slider that  could have brought him a special place in Rays history.
 

There is still no doubt that the sweep in the Inter-League series by the Rays over the Marlins in Miami made for a fantastic airline flight to Pittsburgh, but what might have been will be in Garza’s head for a few days.

 
            
 

On the first pitch from Garza that Marlin’s shortstop Hanley Ramirez saw in the bottom of the 7th inning,Ramirez drilled  the hanging pitch into the seats just above the huge scoreboard in the leftfield bleachers. It was the only pitch that Garza would want to take back all day long. And the errant pitch not only cost Graza his chance at a shutout, but a spot in Rays history and immortality by throwing a no-hitter. 
 
                 
 
According to the Elias Baseball Bureau, It was the first complete-game no-hitter or one-hitter with a double-digit strikeout total in the majors this season. There was only one such pitching performance in each of the last three seasons: By Chris Carpenter in 2005, John Lackey in 2006 and Justin Verlander in 2007.
 
 
A P Photo 

The Rays are now a franchise high 15 games over .500, and have  posted 4 more wins than any other season before the All-Star break. They are also 7  ahead of their pervious best record after 77 games.

 

The Rays have been above .500 for 57 straight days this season  and 61 total  days for the 2008 season,both  marks are Rays club records. Prior to the 2008 season, the Rays had been above the .500 mark for only 72 days combined in the teams short history.

 

                                         
 

Rays rookie Evan Longoria has been given many nicknames in the last few months,”Evan Almighty”, “The Natural”, and “Longo”. The last one nickname seems to be a wild reference to an Alex Karas character in “Blazin’ Saddles,” and Evan might just be  molding himself to represent a fine reputation to continue hearing the new nickname.
 

Longoria is one of the main  weapons and reasons this years Rays team has been on a winning roll the past two months. Since coming up from the Triple-A Durham Bulls, the Rays have been pretty hard to beat most nights, which has been a rareity in Tampa Bay Rays history. 
 

Yesterday’s game totals just added to the ever increasing legend that is “Longo:”

Longoria had three hits on Thursday night (two doubles and a home run) in the Rays’ win, after notching three hits (a single, double and homer) in Tampa Bay’s 15-3 win over the Marlins on Wednesday night.

Longoria is the fourth player in Rays franchise history to have consecutive games with at least three hits and one home run. The other Tampa Bay players to do that were Aubrey Huff (2004), Jorge Cantu (2005) and B.J. Upton (2007).

 

 

The Rays now have a 9-5 record in Inter-League play this season, the team’s highest win total since 2006 when they posted 11 wins in the Inter-League series. With a sweep in Pittsburgh they could establish another Rays club record for total victories during Inter-league play.
 

Along with Longoria and Garza’s efforts, the bat of back-up catcher Shawn Riggans showed some real promise in the game for the Rays. Riggans, who has seen very limited action this year with the emergence of Dioner Navarro.

 

Riggans responded today by going 1-3 with 3 RBI’s for the Rays. Riggans got his first RBI on the day after a sacrifice fly in the second inning to score Upton from third base,  he then hit a RBI-double to deep centerfield in the 5th inning to score both Upton and Longoria.
 

Riggans also called a great game behind the plate for the Rays. Garza only ran into trouble a few times the entire game and Riggans worked a magical game calling the pitches. Garza walked one lone Marlin, Jeremy Hermida in the 4th inning.
 

Rays shortstop Ben Zobrist hit his second homer in two days in the 8th inning to complete the scoring for the Rays. Zobrist is now hitting .292 since coming up for the Rays from Triple-A Durham.

 

With the expected return of both Jason Bartlett and Carlos Pena on Friday in Pittsburgh,the Rays will have to make some roster moves before the Friday night game. 

 

I am perdicting we will see Troy Percival go on the Disabled List for another 15 days stint, and this time it will not be his decision. If this does not happen,another Rays reliever will have to be sent down, or possibly put on waivers.
 

Based on his recent numbers and the extra dose of experiece this year, Rays utilityman Ben Zobrist might be the odd man out unless a trade can be reached for another infielder on the team. I know that Zobrist needs consistency in his routine,and it is a shame he might have to be the fall guy this time.

Zobrist has only been off the Disabled List for 7 games now,both in Durham and Tampa Bay. And  Zobrist might need some more seasoning to get in great game shape for this team. 

Tonight the Rays start a 3-game  Inter-League series in Pittsburgh.  At this time,I want to tell you about a wild and unique thing they do in the Steel City before every Pirates game. They close the Roberto Clemente bridge to automobile traffic and let the Pirates patrons walk the bridge to the stadium.

It is one of the truly “must do” once experiences in baseball at least once in your life. You get to travel the roads on foot to the ballpark before and after the game…..without dodging  any automobile or motorized traffic.

 

The Rays are visitng PNC park for only the second time in their brief history, starting off when they lost 2 out of 3 in June 2005. They are currently 2-4 All-Time against the Pirates during the regular season.
 

 
 

The Pirates will be bringing up rookie Jimmy Barthmaier from Triple-A for his MLB debut against the Rays. Barthmaier
, a 13th-round Draft pick in 2003, will be making his first Pirates appearance when he takes the mound for Friday’s start.
 

The right-hander has combined to go 4-5 this season with a 4.04 ERA in 10 Double-A and five Triple-A starts. In his most recent start, Barthmaier threw six innings, allowing only one run on four hits and striking out eight in the game. Barthmaier has shown better control with both his fastball and breaking ball since being promoted to Triple-A in late May, allowing just six walks in 31 2/3 innings.

 

Look closely at the picture above of Barthmaier. Is it just me, or are there not color to his pupils in the picture.  Might be a Vulcan robot plant to supress the Rays victory celebrations.  Just Kidding,he might just have some wild contact lens for game days. Can we get the entire pitching staff a set of those Joe? No really can you? It could be a nice distracting measure to see only the “whites” of your eyes all night long on the mound.

 

 

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