Results tagged ‘ Jeremy Hellickson ’

Are The Rays Currently in Ghost Protocol Mode?

On Wall Street, the Trades and Acquisitions Department of large investment firm have the covert mentality of the CIA and other branches of International intrigue that use initials. Knowledge is power, and with that, secrecy and the movements under that umbrellas come at a premium.

So far this Winter we have heard and seen some of the clandestine targets and near misses of the Tampa Bay Rays, who operate under their own initialed powerful and might organization, the MLB, has taken the art form of gliding amongst the darkened halls with silent whispers to a new level. As we have learned in the past, the Rays have a circle of trust within its Fourth floor domain that no constants, syllable or even grown are visualized or voiced when the always alert media comes a-callin’ with trade rumors and whispers in the wind.

Some moves might be counter-moves, made to seem directed towards a general target, but suddenly change direction, showing a more devious and unimagined alternative plan. Take the recent movement by the Rays to get the services of free agent outfielder Coco Crisp. That’s right, the same Crispy critter who almost walked into a James Shields hay maker in 2008 that might have shattered Shield’s pitching hand.

Who in their right Rays mind could have seen this one coming? Of course Crisp decided he like to stay on his dock by the bay and rejected the Rays advances. We know Crisp and Shields have buried their hatchet, but have all the bad blood been drained within the Rays Republic in regards to Crisp? That, my friends is blowing in the wind now, and great fodder for Happy Hour discussions. But the outfielder chatter did not stop with the Coco one, there was another attempt, or stab at Seth Smith, and adequate fielder and hitter in his own right to possibly be a Plan B to the Crisp covert ops.

But you got to ask of there is a problem within the Rays outfield we do not see, or are we possibly looking 4-moves behind the mind right now of Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman. I was content to think we might see Desmond Jennings in Right field this season trading spots with Matt Joyce who I thought made his presence known for the full-time gig, even against southpaws. I had come to terms my myself that B J Upton might wear a question mark on his uniform instead of the # 2 this season as his tenure in Rays Center field is more rental than lease with an option to buy. Was starting to think someone named Damon might have the only true answer.

The moves towards Crisp and Smith have me wondering just how much confidence the Rays have in Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer or even Justin Ruggiano to be that 4th asset in the OF puzzle…or if their own Rays existence is also under the microscope as possible trade fodder? It is almost as if I should think of 20 of the 25 names on the Rays roster not named Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Joel Peralta, Evan Longoria or Ben Zobrist are stapled to the Trop turf, but everyone else is up for discussion at some point. And now comes internal gossip the Rays might not have held onto Smith if they had signed him, but used him as more enticing bait for another morsel….How quickly the tides turn in Tampa Bay.

But that is what the Winter Hot Stove season is all about right? Making the waters boil and seeing who rises to the top of the pile and who settles to the bottom, possibly there until the late July Trade Deadline timetable. Early this Winter we had the Ivan Rodriguez, Josh Willingham, Carlos Beltran and finally an afterthought of a Anthony Rizzo acquisition spinning in our head’s before the new year. Sometimes I wish I had a mouse with a lipstick camera or a house fly with a video feed to give me something tangible and substantial to write about before it hits the general airwaves.

I’m beginning to think we need to contact the modern Sherlock Holmes I saw on BBC the other night, he sees in that altered universe realm, and can be perfectly comfortable thinking 6-8 moves ahead of the rest of us mortals. For some reason I think a MI-6 License to Kill might be easier to obtain than a Rays trade whisper. Sure there are still cracks in the Rays armor, but it is in the field personnel and not on the front office lines. Questions abound around the infield now with the Rays inquest towards trying to secure Brooks Conrad and Ryan Theriot.

I had the notion to think it might be a slip up, a showing of their cards that possibly Sean Rodriguez is penciled in at Shortstop and Second in a platoon, and Zobrist again will carry at least 5 gloves to every Rays contest. I thought for a moment I might have cracked a hidden code, possibly being 1-move ahead of the pack with the Rays inquiring about Conrad and Theriot, but their talents were to be as bit players not starters in the proposed Maddon 2012 Tour. Foiled again just when I thought I had inched forward with something of substance again left with poached egg on my grill.

But one day. Ahhh, one day someone will crack the code, bring about the wheeling and dealing to the surface, not with the realm of full disclosure, but with hints, smatterings of intel and possibly make us all giddy again about what really lies behind the Rays Carolina Blue curtains. But I am left right now with the pure facts I will never be in the Rays circle of trust, never be an intricate part of the Rays always unfolding covet machine, finally realizing with crystal clear clarity my best guesses at trades are just those…guesses.

I guess I will have to be content that the powers that be that invisibly move within the 4th Floor sanctum is hard at work making the Rays a better oiled machine. A more precise instrument to take into the 182 battles that make up an MLB season. That I can sleep better at night knowing Friedman is out there somewhere already in work mode to answer those question we have not even asked yet.  Still, the Ryan Madson rumors have me curious….I wonder if there is a motorized mouse online I can buy, or what time is it in London?

A “Must Do” Event to Circle on Your 2012 Spring Training “To Do” List

This Spring event always seemed to have that musty and stuff feel about it, a wedge of a baseball nobility or royal twist to it in the past. One of those pristine and ceremonial Spring events that precedes the influx of moving vans, travel trailers and those baseball fans needing a Spring subtle kiss from the Baseball Gods. In the past it’s air of an ancient closed door society vibe kept me away even with yearly invites. But time has a way of trimming off the excess and finally bringing about a redefined and refined way to celebrate the Spring return of baseball, with a distinctive Tampa Bay twist.

I am more excited about the events transformed name,  Dinner with David & Friends  which will be a great new Spring event co-sponsored by the Rays southpaw David Price and his One Four Foundation and the Ted Williams Museum and Hitter’s Hall of Fame which is located  on Centerfield Street inside Tropicana Field. The event will be held on Friday February 3, 2012 from 6:30 pm to ??? It is an early chance for the baseball community both within and outside the Tampa Bay region to help the children’s charities around Tampa Bay on the same night the Hitters Hall of Fame will induct their 16th class of splendid hitters (and a few crafty pitchers). All for the donation of $99 which will include more than just a meal on the AstroTurf of Tropicana Field.

Included with your donation is the chance to meet and talk with current and past baseball legends, the incoming class of 2012 Hitters Hall of Fame inductees like the Rays SP Jeremy Hellickson, former Rays Tino Martinez, Cecil Fielder, the late Mike Flanagan and the Rays Skipper, Joe Maddon and possibly a few special celebrity guests invited to the event. Every diner will also receive a commemorative autographed ticket signed by Price (worth the donation price by itself).

Also on the event agenda is a special autograph signing by present and past MLB stars, a silent auction and a dinner that will conclude with a special message from Price as we begin to embark on the MLB experience for the Spring of 2012.

Maybe it is the new title that embraces and beckons the average baseball fan like myself back into its ceremonial post-Winter arms. I feel more of a Spring warming effect and embrace from this yearly event now that has been vacant for so long. That finally the upper crust of the baseball community have extended a hand to us possibly bringing the event out of the darkness and hopefully can become a “must attend” seasonal event for everyone from the top tier players, movers and shakers plus an average fan like myself can daydream and visualize the upcoming season while sitting at a table remembering the past, present and future of baseball as we gaze upwards at the Trop’s Teflon roof.

I can easily see this event becoming a important piece of any true baseball fan’s annual “To Do” list during their seasonal pilgrimage from the North as they head into the region thawing out their baseball heart and reawakening their internal hunger for baseball. If this event is handled right, it could become a pre-Spring celebration party just a week before the first report dates of 2012 Spring camps. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of snow bound and the snow weary fans and disciples of the MLB community could descend upon this sun-kissed state and make this event and it charities a beginning point on their yearly journey as the “Boys of Summer” begin to develop their seasonal swagger.

My personal opinion might be a bit biased since I have always been a fan of Price and have given countless dollars to the Ted Williams Museum’s silent auctions over the years to support their causes. This is a great way to include the two together, spend some time remembering and enjoying the careers and unfolding careers of the inductees while also being in the company of the real baseball nation. The $99 cost is minimal when you consider the memories, photos and autographs obtained while visually being pulled in by the exploits and dramatic events of the inductees will will reach its climax with a oratory by Price. Only thing missing is a photo op with Price’s dog Astro.

For event information click on the Dinner with David & Friends link in the blog post.

Additional links for the Project One Four Foundation and the Ted Williams Museum and Hitter’s Hall of Fame websites.

Hellboy Might Need a Handyman

I can imagine that Tampa Bay Rays rookie Jeremy Hellickson will have a special carpentry project to complete in the near future. I can definitely imagine a particular DIY (do-it-yourself) project to be penciled in bold letters on the Hellboy’s off-season “Honey-Do” list.

I can visualize him now peering over expansive pile of timber with the same intensity and commitment he showed 29 times during 2011 as he took the mound. Bet he is even wearing a Rays game day cap on his head, with a pencil fashioned behind his ear. Just like sheriff Brody needed a “Bigger boat”, Hellboy is definitely going to be in the market for a trophy case addition soon.

Recently Tampa Bay Rays rookie starter Jeremy Hellickson got the fantastic news back home in Des Moines, Iowa that he had been selected as the 2011 Baseball America M L B Rookie of the Year. Joining the ranks of Baseball America past R O Y winners such as Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols (2001), Diamondbacks SP Brandon Webb (2003), Tigers SP Justin Verlander (2006), Brewers OF Ryan Braun (2007), Tigers, Cubs C Geovany Soto (2008) and Giants C Buster Posey (2010).

Major League Baseball and the Baseball Writers Association of America (B B W A A) will not officially announce their respective National League or American League Rookie of the Year Award winners until November 14th but history is definitely tilted Hellboy’s way as 8 out of the last 11 M L B seasons, the Baseball America R O Y selection also heard his name announced as their respective league’s R O Y award winner in mid-November.

Hellboy also ended the National League’s 4-year grip on the award and Hellickson became not only the first pitcher to stake claim to the award, but also the first American League player to win the honor since Detroit Tigers rookie SP Justin Verlander back in 2006. This same Baseball America MLB Rookie of the Year honor eluded former Rays standouts Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford, Joe Kennedy, Rolando Arroyo, plus current stars 3B Evan Longoria and SP David Price. Interesting enough, former Rays 3B/DH Eric Hinske (2002) and SP Hideo Nomo (1995) won the same award, but not as Rays.

Amazing that Hellickson in his first full MLB season posted a .210 opponents batting average, which ranked 3rd in the MLB behind possible Cy Young candidates Verlander and Los Angeles Dodger hurler Clayton Kershaw. Didn’t hurt that the young Rays starter saved his best for later in the 2011 season as Hellboy bolstered a 2.64 ERA from the All-Star break to the end of the 2011 season, plus garnered a coveted American League Divisional Series pitching assignment.

Hellickson is definitely another reason to feel optimistic coming into the Spring of 2012 when he will not only have another year under his belt, but possibly possess even a few more tweaks to his pitching arsenal. With that in mind, maybe there should be a tweak to Hellickson’s DIY project plans, possibly re-configuring his carpentry plans to include an addition to his home. Got a feeling this is the first wave of many shiny pieces of MLB acknowledgment that Hellboy will receive in his career.

If you need help Jeremy, I am pretty good with a tape measure and a circular saw.

Re-casting Possible for the Rays “Young Guns”?

It always amazes me when people make posters like this. It is creative, very well thought out in the ways of design, but the content sometimes makes a lot to be desired. It is not that I do not consider the Tampa Bay Rays pitchers that this artist selected for his poster to not be “Young Guns”, I just think a couple of pitchers who also made an 2011 appearance missed the photo cut.

Gazing at the poster several images of 2011 came rushing back to me, which several being possible final curtain calls for a few Rays. Some showed their magic in 2011, while some may have shown a bit of a bad slide, possibly signing their own visas for exit from the Rays universe. Still it is wild that this one photo to the right was presented on the first day Rays pitchers’ and catchers reported in Port Charlotte, Florida, and one person presented on the poster was not even among those assembled.

Rays phenom Matt Moore did not even report until the Rays minor league player’s strolled into the Southwest Florida community, but won a spot on the poster. It would be futile to not consider this southpaw a future staple in the Rays rotation, possibly making his next appearance after May 2012. Still it shows the defining depth and promise of the Rays hurlers that a guy not even selected for a Major League Spring Invite makes such a prominent figure on the poster.

But there is something that is bothering me about this poster. Something that today might not seem relevant, but could make the whole idea of the poster moot possibly even before the 2012 Spring thaw. I consider the duo of “Alex’s”, Torres and Cobb to have a prominent place in the Rays plans coming into 2012, possibly making their Opening Day debuts this season for the Rays.

That immediately raises the question on who I truly think might be airbrushed off this poster, possibly wearing different colors as the mid-February date approaches. The first pitcher that might get a new MLB address for 2012 could be right-hander Jeff Niemann. It is nothing personal, Niemann has shown great signs of brilliance on the mound, it is just that his risk factors in regard to injury setbacks and his up and down productivity make him a suitable pitcher to find another home for 2012.

Some people might be amazed that the “Tall Texan” has made 83 career starts for the Rays, but most of us are transfixed on his last 2011 start, in Fenway Park where Niemann was matched up against Red Sox hurler Jon Lester and Neumann posted up his 11th victory of the season. Niemann posted a 8-2 record on the road this season in his 12 starts, pushing him into the top 5 road records in the major leagues, including winning 8 of his last 9 road decisions.

Usually that kind of pitcher would not even be on the cusp of trade chatter, but the Rays have a bevy of pitchers trying to break through the barrier between the Triple-A Durham Bulls and a place on the Rays 25-man roster. 2012 might be the season where the Rays get significantly younger, and Niemann may only be the first to mosey into the Florida sunset. Niemann has had a good enough career and 2011 season to possibly get the Rays an up-grade in a few needed areas for 2012. I would put him at the top of the Rays list of available players come the Hot Stove season, and a pitcher more than a few teams covet.

The second member of the Rays current “Young Guns” who might need to worry is also Niemann’s hunting and fishing buddy Wade Davis. Even though he might have signed a salary respectable contract before the 2011 season, that could be a great tasty morsel to a struggling team with limited payroll looking for a viable starter with MLB experience. I guess I put Davis on this list because I consider the two “Alex’s” to have more up-side for the Rays in the near future than Davis, this is not about his present record or his injury in 2011.

Still, Davis is another Rays pitcher who has some valuable MLB abilities and could come at a respectable trade cost to another team. Worst thing here is that Davis would be a marked man in 2012 no matter what in reality. With the firm possibility that Moore will spend at least a few months in Durham before possibly making another visit to the Rays roster, Davis looks like a man firmly on unstable ground with no lifeline within reaching distance.

Even after posting a 8 inning, 2-hit start against the Toronto Blue Jays on September 25th, Davis might not have done enough to have teams kicking his tires this offseason. Davis won his last 7 starts of the season at Tropicana Field plus Davis posted double digit win totals over his first 2 Rays seasons, but it might not be enough to let WD-40 squeak by with a 2012 spot in the rotation. Davis may be in the same row boat as Niemann right now with financial numbers and the possibility of younger starters beating on the Rays doors being the catalyst for a trade, not his abilities.

Most would think I would have selected James Shields as one of the “poster boys” to be in the most jeopardy for 2012. If you thought that, you would not be totally wrong. Shields will possibly be dealt by the Rays, but it seems more logical for him to be separated from this team by the end of July, not this off season. With Moore, Torres and Cobb all having limited game experience, having a starting trio of David Price, Shields and Jeremy Hellickson to start 2012 makes the Rays an instant contender.

Shields 2012 salary would be a huge reason for his departure, but he also showed this season he has the drive and ability to still be a top flight pitcher and a value commodity for the Rays to start 2012. By the end of July, with free agency possibly on the horizon, the Rays might be more likely to trade Shields while his value is high to a contender outside the American League.

The poster is another reminder of the deep and promising rotation the Rays should be able to push up against their Major League Baseball adversaries for the next 5-8 years. Every one of these pitchers have the abilities and the skills to dominate and take a win from the clutches of any team, at any time. It is a rare and unique thing for the Rays to have such depth, but it is also a tragedy that some of their pitchers may ultimately experience their career peaks not wearing a Rays uniform.

It’s Fight or Flight time Rays

I really can’t fathom this sometimes the Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde offensive personalities of this Tampa Bay Rays offense. It is almost as if this team gets pushed into a quasi-schizophrenic monotone existence almost bordering on the surrealistic imagery usually associated with a Salvador Dali painting. It is a confusing unfolding dramatic battle somewhere within this team’s own soul between their powerful nature and their anemic second cousin.

This Rays offense have plunged themselves into this same kind of topsy-turvy tailspin so many times this season, and at the most inappropriate times that it almost sends me screaming into the dark Florida night. There has to be a simple and logical reason for this faltering of the wood meeting white rawhide ball.  Their simply has to be a finite swirling solution for this repetitive Rays offense malaise.

Is their offensive woes so complex we, the Rays Republic have collectively questioned the real and unreal visions in front of us. Do we need to do a vocal stadium-wide therapy session, submit to a group discount electroshock, or possibly take a dose of our own self prescribed mental toughness medications. Why can’t the answer be as simple as just buckling down to the reality that the Rays sometimes just fall back into old habits, even with all their best intentions.

Since the Rays pushed 9 runs across Home Plate in Arlington, Texas this team somehow found their path back into that darkened region where average pitchers toss lightning bolts like Ranger co-owner Nolan Ryan. Swinging strikeouts, hitting the ball weakly and not taking advantages of mistakes by the Texas hurlers is the symptoms of this failing aliment. If these Rays want to again play another game, they have to resolve this issue before 2 pm today, or begin their packing for the off season.

Since the American League Divisional Series format began in 1995, 36 teams have fallen behind 2-1. Of those 36, 7 American League teams have come back to win the series in 5 games. Also working against the Rays is the realistic fact that even though 7 teams climbed the post season deficit and got into the winning groove, no American League squad has accomplished this since 2003 ALDS when Boston trailed the Oakland A’s, then came back to win Game 4 and Game 5 to secure their destiny towards their eventual World Series journey.

The step up by the Rays has to be now since they have now lost 4 consecutive post season contests in Tropicana Field, all against Texas in the ALDS. ( 3 in 2010, 1 so far in 2011). The Rays are a dismal 5-7 all-time under the dome in the post season. Maybe it is a good thing the Rays play under a off-white dome. That way they can not see the dark clouds assembling outside and fight until the last swing or pitch.

Texas is starting to become the Rays kryptonite in the post season. In their combined 8 meetings in ALDS play over the past two seasons, the Rays are 3-1 with 26 runs and 21 extra-base hits in 4 games at Arlington and in their 4 games at the Trop, they are 0-4 with 5 runs and 6 extra-base hits. The Rays have to call upon the Home Run Tiki Gods who have been at the forefront of their 19 Home Runs in their last 8 games. It is the highest HR output by this team since June 9-17. 2009 when they hammered an identical 19 in a middle of the season spurt.

Right now this Rays squad has to truly embrace their 2011 mantra of “Finding Another Way” to grab hold tight and force a possible Game 5 situation. The opportunities will not simply appear like magic for the Rays. Their Game 5 road will be littered with few defining challenges.

Game 4 has to be the final test to see just how resilient the Rays can be with their back firmly against the wall. Falling towards a 2-1 series deficit is not a joyous and vibrant situation, it tends to feed more on the impending darkness, surging towards the cliffs edge then the high-fives of celebration and acknowledgment of success.

Every pitch, every swing, every single motion in this game by the Rays will be examined, defined and held up for criticism if they fail. Success breeds a short memory for misdeeds A napping offense will get the Rays only a tee time on a Tampa Bay area golf course instead of a return visit to Arlington, Texas for a potential Game 5.

To put it mildly, it is “Put up (runs) or shut down ( for the season)” time for the Rays. No more second chances to get back into the rhythm, any stumble, falter and the dark cloud will ascend quickly above the Trop, possibly hastening an end  to the Rays 2011 season. Rays need to shake off the darkness today, this club has to thrust towards the sunshine, the light the essence that got this team to this stage. If not, the end will come swift and hard even if we do not want to admit it. I personally am not ready to begin the off season. Go get yourself some glory Rays.

Rays May Need a Half Dozen to Help Shields

Sure yesterday’s one-sided victory in Game 1 of the American League Divisional Series was tremendous, but I am one of those cautious Rays Republic members. Maybe it is the pure fact we have seen so many of these games where the Tampa Bay Rays awaken from a offensive slumber and post amazing numbers on the board, then as if someone spiked their Gatorade with sleeping pills, they fall silent again.

Not in my mind is the true fact this Rays club has outscored their adversaries 17-0 over the last 14 innings. I want to believe the Rays have finally found an answer to the mundane offensive woes of the regular season, and that their bats will not again go silent. It is my biggest concern heading into ALDS Game 2. Considering the Rays gave Rays starter James Shields only 104 runs in his 33 starts (3.15 per start) and produced a 21-12 record.

Tonight has to be different for the Rays have a legitimate chance at gaining a 2-0 advantage with the ALDS heading back to Tropicana Field for Game 3 on Monday at 5:07 pm. Also you have to take into consideration the simple fact that this start by Shields tonight will be the third time he has faced this same Rangers offense in the last 30 days.

Shields has done his job over the past two previous starts throwing 8 shutout innings on August 31st for a 4-1 victory, then producing 5-1 win while throwing his 11th complete game back on September 5th in Tropicana Field. Shields can be the “Ranger killer” this team desperately needs tonight. Shields has compiled a career regular season mark of 5-2 with a 3.05 ERA against the Rangers, but is 2-2 with a 3.72 ERA in his 4 career starts in the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

So as you can see by those career stats, the Rays have to spot Shields at least 6 runs to effectively be in position to take both of the road games in Texas. Maybe I am a little leery and want 6 runs because of f Shields 2010 ALDS performance at the Trop against Texas when he only threw 68 pitches, but surrendered 4 runs over 4.1 innings in that 6-0 Rangers victory.

On any given day posting that kind of offensive number has been a bit tricky for the Rays. Since the All Star break, the Rays have scored 6 or more runs on 22 occasions including 8 times during September. It is not as if I do not believe the Rays have finally found their groove, or that their offensive flusters are behind them, but getting off to a quick lead, giving Shields a comfort level to not have to be perfect could be the keystone to the Rays putting the Rangers into a quick hole in this ALDS.

Combine Shields improvements on the hill in the latter parts of 2011 going 7-3 with a 2.43 ERA over his last 11 starts. Definitely Shields has the stuff right now to keep the Rays close in this key match-up, but any implosion, any crack in his arsenal and those 6 runs could be the catalyst between a 2 game cushion or back to square one with a 1-1 series record. Best thing that could happen to Shields is that Home Plate Umpire Kerwin Danley like his pitch location and gives him some of those change-ups on the corners.

The offensive firestorm on Friday night is not typical of the Rays who have only scored 9+ runs in 6 contests since the All Star break, but 3 of those came in the month of September. Leaving nothing to chance, if the Rays do produce 6 runs in this key contest, Tampa Bay will fly home for the day off at home with a 2-0 ALDS series lead, with David Price and Jeremy Hellickson set to take the mound under the dome.

This game might be a great indicator of how this Rays versus Rangers series might play out. It could seem a bit premature to consider Game 2 to be a key moment in this 5-game series, but taking 2 at an opponents ballpark heading back into Tropicana Field where the Rays went 11-3 with 3 extra inning victories in the month of September would be a pretty tough mountain to climb for the Rangers.

But it all starts tonight. I wonder which Rays machine will show up? The one that seems to score at will racking up runs like a video game, or the club that seems a slight bit off missing by inches of getting that key hit. As always, pitching will set the tone, but if the Rays get off to a quick start, it will do wonders in silencing that rowdy Texas crowd….That could end up being music to Shields ears.

If You Don’t Believe Now, Better Check Your Pulse



Words would just ruin the moment. Here is a photo essay of complied photos from the great AP photographers Mike Carlson / Chris O’Meara and Getty Images Photog  J. Meric  on the field and deep within the bowels of Tropicana Field  tonight. 




 

Last, but not least, the Home Run trot that began the celebration!



How Can You Not Love “Hellboy”

His nickname will stick with him for the next 20 years. It seems that once you get a powerful and though provoking moniker like his, you are stuck with it for your entire career. Still not sure if there is a hidden story, or a mystery reason for this to stick so firmly to this young hurler, but the names does seem to fit him like a glove.

I have heard the legends, the stories of intrigue and power from his minor league past. Even saw a few hints of it in 2010 when he finally got to scuff the dirt on a real Major League mound. From that first moment on his name has been etched in our souls, our hearts and our prays. For some reason we all think the future encircles the young gun they call “Hellboy”.

His minor league rap sheet reads like a introduction to greatness. Who else has gotten the glowing endorsement of his home state’s Governor as then-Iowa Governor Chet Culver told the media last August: “The Rays organization will be better off for having this mature, focused and decent young man. His demeanor isn’t surprising at all to Iowans who have grown up with Midwestern values and unrivaled work ethics. Jeremy (Hellickson) is the epitome of Iowa”.

I guess you are starting to see that all who seemed to witness, play against or even play behind are admirers of this product of the farming community of Des Moines who somehow missed everyone other M L B scout’s radar before the Rays finally plucked him off the vine in the him Fourth Round back in 2005. Want to become more of a fan of “Hellboy”. I have to warn you, he is addictive.

How can you yell, scream or even hassle a guy who gave his Gold Medal from the 2004 World Youth Championship held in baseball-crazed Taiwan to his great-grandmother (Louise Abbas) Even more amazing, it seems the Midas touch is alive and well in the Hellickson bloodline, Abbas won her own Gold Medal at the Iowa games in bowling in the 75-and-up division.

Want more Hellickson goodness? How about he became the first pitcher in the modern era of baseball ( since 1920) to pitch 6-plus innings allowing 3 hits or fewer in each of his first 3 M L B starts. Need more coaxing, Hellboy posted 18 strikeouts over those 20 innings with a stealthy .136 opponents batting average. Starting to see some pitching goodness oozing from his seams.

Still not convinced? How about the pure fact Hellickson made a unheard of clean sweep of the Baseball America and USA Today Minor League Player of the Year award. Hoisted up as the Minor League Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News and was the pitching rich International League Pitcher of the Year.

Still not enough to make you a believer? Hellboy also won a spot as an International League All-Star, Baseball America Minor League All-Star and a Topps Triple-A All-Star. To say a M L B All-Star selection is not within each soon is a understatement. All while going a combined 16-3 with a 2.69 ERA and 156 K’s in 31 games (25 starts).

With the Trade Deadline looming and a good chance Rays stalwart Shields might not be in the Rays uniform for much longer, Hellickson is definitely a candidate to possibly move up to maybe the third starter slot coming into the Spring of 2012. Sky, Heaven and that other place are definitely within his grasp even this season.

Some might discount his 9-7 record, but underneath all of that Hellickson is third on this Rays squad in innings pitched (110.2), is closing in on 100 K’s this season ( currently 75), plus is currently tied with Price for the Rays wins crown. All from a guy most people thought had number 5 pitcher stuff, but Hellboy has not only rose to the occasion, he has been almost money in key situations in 2011.

Talk about coming through in a pressure situation, Tuesday Hellickson took the mound after an unprecedented 15 days of rest since his last start. All Hellboy did was go out and put on a beautiful performance against the New York Yankees going 7 innings, tying his career high in strikeouts ( 7, 8/10/10 @ Detroit) and post a “W” while opposing a former Cy Young winner (Bartolo Colon).

All aisles in Tropicana Field lead to you wanting to see this young gun become one of those who you whisper about when he walks by you either at the ballpark or in public. Hellickson is on his way to that plateau, and I hope he keeps that “Hellboy” tag, for some reason it really does fit the feisty confident kid…..

I could definitely see “Hellboy” as the perfect guy to hoist up and produce a 2012 Rays Superhero figurine. Heck, could be the best promotional item since the Carlos Pena toothbrush holder……Maybe better! Maybe we can get Hulk Hogan to cut a Rays promo: What’s you gonna do Brother when Hellboy Mania runs rampant on you!

Has a nice ring to it.

Rays Reject Yankees Doubleheader Game Request

Before 2007, there might have been minimal discussions before the Tampa Bay Rays buckled down and ultimately decided to partake in a day/night doubleheader this Saturday with their bitter rival, the New York Yankees. In a move that shocked some within the Yankees organization, the Rays did an about face and rejected every intention and submission to “play two” for any reason on Saturday.

People forget that the Stuart Sternberg and Rays Vice-President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman have evolved this same Rays laughingstock into a more refined and calculated risk management based organization that does due diligence on every single minute detail. Such a double dose of baseball taxes an already tired and walking wounded Rays club heading into the All-Star break. It also put into play a few sinister and equally positive scenarios that could favor the Rays.

By vetoing a doubleheader, even in the traditional sense, the Rays can by-pass young hurler Jeremy Hellickson and instead position top pitchers David Price and James Shields to take the hill in the last 2 contests before the break. By sending their best arms into the fray, the Rays can possibly with 2 victories pull close to the Yankees, plus give themselves a great emotional cushion heading into the second half of the season.

Evan Longoria, one of the Rays who has seen more than his share of nagging pains this first half summed it up to the New York Times : “ As for as both teams go, it’s not real smart for us to play a doubleheader. It stretches guys out. It doesn’t give an opportunity for a couple of teams to rest those who are banged up and just play one game, and then another one.”

Sure the departure from usual Major League Baseball fiscal logic to get the games done might seemed a bit biased to the Rays side at this moment, but it actually might play into the Yankees court come September. With a proposed make-up date of Thursday, September 22, 2011, the Rays will already be in town after completing a 2-game set against the Bronx Bombers.

Lost in all the impending current drama plus pomp and circumstance surrounding Yankee Captain Derek Jeter’s “Quest for 3,000” is the fact the Yankees right now have their own “walking wounded situations. We all know of the recent plight of Jeter, but the Yankees Bullpen is currently not up to snuff with the revolving injury bug hitting from set-up guys to their closer.

The Rays might actually be giving the Yankees a hidden break by letting them “get healthy” instead of pushing their Bullpen through multiple game situations. With their late inning executioner Mariano Rivera watching from the bench, it would be the perfect time for the Rays to possibly “steal one” from the Yankees, but that is also not this new Rays regime’s style.

So as you Yankee fans are cursing out Rays Manager Joe Maddon and the Rays organization this weekend over possibly ruining the Jeter parade, remember it was the Rays who also used their pitching to delay Alex Rodriguez’s march to 500.

With the Rays refusing a day/night doubleheader, it ups the ante that Jeter will have to get his cherished hits in the next 2 contests against the Rays best pitchers. In hindsight, Jeter would possibly want to get it against 2 of the better hurlers in his division than wait until going into Rogers Centre against the Toronto Blue Jays after the break. By the way, after the Jays, the Yankees come into Tropicana Field.

This Rays franchise has grown a lot since the days of being the AL East doormat, and possibly this is another firm example of the type of team/organization this has become since former owner/founder Vince Namoli and ousted G M Chuck LaMar left the building. I actually think it was a stroke of subtle brilliance, and I give credit to Maddon and Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman.

Most M L B Clubs might have accepted the day/night duo of games without incident, but the Rays challenged the process and rejected the norm. Soon enough we will find out if the cards played in the Rays favor, or the Yankees.

But possibly the always thinking Maddon hit the real situation square on the head when he told the New York Times : “Where we are at right now, if I had my druthers about it, we would choose later. At this point in the first half guys are run down. I like the idea you have expanded rosters in September.

Spoken like a true rebel to the norm….and I like it!

Rays Machine Churning and Burning Right Now

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“Over 162 games, if my big guys are
hitting and we get even halfway decent pitching, we’ll beat their (
our opponents) brains out.”


The above quote might seem more in
place possibly coming out of the mouth of someone within the Tampa
Bay Rays organization after the the solid efforts during Thursday’s
day/night double bubble victory tour against the hapless Minnesota
Twins. But it was not a quote from anyone within the Rays.

This quote was spoken loud and clear by
the late Cincinnati Reds Manager Sparky Anderson back when his “Big
Red Machine
” was still churning on 4 economical cylinders. But the
quote did have pertinent reference points to the Rays dismantling of
the Twins.


For some reason the outdoor confines of
the Twin’s Target Field seemed more welcoming to the style of play by
the visitors over the last three games. For some reason the usually
consistent Twins pitching staff turned into Batting Practice pitchers
at times, while at other resembled a mire shell of themselves.

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Some say the Rays were inhospitable
house guests as the two teams concluded their seasonal series with
the Rays knocking the breath of out the chests of the Twins in all
three contests. Heroes emerged for the Rays, pitching became a rising
star for this squad.


Anderson is so right, when all
cylinders are churning and both ends of the Rays machine is
producing, it is a glorious time to boast about the Rays. From this
series special moments like Johnny Damon extending his new Rays April
hitting streak record to 16 games. Damon had a 15-game streak last
season when he was with the Tigers. Matt Joyce, who is daily finding
more confidence and swagger went 4 for 8 and saw his average rise
from .290 to .313 during the twin bill.

Rays starters Jeremy Hellickson and
Jeff Niemann never seemed under duress or in any significant danger
of losing their contests at any point with each going past the 6.1
inning mark while both securing wins for their efforts. Before the
double-dipper, the Rays starters had gone 11 games still standing on
the mound during the 7th inning. The team had collectively
tossed a 2.67 ERA up, and held their opponents to a .215 batting
average.

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Niemann especially had me at hello last
night tossing some of the best baseball of his career and held the
Twins hitless until the bottom of the 7th when Tampa
native Denard Span who was facing a 3-2 count sent a ball into
shallow leftfield out of the reach of both OF Sam Fuld and SS Elliot
Johnson. Neimann ended up surrendering his only other hit of the game
on an RBI single by Twins 1B Justin Morneau. Great to see Jeffery the
Giraffe finally show why we all like his downhill pitching style


At no point in either of these games
did the Rays pitching staff have any significant threats or run
producing explosions to duplicate the Rays sudden offensive
bombardment. In three games the Rays posted 29 runs to the Twins 6
runs. It wasn’t a case of the Rays going against the Twins at their
low point, it was the Twins error to be playing the Rays as their
offense awoke and decided to thrust its might.

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But you can not discount the
significant and tremendous role uber utility man extraordinare Ben
Zobrist provided in this series. Zobrist who had been struggling a
bit at the plate at times with consistency has now hit 6 Home Runs in
his last 12 games. Finally Zobrist is materializing back into the
“Zorilla” of 2008 that we need right now to lead this club
offensively.


We all know Worldwide about his Rays
record 8 RBI eruption in the day game of the double douse y, but
overall Zobrist went from 31st in the RBI Leaders list to
Numero Uno in a lightning flash. Zorilla eclipsed the previous Rays
RBI record of 7 RBI’s held by Carlos Pena, and was the first
explosion of it’s type since Blue Jay Adam Lind back on August 2009
when he posted 8 RBIs on the Texas Rangers.

Lost in all the big numbers is the fact
Zobrist is now riding a 3-game hitting streak himself and boosted his
own batting average from .203 to .258 at the end of the night. Along
the way in this back-to-back series of game Zobrist produced a solid
7 for 10 stream along with 5 runs scored and a staggering 10 RBIs.
Suddenly Google searches for “Zorilla” have gone through the
roof.


That is the same mechanics that helped
build the “Big Red Machine” into MLB prominence before most of
this Rays squad other than Damon ( 1973 ) or relief pitchers Kyle
Farnsworth (1976 ) and Joel Peralta (1976 ) were even born.

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Suddenly this Rays team is posing some
problems for those people who wanted to believe that so much team
composition and transition would eliminate the Rays from any chances
of competing, but still the Ray keep pushing wins across the board.
Great teams have to gain their sturdy basic roots somewhere, possibly
this is the Rays chance to thrust them deep and solidify their team
structure and confidence.


This Spring there was great worry among
the Rays Republic about this team and their inherent structure and a
possible backslide in talent and abilities. Suddenly that same
worrisome thought process is being erased by the bats of Damon,
Zobrist, Joyce and the consistency of this all under-30 pitching
rotation.


I think I am just going to sit back a
bit more this short home stand and relax as this Rays team shows not
only me, but all of the Rays Republic and MLB that not only was
Anderson right with his quote, but we have nothing to worry
about….this team is out of hibernation and hungry for wins. Wonder
if the Los Angeles Angels are nervous yet about playing the red hot
Rays?




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