Results tagged ‘ Jeremy Hellickson ’

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

ap-fe573ac97eb44b5fa026647dcdda2337.jpg


“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.

ap-f1cf7749993d4515baa6877ba4c242a1.jpg

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.

ap-8bb1d1713f544edba40aa2388caf5701.jpg

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.

229365_10150171756833429_35250178428_6944131_1393093_n.jpg

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.

d76d03395134db2b7b4a79623a371cca-getty-cleveland_indians_v_minnesota_twins.jpg

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?




Garza Chatter is Stoking the Rays Hot Stove Fire

 

l_0e0ea02434374188ba6de99f37de89fe.jpg

Chris O’Meara/AP 

 

In the waning moments of the 2010 Major League Baseball Winter Meeting there is an increasing chilly wind whistling around the ornate columns of the Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort. Within the sound swirling through the colorfully decorated corridors, the name heard on the cusp of the wind is that of Rays starting pitcher Matt Garza. The Rays front office has more than let it be known that they will listen to offers and discuss their young budding star, and possibly provide him as additional luggage for some lucky GM before they hit the tarmac off Sand Lake Road.
But more than a few will balk at the attached price tag, while others will try and haggle and possibly snatch the young pitcher but he will not come as a bargain basement item. Garza can easily be thrust up into the top three pitchers made available during the Winter Meetings joining fellow starters Cliff Lee and the Royals Zack Greinke as the 1-2-3 combo of pitcher currently wetting the lips of fellow MLB GM’s. With Lee basically pigeon-holed to the top tier of moneymakers like the Yankees, Nats and Rangers, that leave right-handers Greinke and Garza as top dollar showpieces.


That being said, the Rays would love to keep someone of Garza’s ability and future potential, but the market sometimes dictates the flow and impending exit visa of a player like Garza. And he has gained the most possible trade inquiries instead of fellow starter James Shields. If you melt Garza’s last three season together you get the persona of a highly competitive hurler with an extremely emotional passion for the game. With a projected arbitration guesstimate of $ 5.5 million for 2011, he would be a financially viable option.

One of the possible negatives surrounding Garza might be the return the Rays would expect to pluck Garza from the Rays roster. Even with the aspect of a reduction the Rays payroll with sending Garza to another team, the Rays will want more than a single player in return. And that can be a defining factor that could quickly eliminate more than a few MLB teams from even calling about the right-hander.

But a crafty GM who knows about the Rays impending fiscal binds combined with the stark reality that the Rays might need to pursue a trade with one of their pitchers before the 2011 season to unblock the path of top prospect Jeremy Hellickson who has shown he is ready for full-time MLB duty. After an impressive September, Hellickson is not guaranteed a rotation slot or even a roster spot for the Rays in 2011, but am impressive Spring could force the Rays into a snap judgment pitching decision.

Maybe it is time for all of us within the Rays Republic to accept that even with Garza’s increased proficiency on the mound, maybe he has reached his ultimate zenith in trade value. That by trading him at his highest level, Garza will bring a healthy player return that will fundamentally secure the Rays next level of player development. With the Rays currently having up to 6 open slots in their bullpen for 2011, using Garza to gain some impending relief depth might be the best playable card in the Rays deck of cards.

Most in the Rays Republic might want the team to shop fellow starter James Shields instead of Garza, but Shields is coming off a sub-par 2010 season and needs to reestablish his value in the trade market before the Rays dangle him on a line. Garza has also received the most nibbles by prospective MLB teams, and could provide some internal team control since he is a Super-two arbitration eligible player and a prospective team could control him longer before Garza would hit the free agency trail. But then again, posting a No-hitter automatically has more than a few mouths watering around the league.

 

l_b4b76e2d804b4906b7020ed838856108.jpg

Chris O’Meara/AP

It is that classic “Dang if you do, Dang if you don’t” scenario that even putting Garza out there to entice the rest of the league could come back to bite the Rays in the end. We have seen recently that the Rays are trying to get the most in return for anyone they consider “tradable”. With recent Jason Bartlett trade rumors falling by the wayside, it is becoming evident that the Rays value quantity as well as quality in their trade talks. Some teams might want to strike while the Rays iron is hot in the coals and steal Garza away, but that will not happen.

The Rays do not have to trade Garza or any other player currently on their roster to afford them. But the underlying aspect of possibly getting two or three players under contract for the same $ 5.5 million might entice the Rays to trade Garza a little less in return right now. But the deal will still be on the Rays terms, and will involve the players they as either future keystones or possible 2011 foundations rocks to rebuilding the franchise’s current weak spots. The Rays have never been a club that will thrust up the K-mart blue light and proclaim a special low cost price for one of their players. It is not known yet if the Rays will pull the trigger on a trade of any of their players during the Winter Meetings or before the team again begin to assemble this February.

Garza has done a lot for this Rays franchise. He has produced some of the most memorable moments in Rays history from securing the 2008 ALCS Most Valuable Player award to thrusting his fist skyward after his No-Hitter in front of the home crowd against the Tigers. I would be disappointed to see him leave, but I also understand the limitations and circumstances that surround the Rays this off season that facilitate such a move.

The cool Florida winds are still blowing through the Resort lobby, but somewhere beyond our eyesight I can still feel the warmth of the Rays taking calls and making inquires trying to find those special pieces of cordwood to stoke their Hot Stove fires.

 
 

Rays Sonnanstine Always Seems to Endure

4.4.JPG 

Tampa Bay Rays starter/reliever Andy Sonnanstine might not be the guy you first envisioned when you thought who might be the “last man standing” when the Rays begin their systematic Winter dissection of their 2010 bullpen. When you think of lasting elements in regards to the Rays Bullpen, honestly Sonnanstine was not the first name that crossed my mind. But he has been fighting that type of thinking his entire life as well as his professional career.


In a pre-2010 MLB season Rays Index Trade Pool contest, 3 out of 12 Rays Internet bloggers thought Sonnanstine would be the Rays top trade target during the season . I, can honestly tell you I was one of the trio who thought Sonny’s career might be outside the Rays circle of trust by this juncture of the Hot Stove season. Plenty of times I thought the Rays “sixth starter” would be dealt away to give himself a chance to again sustain a starting role instead of being pigeonholed into a long reliever role.

There are so many previously unseen twists and turns within starter/reliever/jack-of-all pitching trades Sonnanstine that you can see why he has survived to the end. Sonny is a proverbial human “onion” with so many multiple layers and talents within his overall skill set besides just throwing a round white sphere at a moderate velocity. Did you know that the Ohio native once actually worked as a pheasant hunt guide at the Hill and Dale Hunt Club in Medina, Ohio as well as being a great clay target shooter?

Then you peel away another layer of the onion to find out that the quiet Sonnanstine was also once a school janitor during his High School days.

Sonnanstine initially got on the Rays radar in another very unusual way. He originally was not a collegiate baseball player on the Rays scouting department’s radar in advance of the team picking him in the 13th Round of the 2004 MLB June Draft.

His Rays career might have never materialized if former Rays owner Vince Namoli had not witnessed Sonnanstine’s magic as the tall lanky right-hander handcuff Namiloi’s 5th ranked Norte Dame Fightin’ Irish baseball squad in a 2-1 upset in the opening round of the South Bend Regional of the NCAA Baseball Championship.


Did you know that Sonnanstine during his red-shirt Freshman year helped the Golden Flash defeat the number one ranked Georgia Tech squad sending them to their first loss of that season and posting the first win of Sonnanstine’s collegiate career. Even to this date, two of Kent State’s biggest baseball victories have Sonnanstine listed as the winning pitcher.

Recently another layer of the Sonny onion has been exposed as Sonnanstine will be inducted into the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) Hall of Fame for his play during 2002 and 2003 with Sanford Mainers. Sonny will be joined by former 2004 Rays RP Mark Malaska along with current MLB players Chris Iannetta (C, Rockies), Andre Either (OF, Dodgers), former MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent and Joe Consentino in a ceremony held on November 6, 2010 in Sanford, Maine.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved baseball,” Sonnanstine wrote in 2005 on attheyard.com, an online journal for professional baseball players. At the time, he was pitching for the Rays former Class-A affiliate, the Charleston Riverdogs. “I think I was four or so when I first picked up a baseball, and since then I’ve had a dream of becoming a Major League pitcher. Making that dream come true has been the biggest priority of my life“.


More and more you dig into the onion that is the life of this Rays player, the more interesting and intriguing experiences you seem to uncover. The fact that Sonnanstine does an off season Wii fitness program might not be too exciting or surprising to most people, but it is not the usual baseball themed regime, but a Yoga-based program to help with his overall flexibility and stamina while spending his off the field time with his faithful canine companion Murphy at his St. Pete Beach home.

We all immediately got to see a first sliver of the comedy side of Sonny’s onion during a Rays road trip in 2009 when the Rays pitcher organized a covert team wide prank on Rays rookie reliever Dale Thayer to have a little fun with Thayer’s 1970’s style facial hair. At a predetermined time during the game, the entire Rays bench and the bullpen both systematically pulled out a bushy moustache substitute and applied it to their face in homage to Thayer. It was a quick look into the creative mind of Sonny.

During the 2010 season, The Rays fans all got to collectively see more of Sonny’s inherent artistic talents as he was the main conspirator in the changing daily facades to the Rays upcoming promotional giveaway images plastered on the Tropicana Field Rightfield just beyond the Rays bullpen. His daily transformation of both the David Price and Matt Garza figures were always well received and recorded for their sheer attention to detail and overall humorous intent.

Little did most of us know that Sonnanstine actually had a bit of an MLB pedigree before the Rays drafted him out of Kent State. It seems that the Ohio natives great uncle on his mother’s side was former Cleveland Indian Third Baseman Ken Keltner who New York Yankee fans still curse as the guy who made two great defensive plays to end Joe DiMaggio’s 52-game hitting streak back on July 17,1941.

Sonnanstine also got to live a moment of Rays irony on September 1, 2010 when he was optioned because of a mysterious right foot contusion to the same short season Hudson Valley Renegades ( love it) club where he began his Rays career. The same franchise that once presented Sonny with their Pitcher of the Year award back in 2004.


065.JPG

The Rays resident ping pong champion who was once referred to in the past as a “poor man’s Greg Maddux” has again defeated the odds and remains standing tall. During so many of the Rays previous seasons, the Rays right-hander has been the focus of countless trade rumors and opinions, but has always seemed to survive the cut and stay firmly planted within the Rays fold.


But the most defined peel of Sonny’s onion might be in his mental preparation and overall athletic ability that has even made Rays Manager Joe Maddon secure with a line-up card error. Back on May 17,2009 during a home start against the Cleveland Indians, an error on the game line-up card posted both Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist playing Third Base.

The mistake eliminated the Designated Hitter position from the Rays batting order and thrust Sonny into the third slot in the Rays line-up Sonnanstine rose to the occasion for his Rays teammates by going 1-for-3 with an RBI double, plus picked up the pitching win to add a double dose of misery to the Indians, who were Sonnanstine’s favorite team as a child growing up in Ohio.

Sonnanstine’s first trip in 2010 to the disabled list for a right hamstring injury threw the door wide open for the Rays to recall Rays top prospect Jeremy Hellickson to make his MLB debut against the Minnesota Twins on August 19th. Even with an injury, Sonny finds a way to help the Rays win games.

Maybe the guy who once spent his college years in a dormitory room at Kent State just beyond the statue that still bears the bullet hole from the Kent State Massacre (May, 4,1970) surely knows a thing or two about surviving, even in the Major Leagues.

Some people might be surprised to learn that Sonny is double-jointed in his right elbow, or about his in-game superstition of throwing numerous pieces of bubble gum to the masses in Section 140 of Tropicana Field during Rays home games. The recent Rays Bullpen purge is quickly turning into huge question mark for the Rays. Possibly Sonnanstine has the right stuff to remain and provide more than just an onion slice of consistency for the Rays Bullpen heading into 2011.
 
 

Did Shields Throw his Last Pitch for the Rays?

 

 

Sometimes we have to do things we do not like in life. Sometimes the idealisms and good things we have collectively done in our lives really do only amount to a hill of beans. With baseball becoming more of a business and streamlined industry every season, sometimes even the good guys can lose out because of one inconsistent season. There is one member of the Tampa Bay Rays who might have a interesting Winter, and possibly be venturing into another clubhouse this Spring.


We are not talking about Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano, or even Joaquin Benoit. Even though he is a pitcher, his worth to this Rays team can be measured in many variations, but also his 2010 statistics show a decline not witnessed before in his short Rays career. With talent like Rays rookie Jeremy Hellickson and the rest of the Rays farmhands knocking at the Rays backdoor, James Shields might find himself the odd man out by the end of the Winter.

This is the time you start to hoist up a starter like Shields and see who take long glances or inquires deeply on his tenure with the Rays. This is the time you take small meetings and discuss the future without or without the Rays Opening Day starter for the last three seasons. Just because you were a vital cog on Opening Day three years straight doesn’t mean you are invincible or “off limits”. Rays team tenure doesn’t really mean that much on this young squad, it only means you have been here a while.

 

It doesn’t matter in the long run that Shields was the 2009 and 2010 Roberto Clemente recipient for the Rays, or that you designed your own T-shirt as a Rays fan giveaway. It doesn’t matter that you are the oldest member of one of the youngest rotations in the Major Leagues. In the end it just comes down to if you still have enough value to possible get the Rays some of the pieces needed to formulate another winning line-up or Bullpen.


Shields has the past stats and the veteran leadership to command a good piece from a competitor in return for his services, and being signed already to a pretty low cost contract considering his experience, his value will ultimately be set by the top tier veterans who hit the Free Agent market. But with the earmarking of Shields even being considered as trade bait comes the reality that he might also be viewed as a questionable commodity considering his uncharacteristic sub par 2010 season.

Simply put, could Shields have already peaked as a pitcher and we are suddenly seeing his decent from the top tier of pitchers, or is he just not making adequate adjustments during the game that have seen his seasonal ERA climb from 3.56 in 2008 to balloon towards a 5.18 ERA fort his season. No one will question the heart of Shields as he ventured past the 200+ inning mark for the fourth straight season, but could it have come with a cost this season for Shields. Could his pitches have finally been charted and projected so well that now they seem routine or forced to the plate?

977.2 innings over a career is an incredible feat that so many other MLB quality pitchers’ wish they could count on their resume’. Combine that with a franchise high 56 victories and winning the Rays only World Series game, plus an added distinction of winning the Rays first playoff game (2008 ALDS Game 1), and you get a resume’ few can argue with around the Major Leagues. But even with those lofty accomplishments firmly within his grasp. Shields has also has some moment in 2010 that we all wish we could somehow forget.

What Rays Republic member can forget that Shields, as the eldest member at 28 in the Rays rotation gave us a few times where we all openly gasped at his lack of control at critical times this season. Currently Shield sis riding a 5-game losing streak all the way back to his September 4th loss in Baltimore 8-4 to the Orioles. Lost among that losing streak is the positives that Shield’s 853 innings pitched since 2007 is the 3rd most in the American League behind only starters’ Mariners Felix Hernandez (879.1) and Tigers Justin Verlander (867.0).

Even though Shields only missed the Rays strikeout lead by one single K to fellow starter David Price in 2010, Shields had 5 games of 10 or more strikeouts this season, a career high. Shields strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.67 was the fourth best in the American League , but punctuated hard on his record was his 15 total losses, which also was a career high. Accenting this downward trend further is the fact Shields gave up 34 Home Runs, first in the American League and led the Major Leagues 128 runs allowed and 117 earned runs allowed while surrendering 246 hits, which tied him for the MLB lead with Chicago pitcher Mark Buehrle.

And odd point to Shield’s rollercoaster 2010 season, he was on the hill as the Rays starter for Oakland Athletic starter Dallas Braden’s perfect game on May 9th in Oakland, California. Shields last victory was August 29,2010 in Fenway Park against the Red Sox. Combine that with the fact Shields only logged 7-plus innings twice in his final 18 starts and you see a reason to wonder about the once solid Rays stalwart.

The last time Shield threw for 7-plus innings was his start against the Texas Rangers at Tropicana Field when he went exactly 7 innings and picked up the win in the Rays 8-6 victory. Shields left that contest with a 7-3 lead. For some reason Shields has gotten more predictable on the mound for the Rays. His change-up is still his mystery pitch, but with him starting to overload his throwing of it in key situations, hitters are beginning to adjust and wait on the slower pitch.

Even in fastball counts Shields has been relying more on his change-up to get him an advantage, but has instead just gotten a fresh ball from the Home Plate Umpire. Because of this, it makes Shields expendable for the first time in his MLB career. Even with one of the best change-ups in the Majors, Shields might have to re-evaluate the pitch in the off season and tweak it a bit to bring himself back to game form for 2011.

With his team friendly contract of several one-year options ( $ 4.25 million in 2011) there is the flexibility for another team to try Shields on for size without a long term commitment. With the Rays also seeing two of their other starters begin to reach past the million dollar mark in salary in 2011, it makes him more expendable because of salary than for his 6 Home Runs allowed to the Toronto Blue Jays in 4 innings of work back on August 7,2010. Funnier still is that Shields only gave up one more Home Run in his other 6 starts in August.

Maybe it is time the Rays break their ties with one of their senior members of their pitching staff. Possibly a change in scenery will do wonders to Shields refining his crispness on his pitches and finding another team that will value his devouring of innings. Right now With Hellickson and possibly Matt Moore sitting at the Rays backdoor looking for a spot and a chance to perform at this level, it puts a target squarely between Shields shoulder blades.

 

Suddenly it will be more about future potential than past accolades for Shields. More on the focus of the Rays upcoming 2011 business model than on his T-shirt endeavors. It will center squarely on whether it is time to cut ties with Shields, or try and ride his coattails for one last time hoping for a meteoric rise rather than a star fizzling out.


Shields is still a valued commodity around Major League Baseball that needs to be dealt to induce Rays farm talent a honest chance to rise to his once great level. It might just come down to the black and white on the page instead of the color and personality Shields brings to the Rays. Possibly we saw Shields exit his last Rays game during the ALCS never to wear the Rays sunburst again

Rays Best Non-Trade of the Season

 
 

Back earlier in 2010 when the Seattle Mariners put a “For Rent” sign squarely on the chest of starting pitcher Cliff Lee, the Tampa Bay Rays were quick to phone the Mariners and see just what they had to dangle in front of the seafaring squad to entice them to send the left-hander to another coastal town at the opposite end of the country.

The Rays were not in denial that it would only be a 3-month rental, possibly 4 at the most, and would have to probably give up some substantial player personnel to push this deal towards the finish line.

There were more than a few speculations that the Mariners wanted a pitcher in return who was already Major League ready, or currently on the Rays 25-man roster. There was also a good indicator that the Mariners would be wanting possibly two infielders, one from the Rays stable farm system, and then possibly another MLB ready candidate.


Whispers were prevalent that the Mariners were seeking Rays rookie Wade Davis or possibly Rays farmhand (at the time) Jeremy Hellickson as a first point on the triangle of talent to secure Lee’s services for the remainder of 2010. But Davis had begun to shown a more mature pitching style at that moment and was beginning to show his true colors and adaptability to Major League hitting when the deal was being considered.

Hellickson on the other hand has run into a few situations in his recent starts about that time and was still a very unproven MLB commodity. With neither of these Rays pitchers’ solidly in the chatter between the two teams, this discussion was over quicker than it started. But who else might have been on the wire for the Mariners to consider? What other MLB caliber players or possible Rays farmhands possibly would have been plucked to complete a trade of this magnitude?

 

Rumors abounded all over the stadium that the Mariners were more than eager to solidify their shortstop position, and their attention went immediately to Reid Brignac. The young Rays infielder had developed a more power infused hitting stroke, and his defensive play had made him a valuable asset to the Rays not only as a left-handed option, but as a cog that could be popped into positions all over the infield.


Ray farmhand Matt Sweeney, who was acquired in the Scott Kazmir trade in 2009 was also seen as a possible trade addition as a future third base option for the Mariners and might be a year or two out of the Major Leagues with the Mariners, but would have to change positions to get to the same level with the Rays because of 3-time All Star Evan Longoria standing in front of him on the Rays depth chart.

Word was also circulating that Leslie Anderson, the former Cuban National team member was also being scouted as a possible future Mariners option at first base with both current M’s Casey Kotchman and Russell Branyan being Free Agents in 2011. Options were plentiful, but the Rays also did not want to give up too much in MLB potential for a short rental property like Lee.

In the end, this possible trade came back to haunt the Rays as Lee eventually went to American League West divisional winner the Texas Rangers and solidified their pitching staff after a short adjustment period. During the post season, Lee has now extended his winning streak thanks to two remarkable performances again the Rays in Game 1 and Game 5 of the ALDS.
 
It is a bit ironic that the one pitching piece the Rays had sought to bolster up their rotation in the end helped to create the demise of the team that wanted to acquire him. Ultimately the left hand of Lee added to the Rays misery and their early departure in the ALDS, but they got to keep pieces of their farm system and team who could play major roles in 2011.

Hellickson and Davis should be key components for many years of a maturing Rays rotation and be two valuable right-handed options in the Rays pitching staff for at least the next 5 years. Reid Brignac could have developed enough in 2010 to possibly unseat incumbent Jason Bartlett and his possible 4.5 million 2011 salary and make Bartlett trade bait this off season/. Matt Sweeney is growing his power potential with every game he plays and should be a great power option possibly in late 2011 or 2012,possibly at Designated Hitter.


 

Anderson is going to play in the Arizona Fall League (Peoria Saguaros) to gather some more training and game experience with a possibility for a 2011 Spring Training invite to challenge for the Rays First Base position. All five of these players who were thought to be in the trade process between the Mariners and Rays for the limited services of Lee until the end of this season.


The Seattle and Rays management not liking the players pairings for Lee and then shutting off talks and then having the Mariners end up sending Lee to Texas might be one of the best deals this season for the Tampa Bay Rays. People argued at the Trade Deadline that the Rays might have been too picky or too silent and it cost us a chance to go deeper into the postseason.

In the end, the Rays front office’s strict guidelines for a substantial return on their short term investment in Lee might turn out to be their hidden gold mine by keeping their stockpile of young talent.
 

 
 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 290 other followers