Results tagged ‘ Jason Hammel ’

Rainy Days and Mondays Get me Down

 

 

 
 
 

My Weather Channel Views

 


Man oh man. I have been here before. As Yogi Berra once said, “It was Deja vu all over again” today. I still can not believe it has been almost 161 days since our last official rain out involving the Tampa Bay Rays. That is right, we have not seen the tarp, or even a mention of that liquid sunshine since October 27, 2008 in Philadelphia Pennsylvania during Game 5 of the 2008 World Series. How ironic is it that basically two out of our last three games have been postponed by the actions of random drops of liquid. Wow, considering that we play in a domed stadium, this kind of thing doesn’t happen very often to use during the regular season.

 

I mean some of the only games to ever be postponed at Tropicana Field had a rain element, but it was associated with Hurricanes, not  basic thunderstorms. But for the Rays to again be subject to a postponed game via the elements is just nature’s way of telling us they have control, and not us or Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig. We even streamlined the regulations and ruling in our MLB rule book to keep these water goblets from controlling our baseball existence. We have modified and summarized the paragraphs to facilitate a strong and useful guide to rain and its hazards…right?  I mean come on, is the real problem just a simple rain shower, or could all of this simply be erased with a bit of better meteorological brain usage about the climate changes involved with Spring weather and its surprising effects on the Northeast and Central regions of the country.
 
 

I know that the logistics and the early bird planning into the years schedule are submitted and even laid out before the September games even start each year. But it truly amazes me that in the last few years, the dominant section of the country to get Opening Day games is the Northeast, and when a game is postponed by weather, we all gasp. I know the schedulers do not like the Rays, that is fine with me, I am not here to change society, just the machine that keeps picking northern cities that can still be subject to snow and rain to begin the season.  I mean come on eggheads, you have to know that this first week in April can be as predictable as a storm in the Gulf of Mexico.

 



 

And with that simple knowledge, can’t we pick southern or warm weather climate for the first series of games every year. I know that in September, you can usually get approval and even make solid appointment dates on the upcoming years calendar for stadiums and concession needs. But why is it that this is the second year in a row that some kids, and kid/adults have to suffer and stroll aimlessly back home after coming into the city to see the first big game of the year. Cleveland fans had their days ruined last season. Chicago White Sox fans have their dreams halted for at least 24 hours because of snow. Okay, solidified masses of rain can be dangerous to play on, that is a gimme, but could it have been avoided if the team had played this first match up in Kansas City today?
 

I am not saying that the Rays should be playing Boston at home to open the season. I think the Boston fans might think it was too early to again hit the parking lots of the Trop. since Game 7 of the ALCS. But seriously, we have a forecast for rain today, and the only wetness that might hit your lips in our stands is the gentile first sip of that beer or soda after you enter the stadium. Planning can be hard, I can understand that. But I also know that every team submits a proposal to MLB about their wants and desires for the upcoming season. And in this reports is the fact that every team wants to start the year at home. And what is wrong with that you say?  Not every team can get their initial wish list, and hard decision have to be made about the schedule.
 

But shouldn’t the easiest bit of the schedule be to pick cities that do not have a history of weather situations in April. I mean if Buffalo, New York had a MLB squad, they would certainly be on the road the first week of the season almost every year.  That is just the fact of the Great Lakes weather pattern to drop snow and rain in the region in this time of year. With the Central region or the Iron Belt getting hit the last two years with late Winter weather, should the Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit region get a slate of Opening Day games? There will be a debate about this for years, but doesn’t MLB get embarrassed, and even a bit nervous that fans can not just take a second day off work, or even make their way to the ballpark after a postponement.
 

I know after the October 27th game in Philadelphia, I had to give my ticket to a close friend who lived in Boyertown, outside Philly to the conclusion of Game 5 of the World Series. I did not have the money to book another flight home, or even find a hotel room within the Philly city limits for the following day. Conventions and other activities kept me from staying for that final game. You might remember that the Rays had to find lodging in Delaware at the DuPont Hotel to even be able to stay for the extra two days for the conclusion of the game, and the series. I am not going to close this my stating that everyone needs an domed, or even a retractable roof stadium up in the northern states. Far from it.

I would not have Progressive Field/ The Jake, so high on my list of favorite stadiums if it was not for the city skyline right there hovering over the stadium. I would not have the same homely feeling about Wrigley field if I could not see the people in the neighboring high apartment building also cheering along with the stadium hopefuls. And I can definitely say that Camden Yards would be doomed by a dome or any kind of retractable roof on it. The sight of the warehouse in right field is as symbolic to me as ivy on Wrigley’s walls, or the plane beacon twinkling in the Cleveland skyline. I just want, hope, and dream that some compromise can be reached so that we can somehow play these games in the first week of April on time. Summertime is made for rain delays and also weather’s magical changes. But not when the energy and the anxious anticipation of a season is dashed by rain, snow or sleet.

 

 


Hambone Goes to Mile High

 


I going to miss that tall and lanky kid. I truly am. But I am not the only one, there are several people already posting comments and lines about Jason Hammel being traded by the Rays yesterday to the Colorado Rockies. The kid was well liked by the Rays faithful. More because he was still a huge kid-at-heart. Hambone was one of those guys you wanted to hang out and maybe fish or just talk sports with after a game. He was so perfect for the fan base of the Rays. I remember his smirky grin and smile daily down in the Bullpen, but you never saw him get upset on the field. I did however see a glove thrown at the bench after a bad outing, but that is just part of the game. Frustrations come and go, but people like Hammel come along once in a while, at best.

 

So when the Rays said he was going to pitch on Sunday in an inner-squad game, I knew he was about to be jettisoned from the team. Even though fellow tall and lanky fifth spot prospect Jeff Niemann was going to be throwing in the same game, you knew that Hammel was going to be the prize. Not just for his youth and experience already in the MLB, but because he has not had any serious health or injury concerns yet in his career. That is a major thing in baseball trades. People see the numbers and reports, but the physical elements play just as big a factor in the conclusion. So Hammel will take his career mark of 7-15 with him after his three years up with the Rays. He will be used first as a long-reliever for the Rockies, but it could work into a few odd starts during the season for him.
 
 

But who would have imagined that the guy who once put on the mascot costume for Treasure Valley ( Ore.) Community college would ever be pitching on a major league field.  That is right, during his freshman and sophomore years he would don the Chukar bird costume and entertain during his teams baseketball games. At 6 foot 6 inches, you might think he would be on the court in uniform, not in costume.  But that is the character of Hammel. He is that “good old boy” that people talk about, he is the guy who think beyond just himself both on and off the field. I mean how many people know that this guy is a real artist. I am serious here, he has designed tattoos for team mates, and also has a “Hammel” original on his own body.

 
                             

 
That is right, he designed his own body art. It is a baseball ( of course) with red flames trailing off of it with a baseball diamond in the background. Hammel is also a huge supporter of Barry Zito’s charity “Strikeouts For Troops”. He was first informed by fellow Rays Bullpen member Dan Wheeler about the charity, and quickly got a hold of Zito and the organizations staff to provide his services.  So for every  one of his 44 strikeouts in 2008, he donated money to the organization. But he is also one of the first guys to always volunteer to go to events like the Moffitt Cancer center and do clinics and work with the kids on their baseball skills, or just throw the ball around for a while.
 

Hammel is one of those guys you want to root for once he leaves your team. I am so sorry to see him leave the Rays and head to Colorado, but I also know I will see him again real soon. You might remember that the team has a 3-game series in Denver from June 16-18th, and I will be in the stands for that Inter-League series. I was kind of on the fence about going to this series before the trade announcement. Now I want to go to just wish him well, and see that toothy grin one more time.

 
Thank You  MAX Blog Voters

 

I am truly humbled and thankful for everyone who took the time to vote and also even consider me for the 2008 The Max Blog Tourney still going on at
http://themax.mlblogs.com.  Seriously here people, I am having a great time voting every day for these match ups and never thought I had the mustard to get past the top 16, much less be considered for a Final Four slot. It can be truly mesmerizing at time to see how people view you online. Most nights and day we see the comments and the rankings, but sometimes an event like this can show you why you love to write these blog entries every day, and look forward to it.
 

I love writing, and with your votes you have told me you like what I write most of the time too. I am sorry that all of the bloggers in this tourney can not survive the match ups. I mean my last match up was with fellow American League blogger Jen, our favorite White Sox fan from “The Diatribes of a Law Student”.  She  is an awesome writer who seems to get better every month and is streaking up the ranking because of her muses. I know I checked at one point on Friday night and she had a good lead, and I thought it was all over for me at that point. But somehow I got a last minute surge on Sunday. Please do not forget to vote for the other people trying to gain a spot in the Final Four.  I know today’s match up had my buddy Don at “Rockpile Rants” going up against “Eat, Sleep, Baseball.” This is another great match up that deserves your votes for either guy. So do not forget to cast your ballots at http://themax.mlblogs.com today. I am one blogger who can attest that every ballot and vote counts in this great tourney. 

 
Photo credits:       1) www.boston.com ( Jim Davis)
                             2) Associated Press  (unknown)
                             3) RRCollections
                             4) RRCollections
 
 
 
 

Waiver Options

 

 

 

With this week showing a variety of waiver options, I decided to try and hopefully make the process a little easier to understand. I have a feeling that some people do not have a true idea of what the waiver system is, or some ways it can be used by MLB clubs. So I decided that today I am going to try and describe the ways that clubs can remove players off their rosters via the current waiver system. I will try and give an example with each one so that it might be a bit easier to see what can happen to some of our favorite players this week during the cut-down time for rosters to be set by 3 pm on Sunday.
 

 
As we read the newspapers and the sports pages throughout this  week we will see that a certain play has been “waived” because he will not make the team’s roster, or is not in the 2009 plans in the major leagues for that position. Simply put, a waiver is a system where a team grants a player a “release with options”. This waiver process can grant certain assignments concerning the player’s contract and his placement in the team’s system. When a player is placed on waivers, his contract ( and his future employment) is then made available to any of the 29 other MLB organizations, thus he can be claimed by anyone in the MLB for that season. 
 
      
                    

 
The first selection available to teams in this waiver process is the Outright Assignment. This is generally when a team wants to remove a player from their 40-man roster. Usually when a player is put on outright designation, the team is not considering him for their current roster, and  he is then made available to all 29 MLB teams through a waiver system established by the MLB that will communicate his designation to all 29 clubs in the league. When a Club decides to place a player on waivers, a representative in the organization will enter the information into a MLB created and protected system called “ebis” by 2pm. The ebis system collects all of the entries for that particular day and send a notice to all 30 Clubs informing them of players placed on waivers. This notice typically arrives between 4pm and 5pm Monday-Friday, and only certain people within Baseball Operations receive the document¬∑

 
If an organization wishes to claim a player on waivers, they have until 2pm on the second business day following the player being placed on waivers.  A player placed on Monday will clear or be claimed on Wednesday – an entry on Thursday will clear on Monday.  This rule was slightly altered in 2008 – MLB considers all days in Spring Training business days, so Saturday and Sunday are part of the claim period. 
 
 

The first round of acceptance or denials on the claim goes through from the weakest team ( by previous years record ) to the pennant winner in that league. The process then reverts to the weakest team in the other league until all 29 teams have had a chance to claim the player. If no one claims him, he is then returned back to his original team, who can either place him in their minor league system or release him.  In the case of Ryu, who was put on waivers by the Rays on January 13, 2009, the American League teams did not put in any claims for him. And so he passed unto the National League squads, who then got their first chance to either claim or let him go through the system until he would eventually be looked at by all members of the National League, then go through the same process with the American League.

 


 
 

In this case however, the San Diego Padres decided to take a look at Ryu and claimed him off waivers on January 15, 2008. Ryu was then considered a member of the Padres roster at that time. But after a short period of time, the Padres again put Ryu on waivers again on in March. Then on March 26, 2008, the Cleveland Indians put in a waiver claim for Ryu and he was subsequently a member of the Indians. But in a rare twist, MLB voided the waiver claim by the Indians and was returned to the Padres 40-man roster.  This is not a usual measure, but maybe MLB decided that this player had now been tossed from two 40-man rosters in less than 3 months, and maybe his elbow surgery in July 2008 was not fully healed and he still had medical issues.  This story will probably still be unfolding during the 2009 season.

 
 

 

A second waiver procedure is that a team can place a player on an Optional Assigment . If a player is on the 40-man roster but not on the active major league roster, he is said to be on optional assignment. His organization may freely move him between the major league club and the minor league club. If a player is on the 40-man roster and not the active 25 man roster for any part of more than three seasons, he is considered out of options and may not be assigned to the minors without first clearing waivers.  There is a clarification here that the player is considered out of options if he spent 20 or more service days in that calendar season. 
 
 


 

However, if a player has less than 5 years of professional experience, he may be optioned to the minors in a fourth season without being subject to waivers. If a major league player is ineligible for free agency and “has options” remaining, his team may option him to a minor league team without consequence. This is usually what is meant when players are “sent down” to the minors. Likewise, when a player on the 40-man roster is added to the active major league roster, he is “called up” to the majors. Players such as the Rays pitchers David Price and Wade Davis fit these descriptions, and can be assigned to their minor league teams without causing them to clear waivers at this time.
 
 

 

 
A majority of the major league teams will be using this following waiver process this week to eliminate players from their rosters. They also have the option of Unconditional Release . As you might guess, this type of waivers is required before a player is released from his organization.  (i.e. not wanted in the Majors or the Minors).  the last few days the names of former Tiger Gary Sheffield and Marlin infielder Dallas McPherson have had a few teams salivating at the thought of a quality player being on the market without trade repercussions or requirements. After their release, they are free to contact any of the other 29 MLB teams and try and secure their spot on their roster for the season.

 
 

              


 
The last option is the option that most teams wish they could remove a player from their rosters. Most people consider the Trade Route a more inviting and prosperous method of relieving your team of a player, and maybe getting some help in the process. It also can have a hint of glamor or even excitement as you might be traded for a budding superstar, or even a current star and be a important trade piece for you new squad.  Such is the case right now concerning the Rays fifth rotation spot. Both Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann will not travel with the Rays to Philadelphia on Friday as the team completes their Spring Training games. They will remain in Port Charlotte, Florida at the Spring Training complex and work out while the team decides their future in 2009.

 

With rumor flying off the Internet almost hourly about trade developments, both players are without options this year, and for one of them to secure the fifth position would guarantee them a spot on the team’s 25-man roster. Several teams are in negotiations with the Rays for the duo’s services, and the odd decision might even be made that they could trade both pitchers for prospects before the Sunday deadline. Trade waivers also give the teams more of a say in who, who and where their players might end up for the coming season. the best case scenario is to have them in the opposite league so that they do not face your club throughout the season either on the mound, or in the batter’s box.

 
I hope this makes a little more sense of the confusing and also heavily worded aspects of waivers and how they can be achieved in baseball. I can truly tell you that I get a headache every time I try and read these sections as thing are changed almost yearly as to the requirements and the procedures of this type of action. There can be a negative connotation associated with being “placed on waivers”.  But the true essence of the process should be viewed as a protection of the players career. Without the process of being placed on waivers, a player could be shuttled between the minors and majors of an team with no chance for a realistic future or opportunity with the squad.   With waivers, at the very least a player’s contract has the opportunity to be claimed by another MLB team and he may receive a fresh start.

 
 
 
Photo credits:  1) www.sulphurdell.com
                       2) RRCollections
                       3) www.sptimes.com
                       4) RRCollections
 
 

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
                         

Teams begin Tweaking their Rosters

 

 

 

Some people think this is one of the most important weeks of the year for a baseball club. Most of the team has already been decided, but now a small percentage of the team has to be assembled to make the trip north to begin the season. Some times it is a rookie who has been sweating it out in the minor league system for a few years, and then you have the veteran who is still trying to hold onto a 25-man roster spot after years and years in the league. This  week will decide both of their futures, and especially, where they are going to play for the next several months.


 

 
Now every team right now has those decision to make on their roster. It has nothing to do with skill and talent, but sometimes it has to do with polish or even control that just needs to be tweaked in the minors for a month or so, then the rookie can come up and be a valuable part of their team for the next 5-10 years. But as I mentioned before, you also have the veteran who has been in the league for awhile who is fighting tooth and nail to stay up in the big leagues. they know what it takes, and hope that they have done enough this year to merit another shot on the 25-man roster.
 

 
 
And  some veterans have already gotten the word, or know by their spring performances that they are not going to be selected for the 25-man roster, and already making plans for their future. This weekend, the Boston Red Sox saw outfielder Brad Wilkerson leave their Fort Meyers, Florida clubhouse knowing he will not get a shot with the team, even before his April 1st opt date he set in his contract. He already knew that he did not do enough to keep fellow Red Sox players Chris Carter and Jeff Bailey. Wilkerson knew that the . 119 average he has sustained during his 42 at bats will not transfer into a 25-man bid, and decided to leave camp on March 29th.

 


 
 

Other teams in the American League East besides the Tampa Bay Rays have huge decisions to make before the final roster is submitted this Sunday to the league. New York Yankees Manager Joe Girardi have decisions that have been made, and a few that are being mulled by himself and the Yankee front office. They have already given the center field job to Brett Gardner based on his spring performances, but what does this mean for Melky Cabrera? Will they seek to trade him maybe to the Chicago White Sox who are not set on Brian Anderson in their center field spot. Or could they keep him for depth knowing that Johnny Damon and Xavier Nady will need days off and he is a capable short term guy.

 
 

 
But that is not the only questions concerning the Yankees right now. Girardi is also thinking about if he needs a long-relief spot in his Bullpen to begin the year, which could effect pitchers Brett Tomko, Dan Giese, and Alfredo Aceves. I mean the Yankees also have to consider if Cody Ransom is playing every day at third base for the team, then will they need a stop-gap at third base in case of an injury to Ransom, or just take their chances right now. But then you have good stories like  Brett Anderson and Kevin Cahill who might have cemented the last two rotation spot on the Oakland A’s roster for the upcoming season. 
 

 
I know of one trade that has fallen through in the last few days between the New York Mets and the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers are seeking some Bullpen Insurance after the Disabled List claimed Joel Yumaya this weekend along with starter Dontrelle Willis. They were going to send maybe infielder/outfielder Ryan Rayburn and maybe Marcus Thames to the Mets in exchange for ex-Rays reliever Brian Stokes. But now the deal has fallen through because Stokes might actually make the Met’s roster and would not need to be traded. Tons of decisions are coming in the next few days. Player are being told they are not part of the final roster and teams are giving some of them time to find other options before team’s set their rosters for the Opening Day. 
 



 

It is that time of the year where players have to make decisions, like Seattle Mariners ex-starter Brandon Morrow, who after seeing that he will have no option in the starting rotation, might be considered the team’s closer in 2009. With Morrow’s decision, that will also mean that the team will be releasing their current closer Tyler Walker, who has only thrown 5.2 inning this spring and has not been impressive at all.  But then we still have players like reliever Will Ohman who priced himself out of a job with the Philadelphia Phillies this week, and gotten more interest from the Pittsburgh Pirates and L A Dodgers in recent days. 


 
Today a lot of quality major leaguers will be seeking employment because the teams are fine tuning the rosters and trying to give them a chance to maybe get another shot before the finalization this weekend.  The Houston Astros released  David Newhan today. but a lot of that strife came from the fact that Newhan heard about his not making
the team’s back-up shortstop or utility role from MLB.com and not from the team’s management. At this point in the season, some things fall through the cracks and become larger than they are, but that is the business of baseball, it is a predictable as the tides and as surprising as a sudden rain shower.nothing is written in stone.

 

 
Today a lot of veterans will be seeking new digs, like Marcus Giles, who was released by the Phillies after competing for a utility position all spring that came down to him or Miguel Cairo. But considering that Giles sat out the 2008 season, his .197 average did not impress anyone, especially the Phillies. The Rays also released Morgan Ensberg today, who might not be on the market long considering his past with the Yankees as insurance behind A Rod. But Ensberg did play great this spring defensively, but considering he would have to suplant super utility man Willy Aybar to even get a chance to play behind 2008 ROY winner Evan Longoria was just too much. 
 

 
 
But then you have the position of former Rays reliever Chad Gaudin, who is out of options and getting tons of feelers from around the league for his services. But will the Chicago Cubs find a good fit for Gaudin, or will he just be traded for a needed piece to the Cub puzzle for 2009. But then you have the facts that the Cubs have also just recently released catcher Paul Bako and reliever Mike Stanton. This would make Koyie Hill the Cubbies choice for their back-up catcher this season. But then you have someone like pitcher Pedro Martinez who is setting into stone his $5 million a year demands and is willing to even wait until during the season to sign a contract. 
 



 

But then you have the trade that is in a stalemate concerning Rays reliever/starter Jeff Niemann. He was being considered for a trade to the San Diego Padres, who are desperately seeking both starters and relievers for the upcoming season. But the Rays have been consistently asking for multiple prospects, and considering Neimann is out of options, his trade value is reduced a bit. The main figure in those talks have been Simon Castro who is the 14th best prospect in the Padres system right now. These talks might be a good indicator of Jason Hammel maybe being the front runner for the Rays fifth rotation spot. the Rays have said that they plan to announce their fifth starter in the next few days, but if this trade did formalize, the cat would be out of the bag.
 

 
As I reported above, the White Sox outfield situation in center field might be becoming a bit unclouded after the team has just released Jerry Owens who was in a battle with Brian Anderson and DeWayne Wise for the spot. This might be a precursor to White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen announcing that Wise has won the job to start on Opening Day in center field for the White Sox. For the rest of today and throughout the week, names will be flying off the computer screen as teams touch-up their rosters and decide on their 2009 goals. Some people like former Royal Jimmy Gobble had only been in the Texas Rangers camp for about 9 days and is already going to be released again this spring. Surprises will come out of nowhere in the next few days before the clouds begin to part and we see what kind of teams each of us will have in 2009.
 

 
Over 90 percent of the MLB’s rosters are already set or will be set in the coming days. Certain players hitting the waiver wires or being considered for trades might change their concept, but the end result will be that teams have their basic core of players they want to go into the first games of the year. Fine tuning and chatter will go on until the final minutes on Sunday. But you can be sure that even your team is not set in stone yet, and an attractive free agent or trade might even come up and surprise you. This is one of the three times of a year that teams can change almost overnight, and that is what makes baseball fun………change.

 
 
photo credits:       1) Patbubo@Flickr.com
                            2) Shellie75@Flickr.com
                            3) Yhirao@Flickr.com
                            4) RRCollections
 
 

Rays Take Down Reds 3-1

 


It is always good to see Jonny Gomes at a game. Iman the guy always has a smile on his face and is always eager to see fans and player he knows while traveling around during this years Spring Training. So here I am in Gomes-land, the Sarasota complex where the Cincinnati Reds will call home for only the next month. If Gomes does make the Reds 25-man squad, we will not see him here in Florida in 2010. that is right, for the first time in a long while, next season’s Grapefruit League might not have Gomes to kick around anymore.


The main reason is that the Reds have decided to move their spring operations to Arizona next year. This will make most of the team still here in the Grapefruit league have to play split-squad games because there will only be 15 teams left in Florida. You know that MLB will be laboring and straining to again get a 16th team back in the Sunshine State, but who could it be. Everyone who currently play out in the Arizona sun seemed to be happy and pleased with their complexes, and none of them have voice even any unhappiness about their next year. So this spring might be the swan song of Mr Gomes. It will be a said day when the Rays last play the Red  here again on March 29th.

Today’s game will be the second start of the spring for Scott Kazmir. He is still fighting some of the rust of the short off season, but he reported to camp with 20 pounds of additional muscle and lean throwing ability and wants to regain his edge again this year. That should be a great thing to hear if you are a Rays fan. When this guy feels good, it is usually a bad sign for opponents in the American League.  So he takes the mound today looking to gain more control and to stretch his inning totals for the first time this year. And that could also be a bad thing for batters.

Brandon Arroyo took the mound first today for the Reds and was trying to seek some early rhythm in his second start of the spring.  Jason Bartlett lead off the game on base for the Rays as he was hit by a Arroyo pitch.  Carl Crawford then hit a single to right field to put two men on with no out in the game. Evan Longoria then hit a nasty liner to Keppinger at shortstop who grabbed the liner and then tossed to second base to get Bartlett who had wandered too far off the bag for a double play. Carlos Pena then hit a double that scored Crawford from first base and gave the Rays a 1-0 lead. Pat Burrell, who was playing right field today then came up and hit a RBI-double down the left field line to score Pena. Willy Aybar then struck out to end the Rays rally, but they now led 2-0.

Willy Taveras is the first batter to face Kazmir today and he was selective with Taveras before getting him to strikeout on a breaking pitch for the first out. Jeff Keppinger then came to the plate and hit a solid ball through the hole between short and third for the first base runner of the game. He then  stole second on Kazmir, who seemed to take an extra amount of time between pitches today on the mound. Layne Nix, who is fighting for a spot on this team then hit a grounder to Willy Aybar at second. Aybar then flipped the ball to Pena for the second out of the inning. Keppinger moved over to third on the play. Daryle Ward then struck out to end the Reds attempt at a rally.

                         
 

 
Arroyo then took the mound in the top of the second inning and got Dioner Navarro to hit a grounder to second that was easily tossed to first for the first out of the inning. Ben Zobrist then hit a short fly ball that Arroyo fielded for the second out. Since we are playing in a National League park. It was the home teams decision on if the Designated hitter rule would be sued today. Cincinnati Manager Dusty Baker decided to let the pitcher’s hit to get his team in mental shape for the regular season. So Kazmir came to the plate for his first chance to hit in 2009. He proceeded to strike out to end the inning for the Rays.

Kazmir came to the mound again in the second inning and Juan Francisco to hit a hard grounder to Aybar, who threw to Pena for the first out. Craig Tatum the hit a single to left field to put a man on for the Reds. Norris Hopper then hit a fly out to center for the second out of the inning. Paul Janish then hit an RBI-triple off the top of the left field wall to score Tatum. With the game taking part in a National League park, it was the Reds decision for the pitcher’s to bat today. So with two outs in the inning, Arroyo came up to bat in the inning. He ended hitting a deep fly ball to Ben Zobrist in center field for the final out of the inning.

Arroyo came out again in the third inning only down one run and with the Rays top of the order coming up in the inning. Bartlett started the inning by striking out. Crawford then struck out. That made it six Rays batters in a row to go down to Arroyo today. Longoria then hit a fly ball to right-center field to end the inning. That again sent down the Rays 1-2-3 for the second straight inning. Sine his first inning, Arroyo has settled down and has hit his marks for the Reds.

In the third inning, the Rays again sent Kazmir out to the mound and he quickly got Taveras to hit a grounder to Aybar that was easily thrown to Pena for the first out. Keppinger then got his second hit of the day on a ball that just missed a diving Pena down the right field line. Nix then came to the plate and hit a fielder choice to the right of Pena that he threw to second to get the lead runner for the second out. Ward then connected for a single to center field to put two men on base. Francisco then struck out to end the Reds chance to try and tie the score.

 

 

 
Arroyo, feeling a bit energized by his last few innings came out ready for the fourth inning. Pena started off the inning by hitting a ball to right of first base and Arroyo came over to take the pitch for the first out in a 3-1 put out.  Burrell then hit a fly ball to left field for a quick second out. Willy Aybar then came up and hit his first homer of the season out against the wind for a 3-1 Rays lead. Navarro then hit a ball to left field that was easily taken for the third out of the inning. So the only base runner since the first inning took Arroyo deep for another Rays run. Kazmir again came out in the fourth inning and  Tatum again made an attempt to go 2-2, but Zobrist made a great adjustment on the ball in the last second and recorded the first out of the inning. Hopper then made another solid hit towards that same area of center field, but Zobrist again was there for the out. Janish then hit a sharp ball to longoria, but was thrown out for the third out of the inning.

Arroyo came out for the Red again in the fifth inning. He quickly got Zobrist to hit a ball to second that was trapped and thrown to first for the first out. Gabe Gross then came on to pinch hit for Kazmir. He hit a soft ball down the first base line and again Arroyo came over and took the pitch  and step on the bag for the second out of the inning. Bartlett then got on base after a walk and moved over to second on a wild pitch by Arroyo. At that point Reds Manager dusty Baker came out and replaced Arroyo with Daniel Herrera. He then got Crawford to hit a long ball to right field for the final out in the inning.

 
Lance Cormier came to the mound for the Rays.  He got Kevin Barker, who was pinch hitting for Hererra to ground out to Longoria, who then threw to first for the out. Tavera then singles to right field and then stole second base to get into scoring position for the Reds. Keppinger then hit a slow grounder to Cormier who threw to Pena for the second out. Nix then struck out to end the Reds chance at trying to tie the game.

 
The Red sent reliever Arthur Rhodes to the mound for the sixth inning. He quickly got Longoria to hit a ground out to lead off the inning. Pena then walked to give the Rays only their second base runner since the first inning. Burrell got jammed and hit a foul ball out to first base for the second out of the inning. Aybar then hit a long fly ball out to center field that was converted for the third out of the inning. The Rays sent Cormier out again for the bottom of the sixth. He got the first batter Ward to hit a grounder to Aybar at second that he quickly converted for the first out. Maddon then came out and called in Jeff Niemann from the Bullpen. Niemann is one of the last three guys effectively fighting to fill the fifth spot in the Rays rotation this spring. He quickly got Francisco to fly out, but gave up the first walk of the day by Rays pitchers to Chris Kroski. He then got Hooper to line out to Brignac at shortstop to end the inning.

 
The Red sent reliever David Weathers to the mound in the top of the seventh inning. Weathers is trying to come back from injury this year to make the Reds Bullpen. He first faced Justin Ruggiano, who struck out to start the inning. Michel Hernandez then hit a hard ball to third, but it was easily thrown to first for the second out. Gross then struck out to provide a fast 1-2-3 inning for the Reds. Niemann again came out to the mound in the bottom of the inning. He got the Reds lead-off hitter Danny Richar to hit a bouncer down to Chris Richards at first that he easily stepped on the bag for the first out. Joey Votto then came up and hit another ball to Elliot Johnson at second base, which he threw to Richards at first for the second out of the inning. Darnell McDonald then hit a sharp grounder to Rays Olmedo at third for the final out of the inning.


 
        
 

Francisco Cordero, who like Weathers is trying to come back after injury took the mound in the 8th inning. He quickly gave up a single to right field to Reid Brignac. Rays Olmedo then hit a grounder to second that was thrown to second and then to first to complete a 4-6-3 double play. It was the first one of the day against the Rays. Johnson then came up and hit a deep ball to center for the third out of the inning. Niemann again took the mound for the Rays and faced Luis Bolivar first in the inning. He got him to hit a short grounder back to the mound that Niemann threw to first for the first out of the inning. Maddon then came out and pulled Niemann from the game and brought in Wade Davis.

Davis, like Niemann had started Spring Training with the idea of trying to secure that fifth rotation spot. But the Rays seem to have other plans for Davis this season. He will probably be the first pitcher the Rays bring up if an injury or a trade makes an available spot open in the Rays roster for a pitcher. First batter to face Davis is former Ray Jonny Gomes. Davis tries to pitch around Gomes, but ends up walking him. Then former Rays farm hand Wes Bankston comes to bat for the Reds. Bankston hit a long fly out to center that is easily converted for the second out of the inning. Adam Rosales then hit another ball into deep center, but it is caught for the third out of the inning.

 
Jared Burton takes the mound for the top of the ninith inning for the Reds. Hernandez hits  grounder to short that is quickly thrown to first for the first out.  Chris Richard then hit a ball down the first baseline that is quickly scooped up by Bankston for the second out of the inning. Then Rays 2008 first round draft pick, Tim Beckham, who is getting a bit of extra time with the big club this spring comes to bat. He ends up striking out swinging to end the inning for the Rays.

 
Davis takes the mound in the top of the ninth with a chance to garner a save opportunity. He gets Kroski to ground out to shortstop for the first out. Then Jacque Jones comes up and hit another grounder to second that is easily converted for the second out of the inning. Richar then hit a swirling ball down the left field line that Beckham circles and then lunges and finally secures in his glove while slipping on the foul line for the third out and to preserve the Rays victory.

Jeff Niemann did nothing to discount his stride to take the fifth rotation spot. He ended up going 2 innings and only gave up a walk. but he also lowered his spring ERA to .082. I am thinking that barring a bad outing in the next two weeks, the spot in the rotation might have been decided today. I am not going to put it in stone until the next outing by Jason Hammel, but the writing is beginning to be written on the wall. Carlos Hernandez also still has an outside shot at maybe gaining ground and maybe a roster spot with a great spring.


 
Photo credits:  1) RRCollections
                         2) The Enquirer ( Michael E Keating )
                         3) The Enquirer ( Michael E. Keating )
                         4) The Enquirer ( Kathy Willens)

Rays Will not Rush Price

 

 
 

I was sitting here last night re-reading some of the comments made during my blog about the fifth rotation spot for the Tampa Bay Rays basically coming down to two guys, with another having and outside slim chance of maybe slipping if some one implodes and burns on the mound. The fact that Rays tall Texan Jeff Niemann is showing the type of dominance and confidence they saw in him when they drafted him with the fourth pick in the first round years ago.  Also the fact I had Jason Hammel’s name tied to this two-some left people blank on him.

 
Everyone was running David Price’s name across the comment line and wanting, no yearning to see if the Rays would do the right thing and put their “best” guy at their fifth spot. The problem with this scenario is not as simple as we all might want it to be. I am a huge Price fan, and I would love to see him throw from now until October by hook or by crook. But I also see the Rays front office and Ray Manager Joe Maddon’s side of things that we do not hurt the future to keep the present situation par for the course. Come on people, the oldest member of our pitching staff is not even 30 years of age yet.

 
And our youngest starter is Scott Kazmir, who has several Rays records already at such a young juncture in his Rays career. Kazmir is 25 years old people and has years of experience beyond what Price has right now. The Rays rushed Kazmir to the majors in part because he was the best they had in the system with no one even close to his talent and potential level near the top of the minor league system. If the Rays were competitive when they traded pitcher Victor Zambrano to the New York Mets for Kazmir, he would have started in the minors too. When your system boasts at least 5 of your minor league pitchers as your Top 10 list of prospects in your system, you can take your time and let them mature.

 

People tend to forget that Price went from Class-A Florida State League Vero Beach Rays to Double-A Montgomery Biscuits, to Triple-A Durham Bulls in less than a season. He started the year on the mend and did not pitch, but still accelerated through the system fast and furious. And he did nor suffer a loss until he hit the Triple-A level in 2008. 4 months, that is the total amount of time he has spent in the minor this year. Around 120 days and we want to rush him up for good? And even there, he had limited starting gigs compared to Wade Davis, Mitch Talbot and Jeff Niemann. For example, Niemann made 24 starts in Durham last years and 2 up with the Rays early in the year. So you would think that if Price has something to work on, and has options, why not use that to your advantage and send him down and let him get ample work without stress or high expectations.

 
I think the high expectation route will follow him from now on whenever he hits the big time. Because people threw the name “Bob Gibson” out there, he is going to get comparisons to everyone who was ever a left-handed pitcher in the major leagues. Funny, people forgot that Gibson got his start in a little hamlet in Florida when he was a rookie with the St. Louis Cardinals. What was the name of that town again…………Oh, yeah, St. Petersburg, Florida where the Cardinals held their spring training at the Busch complex out on 62nd Ave NE. Price has nothing to prove to Rays fans. He made a prediction that went unnoticed to some people that he wanted to be at the major league level at some point in 2008.

 
Well, we all know he got here. And where did he get his first professional appearance? Well, he got to give his own personal goodbye to Yankee Stadium when he came in to replace Edwin Jackson in that game and went 5.1/3 innings. He also gave up 3 hits and 2 runs in that relief appearance, which included a solo home run to Derek Jeter. But people focused more on the fact he had 4 strikeouts in that game, and put A Rod and the Yankee hitter on their heels for a bit that day. How many people remember that he did get one start in 2008 against the Baltimore Orioles late in the season while with the Rays. And also who knew that he made 5 total appearances in the 2008 regular season for 14 innings, and gave up 9 hits and struck out 12, plus posted a nifty 1.93 ERA in his short time up with the Rays.

 

 

So why is it that the Rays are willing to send down their best right now when he can help them at the start of the season this year? Well,  the Rays have always valued a young pitchers arm and have been very protective of their talents.  I was reading a recent  St Petersburg Times article that stated that the Rays: “did extensive research a few years back and discovered younger pitchers were at greater risk for arm troubles when they had an increase of more than 20 percent in innings pitched from one season to the next. Considering Price’s long-term value, it seems unlikely the Rays will allow him to jump from around 130 innings in 2008 to more than 200 innings this season. They’d probably prefer 170. They might push 180. Anything else is a game of roulette. “
 

Now it is beginning to make sense right? With the great rotation already in place, why risk a future top of the line guy right now for a few extra innings in April.  The best case situation for the Rays is that another team comes sniffing around looking for a starter and either Hammel or Niemann get plucked to make the Rays decision easier. But they still might not put Price right into the rotation based on his possible innings he could throw. He might just slip into the Bullpen like in the later part of 2008 and mature and study the American League hitters. Some pitchers never get that luxury in their careers to sit back and learn by watching other pitchers dissect and manipulate batters. They do not get the top of the line scouting reports and the video breakdowns as consistent in the minor leagues.

 
Believe me, Price’s day will come. He is not only bound for glory, people have already put him to almost cult status after a few months. Everyone remembers that Game 7 strikeout of J D Drew to seal the Rays trip to the World Series. It made him a star in both leagues and cemented his name in Rays lore for life. But what we fail to remember is that when a guy come out of the Bullpen into a game, he is really concentrating on two pitches to get him through the battle. When Price came up he had a major league level fastball and slider, but lack a consistent third pitch. Relievers can blow people out of the box with well-placed pitches, and most of them only rely on two types. The Rays told Price to put his change-up in his back pocket and concentrate on his big two pitches.

 
This bring about the biggest reason for him to go down for a short time. He was a reliever in the last part of 2008. It takes a different mindset to be a starter than a reliever. Most people think that is BS, but the preparation is different. He just has to get that rhythm and flow again to start games and last through 5-6 innings. To add some more finesse to his increasingly improved change-up will only further make him a better pitcher. To understand why you need three pitches, let’s go back to Kazmir. For most of 2008 after his injury in early Spring Training, he did not throw his former “out” pitch, his slider. This gave batters more of a chance to guess right on his other two power pitches and he got hammered a little more than usual.

 
The Rays know that their future is in the left arm of Price. They also know that for him to be a productive member of this staff for a long time will take some delicate moves and maybe baby him through the process for a short time. It might seem to be a waste right now, but in the end, he will be a better pitcher and a more successful Rays player for it.  I did some research and found out that the Rays might have Price under control due to his present contract to 2014. With this contract, it looks as if they might not have the arbitration worries I brought up before as a reason to keep him down on the farm. I can admit when I am wrong, and in this case I left one high and hanging over the plate.

 
      

Worst case scenario is that he is down in the minors for most of the season. But people also forget that he only had 4 starts at Durham total. And in those 4 starts, he averaged 17.5 pitches per inning. If you really add that up to be a usual 6 inning outing, he was at 105 pitches. Price is the future of the Rays, and with the recent success, they do not need to rush him or themselves to make harsh and hasty decision in 2009. With a 162 game season, the first 5-6 times through the rotation will not Price or the Rays with him up in North Carolina getting stronger and developing that change-up to be a “out” pitch for him.  With other options that are not dangers to the club at the fifth rotation, throwing him into the fire would not be to anyone’s advantage. But by bringing him along slow and easy, he can transition perfectly into his major league career and never have to look back or wonder.   
 
 

photo credits for today’s blog go to: ( James Borcheck)www.stpetersburgtimes.com, www.knucklecurve.com, Dbullsfan@Flickr.com,  www.yahoo.sports.com.

Rays Rotation Spot might be Down to Hammel and Niemann

 

 
 

The most anticipated fight this spring has finally shown some wear and tears, and a few true contenders are beginning to fall by the wayside. When the Tampa Bay Rays camp began back on February 15th, you knew that 5 members would be fighting and clawing to gain some type of leverage for that fifth slot in the Rays rotation. You knew the usual subjects of Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel would be at the top of the pile trying to keep their respective major league uniforms on their backs in 2009. But you had the questions about two minor league prospects who wanted to make that leap into the majors this spring. With weeks still ahead of us here in Spring Training, this assessment could change at any moment due to injury or even a change of heart by the Rays staff. But these are my opinions, and they usually pan out pretty good in the long run. So let’s take a look at these great pitchers and see if we can honestly gauge their chances this spring at grabbing that fifth slot in the Rays rotation.

 

 
Wade Davis and Mitch Talbot both covet that spot in the rotation and their first real spot in the Rays plans for the future. Both have been discussed multiple times, with Talbot actually coming up on July 1, 2008 for 2 nights before again going back to Durham back on July 3rd when the Rays optioned him back and brought up Reid Brignac. Both have been listed in the top 10 of the Rays prospects lists, with Davis being the only one of the two to never put on a major league uniform during the 2008 season.  But then a odd figure gets thrown into the mix that upsets the balance between the regulars and the minors leaguers battling for this spot.



 

Former Houston prospect Carlos Hernandez, who the Rays picked up during 2008 after the Astros let him go, is also being considered for the spot. Hernandez spent most of his time in 2008 down in the Rays minor league system still trying to shake off the cobwebs and adjust his mechanics after a two years absence from the mound because of injuries and surgery. The fifth spot would be an open tryout for these 5 players, with the added bonus of the top two maybe getting a slot in the Rays final 25-man roster. Even if one of these five did not get that coveted fifth rotation slot, they might be considered for the Rays Bullpen, which would keep them within the Rays eyes and they could still maybe get a shot if an injury occurs or someone starts off slow in 2009. 
 


This spring, one pitcher in this group seems to have stepped it up a bit in the Rays eyes. There has always been the hint of promise and even major league dominance in his swagger, but before this spring he did not act like he belonged here long term. Wade Davis might be the guy who could have secured this spot if not for the fact that two of these guys do not have any minor league options left. He has improved his change-up and slider control to be more effective and dominant around the plate. But during the last series of the year when the Rays invite their minor leaguers to Tropicana field for their year end awards, Davis received the Montgomery Biscuits award as the Pitcher of the Year. He seemed genuinely upset he did not get a call-up to the Rays this past September, and that might be some added motivation in his stride this off season to improve on the mound.


 
So this spring he came on and dominated early on in his first two starts before having a faltering moment this weekend against the Boston Red Sox. As of today, his spring numbers are  3 starts for 8.1 innings while allowing 9 hits and striking out 7 hitters. His 6.48 ERA is not a great illustration of his early dominance as he was tagged for 6 runs in his last start. But maybe the fact that the media and maybe now even Davis himself believes he will be in the minor league camp sometimes this week. But make no mistake, this kid is a major league caliber pitcher right now, but his shot to impress, at this level might be over right now.He has the confidence and the ability to be on this staff right now, but the limited spots will affect the ultimate decision here.  But you can be sure that his early efforts have awaken a few eyes in the Rays pitching staff. He will be with the team again at some point in 2009. He has developed enough to take that leap up to the majors, it just might not be in April this year.
 

 
Mitch Talbot is another of the Rays prospects that will be surely doing battle in the minor league than at the major league level to begin this year. Talbot also made huge strides in the last year, but his inability to make adjustments on the mound might be his downfall this spring. He had gained some more break on his curve and slider and they both are just below the norm for the majors, but his mental adjustments and conditioning might just be a bit off for now. He too will see action sometime in 2009 with the Rays, but it also will not be in April.  Talbot just needs to gain a bit more knowledge and skill at changing his game plan on the fly, then he can take that last step to becoming more effective on the mound.


 

Carlos Hernandez was a huge question mark coming into the Spring Training workouts on Feb. 15th. The Rays liked what they saw out of his limited pitching down at Class-A Vero Beach last year, but did he still have the stuff to be a major league pitcher. Rays Manager Joe Maddon thought he might and the team penciled him
in as a long shot to make the fifth rotation spot. Hernandez has gotten a few good outing, he has pitched in 3 games this spring, starting 2 of them. He is the only one of the Rays starters who still sports a spotless 0.00 ERA, even after he has thrown 8 inning and given up 0 earned runs on 7 hits. 

 
 

His strikeout and walk ratios are low, but he has also not shown that killer instinct that will be needed for that fifth slot. He did start the first game of the Spring for the Rays and has been impressive this Spring. But he still might have an outside chance of making the team’s 25-man roster, but in reality he might be another of the guys down in the minors itching for another shot at the major league level.  I actually like the way he pitches, and can see him up here contributing for the team. Barring a trade, or even a injury before the team heads to Boston for the regular season, I do not see him making a move onto the major league roster. But, the team will take a long hard look at him, with his name being maybe one of the last ones to be plucked off the Spring roster.
 

So that leaves two pitchers who will be fighting for this spot in the rotation. Both of them have major league experience both starting and pitching from the Bullpen. That is two of the obvious reasons I think these two guys will break camp with one of them winning the fifth spot, and the other winning a spot in the Bullpen. Both have been dominant at times this year, with one setting the bar high so far this spring. Everyone knows Jason Hammel from his smile and his lanky walking style. But when he gets on the mound this spring, he has been all business for the Rays. Having made a late 2008 charge in the Bullpen both in confidence and in performance, he might be the guy to watch all year long no matter what spot he earns with the Rays. 
 

 
This spring tho, Hammel has again shown he can rise up and take whatever the Rays want to dish out at him. He also dominated in the early stages of the spring and got rocked a bit in his last outing. But he has rebounded and  has shown some amazing ability in 2009 of getting out and adjusting on the mound. His versatility both as a starter and a reliever serves him well. But his late season save in the close of a severely contested game in Fenway Park might have made Maddon a believer in him. Hammel has take the mound 3 times this spring, with 1 start. Some people might read into this as the Rays showing their confidence in him coming into the game after the first few innings as a reliever more than a starter. 
 

 
But as we all know, during the spring sometimes starters can be inserted after the first few innings of a game. But a part of Hammel’s game that has improved this year is his ability to get strikeouts.  His 9 innings pitched are tied with Niemann for the team lead this spring, but his 10 strikeouts show that he has developed his killer instinct and is setting batters down more this year. Some might say that his team high 10 hits might be an indication of some troubles, but half of those came in one bad outing this past week. His control is better this season, which can be best illustrated by his 1 walk this year. The fact that he is versed both as a starter and a reliever sits well with him getting his slot in the 25-man roster this spring.  Barring any type of pitching disaster or injury, he should be the team’s long reliever, and first option as a replacement starter in 2009.

 


 

That leaves one pitcher still in the mix who has a shot at the fifth slot. Jeff Niemann has been successful before he even got to the Rays. His pitching ability in college has set him apart, but early injuries while he was coming up through the minors set back his development until 2008. Last year, due to the early spring injury to Matt Garza, Niemann showed his ability to start at this level and produced some impressive results.  He won his major league debut on April 13, 2008 against the Baltimore Orioles and only surrendered one run, a homer to Nick Markakis in the game. Neiman was finally sent back down again on April 20, 2008. But with the Triple-A Durham Bulls he went 9-5, with a 3.59 ERA. But his 133 inning and 128 strikeouts showed that he was finally healthy and throwing strong.
 

 
They Rays called him up right after the Bulls were eliminated from the International League playoffs, and he joined the team again in St. Petersburg following their road trip on September 13, 2008. Even though his last stint only lasted 2 starts for the Rays, his job this time around for the team was out of the Bullpen. Niemann seemed to have made the adjustments needed to come out if the Bullpen and made his first relief appearance on  September 18th, against the Minnesota Twins. He retied all four batters he faced, and it was only the fourth time in his career ( 3 times in Double-A ) that he had worked relief in a game. He again took the mound on September 23rd during the     game of the double-header and went 2.1 inning and got the win in the come-from behind victory for the Rays.
 

 
But this Spring, he seemed to have a new focus and determination knowing that he no longer has the chance to go back to the minors. He was out of options and the Rays would have to sneak him through waivers for him to even report to the minors. The reality is that he would not go unclaimed and would no longer be in the Rays system if they tried such a move. So with his last chance firmly in front of him, he had emerged as my favorite for the fifth slot in the rotation. His spring has been impressive. His ball seems to have great control and his velocity has increased a little to give him more of a tool on the mound.  He has appeared in 3 games this year also, and he has started two of them. But the true measure of his improvement might be  the fact that he has thrown 9 innings and has given up a team low 5 hits. His control is spot on, evident by his 8 strikeouts and 2 walks this spring. But his ERA of 1.0 has opened a few eyes that he is ready to take the next step and be successful for the Rays.

 

 
But even with his previous outings, his 4 innings of work against the Twins on Monday might have sealed his spot in the 25-man roster. He worked 4 innings at the back of the game and gave up only 2 hits. The start might have been a double-edged sword as it proved he could work both ends of the game and could be used in either role with confidence this season. By shutting down the Twins offense, he showed he can handle the pressure and the pace of the game as either a starter or a reliever for the Rays. I truly think he is the guy who will get that fifth spot in te rotation, and I think he has shown a mountain of change over the past year and deserves a shot at proving to everyone  he is a major league pitcher. And at 6 foot 9 inches, he is only 1 of 6 guys that tall in the MLB right now. Pitching downhill has never been so much fun to Niemann before today.


Photo Credits for today’s blog go to: http://www.TBO.com, http://www.theStPetersburgTimes.com

Rays Make Red Sox Errors Count

 

 
 


Over the past weekend, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox played a home and home series for the first time this year. Much like the regular season in 2008, the home teams got the better end of the bargain in the final scores. But what is amazing is the set-up this is going to play in future Spring Trainings in Florida. With Tampa Bay moving down 2 hours from their regular season home to Port Charlotte, they have seen incredible increases in attendance and in merchandise sales this spring. But is much of that subject to the new location and the initial buying of the team wares by the locals, who also helped sell out the regular seating areas of the stadium before the first pitch was ever thrown in this ballpark. 

 

 
Rays 2009 Opening Day starter Jame Shields took the mound for the first time this spring.  Jacoby Ellsbury lead off the game with a fly to center field for the first out. Shields then  got Jed Lowrie to strike out to get two quick outs in the inning. Chris Carter then  came up and hit a nice single to get the Red Sox started in the inning. But he was stranded on base as Brad Wilkerson got a quick out to snuff the Red Sox attack.
 

Tim Wakefield then came out for the Red Sox and hit Rays lead-off batter Jason Bartlett to start the game.  He then stole second and Carl Crawford hit a grounder to short that pushed Bartlett to third base with one out. Gabe Kapler then hit another grounder to second, but Bartlett was already running on the play and the Rays went ahead 1-0 in the game. Gabe Gross then walked and stole second base before Adam Kennedy struck out to end the Rays inning.
 


Shields came back out to the mound in the second inning and gave up a lead-off double to Jeff Bailey who put the ball down the third baseline. Paul McAnulty then hit a shallow fly ball to left field, and Bailey did not advance on the play.  Then catcher Josh Bard came to the plate and Shields threw a wild pitch to the backstop that advanced Bailey to third with 1 out. Bard then hit a ball to second that Kennedy quickly got to Chris Richard at first, but Bailey scored on the play to tie the game at 1-1. Nick Green then  hit a fly ball to Crawford in left field for the last out of the inning.
 

 
Wakefield again came on for Boston in the second inning and Ben Zobrist quickly got on base after a Bailey error in center field. It seemed like Bailey had a good read on the ball, but was using his glove as a sun shade and totally misplayed the ball as it got to his glove. Bailey was given Boston’s first error of the game on the play. Shawn Riggans then came up and hit a RBI single to center field to score Zobrist.  Richard then hit a long fly ball that hit off the Carraba’s sign in right field to give Richard a double and score Riggans on the play. Ray Olmedo hit a ground out that advanced Richard to third. Bartlett then hit a RBI grounder to Green at second, but Richard was running to home on the play and Green’s only option was to get the out at first base. Crawford struck out to end the Ray inning.

 
Shields did not come back out in the third as the Rays sent reliever Brian Shouse to the mound. Argenis Diaz lead off with a sharp shot to Olmedo at third base, but he bobbled the ball and then overthrew Richard at first for an error on the play. That gave the Red Sox a runner at first base with the top of the order coming up in the inning. Ellsbury then hit into a 4-6-3 double play to erase Diaz from the bases. Jed Lowrie then hit a single into left field to give Boston their second base runner of the inning. Chris Carter then hit  a grounder to Kennedy that he quickly converted to first to end the inning.  Wakefield came out again for Boston in the third inning and got Kapler to hit a grounder to Lowrie at third base that he easily threw to first for the first out. Gross then hit a long fly to right field, and Kennedy hit a sharp liner to Green at second to send the Rays down 1-2-3 in the inning.
 
 

 
Grant Balfour came on to relieve Shouse for the fourth inning. This was also Balfour’s first action of the spring. Brad Wilkerson hit a fly ball out to Gross in right to start the inning off. Bailey then hit a ball to the right center field wall for a double. McAnulty then popped up to Balfour for the second out of the inning. Balfour then showed some of his own rustiness as he walked Bard to put two men on in the inning.  Balfour then had a liner hit right back at him by Green that hit him between the bicep and tricep muscle   oh his pitching arm. He quickly got the ball and threw to first to complete the inning.  Balfour just shrugged off the bruise and walked to the Rays dugout.

 
 
      

Wes Littleton came on in relief of Wakefield in the fourth inning and lead off the inning by walking Zobrist on four pitches. Zobrist then stole second base and put himself in scoring position for the Rays.  Riggans then hit a sharp ball down the third baseline that Jed Lowrie had a bit of trouble with, but got off a throw to Carter. But Carter could not turn and tag Riggans and he was safe with an error on the play.  Littleton then hit Richard with a pitch to load the bases for the Rays with no outs.  Olmedo then came on and got jammed and hit a ball back to Littleton that he threw to Bard to force out Zobrist at the plate. With the bases still loaded, Bartlett hit a shallow fly ball to center field, but Riggans did not try to advance on the play.  Crawford then hit a ball to the right of Carter at third base, but Littleton came over and took the toss from Carter to get out of the inning with no runs scored against him.
 

In the fifth inning, the Rays sent Jason Hammel to the mound. Hammel, who was still in the running for the fifth rotation spot also is being considered by the Rays for a reliever role.  He quickly got Diaz to hit a grounder to third that Olmedo got to Richard in time to post the first out. Ellsbury the hit a triple over the head of a pulled in Zobrist in center field. On the throw back into third base, they almost got Ellsbury, but the relay throw was a bit high coming into the bag. Lowrie then hit a sharp ball down to first that Richard snagged, but had no play at home and covered first unassisted for the second out.  With Ellsbury scoring on the play, it put Boston within two runs 4-2. Carter then struck out to end the inning. 
 

The Red Sox then sent Devern Hansack to the mound for the bottom of the fifth inning. Kapler lead off the inning with an infield single to third. Gross then hit into a 4-6-3 double play to erase both players from the base paths. Kennedy then walked to put another Ray on base. Kennedy then hit a grounder to Green, who quickly threw to first to end the Rays inning. Hammel returned to the mound in the top of the sixth inning and got Wilkerson to strikeout. He then got a called third strike on Bailey to get two quick outs in the inning. McAnulty then hit a sharp grounder to the right of Richard, who scooped the ball to Hammel, who came over to cover first for the third out.

 

 
 

Hansack again took the mound for the Red Sox, and Riggans took his first pitch to center field for a single to lead off the inning. Richard then struck out. then the Red Sox game plan started to come apart a bit on the field. Olmedo hit a hard grounder to Diaz, that he juggled but could not get either man out on the play. He was given and error on the play. Bartlett then hit another ball to shortstop that Riggans seemed to straddle and then break Diaz’s concentration and it lead to his second error of the inning.  Morgan Ensberg then  hit a sacrifice fly to center that scored Riggans. Kapler then walked to load the bases. Fernando Perez then came on to pinch hit and slammed a liner to Green at second base that he could not find the handle on and Olmedo scored on the play. Jon Weber then came up and hit a double down the right field line to score three Rays runs as the ball 3-hopped to the wall. Red Sox Manager Terry Francona then came out and replaced Hansack with Marcus McBeth, who got Zobrist to strike out to end the inning with the Rays on top 9-2.



Hammel again took the mound in the seventh inning and gave up a quick homer to right field to George Kottaras on a hanging fastball in the zone. He then hit Green with a pitch to put him on base. Diaz then struck out for the first out of the inning. Jonathan Van Every then hit a 2-run homer to left field into the Red Sox Bullpen. It was an opposite field homer for Van Every. Gil Velazquez then hit a single into the right-center field gap. Lars Anderson then was hit by a pitch and the Red Sox had two men on base with one out.  Chip Ambres quickly struck out to give the Red Sox one more out in the inning.  Bailey then hit a sharp ball towards third base that was quickly converted for the third out.
 
 

 
Billy Traber took the mound for Boston in the seventh inning. Justin Ruggiano lead off the inning with a grounder to Lowrie at third for the first out.  Rays Sadler the hit  another hard grounder to Diaz at shortstop, who easily threw to first for the second out. Olmedo completed the 1-2-3 inning by grounding out to third again. Jason Childers took the mound for the Rays in the seventh inning. He quickly loss control of the inning as he walked both McAulty and Kottaras to start the inning. With two men on base with no out, Green then hit a flair to right field that loaded the bases for Boston. Diaz then hit a RBI single to center that scored McAnulty. Van Every struck out and Rays Manager Joe Maddon emerged to take Childers out of the game.  Lance Cormier replaced him and got Velasquez to hit a ball to short that forced Diaz at second base to get two outs.Kottaras did score on Diaz’s grounder to give him an RBI in the game. Anderson then struck out to end the Red Sox inning. The score was now 9-7 Rays.

 
Dustin Richardson took the mound for Boston in the bottom of the eighth inning. He quickly got behind and walked Michel Hernandez on 4 pitches. He then walked Ensberg to put two on with no outs. He then walked Tim Beckham to walk the first three batters in the inning for the Rays. With the bases now loaded, Fernando Perez came up and hit a sacrifice fly to left field that scored Hernandez.  Jon Webber the  came up and hit a 3-run homer to left center field. That gave him 6 RBI’s on the day for the Rays.   Chris Nowak then hit a grounder to Velasquez at third that produced the first out of the inning. Francona then popped out of the dugout and replaced Richardson with Mike James.  Ruggiano then hit a grounder to Velasquez that was bobbled and Ruggiano reached on an error by the third baseman. Sadler then hit a 2-run homer into the pond beyond the left field fence. Olmedo hit a grounder to Diaz at short that he quickly converted to get the Red Sox out of the inning.

 
 
Cormier took the mound again for the Rays in the top of the ninth inning. He quickly got Ambres to pop out to Nowak at first base for the first out of the inning. Zack Daeges then hit a double to left field that gave the Red Sox a chance in the inning. But the next batter, McAnulty hit  a grounder down the first baseline that Cormier took a pitch from Nowak to record the second out. With one out left in the inning and a man sitting at third, Kottaras struck out to end the Red Sox hope of mounting a comeback.  Final score  Rays 15-7 over the Red Sox. The win gave the Rays a record of 5-4 on the year, their first above .500 this spring.  the game also saw Cormier get a save because when he came into the game, the Red Sox had the tying run at the plate.

 


 

So tomorrow they strap it on again and this time play in the Red Sox home park in Fort Myers.  One of the Rays top prospects, Wade Davis will probably be making his last start of the spring before being put into the minor league camp sometimes during the  next week.  The Red Sox will be putting Justin Masterson on the mound for the contest.
 
 

Rays Handle Red Sox for First Spring Win

 

 
I remember a line that Rich Herrera, the Rays Radio pre-game and post-game host used to say about winning. “Your wife looks better, the kids are smarter, and life just feels great.” After watching today’s game I have a few more to add to that list. When you are winning, the cocoa butter smells like ambrosia and the long drive home flies by and you seem to be driving on air.  Okay, I might be embellishing it all a bit, but the first win the the spring can make you believe again. It is not like I have been down in the dumps or sitting with the local winos complaining about lack of hitting and spotty pitching. Okay, I have been sitting with the winos, only because they are friends of Rays Manager Joe Maddon from his “Thanks-mas” celebrations.

 
But the real key to today’s game was the change in traffic priorities that saw almost everyone into the parking lots and at least going towards the gates by the first pitch. The Rays did some fast work to upgrade and facilitate the need for a speedy coming and going to the ballpark. Me, I have not left yet. I am sitting in the shade here at the Charlotte Sports Park trying to decide if I want to eat dinner down here before taking the drive back to reality. Because it is Friday, and nearing beer-thirty, I am hesitant to hit the lonesome highway yet. I might just wait for a few of the Rays players and ask them what is their choice for fine dinning aka bar food with a gorgeous server in the Port Charlotte area. That is right people, I am not in the mood for the dollar value menu today, I want some hot wings and I want them now!

 
But let’s forget about my stomach and talked a bit about the game today against the Boston Red Sox. It is the first time since Game 7 of the ALCS that these two teams have squared off. Missing were most of the Red Sox starting staff, who were back at their training complex doing workouts and maybe a little shopping. But it was the first time for all of us in the Rays Republic to try and get used to the fact that Rocco Baldelli was wearing the Red jersey today. I guess I will be used to it about the time they also use the green jersey for St. Patrick’s Day. Rocco did come on over and was very cordial to the Rays faithful and chatted with former manager Joe Maddon during Batting Practice today. He looks rested, cheery and ready to rumble this season.

 

 

 

The Rays sent big right-hander Jeff Niemann to the mound today as he tries to win a spot on the Rays 25-man roster. He has the odd choices of either making the roster as a starter, a reliever, or even being in another uniform on Opening Day.  Niemann did show his nerves as he gave up a single to Red Sox lead-off hitter Jacoby Ellsbury to start the game.  Ellsbury moved over to third base, but Niemann then began to settle down and got out of the first inning with no real damage.  The Rays were facing Michael Bowden today who actually wore three different jerseys last season in the Red Sox organization. He did finally make it to the majors for one start in 2008 against the Los Angeles Angels.
 

But Bowden did have  bad case of the nerves also and Rays lead-off hitter Fernando Perez took his pitch up the middle to also give the Rays a baserunner to lead off the ballgame.  Perez then stole second base on Bowden and after an apparent off throw to try and pick Perez off second, he advanced to third base on the bad throw. All this time Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett was standing at the plate, and he eventually hit a nice flutter ball towards Angel Chavez and third who had no play at the plate and threw to first to record the first out of the inning. Evan Longoria got the second out of the inning and  D H Pat Burrell came up  and hit a sharp grounder towards Chavez that he knocked down, but could not control in time to get Burrell. Willy Aybar the  came up and stroked a single to right field to put men on first and second for the Rays. Dioner Navarro then came up and hit a sharp ball to second that was handled and quickly thrown to first to end the inning with the Rays up 1-0.
 

Niemann came out again for the second inning and got the Red Sox to go down 1-2-3, with two strikeouts in the inning. The Rays quickly got going again as Ben Zobrist  lead off the second inning with a walk. He was quickly erased from the basepaths on a 6-4-3 double play ball hit off the bat of Gabe Gross. With two outs in the inning, it looked like Bowden might have survived and would leave the game with a nice line for the day. But Elliott Johnson had other plans as he  Hit a double into left field that seemed to confuse Jason Bay. The Red Sox outfielder seemed to have lost the ball in the sun and it one-hopped to the left field wall.  Perez then came up and walked to give the Rays two men on base with two outs in the inning. Bartlett again came up and hit another nice looper over Bay’s head to score both Johnson and Perez and put the Rays up 3-0. Boston then made a pitching change and Bowden was done for the day.
 

Enrique Gonzalez came on for the Red Sox and still needed only one out to get out of the inning. He did not fair any better than Bowden as he left up a breaking ball and Longoria smacked the ball into the boardwalk area above left field for a 5-0 Rays lead. Gonzalez finally got Burrell to fly out to Ellsbury to end the inning.  The Rays sent Brian Shouse out to face Boston in the top of the third inning. In the inning, Shouse gave up only one hit, to former Rays player Nick Green before settling down and getting out of the inning with no other problems. Quickly Navarro and Zobrist got on base for the Rays Gross then hit a single to center field to load the bases for the team. Johnson then came up and hit a hard grounder to center that scored both Navarro and Zobrist.  Johnson ended up on second base advancing on the throw home and was in scoring position for Perez.  He then hit a nice ball to the left field wall and tried to advance for a triple, but Bay got the ball into Green who gunned him down at third for the first out of the inning. Bartlett then came up and hit a single to left, but was stranded on base after Longoria and Burrell got quick outs.
 

At that point, the Rays were up 10-0 on the Red Sox. Jason Childers came on in relief for the Rays and got Youkilis to strikeout before giving up a towering foul ball down the right field line to Baldelli. He ended up walking Rocco and gave Boston a baserunner. But Bay hit a ball to Bartlett, who scooped it over to Johnson to start a 6-4-3 double play and get out of the inning. The Red Sox brought on Devern Hansack to face the Rays and the team went down 1-2-3 for the first time today. Hansack got two strikeouts in the inning.

 

 

The top of the fifth inning saw Rays 2008 Rule-5 draft pick Derek Rodriguez come on to pitch. Rodriguez did not have a lot of major league experience, and it showed as the Boston hitters took advantage of him quickly. Non-roster invitees Brad Wilkerson and Dusty Brown got on base quickly, with Brown putting ball over right fielder Gross’s head. Then Green came up and hit a soft fly ball to center field that Perez could not get to before it fell to the grass . That scored Wilkerson and put the Red Sox finally on the board in the game.  Chavez then got on base and Ellsbury hit a ball to rookie Tim Beckham at short that he could not handle to start a double play.
 
 

Beckham was given his first error as a Rays even before he took his first at bat for the team.   Jed Lowrie then hit a sacrifice fly to center that scored Brown and tacked another run on the board for the Red Sox.  Youkilis then came up and hit a hard fly ball to center, but the runners did not advance on the play.  Baldelli then came up and stroked a single and was replaced by pinch-runner Lars Anderson. Baldelli ended up scoring Green on the play and picked up his first RBI as a Red Sox. Bay then came out and got a quick out for the Red Sox before James Houser came on to pitch for the Rays. Houser got Wilkerson to commit on a bad pitch and the inning ended with the score Rays 10-4. In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Red Sox got the Rays to go down 1-2-3 for the second consecutive inning.
 

The sixth inning saw Mark Wagner get on base with a lead-off walk, but the Red Sox did not take advantage of the situation as Houser closed down the team on three straight batters. Boston sent non-roster invitee Charlie Zink to the mound for the bottom of the sixth inning. Zink, a knuckleballer had the Rays guessing and quickly outs from Justin Ruggiano, Reid Brignac and Morgan Ensberg to again post a 1-2-3 inning against the Rays. The Rays sent Lance Cormier to the hill in the seventh inning and he got a quick strikeout from  Zack Daeges.  Then he got Chris Carter to hit a pop up to Ray Olmedo at third base.  Anderson then came up and quickly was deposed of to end the inning.

 


 

In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Rays took advantage of Zink to get a walk by Rays catcher John Jaso. Then Chris Richards came up and hit a towering homer out to right field that struck the murals on the side of the Rays offices for a two-run home run. Tim Beckham then came up and got an infield single in his first at bat as a Ray. Jon Weber then struck out, and Ray Sadler got the honor of getting plucked by Zink with a pitch. If you are ever going to be hit by a pitch, being hit by a knuckleballer might be the best gig in baseball. But the Rays could not capitalize with two men on base as Olmedo and Ruggiano both flied out to center to end the inning.
 

Jason Comier then came on to face Boston in the eighth inning and Got Daeges to strikeout before also getting Chris Ambres to commit to an out. With two outs in the inning, Wagner hit a nice ball into the center field gap over Ruggiano’s head for a double.  But he ended up stranded on second after a strikeout by Ivan Ochoa ended the inning.  Boston sent  a reliever named Green to the mound to start the bottom of the eight. You can tell this is Spring Training when a player is not even listed on the traveling roster and he gets to pitch in a game. Green got the Rays out quickly in the inning to again post a 1-2-3 inning for Boston pitching. With Neal Frontz now on the mound for the Rays, he got  Ochoa, Gil Velazquez and minor league player Johnathan Van Every to go down to end the game for the Red Sox.
 

All in all it was a great day for baseball in Florida as the sun was extremely hot, around 79 degrees at first pitch, and a breeze did not hit the stadium until the fourth inning. It would have been a great day to come out to the ballpark and sit in the grass berm and suntan, or just relax ans watch some baseball.   In the game, the Rays aw that Niemann is not going to make their decision easy as to what to do with the tall former pitcher from Rice University.  Niemann was not perfect, but he did bounce back and showed some great off-speed pitches today to get some critical strikes on batters.
 

Johnson and Perez got long looks by the Rays coaching staff today. Both players also made their decisions a bit more difficult by going an identical 2-3, with 2 runs and 2 RBI for the Rays. The only difference in their box scores is a walk in the second inning by Perez. Johnson is hitting a robust .429 in the first three games of spring and might be making a name for himself this time around for a roster spot. The Rays also had another pair who went 2-3 on the Day. Willy Aybar and Jason Bartlett also  were busy on the basepaths today, with Bartlett also getting 3 early RBI’s in the game.

The only real disappointment for the Rays might be in the performance of Derek Rodriguez. But considering that this was his first real exposure to major league hitting, his one innings might not be as bad as the line score shows for him today. He did give up 3 hits and 4 runs, to post a 13.50 ERA this spring, but he got great experience today by facing a great hitting team that will help him in his pitching development. During the day, Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman spoke about Rodriguez and basically said that he cost the team only $50,000, and to get a look at a guy for six weeks and maybe hold onto him all year, that is a small price to pay.
 


Tomorrow’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Networks field in Clearwater, Florida will be shown on MLB.TV. If you have purchased the MLB.TV package, come on over and see one of the best looking ballparks in the minor leagues. I love the way this ballpark is set up, and I always have a great time when I come out here for a game. 
 

I will be in left field at the game tomorrow, and hope I can make some type of catch in the game. But you can never expect things in baseball so here are the tentative pitching match ups for both teams: Starting for the Phillies tomorrow will be Kyle Kendricks ( RH ), who will be followed by Drew Taylor ( RH ), Clay Condrey ( RH ), Scott Eyre ( LH ) and then Brad Lidge ( RH ). The Rays will counter with Mitch Talbot ( RH ), J P Howell ( LH ), Dewon Day ( RH ), Jason Hammel ( RH ), Randy Choate ( LH ).
 

Photo credits for today’s blog go to: www.stpetersburgtimes.com, RRCollections.
 
 
 

 

Rays Fans….Meet Lance Cormier

 


                       
 

With the recent addition of reliever Lance Cormier to the Rays Bullpen, can there be an alternative reason to sign another reliever right now for the team. Could this be a insurance policy signing in case Troy Percival is not ready to take the mound in spring training and the team might be without him to begin the 2009 campaign.  It just seems a bit wild that the team added another body to the Bullpen when at least 11 relievers right have shots at securing a spot on the 25-man roster. And this does not include the prospects of either Jeff Niemann or Jason Hammel not having slot for them come April 1st with the team.
 

But let’s get back to Cormier, who in 2008 was with the Baltimore Orioles along with current Rays, Chad Bradford. Cormier was signed by the Orioles on January 21, 2008 with an invite to spring training and a minor league contract in his hand. During the season, he went 3-3 with an 4.02 ERA in 12.1 innings for Baltimore. During 2008, he posted a .240 average against right-handed batters, and was also a great ground ball out pitcher. During his last 9 appearances in 2008, he allowed only 3 earned runs over 15 innings, and lowered his ERA from 4.61 to  a year ending 4.02 ERA. In his only start of the season on September 3rd against the Red Sox, he threw 3 scoreless innings on 2-hits.

 
 


 

Cormier has the distinction of being drafted three time during his MLB career. He was first drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1998 in the 40th round, but he did not sign with the club and instead attended the University of Alabama. While at Alabama, Cormier did play for the Crimson Tide’s baseball squad and then again in 2001, the Houston Astros drafted him in the 10th round. Again Cormier decided to not sign and went back for his senior season at Alabama. Last, but not least, the Arizona Diamondbacks drafted him in the 4th round in 2002, and he signed with the team.



 


 

Cormier made his way through the Diamondbacks minor league system and made his first start at the major league level against the Tampa Bay Rays on June 19, 2004. In the contest he allowed 5 hits in 1 inning and went on to lose 11-4. After the game he was sent back to the minors and he worked  hard to become the June Pitcher of the Month for the Diamondback organization.  He was brought back up to the majors on July 29th and he won his first start against the Houston Astros 6-4.  In that game he threw 6 innings, struck out 5 batters and recorded his first major league hit.
 

 

He then went on to lose his next two starts and the team put him in the Bullpen. From August 29th to September 11th,  he handcuffed opposing hitters  to an imposing .134 average.  In 2005, Cormier appeared in 67 games for the Diamondbacks. His 7 wins tied him for 4th among National League relievers. He began the season by throwing 18 scoreless innings, and ended the year by compiling a 1.09 ERA over his last 9 games. During the off season, Cormier and starting pitcher Oscar Villareal were traded to the Atlanta Braves for catcher Johnny Estrada.


 

 

Cormier appeared for the Braves for the first time on April 3, 2006. He struggled during his first year with the Braves and at one point was demoted to the minors on August  21, but that demotion did not last long as he was recalled on August 25th and stayed with the Braves the rest of the season. During the 2007 spring training in Florida, he suffered a strained right triceps and went on the 15-day disabled list.  He spent the next two months on the disabled list before starting against the Chicago Cubs in his season debut. He ended up surrendering  8 earned runs in 4 innings against the team. He got his second start against the Cubs later in the week and was again hammered as he then gave up  5 earned runs.
 

 

Cormier was sent down to Triple-A Richmond for seasoning, and after he threw a complete game shutout for the Tide, he was recalled by the Braves.  On August 3rd, in his first action since coming back up, he gave up 2 earned runs in relief against the Colorado Rockies. But on August 11th , he got his first start since June 3, 2007. He allowed 4 runs in 4 innings in that contest and left with a no decision. He then won his next outing allowing only 2 runs in 7 innings. The next start he strung together two consecutive wins for the first time in his career. 



 


 

 

Cormier ended up the 2007 season with the Braves and suffered through a 2-6 record with a 7.06 ERA. The Braves decided to designate him for assignment on November 30, 2007 to make a roster spot for returning pitcher Tom Glavine. The Braves officially released Cormier on December 7, 2007.
 

The scouting report on Cormier shows that he has a fastball and a cutter that are thrown about the same velocity. His fastball tops out at 90 mph, while his cutter ranges from 86-89 mph. His cutter is an excellent pitch for him to induce ground ball out to both sides of the plate. He has a 12-6 curve ball that breaks between  76-78 mph. He also has a sinking change up that he uses rarely to hitters in the past.



 


 
 

So here is the low down on our newest member to the Rays 40-man roster. His versatility as either a long reliever or a short innings guy can be beneficial to the Rays in 2009. With his ground ball numbers showing an ability to get the ball to the infield, his addition should be well suited for the Rays. Even if his signing is not a preamble to protection because Percival may not be ready in time, because he has American League East experience, he is valuable to the Rays in the Bullpen.  Cormier will meet his former team mate Chad Bradford when both men report on Feb 14th to the new Rays Spring Training Complex in Port Charlotte, Florida.
 
 

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