Results tagged ‘ Jim Hickey ’

Ramos and his Versatility Deserves a Chance at Rays 5th Slot.

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Some would say throwing your ball cap into a ring with several other MLB caliber players is a “no-win” situation. That in doing so you might seem a bit of unsure of your part in the Tampa Bay Rays brain trusts ultimate plans for you, but I disagree with that train of thought.

I actually think the decision reached by southpaw reliever Cesar Ramos is not only bold but a calculated move and shows to the men who make these kind of decisions that he is willing to do whatever is necessary to put his name on a Rays 25-man spot come Opening Day, even if it means abandoning their pre-set agenda of him being the long guy out of the Rays Bullpen.

cr2It also shows to me Ramos wants to garner the same type of versatility and game situational thought process that makes a utility player like Sean Rodriguez an invaluable piece of the Rays game day puzzle. By Ramos going back and trying to stretch himself out again as a starter, it could give the Rays not only another leftie starter, it could ultimately solidify his slot as the Rays long innings eater out of the Pen as well as a spot starter without having to bring someone in from Triple-A Durham in an emergency scenario.

Making yourself an invaluable piece of the Rays machinery has led to a longer Rays tenure for Rodriguez, and it only seems natural for Ramos to also want to secure additional roles or situational ideas with his name imprinted upon Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s mind.  By wanting to take a chance on the Rays 5th rotation spot, even in the short term until Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson come back sometime in late May, Ramos is showing his versatility, willingness to take on challenges as well as show he wants the ball every 5th day this season.

Sure it might only be a gig for 7-8 starts then back into the Bullpen frame of mind, but it can project not only the confidence he has in his pitches, but if the Rays did elect to hand the ball to Ramos, it shows they too understand the commitment whether long term or short is one the leftie would accept again at a moment’s notice.

cr3And that kind of guy down in the Bullpen is needed. You never know when a guy might stiffen up, feel a tweak or just doesn’t have his stuff on a given day and with the Rays confident in Ramos, it makes the decision not only easier, but gives them confidence immediately Ramos will rise to the occasion and take the ball.

A great comparison to what Ramos is trying to achieve is the situation that fell to Andy Sonnanstine late in his Rays tenure.  Sonny was put into the Bullpen with the knowledge he not only has “starter’s stuff” in the way of preparation and stamina, but had the reliever’s mentality at the same time to get the job done in the least amount of pitches, with the least amount of damage until the Bullpen took over the late innings.

And not surprising today during his first Spring Training outing, Ramos survived 2.2 innings of work but did give up 4 hits and 2 runs while fellow 5th spot contenders Eric Bedard got the victory and Jake Odorizzi got his first ever M L B save. Still Ramos faced 12 batters and was added by a sniper-like throw by Evan Longoria to get shifty pinstripe Brett Gardner who was trying to stretch his single to left field into a double at Second Base.

Some might instantly say Ramos was lucky, but every M L B starter knows a little “luck” is more than welcomed during an outing.

cr4I kind of like the idea of Ramos fighting for the 5th rotation slot even if it might be on an interim and abbreviated basis. It puts another usable pitching cog into Maddon’s arsenal as well as doesn’t use up a minor league option on one of the Rays triple-A stars trying to bang their way into the majors. Now it’s up to Maddon and his brain trust to decide if Ramos, who is out of minor league options is their 5th guy until Hellickson hit the mound again, or remains in their long reliever role from this point on this Spring.

Hopefully Ramos will get a few more chances to not only change the minds of Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey and Maddon, but endear himself to all of us as not only Evan Longoria’s old roommate at Long Beach State, but as the versatile guy is truly is……..I hope Ramos get the shot because versatility especially in the pitching area is something special and should be rewarded. 

Cooler Weather Couldn’t Dampen the 2014 Toby Hall & Friends Celebrity Spring Training Golf Classic Spirit

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Sure the weather might have been a bit unpleasant, but not a single soul seemed beaten by the weather as all who assembled for the 7th edition of the Toby Hall & Friends Celebrity Spring Training Golf Classic knew first and foremost the day’s real winners were the Miracle League and the Buddy Baseball organizations within the Tampa Bay community.

hgghjhIt wasn’t the same old, same old during the annual Toby Hall event held this year on February 7th, it was one of those days where the weather prognosticators were off by a chilly 12 degrees and unexpected bouts of misty precipitation that never seemed to dampen any of the assembled golfer’s moods. Every foursome I witnessed this day whether with winter clothing or shorts and windbreakers seemed no worse for the wear and anxious to play the 18 holes at the new vista, the Feather Sound Country Club.

I was talking to Tampa Bay Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton who told me early tournament arrival Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey told him of the cold and possibly damp prediction of the day, but each showed up in Rays sweats and shorts smacking tee shots and drives into the mist towards each hold adorned with the Toby Hall black and red tournament flags.

yuytrtySome did bundle up like former Ray Fred McGriff, but other like the Bucs Big Nasty, Mike Alstott and Rays pitcher Matt Moore braved the day with a little less covering but warmed by the true essence of the day which was to show support for the Miracle League and Buddies Baseball. Everyone got into the early spirit as the Rays official DJ, DJ Fresh warmed everyone up with music and Arby’s once again provided a hearty lunch and sweet treat for the assembled golfers.

No matter where you went on the front or back 9 holes of this remarkable golf course you could hear the laughing and stories being by celebrities and members of their golfing foursomes and it carried throughout the air. From the Long Drive hole where you almost could forecast a sonic boom from some of the great sounds coming off these custom-made drivers to the Closest-to-the-Pin competition or Straightest Drive competition was in the air, but charity always scored double-eagles. Even got to see another side of Bay New 9 anchor Jen Hollaway and that strapping young lad, the Rays Todd Kalas.

mnbvcbvbvcSome might say I’m waxing a bit too poetically with this, but truly I did not hear a single gruff or grumble all day long. From the first moment of registration to the final raffle and award given out at the post-tournament dinner at the Carillion Hilton, not a single person seemed weathered by the day events buy exhilarated by the day and gave even more of themselves in the Silent Auction.

Sure both the participants and Hall may have yearned for sun-kissed dry day, but the assembled masses who participated in this edition of the tournament could only rave and smile when asked if they had a “good day”. Sure some people got a bit shilled and possibly wet, but nothing dampened the hope and spirit of the event and even a few new faces I talked with were already wondering about a 2015 date.

kljdfThat is the sign of a great tournament when just as people finish the days event they already want to plan for a return engagement. Once again Toby Hall and the Professional Golf Events team who provided not only a great 18 holes of golf, but possibly the weather also got these golfer more in tune with the true meaning of the day’s events and Hall’s charities reaped that emotion.

So I raise my glass once again to the organizers, Toby and all the golfers I met and chatted with this year…See you again next February when we all again assemble to help the Miracle League and Buddy Baseball achieve even greater moments.

Additional Photos from the 2014 Toby Hall & Friends Celebrity Spring Training Golf Classic.  

Roberto Hernandez Could be the Linchpin to Several Rays Spring Decisions

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So we can already guess upon the top 2 slots in the Tampa Bay Rays rotation without much debate. But number 3 through 5 will definitely bring about a few thoughts, opinions and possible destinations for the one hurler who loses out a slot with the team. It truly seems that SP/RP Roberto Hernandez will have a say on who might take the third slot, then the rest will hopefully fall into place with possibly one odd man out, and he might just find himself in an ironic footnote.

RobHernWhen the Rays first signed Roberto Hernandez I was not sure which pitcher we might see this Spring. We could have seen the guy who was “lights out” as the Opening Day starter for the Indians, or the pitcher who seemed in a daze last season putting up sub-par numbers and maybe battling a bit of a confidence issue due to his “name game”. Instead we have seen Hernandez throwing some interesting innings, and he could possibly push his way up to number 3 if SP Matt Moore has some more control and questionable decision while on the hill.

And I do not mean this as a demotion to Moore, but the Rays could have a guy in Hernandez who could be throwing at a #2 level right now and with Moore fighting a few issues, pushing him back to the 4th slot could give him extra time with Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey or to work on his mechanics and be ready to start off the Rays second home series of the season against the Cleveland Indians. This short reversal in the rotation order could be beneficial to Moore in fixing his small flaws and also get him going against a foe that seems to hate left-handers.

201303051306471744340-p2Moore could in all likelihood after a few good starts reclaim his 3rd position, possibly as soon as April 16th in Baltimore due to a Rays off-day on April 11th in the middle of the Rays first road trip of the season. Of course that would push SP Alex Cobb into the final slot for the rotation baring an injury or the Rays decided SP Jeff Niemann would be a better fifth starter. But that is the biggest question mark of the Spring, and that decision might be delayed all the way into the Rays final contest in Tropicana Field against the Detroit Tigers on March 30th.

It seems more than likely at this moment even with a stellar Spring Niemann might be the odd man out and ironically, the Tall Texan could be possibly headed to the MLB team the last guy who fought him for a fifth slot found himself on Opening Day. You might remember the Spring 2008 battle between fellow right-hander and hurler out of options Jason Hammel and Niemann came down to the last possible inning before Hammel got shipped off to Colorado.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red SoxIronically, Niemann could also be heading to Coors Field because just as that moment, he is still out of options and would never pass through the waiver wire without someone hitching his name to their roster. The Rockies have checked in on Niemann already this Spring, and with a trade that might include a few prospects and maybe a fringe MLB player at best, Niemann could be staring at the Centerfield waterfall on the Rockies Opening Day.

So a few things seem to hinge in where the Rays truly see Hernandez in their rotation, either as high as third until Moore clears out a few cobwebs, or possibly as far down as fifth if the team think Cobb has the goods to secure that spot for the season. But with Moore having a few hiccups, using a proven MLB starter at the third slot until he clears his hurdle would be beneficial to him and the Rays especially since they have Hernandez on their roster.

sp_cobb030713_10351535_8colSome might say put Cobb in the 3-slot and let him learn on the job, but with an early seasonal tilt with a playoff and American League East divisional rivals slant, not putting the extra pressure on Cobb could turn out to be a blessing especially if it means he gets to mature at his pace and might get some extremely favorable match ups in the fifth slot that would favor the Rays right-hander.

Niemann seems to be the odd man out, but if the Rays see him as a long reliever, then he might not have to worry about any trade rumors and could find himself seated down where his old teammate Wade Davis sat in 2012…the Rays Bullpen.

JameyWThis is where another decision might have to be made. If the Rays think long time journeyman Jamey Wright might push Niemann firmly towards the door. If the Rays think Wright could be a right-handed option out of the Bullpen and stay healthy throughout the season, he could find himself taking Niemann’s slot in the Rays 25-man roster.

So it might be a bit of trickle-down right now with the Rays as they decide where to position Hernandez, and if Wright is a viable option for the Bullpen. Either way you seem to slice it right now, Niemann is firmly on the razor’s edge, and any slight wavering by the Rays in the coming week could either bring him back to safety, or mark his trail onward and outside the Rays roster.  

 

 

Players and Fans Definitely Rocked the Trop at Fan Fest

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I saw a member of the Tampa Bay Rays front office while doing my usual trading card route a few days before that Saturday’s Rays Fan Fest. He seemed really excited about the anticipated fan to player ratio at the multiple events held throughout the day, and believe me, the Rays not only delivered, but a few of their players such as INF Sean Rodriguez and P Chris Archer seemed to be everywhere.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 099All day long I heard stories of players going above and beyond. We all have heard of Archer inviting a young fan up to the Autograph tales and behind the Rays blue curtain to meet a few of his Rays friends in the “Blue Room”. It was stuff like this, plus the added touch of players reading to young fans,  being open to fan’s questions and requests all day long that made a deep and lasting impression as to their investment in this region and this special fan base.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 073I did not hear a single story of a player turning down a fan, or refusing any request during this special Rays day that is a huge celebration of the season that is now upon us. Heck I think we all might even have gotten a glimpse at a possible Rays future draft pick as Toby Hall’s son stroked a HR out of the curtained off ballfield a few times from the left side of the plate.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 023I mean I even saw Rays P Jeff Niemann at one point basically depositing basketball over by the hoop carnival games like he was dropping a wad of paper into a wastebasket. And during all of this were a gaggle of screaming and excited kids, adults and a combination of the two relishing in this increased presence of the player this year. Over the past few years as the team has grown increasingly competitive some of the fold reverted a bit back into old habits of selective signings and photos with fans. On this day if they were able, photos were snapped and memories were imprinted forever thanks to their increased visibility.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 039Combine this breathe of fresh air from the Rays themselves with the over 25,000 fans who walked into the Rays Rotunda on Saturday, this region still craves baseball and made sure other in and around the MLB World knew there was a fan base in this community. Even with the huge turnout of fans to Tropicana Field for Fan Fest, it was overshadowed by the fact the team only drew over that 25,000 visitor threshold 17 times during the 2012 season.

Hopefully the recent blast in the media of supposed apathy and nonchalant attitudes towards the game have been erased at least until the regular season when the proof will be in the proverbial pudding if the fans will again flock to the Trop.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 041But this day was about the 2 lucky fans enshrined into the Rays/Pepsi Wall of Fame, the hundreds of scavenger hunters snapping pictures around the Trop in hopes of grabbing an Even Longoria signed bat for their collections. Everywhere you looked there were kids, parents and even long time fans walking, talking and making mostly positive comments about the days events. Baseball Hall of Fame member Peter Gammons visited Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s “Thanks-Mas” event prior to his own panel discussion making a few of those fans not only full of Maddon-induced food goodness, but also got to hear a baseball analyst’s take on the Rays and baseball.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 045Sure there were moments that made you scratch your noggin for a second like Rays INF/OF Shelley Duncan and Rodriguez as a pairing for the “Family Feud event. There were a few scattered “boo-birds” when Duncan was announced, but most have let the Spring incident of 2008 be finally put to rest. Still, it would have been interesting if Elliot Johnson was still here…pairing him with Duncan would have caught everyone’s ear. Still this season’s Fan Fest was amazing in the items up for sale in the Rays Garage Sale to the amount of MLBPA Alumni players participating in the Home Run Derby (won by O’s OF Mike Deveraux), to the huge table of past stars both of the Rays and other MLB vistas.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 095All in all the event might have been a bit reduced in total time we all spent within the confines of the tilted cap, but it was a day spent watching kids frolic in the batting cages, running the bases and getting a high-5 from Archer as they hit Home Plate. Matt Joyce also made a few more Rays fans as he stayed after his signing time was over and came to the side of the autograph stage and signed for a bit longer for fans who did not get a chance to get to him before his time was over.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 019Rays new Stud-du-Jour Wil Myers even made extra time for Rays fans who did not know him before his recent trade to the Rays and with Myers taking that extra moment, he sparked a few comments from people hoping he makes it to the MLB level some time in 2013. So now that the Rays Republic got a chance to see and meet a few of our new players to the Rays fold, and a few of the hungry and eager ones wanting a taste of the MLB life, it is now our time to show support for this team not only this Spring, but all the way until Game 162.

Rays Fan Fest 2013 002The Rays invest a lot of time and money in an event like this, and with 16 of them now in the books I can definitely say without any remorse that the 2013 edition definitely has set a new standard for future Rays Fan Fest’s. I made a tongue-in-cheek Tweet the other day about the whole Rays front office forming a Congo line today and each of them pat each other on the back for pulling off this grand event in style. I think it was Pepsi who sealed the emotions of the day as the Rays staff and players definitely “Rocked the Trop” on Saturday and I do not think anyone did not leave with a bit of Rays swag, autographs or maybe even a former players jersey tucked under their arm. The Trop definitely rocked a bit on Saturday, but I think we were all having too much fun to notice, which is a good thing.

Tall Order on the Horizon for the Tall Texan

Not really sure what level of comfort Tampa Bay Rays SP Jeff Niemann has to push away a team offer of $ 2.75 million and hold out in the hope of making his change pocket jingle with his own arbitration figure of $ 3.25 million. Is the difference of a measly $ 500,000 really worth possibly alienating your own 2012 future with a team that already might be considering trading or even banishing you to the Bullpen?

Niemann definitely knows he is not honestly being considered for any of the Top 3 Rays 2012 rotation spots,possibly only penciled in as the 5th starter because the Rays will probably send rookie sensation Matt Moore to Triple-A Durham until mid-May. Not sure if even tipping the boat in a minor way is the right thing to do when you are not on a solid foundation with the franchise in terms of your overall pitching health, and a small bout of inconsistent throwing over the past 2 seasons.

Sure you cut an intimidating figure on the mound at 6’9”, but the Rays have their own bit of intimidation at their disposal going a perfect 4-0 against Rays players who dared go into the arbitrator’s chamber with them. But this shows a new level of confidence from the “Tall Texan”, and might end up being the best thing to happen to him this Spring.

But even Niemann has to admit he is not a solid “ sure thing” to make the Rays rotation in 2012. This off-season feels much like the Spring of 2009 when Niemann had to battle ex Ray SP Jason Hammel throw-for-throw during the Spring until the Rays made the decision easier by trading Hammel to the Colorado Rockies on April 5, 2009 for pitcher Aneury Rodriguez.

Seems to me that if Niemann’s arbitration years had started in 2009 or 2010 he might have more foundation to stand on his proposed arbitration figure as his win totals of 13 victories in 2009 and 12 in 2010 are a step above his 2011 total of 11 wins. But maybe Niemann and his agent are banking on the facts his 4.06 ERA was the second best final ERA of his Rays career.

Not sure what the mathematical equations or system Niemann and his agent are using to bring up a $500,000 windfall over the Rays offer, but we know it is not based on Niemann’s last start (38 pitches, 1 inning of work) or the fact Niemann was on the shelf for a total of 42 games, effectively only making 23 starts in 2011 while compiling his 11-7 record. Still, having only 5 no-decisions is a nice accomplishment, but it certainly is not worth half a million dollars.

Combined his short start with the fact Niemann’s last start on Saturday, September 24 was actually 2 days later as the Rays scratched him from his Thursday start against the New York Yankees due to soreness and you see a Niemann pattern developing. But I want to keep positive here, possibly Niemann’s 5-0 record with a 2.08 ERA in his last 6 starts against AL East teams can be the boost needed to have the arbitrator seeing eye-to-eye with the Tall Texan on his arbitration case this Spring

Or possibly Niemann and his agent will flaunt the fact that since Niemann came off the DL on June 20th, and prior to his September 24th debacle start, he posted a 10-3 record with a stellar 3.41 ERA with 88 strikeouts. Possibly the Tall Texan’s team will thrust up the almighty fact Niemann was 8-2 on the road in 2011, the second best record in the American League. Adding to his road list, Niemann had a 3,27 Era on the road to go along with winning 8 of his last 9 decisions, including a complete game 3-hit exclamation point against the Red Sox in Fenway on August 17, 2011.

Maybe Niemann’s representative will be sure to note to the arbitrator that the second member of the “silent assassin” clan went 11-1 when the Rays scored at least 3 runs, plus posted 10 or more K’s in 3 of his starts. Or maybe the proverbial cherry on top of this mound of stats might be the pure fact Niemann won 7 straight decisions from June 20-August 16th, tying his career high and the Rays club record. This is also the second time in his career Niemann has done this feat, previously posting the same results from Oct. 3,2009-June 9, 2010.

Or possibly the fact Niemann went 4-1 in his 5 starts in August 2011, which tied the Rays club record for the month plus the added bonus of his July numbers when he posted a 1.06 ERA in 5 starts setting the Rays club ERA record for any month. These numbers ranked 2nd in the MLB for July, trailing only NYY CC Sabathia and lowered Niemann’s 2011 ERA from 5.58 to 3.51 in the process. Niemann also set a career strikeout mark in 2011 when on July 29th in Seattle Niemann struck out 11 Mariners over 6.2 innings breaking his previous high of 10 K’s.

Still, going up against an organization that boasts a flawless 4-0 record against their players in arbitration begs to differ the difference of $500,000 is worth all the aggravation and possible internal damage beyond the playing field. Who knows what will happen once the doors closes this Spring, or if the Rays and Niemann can somehow reach an accord before the door firmly shuts and Niemann could become another victim of the Rays arbitration winning machine.

I’m not betting on Niemann coming out of this unscathed. No matter if he wins or loses his arbitration case, Niemann has to think he is a pitcher on a bit of a death march. Even if he doesn’t come out with an arbitration victory, Niemann could still find himself out of the Rays fold by April because of the Rays developing pitching talent, and not his overall pluses or minuses to the squad. Arbitration to me seems like a no-win situation where you go into a room fighting your boss and hoping he gains respect, admiration and sees you have that killer instinct you want from your starters. I wish Niemann luck….He is going to definitely need a Texas-sided batch of it heading into his arbitration date with the Rays.


Tuesday was Not a Sonny Day

Tuesday morning was not a particularly “Sonny” day for me. Sure I knew that the cards were stacked high and solid against the Rays closet jokester and team trivia buff from possibly garnering an arbitration hearing, but I held a slim sliver of hope for the impossible. For this was the quiet prankster who emerged with a triumphant team-wide display during the relatively short Dale Thayer phenomenon, and who was instrumental in the “porno moustache” caper during a Florida Marlins series back in 2008. This player was as much a consistent part of the Rays team character during his tenure as Rays Manager Joe Maddon.

Here was a player who was so in-tune with Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s quips and quirks that he was  a covert Maddon Delta force commando with his comedic plays and daily transformations in 2010 of the figurine images on the right field wall. From the popular and comical road trip attire to team sponsored events and Season Ticket get-together, this player was all Tampa Bay, and I was glad to have known him. But that is just a small shovelful of the magic and outlandish things that made Andy Sonnanstine a team favorite.

Sure most of the people in Section 140 remember him as the Bullpen player who grabbed fists full of bubble gum and showered them with the sweet confection. Others knew him for his literal side, the one that could quote stats and Rays team trivia with more insight and more depth than the Rays own broadcast historians and fact-checkers. Sonny was a guy who with a glance could have you either laughing or knowing instinctively that you must have missed out on a special Rays moment.

Did you know he was the first of the post-2007 Rays to get a dog and make him a huge part of his off-the-field routine. Sonny was so into his “man’s best friend” that in 2011 he would travel almost 160 miles daily to the Rays Spring Training camp and then back home to his Gulfport abode to be with his canine (golden retriever) roommate “Murphy “. Maybe that was one of the reason I grew to like seeing Sonnanstine being a devoted dog dude myself.

The again my kinship with Sonny might have blossomed with his daily journey into his artistic side as he changed the Matt Garza and David Price figurine Fathead decal put up on the Right field corner back in 2010. Daily I would be transfixed the moment I entered Tropicana Field wondering what accessories, what facial or body transformations would await all of us in attendance. Even being sent down to Rookie Hudson Valley, Sonny found a willing accomplice in Randy Choate who put the finishing touches on his Price masterpiece while Sonny sat on the pine bench 1,300 miles away.

Sonny was the consummate “company man”, a person who Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey knew would do whatever was needed to secure an advantage. His biggest day of flexibility came via a Maddon line-up card malfunction (5/17/2009) against the Cleveland Indians. Sonny committed to the start, then picked up a bat and brought his own offensive pop to the game and his eventual victory. On that day Sonny became the first pitcher since Chicago White Sox starter Ken Brett (Sept. 23, 1976) to be listed on a game’s starting line-up card as a hitter.

He was a guy who was born in a pitcher’s body, but had the mindset and confidence of a power hitter. Some of the most entertaining Batting Practice events of this past seasons came on the days the Rays pitchers got into the cage and took their hacks. Sonny loved to hit and leaves the Rays with a lifetime .318 batting average. Sonny was such a frustrated hitter he took his past 2 Rays team individual photos in the Spring with a bat on his shoulder. Now that is a commitment to hitting.

Sonny leaves the Rays organization with fond memories. Take April 19, 2009 start is a great testament to the magic that can come from Sonnastine’s arm. He went to the mound opposite White Sox hurler Mark Buehrle and produced his first complete game, which included a 3-hit shutout. But there was an additional bit of essence that was all-Sonny on that day.

Sonny combined that night with Beuhrle and completed that contest in a remarkable 2 hours and 2 minutes, the shortest game in Tropicana Field history, plus Sonny faced only 29 batters and at one time retired 17-straight, both club records at the time. On June 18,2010 Sonny earned his first MLB save in an impressive way retired 3 batters while the tying run was anxiously awaiting a hit ball at third base. Ice water truly ran in his veins that night in that balmy contest against the Marlins.

Then in late 2010 Sonny became an author collaborating with MLBlogs.com’s own Tucker Eliot to produce the popular “Tampa Bay Rays IQ: The Ultimate Test of True Fandom” in paperback. Seems only natural the artistic flow of a writer would enter into the versatile Sonny persona since he did attend Kent State University with fellow MLB author and Rays teammate Dirk Hayhurst (Bullpen Gospels).

Some say the last nail was firmly struck in Sonny’s coffin when the Rays trade for fellow arbitration player RP Burke Badenhop from the Marlins on December 10th. Badenhop might not have the rubber band mentality of Sonnastine to go from starter-to reliever and back again without recourse, but his 58.5% ground ball rate peaked the Rays interest pushing Sonny firmly to the outside of the team circle of trust.

Sonny will truly be missed by the Rays Republic for many reasons. From his gum barrage, to his artistic impressions and clothing selections, Sonny has always been a disciple of the “Rays Way”, a consummate professional, and someone you never could turn you back on because of his spontaneous prankster mentality His antics and memorable moments will resonate within Tropicana Field for a lot of us for a long, long time. Viva la Sonny!

Molina Light,a Possible Backstop Libation for the 2012 Rays

When I first heard we were possibly getting a member of the famed Molina trifecta of catching. Instantly my mind was a-flutter with who of the trio of Molina’s had been caught in the Rays net. I knew instantly it could not be Yadier. For the youngest Molina was probably still basking in the underdog afterglow after securing the improbable 2011 World Series Championship.

My mind quickly shifted gears 180 degrees wondering if my old baseball friend Bengie was eager to help his old Halos Bench Coach and current Rays Manager Joe Maddon strengthen up his pitching staff and young catchers. I was thrust back into our own Rays Republic reality when I heard Bengie is loving his time away from the game watching his kids grow up, and possibly hinting of a return of his own to the diamond, but not as a player.

 With the two bookend Molinas accounted for as non-factors for the 2012 Rays roster, it left only the middle brother and a bit of a mid-line offensive minded Molina. Neither of the potential choice cuts of the Molina clan where heading to Tampa Bay. Instead we might be getting the robust yet refined Molina Light.

Granted Jose Benjamin Molina Matta has his own set of World Series rings the first garnered in 2002 when he backed up older bro Bengie with the Halos, then again in 2009 as a member of the New York Yankees. This middle-of-the-road Molina had a bit of history in his baseball resume after becoming the last MLB player to hit a Home Run in the original Yankee Stadium.

After that game the baseball savvy Molina took to quoting famous Bronx icon Babe Ruth who in his last public speech at the original Yankee Stadium said, “I was glad to have hit the first home run in this park. God knows who will hit the last”. Now that is paying the ultimate homage to a man who’s offensive swagger was said to have built the original Yankee Stadium.

 I am sorry if the “Molina Light” might seem a bit harsh, but it is unfortunately realistic. If you had a choice of any of the trio, even the retired Bengie would get your honest vote over the former Toronto Blue Jay backstop. Sure Jose is the tallest of the Molina catching foundation standing a robust 6 foot 2 inches, but his career total of 24 Home Runs, 430 hits and a lifetime .241 average begs you to consider him “light” with the lumber.

In his favor is his uncanny ability to get the most out of his pitchers, especially young staffs. I was impressed over the past 2 MLB seasons when Molina was handed a merry-go-round of pitchers to become familiar with, some with experience, both most still just raw talents. He sculpted that young staff, refined a few of their weaknesses and used their advantages night in and night out to steal critical wins from opponents. I shudder to think what that staff would of accomplished had there not been the injuries and setbacks.

With the Rays possibly having maybe 2-3 starting pitchers coming into Spring Training 2012 with less than 2 full MLB seasons of work, maybe the 1 year deal for Molina with a club option kicker might end up being more than the Rays usual modus operandi of a solid veteran presence to act as a mentor to work with and teach the Rays young crew of backstops, plus add another layer of fine tuned seasoning to guys like young pitchers Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Alex Torres and Alex Cobb.

The Rays would be however experiencing Deja Vu by bringing in another veteran catcher who has a skilled and solid defensive style, which firmly fits the Rays mold, but Molina has seen his offensive numbers decline since 2010, and that gives me a huge reason for concern. Still signing Molina for a 1-year deal with a club option for 2013 could end up being both financially feasible and a future insurance policy in the event John Jaso or Jose Lobaton can not grow and escalate to take this Rays pitching staff to a higher level.

Jose Molina might not be my favorite Molina, but I respect his past present and future work ethic and his undying courage to sit another season behind the plate and get battered night after night by bats, balls and thundering base runners. In that regard he is a solid choice, and along with his skill at slicing and dicing the pitching game plan into a lean, mean strikeout machine, he could be a welcome and solid addition for 2012.

In retrospect, the Rays are a better team with any Molina behind the plate be it Bengie, Yadier or Jose. Who knows, if Dioner Navarro can have a breakout season and be an All-Star, maybe the Rays are just the place for another Molina brother to make his mark.

Rays Pitchers are Ready to Hit

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It is always a special time of the
season when the Tampa Bay Rays pitching staff brings out the lumber.
It signals the Inter-League schedule is upon us, and brings back that
great memory when Esteban Yan cracked a Home Run back on June 4,2000.


I mean the 6′ 4″ 275 pound pitcher
had the build and stature of a power hitter, but who in their right
mind could have predicted he would connect on the first pitch he ever
saw in live pitching, then come up later in the game and get a single
for a perfect MLB lifetime 1.000 Batting Average and a out-of-this
galaxy 2.500 Slugging Percentage.


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That one moment in time has set the
hitting bar super high for Rays pitchers turned sluggers.
Inter-League play is usually the only time Rays pitchers get a honest
chance to take a bat, pine tar it up and swing it with a donut firmed
engaged on the barrel. Sure some have a bat in their hand in the Rays
dugout when they are not pitching, but it is more cosmetic to most of
them.


It was fun this Saturday to see some of
the Rays pitching staff hit the batting cages on the field since both
teams opted to not take B P on the field. Rays pitchers Andy
Sonnanstine, David Price and Wade Davis decided to take a few pitches
thrown by Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey to get themselves primed for
the upcoming Inter-League Inter-state rivalry against the Florida
Marlins in just 18 days.


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This current brand of Rays rotation
members tho pride themselves on their hitting ability that could
inevidently help their own cause with an RBI single or a perfectly
executed bunt down the line to get a man into scoring position. Sure
they only take swings prior to these annual AL/NL bragging rights
battles, but some take it more serious than other.


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Take Rays long-reliever Andy
Sonnanstine who prides himself as a hitter so much he has taken his
Rays team picture the last two seasons holding some lumber on his
shoulder. And there is good reason for that. Out of the entire Rays
pitching staff, Sonny might be the best suited both physically and
mentally to stand in the box during a regular season game.


How many of us remember back on Sunday,
May 17, 2009 after a line-up card snafu Sonnanstine, who was that
day’s starter became the first pitcher on the starting line-up cars
since Chicago White Sox P Ken Brett back on September 23, 1976 ( vs
Minn).


Sonnanstine responded by going 1-for-3
with an RBI double becoming the first Rays pitcher to ever bat in an
American League game, and the first pitcher to walk to the plate at
Tropicana Field. You might be surprised then to know Sonny also
pinch-hit twice in 2009 for the Rays, both in National League home
games against the Marlins (May 23) and the New York Mets (June 21).


But he wasn’t the first Rays pitcher to
ever pinch-hit. That honor went to current rotation member James
Shields who picked up a bat on June 28,2008 in a game in PNC Park
against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Not surprising, Sonnanstine owns a
career .318 batting average with 2 RBI, 6 runs and a .400 On-Base
Percentage heading into the 2011 Inter-League schedule.


On Saturday Sonnanstine was actually
the first Rays pitcher to put a ball out of Tropicana Field and
Sonny took a step forward and tipped his hat to the guy who snagged
it in the first row of Section 144. The St. Petersburg Times reported on Sunday that David Price hit the first ball out, but that was incorrect.


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Even so, Price did hit one out a few
minutes later to a huge round of applause to Rays fans who became
aware that the Rays pitching staff was taking a few hacks in the
cage. Price did hit his ball a bit farther than Sonnanstine, but
Price also did something Sonny did not when he took a celebratory
jog around the bases with the crowd cheering him. 


Price is not yet
a hitter on Sonnanstine’s level, but he did get his first
professional hit off Colorado Rockies starter Aaron Cook back on
June 17, 2009 in Coors field. 
Price currently hold a .200 (
2-for-10 ) batting average, but went an impressive 1-for-3 back in
2009, his first season in the Major Leagues. On Saturday, Price did
show a better more level swing with the element of power a few times
to the Right-Centerfield gap.


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That leaves us to the only right-handed
batter in this threesome, Wade Davis. He is still sporting a shortly
cropped haircut since Davis shaved his head this April for a Cut for
a Cure event that took place right on top of the Rays dugout. Even
though Davis is the second cousin of former Cubs catcher and NL All
Star Jody Davis, he has gone hitless in his only career MLB at bat.


Still, on this day he was stroking a
few well placed liners down the line and took some extra time getting
his bunts down with precision in between. Davis also had his moment
when he deposited his own pre-game souvenir for a fan in
Section 143.


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Even though we only got to see 3
members of the Rays pitching staff on Saturday, there are others who
will get their chance real soon to pick up a bat and take their spot
at Home Plate. Rookie Jeremy Hellickson has never stepped to the
plate in a MLB game, but will get a chance this season. 


Then you
have the tall Texan, 6′ 8″ Jeff Niemann who has gone 0-for-10 with
7 strikeouts. Niemann’s career stats might not evoke any clear
cheerful thoughts, but the final member Shields, should give you
reason to feel confident on the Rays staff’s abilities.


2011 will be Shield’s fifth season
hitting during the Inter-League schedule, and he is hoping to up his
current .250 ( 6-for-24) batting average with a solo RBI and a .308
Slugging Percentage. IT might have been a while, but Shield actually
hit .478 with 11 HR and 45 RBI when he was selected the Los Angeles
Times
Player of the Year back in 1999.


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Pitchers hitting in game has never been
a huge part of the Rays game plan. But with Shields and Sonnanstine
able to connect and help the team’s cause during the Inter-League
schedule, I would not be surprised if Rays Manager Joe Maddon sends
one of them up as a pinch-hitter. It just adds another element of
their 2011 mantra “Another Way”.


I mean who can forget walking through
the Rays clubhouse during Fan Fest in 2010 and seeing Sonnanstine’s
bat and gloves sticking out of his locker like a sore thumb. Something curious I noticed on Saturday afternoon, at no time did Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton make an appearance on the field behind the cages to either instruct or watch the Rays pitchers. I find that kind of curious.


Got a
feeling this season, one of these guys is going to be trotting around
the bases. And when that happens take a look at the other four
members of the Rays rotation, I bet they are the first people on the
dugout steps to give congratulations to their peer.


Could “Well Rested” Be a Rays Bullpen Problem?

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Tonight’s
game kind of worries me a bit. The Rays have had two days now to rest
and relax within the confines of the Twin cities with a regularly
scheduled “day off” on Monday, and an early postponement of their
Tuesday clash due to rain and 38 degree weather in Minnesota.


The bottom of my worry stems from the
obvious fact that since their extra inning downfall on Friday night,
only Rays closer Kyle Farnsworth has seen any type of game action.
Even Farnsworth’s night was short, as he threw exactly 5 pitches to
seal his fifth save as a Ray.


The last time another Rays reliever was
on the hill was Friday night as 6 ‘ 8″ Adam Russell threw a
mis-guided pitch to Blue Jays jack-of-all-trades John McDonald that
he deposited 368 feet from the Home Plate dish into the Left Field
Rogers Centre stands for a walk-off victory.


That means it has been almost five
days, which is usually an entire run through the Rays rotation since
someone besides Farnsworth has taken the hill with positive results.
Sure you wanted Russell, Joel Peralta, Juan Cruz and Cesar Ramos to
just dwell on that performance for 30-minutes and follow the Maddon
mantra of depositing it in the trash.


But 5 days can make a bad performance
ferment, become a bit gamey and possibly get you thinking when you
should be just hurling the ball. I always go back to “Bull Durham
when “Crash Davis tells Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoose to “not
think, it only hurts the ballclub”.


Hopefully Rays Pitching Coach Jim
Hickey had a few uplifting positive conversations with his Friday
night foursome to get their mind clear, controlled and ready for
tonight. It is easy to get binded up in the obscure and negative when
you do not have ample time to just “throw out” that performance
by tossing a confident side session/Bullpen session.


Five days is a long time for anyone,
even a starter to sit on those pine benches and watch a game without
feeling like a vital piece of thew whole machine. That is the
roughest thing about being in the Bullpen, days on end without any
action, then all of a sudden you get jammed, tested and thrust into
tight situations.


The Rays and Twins have a scheduled
day/night doubleheader tomorrow that could come down to the arms
sitting down the Third Base line. Hopefully Farnsworth and his motley
crew down in the Bullpen can get some chances tonight to stretch out,
provide some positive momentum heading into that critical 2-game set.


Best case scenario for the Rays would
be Farnsworth getting a chance to duplicate former Rays closer Rafael
Soriano’s days/night experience from 2010 during a Rays/Red Sox
double-dipper by getting 2 save opportunities and providing another
chapter of positive results for this same unit that many doubted
would ever be competitive in 2011.


The aspect of a rain-out can sometimes
help a ballclub, to heal, provide more in-depth research and
development heading into a series, and sometimes it can expose a
problem you hope would heals itself. Very soon we will see if the
Rays Bullpen let the Friday night walk-off wash off its back like
water, or retained it like a bad memory. Got a feeling I worried
about nothing….hopefully.





Going to Miss the Rays Aussie Bloke

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I somehow knew this moment was coming, but still it’s hard to finally accept. He was the one player of that large Tampa Bay Rays Free Agent mish-mosh corps that I thought might just be out on a Winter walk-about and would again this January somehow wander back to the Rays brood for 2011.

Maybe that was really wishful thinking to imagine that such a return could possibly be in the cards for RP Grant Balfour, but I wanted to believe as long as possible that it could happen.

Instead I am now a solo participant in a local St. Petersburg Outback Steakhouse holding my own private Aussie funeral dirge complete with an I-pod filled with the musical rhymes and verses of Colin Hayes (Men at Work Lead Singer) ringing through my head.

Surely I could have picked the upbeat styling’s of either AC/DC or even Midnight Oil as my musical accompaniments as I pound a oilcan of Fosters, and eat a hearty Blommin’ Onion.

But this is a solemn celebration of Balfour’s new multi-year contract. It has been one of those days where I will rise a middy or two as I begin a sit-down of bountiful tucker (food) and possibly one last XXXX (Queensland brew) to wish him the best and a long career.

I sit her pondering the notion that Balfour has taken his leave and gone onto the big smoke ( big city) of Oakland and I will have to settle for conversations only 3 times this year when Balfour again visit’s the Trop.

Talking to Balfour has became a game day ritual for me, standing there by the RF retaining wall near my seat joking with him, I am really going to miss my old Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen mate.


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I guess the best way I can finally put closure to the loss and sorrow within my chest is to ponder and spout a few Aussie terms and nuances I learned from you over your Rays time as a faithful farewell to my favorite bloke from Oz (Australia).

You know Grant, I was hoping the furphy (rumor) of your Rays departure was premature and totally bollocks before I heard the good guts (accurate information) about your grouse (very good) contract offer in Oakland. I consider you a bonza (really great) Aussie Grant that I used to have many a chinwag (conversation) with daily either during the game or at Batting Practice.

I truly hope you do not consider me an irritable ear masher (talks too much) or even a drongo (slow-witted bloke). I still consider it so crook (sick) what that Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey did to you last season during your BP open slather (free-for-all) that cost you unwarranted disabled list time. It was totally onus (unacceptable) and showed what a nong (fool) Hickey really can be at times.

I do hope you make a good fist (to do well) in Oakland and hopefully when you come into our humble homestead again we can wring hands and possibly go down to a local billabong (watering hole) and hoist a few stubby (375ml bottle of beer)to your success. G’day ol’ fair dinkum (really genuine) cobber (friend).

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