Results tagged ‘ Jim Hickey ’
As I glance up at the luminated clock on the kitchen wall, I see that it is just a few minutes past midnight on Saturday morning. Within the next 24 hours, the Tampa Bay Rays front office will be finalizing the 2010 fate of 10 of their players. This is that stressful 24-hour period that every Major League team and their selected players have to endure where offers of arbitration, possible signing of contracts, or non-tendering their players so they can find employment elsewhere, or possibly sign with the team as a free agent (but doubtful).
It is not only a nervous time period for the 10 Rays players the team has up for arbitration this season, but also for the Rays fans who have grown attached to these players. A few of these player’s names might be absent from the Rays 2010 equation within the next 24 hours. And the possible 10 decisions by the Rays will include core players and borderline players who stepped above and beyond, but might be eliminated by numbers and talent rising up from the Rays farm system.
Of the 10 Rays players being considered for 2010 arbitration hearings, only one of them is currently a Rays starting pitcher. And on paper, you have to consider him to be a bona fide “sure thing” to be offered a contract. Rays starter Matt Garza might actually be one of the four possible ”sure things” for the Rays within the next 24 hours. Garza has been a key member of the Rays staff, and has upped his game again in 2009, and on paper is a solid choice yo again be with the team in 2010. And Garza will see a nice bump in his 2010 salary (estimated $ 3.2 million) compared to the $ 430,000 he receiveded during the Rays 2009 season.
But during this 24-hour period the Rays front office might be finished crunching the numbers and getting scouting reports while letting their personal feeling for the players disappear from the equation. The Rays Bullpen could look considerably different after this 24 hour period as 5 total members of the Bullpen are up for arbitration. But the first glints of daylight also showed a rays of light that one arbitration eligible player will not have to wait for his fate as left-handed reliever Randy Choate signed a 1-year $ 700,000 contract with a possible $ 25,000 bonus if he appears in 80 games next season for the Rays.
That’s right, Choate is the first Rays player to feel the joy of not having to worry about the anxious stress of not knowing his 2010 fate. But even with one player down, and nine to go, that still leaves Bullpen mates Grant Balfour,J P Howell, and Lance Cormier to wonder about their possible fates for the next several hours.
But of that selective reliever corps, I have to consider Howell the second “sure thing” bet of all the Rays players to again get a clear contract offer from the Rays. He went above and beyond his job description in 2009, even giving the closer’s job a chance before the Rays finally shut him down in late September due to arm fatigue. The progress that Howell has shown from miserable,disgruntled starter to confident, out-going reliever is like a night and day transformation. And with that, Howell might finally get a chance to celebrate with his new wife that fact that he could have an estimated 2010 salary in the $ 1.8 million range during his first time on the arbitration tightrope.
But that still leaves both Balfour and Cormier to be in the “unknown” group based on a few personal observations, and not on their solid pitching performances in 2009. During the late 2009 season, Balfour was critical of the Rays pitching concepts late in the season and might have produced some bad blood between him and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey. Could Balfour’s small episode of mouthing off cost him a chance to continue with the team?
Also considering the Aussie is about to get hitched on January10th, you hope he did not put a wedge between him and the Rays front office and coaching staff in 2009. Could the Rays make him sweat a bit before late in the evening offering Balfour a contract? And if they do sweat him out a bit, could they be possibly motivated by the comments to try and get his estimated $ 2.1 million reduced through the arbitration hearing?
But my biggest Rays question mark concerning the Bullpen might come down to what the Rays will do about their long reliever spot. Cormier was impressive in that role during 2009, and I truly hope he is safe. But the Rays have two other pitchers fighting for their 25-man roster spots who do not have a secured spot for 2010. Might Cormier be the “sacrifical lamb” to give the Rays a possible roster spot to pitcher Mitch Talbot, who has no minor League option left, or Andy Sonnanstine.
Cormier would garner around $ 1.1 million in possible 2010 salary if the Rays offer him arbitration. Sonnanstine and Talbot’s combined 2010 salaries might only cost the Rays around $ 850,000, and could be the main reason the team doesn’t give Cormier an offer. Personally, I hope he gets an arbitration offer from the Rays because the job he did in 2009 was fantastic, but my word means nothing in the final scheme of things.
Now that we have looked into the Rays possible arbitration plans for their 2010 pitching staff, lets look to the five Rays field players who also could receive an arbitration offer within the next 24 hours. I will also make a quick evaluation on their possible chances to remain in the team past December 12th.
Jim Mone / AP
You have to consider both Rays players B J Upton and Jason Bartlett are pretty much another set of “sure things” locks for a contract offer within the next 24 hours. Bartlett has increased both his offensive and defensive worth to the Rays since the first day he lined up at the shortstop position for the team. But considering he might get a huge bump in contract up into the $ 3.3.5 million range in 2010, you can never count out anything until the arbitration contract is faxed to your agent. And everyone, everywhere has their own special opinions on Upton.
I personally can not see this team without Upton in centerfield in 2010. With the flip flopping of people around baseball as to the possible departure of Carl Crawford by the MLB Trade Deadline in late July, Upton is the solid member of the outfield and has increased tremendously over the last two years while learning his centerfield positon “on-the-job”. I truly have a feeling Upton will come into his own in 2010 both at the plate and in the field. Everyone has comments on his running style and his sense of complacency at the plate, but in reality, no one on the Rays is more concentrated and inwardly critical of his own actions as Upton.
But the stark reality is that Rays farm hand Desmond Jennings might just be on the cusp of playing in the Major Leagues, but it will not be in centerfield. Upton will be at the arbitration table for the first time and should get a considerable jump up from his 2009 salary of $ 435,000 to an estimated $ 3.5 million on his first journey through arbitration. It might seem like a good idea by Upton and his agent several years ago to not sign a long-term deal with former GM Chuck LaMar and continue with his norm of 1-year contracts until his arbitration years.
And this leaves us with only three members of the Rays squad still being considered for arbitration to discuss further. The trio left consist of outfielder Gabe Gross and catchers’ Dioner Navarro and newly acquired Kelly Shoppach. I do not think I am going too far out on a limb thinking here that a budget restricted team like the Rays usually do not trade for an arbitration eligible player unless the player could be a solution to a internal problem. And one of the main off season priorities of the Rays this year was their catching situation.
And that is what intrigues me most about Shoppach. Would the Rays possibly go to arbitration with both of their catchers and secure both of them on their 2010 25-man roster, or is one of them(hopefully) being shopped around for a possible new locale right now for 2010? Seriously here,I think Shoppach is a clear power upgrade to Navarro and might possibily be saved by the arbitration alarm clock in the 11th hour. Navarro might not so lucky.
Considering that Shoppach’s estimated 2010 salary ($ 2.1 million) is close in comparision to the estimation for Navarro ($ 2.5 million),I think Shoppach wins a arbitration submission based on his possible upgrade at the plate and his ability to get on base over Navarro. Their catching styles are similar, but Navarro has shown to be a bit lazy this past season behind the plate, or the team would never have traded for Gregg Zaun in the first place late in 2009.
I am thinking that Navarro might be one of the two Rays on the outside looking in after the bell strikes at midnight tonight. And I think there is nobody else to blame here but Navarro. The Rays gave him the steering wheel early in Spring Training by not bringing in a veteran to push him for the first time in his Rays career. But Navarro visually seemed to have gotten more and more lazy on bouncing balls in the dirt and seemed to have lost some concentration and confidence in his game behind the plate. Combine that with his solid decrease in hitting, and you have a formula for possibly being non-tendered tonight.
The lone Rays player left to be considered for arbitration just might be a victim of the Rays farm system and available options that exist within the club. He is a guy I have seen play above and beyond his abilities in his two seasons with the team, but hard cuts sometime have to be made,and Gabe Gross might be the hardest of the Rays decisions today.
You know the team has treasured having him in the lineup for the past two seasons, but youngsters like Matt Joyce and Desmond Jennings are knocking at the Major League door to play in rightfield. And if Sean Rodriguez is dominant this spring at second base, it might force a position change for uber-player Ben Zobrist to play in the outfield. The Rays organization is coming to a point where a decision like this is not going to be based on performance, but on an obtainable roster space.
And you know the Rays have tried to find another suitor for Gross, but corner outfielders are a deep position this Hot Stove season, and no one has made a play for Gross. For years Rays fans have know that at some point the team would have an abundance of talented young players in place to force an established player off the Rays roster. And this season, the player elimination hatchet might fall hard on Gross. The Rays decision will not be based on monetary reasons, but on the overflow of talent just below the Major League level.
So within the next 24 hours, there will be cheer and tears for members of the Rays roster. Some players might be faced with the stark reality of looking for another team, while other might be just starting the battle for their positions in 2010. But as the arbitration offer clock winds down, some of the Rays arbitration eligible players will be sweating while others sit calm waiting for calls from their agents and the team. I am guessing that 7 or 8 of the Rays arbitration eligible players will be smiling.
(Fellow Rays blog, Rays Index was the source for my estimated 2010 salarie
s included today on my blog post. You can visit them on their website www.raysindex.com. It was a great help using your sidebar tools to complete this blog…..Thank You).
Chris O’Meara / AP
Coming into Spring Training in 2010, the Tampa Bay Rays might have all five of their rotation spots sewn up before the February 19th reporting date. That would be the first time in franchise history that the team had a solid 5-deep pre-Spring rotation set-up in advance of the reporting date. And that possible starting pitching affirmation, it might not bode well for Rays starter/reliever Andy Sonnanstine to crack that line-up in 2010. Because of his up and down moments since his first MLB appearance in 2007, Sonnanstine could be on the outside looking in this year because of the 2009 seasons posted by the Rays three rookie starters.
As of this moment it seems that the Rays pitching trio of starters’ David Price, Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis look pretty secure in their fight to again have a rotation spot with the Rays. But as we all know, an early injury, or a fall from grace could make a starting spot suddenly available for Sonnanstine to shine and make the late March decision difficult for the Rays.
But there is a large dark cloud hanging over Sonnanstine right now. The basic fact that Sonny has had problems making adequate adjustments on the mound during games doesn’t guarantee him a spot either in the Bullpen or the rotation. And the odd fact that his pitch selection might be deep, but not overpowering like Price or Davis, or having that extreme downward angle of the 6’9″ Niemann makes him the pitcher on the outside right now.
Since Sonnanstine’s abbreviated 2007 season when he posted a 6-10 record with a 5.85 ERA, Sonnanstine has seen his game prove to again be a rollercoaster ride in regard to consistency. After that personally disappointing 2007 season, Sonnanstine did make the needed adjustments to his game and rebounded with a solid 13-9 record in 2008. But a glaring trend was developing where the hitters’ were beginning to predict his pitch selection, and that hampered his growth as a starter.
Since that 2007 season, Sonnanstine has changed his finger grips on the ball slightly and made some break variations to his pitching, but still his arm angles and pitch speed did not change enough to camouflage his pitch selection to the hitters. His evolution as a starting pitcher worked out great in 2008 when he posted 125 K’s during the season, and brought another element to his game. It was his first time Sonnanstine ever posted over 100 strikeouts in a season during his three year Major League career.
Sonnanstine came into the 2009 season with a new level of confidence and a sense that he could pitch at the Major League level. He earned early praise during Spring Training from Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey, and this new confidence helped him secure the fourth spot in the rotation before the end of March 2009.
But Sonnanstine did not start the season the way either he or the Rays envisioned it. During his first start in Baltimore on April 5,2009, Sonnanstine was in trouble from the first pitch of the game and lasted only 4.2 innings, giving up 8 hits and 5 runs on only 92 pitches. It was not the kind of start of the season that would give him or the Rays, a dose of confidence in his abilities.
From that first start, Sonnanstine began a trend of an up and down season where he posted dismal results one outing, and seemed to rebound in the next. But the fact that he had allowed 18 runs in 19.2 innings during April for the Rays, raised more than a few eyebrows. But the game that seemed to define his 2009 season was the May 27th game on the road against the Indians.
In this contest there were early signs it might be a long night for the Rays. First, they had to endure a two hour rain delay before finally taking the field. Then Sonnanstine immediately got rocked after his squad stakes him an early lead. Sonnanstine got hit hard in the game by the Cleveland hitters’ and lasted only 3 innings while surrendering 8 runs on only 75 pitches.
The Rays stuck by Sonnanstine for another month before finally optioning him to the Durham Bulls (Triple-A) on June 27,2009. At the time of his demotion, Sonnanstine had the highest ERA (6.61) in the American League and the most Earned Runs allowed (60). Sonnanstine’s season total of 7 losses combined with his .305 opponents average put him solidly as the second worst starter in the American League at the time. He had sunk to rock bottom and needed to go to Durham to regain both his pitching and personal confidence.
And Sonnanstine worked on his pitching and regained his confidence and ability to throw strikes. He made 9 starts for the Bulls, which included seven quality starts and a 5-3 record with a 4.40 ERA. He had rebuilt himself as a pitcher and was awaiting a chance to again prove himself to the Rays. He got his shot after the trade of Scott Kazmir to the Los Angeles Angels and came up on September 1st and took Kazmir’s slot against Boston at Tropicana Field.
During the early days of September, Sonnanstine made 3 starts in his first four appearances back up with the Rays, but did not impress the Rays enough to secure that rotation spot for the rest of the season. But in hindsight, the Rays might have been waiting for the Bulls to complete their Triple-A Championship season before bringing up Davis to take Sonnanstine’s spot.
Sonnanstine was subsequently put into the Rays Bullpen and after a spot start against Baltimore in Camden Yards, he made his last three appearances of the season out of the Bullpen as a long reliever. His demotion to the Rays Bullpen was the first time Sonnanstine had pitched out of the Bullpen in his Major League career. The last time Sonnanstine had pitched in relief during his professional career at all was during his rookie debut season with the Hudson Valley Renegades (Rookie level) and the Charleston Riverdogs ( Class-A) in 2004. As a Rays reliever during his 3 appearances in 2009, Sonnanstine had a 5.79 ERA out of the Rays Bullpen.
And the 2010 season might be the final chance for him to make an impression on the Rays coaching staff that he can be a starter in the Major Leagues. I personally think that he will either have to make some radical speed adjustments to his arsenal, or he might again face being sent down to the minor leagues. The Rays still have minor league options left on Sonnanstine, and he might just be used as an “insurance policy” against injury for the Rays this upcoming season.
But what is upsetting to me is the pure fact that this is not a pitcher who doesn’t only throw two or three pitches, but has an arsenal of five possible pitches to use at vari
ed points during a game. His cutter can be thrown from two different arm positions, and is an adequate different approach to his 2-seam fastball. Sonnanstine also mixes in a nice slider, and a 12-6 curveball. And his change-up has developed a nice sinking action to it, but his main problem is that from his fastball (86-90 mph), to his change-up (81-82) there is not a huge amount of velocity difference, which can easily translate into hitter adjusting on the fly to him during an at bat with ease.
But I love Sonnanstine’s work ethic and the way he approaches the game of baseball. He never wears his emotions on his sleeves like Matt Garza, but stays cool and calm on the mound. Sonnanstine has the same off-speed abilities to dominate the plate like James Shields. You just do not win 13 games in an MLB season without knowing how to throw the ball for strikes. But for Sonnanstine to again secure a possible spot at the Major League level, he either has to rediscover that mode of consistency,or he might never get another clear shot with the Rays.
I expect to hear his name surface a few times in trade chatter due to the fact he does have a MLB arm and has minor league options that would benefit a team taking him on and maybe using him in a duo role. But I really do not see him in a long reliever role for the Rays unless they intend to not offer Lance Cormier arbitration in the off season. Sonnanstine’s limited relief appearances aside, Sonny is not a reliever yet at the MLB level. If the Rays did decide to go that direction, he will need time in the minors to adjust his pitching approach in that direction.
So the Rays brain trust must decide what type of role Sonnanstine will play within the Rays organization in 2010. Could he be that MLB experienced insurance policy against possible injury for the team? Or could the Rays consider him expendable with the pitching depth in the minors and trade him away for some catching or possible relief help?
We have around 128 days before the 2010 Rays team reports to Port Charlotte, Florida for Spring Training. As Rays fans have discovered over the past year,anything can happen between that period of time. Rays fans never even anticipated the Edwin Jackson trade coming before it was completed and announced to the media. Could the same happen to Sonnanstine this off season?
Maybe he will be a nice addition to a package deal that could land the team a experienced reliever or catcher? Or maybe the clock has finally stopped ticking and it is his time to possible leave the Rays? 128 days is a long time. But within that time we hope to discover and learn the possible avenues that the Rays could use Sonnanstine in 2010. What do you think the team should do with Sonny?
I remember back during my Mass Communication class in High School when my school newspaper advisor told us during a class lecture that at some time in our writing future, the subject of naming or not naming your “sources” for stories would turn our journalistic integrity into a slippery slope towards the negative, and the background work of our judgments to name or not name a source would play directly on our credibility as writers. Journalist have gone to prison and even been banished as if they had the Black Plague for misinformation and dishonesty in their writings.
And that simple premise of “watching your back” seems to make a lot of sense in today’s fast paced, electronic world of libel and slander where even a tongue-in-cheek reference can land you deep within a mountain of litigation, and then quickly, you and your writing integrity could be sent sliding down the dark side like a mudslide even if you are totally right. Because that is essence of the culture today. Injury someone emotionally or physically and some of the first words out of the mouth of the general public is “I will sue you!”.
So dotting your “i’s” and crossing your “t’s” takes on a bigger role in the 5-second media world we have today. This weekend I was reading a very sordid and tangled web of “sources” and “unnamed sources” in a small series of blog postings by the New York Baseball Digest blog posting by Mike Silva. And while I was reading this account out of the New York area, that class discussion over 32 years ago about sources came quickly to mind.
I was brought up on the old A P style book of journalism. Heck, back then it was the bible every Evening Independent Sports Correspondent and staffers used as a foundation for our story stylings. And it suddenly came to my mind the old teaching of where if you make a statement associated with a source without credible sources or information, your stories foundation might crumble and not withstand a storm of controversy.
One of the first thing I remember being taught was the fact that when you name sources or people with knowledge of an event, it is in your best interest to have two solid forms of evidence or information before even quoting one of them in your story. The reasoning for this method is to give your information a solid foundation so if you are questioned or receive a nice little legal writ, you have a secondary source that adds to your credibility on the subject matter.
Accuracy and credibility are the two of the founding cornerstones of retaining a loyal band of readers online. If they can get a sense of trusting your writings as the truth, then you gain readers and hopefully more web views of your postings. And maybe that is why it is so upsetting when I see a blog with half-baked writing principles and mis-guided information you know are half-truths at best.
Most of this simple misguided energy can be corrected with a simple credible source for your information. Some guy named “Joe Schmoe” who tended bar in such and such a club and overheard a conversation by player “A” and “B” about an event or something in regards to the Rays is considered “hearsay” at best unless you have a second person who heard or saw the same event.
RRCollections Joe Nelson2009
An great example of the right way to document and solidify your sources was with the rumor I heard from a Rays player about the Tampa Bay Rays using their old 1998-99 Devilrays multi-colored logo jerseys during the Sunday July 12th afternoon game against the Oakland Athletics. I first heard a hint of this rumor back in late May 2009 by a player after a game, and I decided to dig a bit deeper into it before bringing it out into the light. Just because I now had one source doesn’t make the rumor a “truth” yet.
I first got a confirmation from a member of the Rays field staff and another player as an additional source, but decided it might not be good to use them as my source. I do not like to use players as sources of information because they could decide to “clam up” and I might not ever hear another good morsel of information to track down. So I contacted someone within the Rays front office who deals directly with marketing and promotions and asked them to simply confirm or deny the spreading rumor. As soon as he got back to me, that rumor quickly transformed into a fact, and I posted a Tweet about the upcoming event.
And because I had more than two sources to verify the possibility of the old “Rainbow Devilrays” uniforms were going to make an appearance again in that July contest. This in-depth fact checking into the rumor gave me credibility about the event. And that is the one thing most people forget when they write online. Sure I can say almost anything about anyone on the team and maybe no one will call BS on me, but that is not the issue. Staying within the truths and admonishing the lies is the job of publications like the National Enquirer or Star Magazine, not the general blogging public.
If NYBD want to idolize those publications and style themselves in that realm of journalism, then go for it. But they have to be reminded that there are hundreds of websites like that all jockeying for the same morsels of media fodder. With every slight of hand missed fact and negative comment posted, the negative mountain is building around them. I know I would rather be the guy who will give his honest opinion and facts about an event, and I do shy from some of the “hot topic” stories around the league at time because I do not want to be 1 of the 2,000 people writing about the same thing day in, and day out.
We hear almost daily about some blogger somewhere who has given “fake” or mis-guided information and it in turn tends to affect all of our credibilities. But that doesn’t mean the “mainstream media” always follows the Golden Rule either. With the advent of sites like Twitter and the other social networks, fans can get a snippet of information in the flash of a camera bulb and minutes before the “paid” media.
And that can be a slap in their faces at times. I posted a Twitpic of Pat Burrell’s new 70′s butch mustache during the 2009 season and also few “first” pictures of new Rays reliever, Jeff Bennett before the local media even reported it online. Here I am an unpaid and unsolicited fan got the scoop.
NYBD made some critical errors when they did not get secondary sources checks on their quotes and information before posting it. Sometimes it is difficult to get that information, but if you can not prove it is 100
, then it is a rumor. Blogs take a beating every day from the Media sources throughout the country as being slanderous and libel within an inch of their collective lives. For us to gain the credibility and the trust of the readers, we sometimes have to take it a notch above and sweat a little more for our information.
Anyone can write a rumor.
Anyone can create a mis-truth and start to perpetuate a lie. But if you really want to be known for your writings, do the leg work, strain the eyes to see beyond the words and ask the simple questions. Some times, the answers you get from a source can make your day. Other times it can disappoint and frustrate you. But every once in a while you get a tasty morsel and you do the work and build it into a credible masterpiece and then you can bask in the limelight and know you did it right……..the first time.
Elaine Thompson / AP
Sometimes I truly think that the Rays Front Office loves to use subliminal and subversive messages to gather information on the public perception of an event or something that makes them go…..hmmmmmmm? But I have to admit, this one move, this 180 degree change of heart that shows something towards Rays Pitching coach Jim Hickey keeps him here for another Rays season. And for the life of me, I do not see a solid reason while he is still employed by the Rays. And you know the local kool-ade drinking media will not voice their dismay over this action………..nope, they will remain wihin the party lines.
But I do not have Press Credentials, or even an inside information mole to give me things like them. I get my information from watching 80 games a year at the Trop., and every game that MLB.com shows on the air. What could be their logical reasoning to let go of Hitting Coach, Steve Henderson today who’s Rays hitters only set new Team Records in homers, runs scored, RBI and stolen bases this season, but keep a Pitching Coach who’s starters and Bullpen relievers took a definite two steps backwards in 2009. I mean Hickey does have some Houston roots, so he might understand this next scenario without him having to have flash cards or pictures.
What has seemed to happen this season to the Rays pitching staff is akin to a guy doing the Texas two-step in a deep foxhole. You can go forward, you can go back, but only two step no matter what. And that is what his Rays staff has done most of the season. they have made slight improvements and altered their course in games, but the end result is always the same……..sometimes the “pitch to contact” system delivers up a long ball instead of a ground out or a double play ball for the defense.
And if that system doesn’t work do you blame Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman, or Rays Manager Joe Maddon? In reality you can put the check mark next to both names, because Friedman keeps Hickey and Maddon keeps believing in him. But in my mind, the only culprit here is the mechanic who tunes the system and makes it run smooth, clean and with a minimum of problems. And this season, Hickey looked more like an apprentice than a master craftsman.
Sure he got dealt a bad deal two years in a row when Troy Percival took his glove and went home to rehab, but at no time in the season did the team try and promote from within or try and isolate anyone to take over that role for the season. Other teams call on the veterans, or even a hot shot prospect with a cannon on his arm. At one point, the Rays signed Jorge Julio to a minor league contract maybe hoping he still has some gasoline in his tank. But the team instead adapted a much discussed and faulty plan of using pitching match-ups as a basis for the later innings.
This works well when you base your Spring Training team on to this formula, and not adopt it in the middle of trying to stop a losing month, or keep a string of wins alive. The match-up system has to be nurtured and fcoused on totally, not just based on situational 8th, or 9th innings hitters. And with this team bascially only having three reliever that can be trusted with hitters from both sides of the plate, it makes your options a bit tighter in the games.
And who has to be the craftsman behind all of this, well the Pitching Coach. Sure Maddon and Hickey can go over situational devices and plan accordingly, but life doesn’t always go by the book, and Hickey doesn’t always give the same sage advice as Maddon. I actually can not see the correlation between these two at times. Maddon is the always thinking, mind turning a million miles a minute, and Hickey is just, well Hickey. I know Maddon does scribble a few hints and stats on his personal score sheet to check on later in the games, but I really do not see the collective brain trust in Hickey by his side.
Sure Hickey does the Rays pitchers Side Sessions and the Bullpen Session with his pitching staff, but I sometimes see more vocal words coming out of Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi’s mouth than Hickeys in relation to the pitches. I might not see the video work he does with “Chico” Fernandez to get these guys ready for a ballgame, and I do not know his personal preparation routine for game days. But what I do see is a guy who sometimes goes by the book more than his instinct and wisdom. The black statistics on that white printer paper might have a few highlighted marks on it, but i do not see him as a strategist in the least…………sorry.
So if a guys starters leave and do better in other locales, can you give credit to a guy that used to be their Pitching Coach, or do you question why they prospered away from the “pitch-to-contact” scheme of Hickey’s gameplan. How can Jason Hammel go from a hot and controled environment like the Trop and have a lower ERA in of all places, Coors Field in 2009. Edwin Jackson was a stud in the making as a pitcher even before he went to Detroit in a trade. I mean the Rays considered him for the closer role before, and with the recent plight of Percival, why did they not consult E J and see if he would take on the task?
And you know I am going to bring up Scott Kazmir and his seeking advice outside the organization from the man who was his first Pitching Coach in New York, Rick Peterson. Oh how that must have burned deep inside Hickey that he was not visually equiped to notice a small step adjustment for maximum velocity. I bet if they let him, he would have drove Kazmir to the airport that next morning and kicked him out of the rental car haflway there………..(just kidding, maybe).
So if the Rays Bullpen gets rebuilt in Hickey’s mold with the financial restrictions in mind, it might only be a tweaking of the current system. Even if Chad Bradford and Percivals money comes off the books, there might still not be enough to achieve a maximum upgrade, but it can be done. But is Hickey the guy you want to entrust with that job, or is there someone within the Rays system like Xavier Hernandez, who has been fine-tuning the Rays Triple-A guys for several years.
I actually have more faith in Hernandez than I do Hickey based on what Hernandez did as the Rays snatched starters from the Bulls throughout the year and he still had the arms to take the Triple-A Championship. Gone by that time was David Price, and Hernandez manipulated the system when injuries to Mitch Talbot and other hit the Bulls staff. But still Hickey will be manning the pitching charts and books for the Rays in 2010. But how long will his luck go before he finally runs out of gas or chances with the Rays?
You know they took a big PR gamble a few years ago after the Rays last game of the season when he hit a Rays batboys truck at an intersection, and drove around the car and proceeded home. He was stopped by the St. Petersburg Police Department several miles dow
n the Interstate and did not act in all in the manners of the “Rays Way”.
But Hickey showed remorse to the Rays Front Office and recieved a year contratc to show he was to change his ways. And considering at that same time the Rays were going through a slew of “problem chld” situations with Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes, they could have just sent him on his merry way and not looked back. I hope that the Rays made thew right decision and that Hickey does make me regret this posting, but I do not think that is going to happen.
Maddon will not be able to sheild him again if the Rays starters or even the Bullpen falls on hard times. He will be directly in the crosshairs, and I think he knows it now. During the last home stand there was a guy in Section 136 that had a sign that read” All I want for Christmas is a Pitching Coach”. Well, the Rays decided to retain their present Pitching guru, and the hot seat begins right now. Hickey needs to not only get this team to totally believe in his system now, but also the fans so he doesn’t hear the chants and the catcalls before the next All-Star break.
Maddon can not protect him now. I remember seeing a comment that he called Hickey “one of the best pitching coaches” Maddon has has in his career. Hickey is a bit younger than most of the sage PC in the league, but if his ‘pitch-to-contact” system doesn’t gel right in Tampa Bay in 2010, the contact he will feel is the swift kick in the behind as he leaves the clubhouse door.
Steve Nesius / AP
A lot of times during the Tampa Bay Rays 2009 season we have seen a Rays starter get into a dominating groove against an opponent and he begins to take complete control of the game only to be taken out after a mystery number of pitches, or because the current pitching match-up philosophy dictates he has run his course in a game. But the common question still on our minds is why is there a mystery pitch count number,and why do some of the Rays starters seem to get more of a leash than others before getting yanked out of a contest?
We have all witnessed the unusual pitching formulas in person where the Rays Coaching Staff will let a starter come out in the top of an inning to face maybe only one batter before being yanked for a reliever. But why it the system doesn’t let this starter finish the inning? Why is the match-ups more important than the flow of the game at that point. Would letting a starter throw an additional 10 pitches to try and finish the inning endanger him more towards an injury, or a possible loss?
The Rays current pitching situation is apparently based on computer-based match-ups and not pitch count, but sometimes it just seems like misused mathematics gone wrong when the Bullpen ruins the outing for the starter..
Because we have all seen starters who are in total control on the mound get taken out late in the 7th or 8th inning with a definite shutout possibility and a still possessing a manageable pitch count, usually under 100 pitches. And then the Rays reliever comes in and gives up either a few base hits or a home run and the shutout and quality start have been flushed down the toilet. With good intentions by the starter, but a loss in the process. Could the system need a bit more instinct than Sabermetrics at times. And do the Rays have any flexibility in the system at all?
Sure there have been pitching moments this season where we all collectively felt Rays Manager Joe Maddon might have left a guy in too long, or maybe might have taken someone out a bit early and he could have fought through the problems and collected a “W”. But the physical side of the game of baseball along with the fans has been slow to accept this new found set of pitching principles. But it seems to me that the Rays Coaching Staff is now totally committed to this new style of pitching, and we are the one who must learn the system before we pull all of our hairs out of our skulls.
And the argument for or against a set number of pitches for a starter or even a reliever has been a winded and highly emotional debate that will go on until we can get some critical answers to our overflowing bowl of questions. What we as a fans need to do now, for our own sanity, is to try and understand the new pitching system before we can make an clear and educated judgment or even begin to condemn the operation as a waste of our pitching talent base. And it is hard to accept what some people have coined as the “wussification of pitching” because of the adaptation of this process by many teams in the Major Leagues.
Has the games parameters changed that much in the last 10 years where we are now considering a formally common thing like a Complete Game or even a quality start as a thing of beauty and rarity instead of a by-product of the game? Have we whittled down the pitching system so much that if a starting pitcher hits a 130+ pitch mark in a game it is a time to get really excited, or maybe even concerned?
In a recent series against the Rays on September 4, 2009, Detroit starter Justin Verlander threw 126 pitches and the Rays let starter Jeff Niemann throw 115 pitches before he was pulled from the home game. I mean this newly anointed system points oddly towards the century mark( 100 pitches) as a precursor to the thought process of removing someone from the game. But is that number set in stone if a guy is struggling on the mound, or is that just set as a barometer mark for guys throwing with authority and control? Right now this pitching system is beyond the infant stage, but is just now being accepted by some people in the stands.
We see the actual game pitch count now displayed everywhere from the Internet In-Game boxscores to the stadium scoreboards or special displays, to the constant verbal barrage by the Television and Radio announcers to this 100+ marks level of mortality in pitching. This designated mark in the game now seems to be the key determination factor more than actual game performance now. I mean will we some day just look up at the scoreboard and see 100 pitches flashing on the screen and know that our pitcher’s personal time bomb is ticking and will soon be taken out of the game?
I mean this must have a wild effect on the pitching staff as a whole knowing that even if they are cruising along, that at that century mark they could get pulled from the game and see their work trashed within a 1/3 of an inning by an unstable Bullpen. But in recent Rays games we have seen a glint of pitch count flexibility in this system. Maybe it is because we are no longer playing for the post season, or maybe it is just the fact that right now the Rays Bullpen is fighting a uphill confidence battle amongst themselves.
Either way, it is encouraging to see Rookie Wade Davis take the mound in front of the Tropicana Field crowd for his Major League Debut and get to throw 105 pitches, and leave with the lead and a possible 1st MLB victory. But then we quickly saw it evaporate as the Rays Bullpen threw a cookie down the middle to Tigers slugger Brandon Inge who hit a Grand Slam in the top of the 9th inning to boost Detroit to a victory 5-3. But the aspect of letting Davis even get to that 105 pitch mark might have been dashed if the Rays were still hot in the fight for a playoff berth.
But could there be other determining factor like adjusted work load and the fact that some of the staff might be fighting arm fatigue or shoulder soreness that we do not know about. But so far the Rays have not announced any shutdowns or reflected minimal outings for their starters in 2009, which hopefully means that people like Davis, Niemann and David Price will get to throw deeper into games for the rest of the season. But that again becomes a double-edged sword for the Rays.
For if one of those three were to come down with an injury before the October 4th Season Finale against the New York Yankees, the fans would be wondering out loud of the system hurt or helped the pitcher this year. That is why yesterday I brought up the idea of shutting down maybe two of the guys who have put in maximum innings the past two seasons. But in reality, the Rays usually employ a 75-pitch count in
the minor league for some of their starters, and for that reason, even Davis has thrown a total of 158.2 innings in the minors before his current 9.2 innings so far for the Rays.
Both Davis and Price were held to strict pitch counts in the minors in 2009 with an eye towards the end of this season. The minor league system of limiting pitches might have actually helped the Rays in their decision to maybe shut some people down this year. But considering Price only threw a total of 34.1 innings before coming up to the Rays, and only has a total of 144 innings right now, both Price and Davis should be able to complete the rest of their starts this season without a shutdown.
But can the same be said for fellow rookie Jeff Niemann? He put in a total of 133 innings at Triple-A last season before finally coming back up to the Rays and throwing 16 extra innings in the Major Leagues in 2008. Combine that with his 2009 total of 165.2 innings with the big club this season, and he also might be about ready to cross into the new systems red danger line for yearly pitching totals. But with each pitcher maybe getting three more total starts each, the possibility of adding 15+ innings to those totals seems to be garnishing no concerns from the Rays.
This new system is as curious to me as a new girlfriend. You know you like it, and you know it is right for you, but you are afraid of the consequences if it falls apart and you are left in the ruins. There will be a huge bit of discussion in the off season by both the fans, media and the Rays themselves as to the merits and demerits of this new found system. But in the end, if it can reduce injuries and keep guys playing longer in their careers and with more explosive stuff, then it might just be the savior of the pitching game.
But the system will have to be flexible to adjust to each teams needs and wants and not be written into stone tablets for all to follow with a strict code of obedience. The system will show its flaws soon, and it is how we adjust to those waves of ups and down as to the future of this system with the Rays. “Going with the flow” might be the term for the rest of 2009 and 2010. For if we do transfer a bit of the workload onto a competent Bullpen with guys secure and ready for anything, then this system and the Rays fan can again see glory coming their way.
Just when you think you can figure out the Tampa Bay front office ad what they might have on their minds they go and pull a complete rabbit out of their collective hats. Since the demotion of Rays reliever Joe Nelson, the team had a player in mind the entire time, but needed to make a sound judgment call on who would be the guy to go either to Triple-A Durham or be Designated for Assignment last night.
The team signed ex-Braves reliever right-handed pitcher Jeff Bennett ( #47) to their roster before the start of their 4:10 game today against the Kansas City Royals. The team also released James Houser today and Bennett will be placed on the Rays 40-man roster. Bennett comes to the Rays with a 2-4 record and a 3.12 ERA in 33 appearances. As we speak he is currently doing a side session under the watchful eye of Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey.
The Rays have not issued an offical press release yet on the roster move ( 2:08 pm), but when you are in a Rays BP jersey with your name on it, and you are doing a side session with the team’s Pitching Coach, it is only a matter of time. Bennett last appeared against the New York Yankees on June 24th and went 1.1 innings and gave up 2 hits and an earned run in the appearance.
Kathy Willen/ AP
If you are anything like me at the game, I tend to think and re-think the game a lot from the comfort of my blue chair out in the Baseline Box seats. Sometimes the simple fact that a Pitching Coach has come out of the dugout, or is still sitting there contemplating a move and letting our guy on the mound get lit up can drive you nuts. You want something positive to happen, but sometimes you are not rewarded at all.
And if you are at home, there is the added dimension of the broadcasters and hearing the cheers and jeers in stereo that can drive you simple batty as to pitching situations. So today I decided to maybe just give you a few situational pitching ideals and beliefs I have gathered since I first picked up a ball over 40-some years ago.
Now I am not professing to be a professional pitcher, and my ideas might be as bad as some of the current MLB Pitching Coaches we all second-guess every day and night, but it might it might also enlighten some of us with some extra information before we yell and scream for the Bullpen to “get someone up” next time.
I know it is a hard position to be a MLB Pitching Coach. I know I could never do it for a living, but sometimes even the best of them needed to be questioned for actions, or even non-actions in a game. Most post-game interviews are with the team’s Manager, not the Pitching Coach who might have errored in leaving someone to bake on the mound, or pulled someone early. And Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey’s “pitch to contact” style is either viewed as a success or a failure depending on your pitching viewpoint.
But Hickey’s position is actually a “no-win” situation. Mostly for the pure fact that if a guy goes out there and performs fantastic, you never hear a question towards the Pitching Coach, just the Manager. But either way, we as fans always have a few questions in our minds on why or how a certain pitch or situational pitching scenario unfolds in a game. Keep in mind here I am not trying to portray myself as a pitching guru or saint here, but I am going to try and give a fan-based Pitching tutorial.
I still have foggy recollections and vivid memories of situational strategies that I was taught when I was much younger, and could throw a lot harder. So without any further delay, lets begin my little journey into the simple basics of some pitching strategies. Former Chicago Cubs closer Steven Ellis uses to say that the best way to pitch was to “keep the batter uncomfortable at the plate.” Sounds like a simple method, but isn’t pitching suppose to be more than just about throwing a baseball across a keystone-shaped plate?
Well to most people that is the basic aspects of the game they see with every pitch. They want it over the plate and not biting the corners or even high and tight on the guy. Most people want to see the power-against-power up there at the plate like gladiators with the better players coming out on top. But that is not always the way it ends during an at bat in the major leagues. Sometimes luck can ruin a perfect pitch, or a shattered bat can deliver an infield hit.
So we always wonder what some of the basic fundamentals or game day thoughts that might go through a pitcher’s mind while he is out there on the mound. Some of the simple ideals of pitching can become complicated if mixed up and turned sideways by a Pitching Coach.
Baseball is a simple game, it is us so called ‘experts” that make it more difficult. So here are a few of my personal ideals on how to be effective on the mound. These ideas have come from the coaches and instructors I have known since my first days of Little League at Northwest Youth Center in St. Petersburg, Florida to the college ranks. Every one of them had a different spin on the philosophy of pitching. These are just a hodge podge of those instructions that have stayed within my mind in regard to pitching all these years. Some are very simple, but just like KISS, keeping It Simple Stupid can make you a 20-game winner on the mound.
1) You always want to make the inside of the plate yours. You have to make the batter anticipate the inside pitch, so you attack him inside and make him respect your fastball or breaking ball.
2) Show your off-speed stuff early in the game. Now you do not get in there and throw a massive amount of them because then the hitters can get gauge your timing and you are then asking for another ball from the umpire… a lot. But your curveball, change-up, sinker and slurve can help you dictate the game.
3) Always be careful with your change-up. Just because you think it is the right pitch, you have to also adjust to the fact he might be guessing right too. Just because it has worked for you all day doesn’t mean he is not now sitting there waiting for it again. The slower it comes in, the faster it will go out if he gets it right.
4) I was always partial when I was younger (over 14) to throw a curve ball on occasions during 0-2, 1-2, and 2-2 counts. The only reason I did this was that the hitter was usually waiting on a fastball to strike him out. Not that I did not mix it up at times, but it was just my personal pattern. Develop your own style.
5) With runners in scoring position, I tried to not let the batter get a good read on my fast ball. A badly placed fastball can unload the bases just as quick as a well placed ball for a called third strike for that last out. You are not the only one playing this “guessing game” here, the batter is also trying to get the right answers to get his guys home. Also never think you are smarter than the hitter, you might have just been lucky today to this point.
6) Changing the eye level or height of your pitches can be more effective than changing the speed. A fastball low and inside followed by a curve up by the chest changes the batter’s perspective on your pitches. It can also open up the outside corner for a nice breaking ball to get that out. Always leave him guessing.
7) I personally loved to throw a 2-seam fastball on either the first pitch, or during counts like 1-0,2-0,2-2, or 3-2. It might seem predictable, but if placed right, it should be an effective pitch. To me a breaking ball on 3-2 is too risky unless you have no one on base at the time. Better to
go down in flames with your best stuff than gamble on a breaking ball hitting the plane outside on a full count.
8) One of the worst thing a pitcher can do on the mound is get predictable, even with his first pitch every at bat. By changing the eye height of the pitch and hitting the corners of the plate you can put doubt in the hitter’s mind, and that is your best weapon to defeat him every time. If you have him guessing or confused, you have already won half the battle.
9) Everyone always hear the phrase “throw up a zero”, but it is important for team confidence to shut down an opponent after they either score, or you have scored in the game. The confidence of the guys behind you will make them more relaxed and want to make plays for you. A confident defense is ready to make outs.
10) This might be the most important one to me. Always re-adjust, re-focus and make the hitter re-think past at bats when you are facing them the second time, or even third time through the batting order. Just because you threw a slider for a first strike last time up doesn’t mean you should do it again. Pitch the game wisely, make him guess right to get anything off of you today. Do not reward his memory by giving him the same pitch twice at the same part of the count in a game.
Well, those are just my personal 10 simple ways to develop a simple pitching strategy for the game. I am not a Pitching Coach, or even a Little League Coach. I am simply a fan who has loved the game since my first glove at Christmas at the age of three. But even if I am not a coach, I can see good and bad patterns and errors. With teams in the major leagues now watching video tapes and analyzing pitching charts on every starter, it is getting harder and harder to surprise teams now.
But if your team does employ these basic pitching ideals it can make the rest of your day at the ballpark flow better. Worst thing about pitching, you can hit all your spots that day, be hitting the glove perfectly and still lose the contest. But that is why we play the game. If it was so simple we would have people like you and me out there hitting and playing the game until we were too old to pick up a bat or field a ball.
So some of us become those “off-the-field” coaches who can ruin even the best games of some of our players in our own minds. I enjoy reading some of these blogs where people question a pitching situation, or even a pitch selection or substitution. I just hope this short list can give some people a hint of more insight into pitching.
Sometimes even a 10-year pro pitcher can forget the basic and he gets drilled in an inning. I do not know who said it, but baseball is a game where we reward people for hitting the ball a third of the time. And that is so true. Baseball is simple, but it is the fans and sometimes the coaches and players who can make it seem more difficult.
So with that in mind, I am getting ready to head on down toward Tropicana Field tonight and watch the first game of the three game series with the current American League East division leaders, the New York Yankees. The only reason I am making a big thing of that is that if the Rays do get some “mojo rising” during this series, that current position in the division will change. But you can bet even tonight, Yankee starter A J Burnett will employ all or most of those 10 pitching strategy fundamental ideas listed above in the ballgame. You can bet on it.
Jim Presching / AP
The deeper this Tampa Bay Rays season goes,the more the “Tall Texan” seems to grow on you. When you see how easy it is to call out Rays starter Jeff Niemann and he causally just comes over and chats with you while he continues signing a multitude of autographs for what seems like forever, and he still has that smile on his face the entire time. And you see a small level of discomfort and bummed out look when he has to turn and head into the clubhouse with people still calling his name.
He is one of those reason the Rays are within striking range of the New York Yankees right now to again try and regain their spot at the top of the American League East division. And here is a guy who at the very end of Spring Training had to fight tooth and nail for a final spot on the roster that in prior years he might have had by mid-March. But since the 2008 success, a lot has changed in Rays-ville, and the “gentle Giant” is one of the great stories of this season.
I mean he truly did not know until almost the last possible day that he would regain the fifth rotation spot until his competition got traded away to the Colorado Rockies. But all during that time there was chatter and rumors that he too was under the trading microscope maybe heading to San Diego, Colorado, or maybe Pittsburgh. The competition for that final spot was so intense this season that even a guy who might have made the rotation on 20 other teams might of had to find alternative solutions to stay in the major leagues.
And how great do you feel right now if you are in the triad of Rays Manager Joe Maddon, Pitching Coach Jim Hickey and Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman right now that you kept the Tall Texan. Sure you might have labored over the decision and might even have second guessed yourself after the first start or two, but quickly you also saw a small glimmer of hope and beauty in the way Neimann was taking the ball every fifth day and making magic happen on the mound.
I mean take the fact he had a 2-1 record with a 6.32 ERA in Spring Training this season and it might look like a feasible reason to consider him for the last spot in the rotation. But if you really look close at his statistics, he was in a five-way tie on the team in wins, his 6.32 ERA in the spring was better than the Rays Opening Day starter, Jame Shields who had a 8.16 ERA. Unlike Jason Hammel, Neimann did not start a single game this Spring, but did get into 6 contests and still made enough impression to get two wins. But his 15.2 innings of work was the fifth best on the team, and his 17 total his given up this spring were better than Matt Garza (26), Shields (19), Scott Kazmir (22) and Hammel (25).
From the edge of Spring Training, he knew he had everything to prove, plus everything to lose in the coming months for the Rays. He had to have his stats put next to Hammel and David Price for comparison, and in the end might have gotten the job by proxy to the shagrin of some in the franchise office. But I do not see it that way at all. Neimann had struggled in the past with injuries, and in 2008 he had his best season as a professional because his health did not let him down at all that year. So this season was going to be a test of not only his health, but his pitching ability.
But the best part was this was not his first time up in the major leagues thanks to a short stint after Garza went down right after Opening Day in 2008, Neimann got some needed experience and struggled and also showed some great improvement to stay on the minds of the team the entire year. So it was no surprise that he was one of the possible pitchers brought up by the team after the Durham Bulls were eliminated from the IL Playoff picture in 2008. The man a few people have commented on could be the twin brother of Toys R Us icon Geoffrey (Giraffe) was to get more of a chance to show his stuff in 2009.
And his first start this season at Baltimore showed that he still had a ways to go to be an effective pitcher, or did he just go into the game maybe a little over prepared and actually took himself out of that game by trying to think of adjustments on the fly without a good thought process in his mind. After his first start he had a balloon ERA of 10.13. He had only lasted 5.1 innings and had thrown 94 pitches in that game. The one shining light out of that performance was the he settled down after that disastrous first inning and blanked the Orioles until he left the ballgame.
But from that start he gained a lot of experience, and gained even more of an insight of what it was going to take to be a great pitcher in this league. So at the end of the month of April he had gone 2-2 with a 4.43 ERA. He had rebounded from a two-some of tough games against the Orioles and the White Sox to put together two great wins against the Twins and Mariners. In both wins in April he threw 3-hitters, and also saw his command starting to come together. So with a even keel from April, it was imperative that he have a good month in May so solidify the Rays decision on him.
In May, he went a combined 2-2 again in six starts and showed improvement by starting to see his walks-to strikeouts ratio get more into control. He had a few blips of problems during a May 2nd contest against the Boston Red Sox at home, where he lasted only 3 innings and surrendered 6 runs on 7 hits. He only lasted 76 pitches into that contest, but his pitches for strikes was starting to show a closer trend towards an acceptable level. In that start he threw 46 strikes to his total 76 pitches. Neimann was beginning to understand how to win in the majors.
And during the rest of May, he surrendered less than 2 runs in every game but one. In that contest on May 18th against the Oakland A’s, Neimann did give up 4 runs in the contest, but he also got some great offensive support from the Rays and posted his 4th victory of the season. He threw 110 pitches in that game, the most of the season for him. But the end of the month was not kind to him as he was limited to 3 innings in a rain delayed game in Cleveland that he had thrown 3 innings and had only given up a single run before the tarps hit the field. He had only thrown 53 pitches in that game, but 34 had gone for strikes. He was beginning to show his improvement every time out from that point on in 2009.
June also seemed to start great for him as he made 5 starts in the month and posted three
victories. His 3.10 ERA for the month was the best he had posted as a professional, and he also had thrown 29 total innings in the month, the most since he had come up with the Rays. On June 3rd, Niemann tossed his first complete game shutout of his career during a home contest against the Kansas City Royals. In that game he also seemed to have great command as he struck out 9 batters and only surrenders a solo walk in the game. But in the next contest against the Los Angeles Angels he did have a bit of a setback only lasting 3.2 innings while giving up 5 runs on 7 hits that night.
June seemed more like a roller coaster ride for Niemann as he went to highs and lows before finally equaling out during a June 29th contest against the Toronto Blue Rays in Rogers Centre. In that game he went 7.1 innings and threw 100 pitches while giving up a solo run on 4 hits. This was also the only time besides the first game against the Orioles that he had issued more walks than strikeouts. But it did not matter in the end as he took his seventh win of the season from this game. So at this point he was 7-4 and people were beginning to talk about the young Texan.
If June seemed like his month to shine, oh were people going to enjoy his July. So far this month he has only made three starts, but he has posted two wins in those starts to have the most wins so far as a Rays starter in 2009. July got started off a bit rough when he only lasted 3 innings in a game out in Arlington, Texas against the Texas Rangers. It should have been a bit of a homecoming for him, but the Rangers roughed him up early and he only lasted 47 pitches and gave up three runs in the game. It was not a pure disaster, but it did show him some room for improvement, and to get more first pitch strikes on the batters.
But after that contest, in his last start before the All Star Break, Neimann threw one of the best games of his career to that point against the Oakland A’s at home on July 10th. This was the second start of the season for him against the A’s, and in his last start he lasted 8 innings and gave up four runs to the A’s hitters. But tonight he went 9 innings to post his second complete game shutout of the season. He threw a season high 118 pitches and got a standing ovation from the crowd as he went to the mound in the top of the ninth inning. After that contest, while being interviewed on FSN/Florida, Niemann got the traditional shaving cream pie from Rays catcher Dioner Navarro.
But that was not the cream on top of the pie yet for Neimann in July. After not starting since that July 10th game until last night, he was on 10 days rest when he took the mound in Chicago last night for his first start of the season against the White Sox. Neimann had saved his best for last ( so far) this season. Last night against the White Sox he posted 7 strikeouts and issued zero walks. This was the third time this season he had not issued a walk in a game, and the second time in the last three starts. He was beginning to exert control on his game on the mound, and he lasted 8 innings last night before he was finally pulled before coming out in the top of the ninth after throwing exactly 100 pitches. The Tall Texan made his presence known, and for the month has a 2-0 record with a 2.25 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 3 starts.
So this brings about some scuttlebutt and chatter now that David Price might not be the guy to watch for the Rookie of the Year award right now with the Rays. That Neimann might have stolen a bit of the preseason thunder directed at Price. And what is wrong with that? How many other teams outside of Toronto have had two rookies basically come forward and contribute so much for their teams. Neimann is currently holding a 3.44 ERA, which is pretty amazing considering after the first start it was a bulging 10.13 ERA. And a pleasant surprise for the Rays is the fact he is now 6-2 away from Tropicana Field with a 3.84 ERA.
In the month of June and July he is 5-0 after posting a 4-4 record in the first two months of the season. He has started 17 games for the Rays this season and has seen victories in 9 of those starts. For a rookie, that is impressive to me. Going into last night game he was tied with Detroit Tiger starter Rick Porcello for the most wins by a rookie pitcher this season in the AL. And not lost is the fact that his next victory will tie Rolando Arrojo for the Rays rookie mark for wins with 10. And is it an odd connection that the night before they honor the 1998 team with their technicolor jerseys on “Throwback Night”, Neimann threw his complete game shutout.
I actually find that pleasantly exciting. The kid has been mired in doubt and intrigue the last few season as to his durability to play at this level, and this season he might eclipse the rookie record for victories in a season, and move it well beyond the present 10 win mark. He has now won 5 straight decisions and has lost only one decision since the first week of May (@ Cleveland/ May 28th). And even if he not on the mound to get a decision for the wins, the Rays have won 11 out of last 12 of his starts, and are 13-4 in all his starts this season. And to put an exclamation point on his season since May 13th, he has a 6-1 record with a 2.51 ERA and has not allowed a home run since May 23rd when he gave one up to Dan Uggla in Landshark Stadium.
The above statistics can only help to establish Neimann right now as the team’s candidate for the Rookie of the Year award. Some might still feel it is Price’s award to lose, but Neimann right now is putting up all the right numbers to be within eyesight of the award. But considering he is only the 7th Rays pitcher ever to throw at least two complete game shutouts. Arrojo threw two in his rookie season in 1998. No other pitcher in Rays history has thrown three complete game shutouts in his career. But that record, like Arrojo’s rookie win mark might be tested this season by Neimann.
And considering the impressive crowd he is now being mentioned with as the only holders of complete game shutouts this season, it reads like a “Who’s Who” in the MLB. The Royals Zack Greinke, San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum, Cardinal Joel Pinero and Red Sox Josh Beckett are the only other guys to throw 2 so far in 2009. You want some more impressive stats?
Hmmmm, he is also the fourth rookie this decade to throw two complete game shutouts joining Dontrelle Willis (2003), Jeremy Sowers (2006) and Hiroki Kuroda ( 2008). And he is only the second rookie to throw both of his before the All Star break, the other was former Rays Arrojo in 1998.
But then again, the Tall Texan has also been the recipient of some of the best run support in the major leagues by his teammates. The Rays are scoring 7.71 runs per 9 innings for Neimann. That works out to only the second highest percentage among ML qualifiers, and first in the AL. And to say he has been matched up against only fifth starters this season is a crock. He beat Roy Halladay in Toronto on June 29th, when he went 7.1 innings. Sometimes being the fifth starter on the team can get you unique experiences for growth and excelling in your performance. I think it is more of Neimann finally feeling he belongs up here
and feeling more at ease on the mound.
The winner in all of this are the Rays and the fans. In a spot in the rotation that people fretted and wondered about from the first game, Neimann had shown he is a solid member of the Rays rotation, and could be for a long time. Some people point to 2008, when Edwin Jackson also was the fifth starter and posted 14 wins in the season. So far Neimann is ahead of Jackson’s 2008 pace, and could be the new Rays total victories in a season leader by October. But the season still has over 60 games to play, and anything can happen from now on.
But one thing is for sure, the Rays are a better team with Neimann on it. Where early in the season people spoke aloud of the outlandish decision to keep him, now those same people are clapping and praising him for his wins and performance. Hey, the guy might just be the Rays second Rookie of the Year winner, and keep the tradition alive for one more season in Tampa Bay. But I am going on record as saying when they ask me to put my stamp on any rookie who I think deserves the award, the first statistics I will look at in comparison is to Neimann’s numbers. And so far, no one is holding a candle to the Tall Texan.
Those people who know me in the Trop know I have a good baseball relationship with one of the members of the Rays staff. I would like to think I have a good rapport with several people, but you never really know what is said off the field. Anyways, I have had a post-game gesture with this person since 2001, and I have never tried to revert or change that routine for the fear of breaking a superstition. It is more me than him, but I truly look forward to it right after each third out in victory or in defeat. It is a simple gesture, but it is a bond I have with him in my baseball world.
It is a simple hand salute off the baseball cap, but it has symbolism beyond just the motion to me. I met this guy back in 2001 when I was sitting the the Bullpen Cafe ( before Checkers bought the rights) and he used to always come over before the games to chat with myself and a good friend. I got to know this guy pretty well beyond the foul lines on the diamond, and also had on a few occasions had the chance to meet him over at Ferg’s with others for a post-game brew and some chatter. It was a special time for me because he was living the dream. He was on the field. It did not matter to me that ex-Ray Toby Hall or Greg Vaughn was standing right next to me up in the upstairs bar at Ferg’s run by former Rays Tony Saunders. Those were the simple times with Rays Bullpen catcher Scott Cursi and they have been amazing.
I have gone on road trips following the teams in recent years and Cursi and Chico Fernandez, the Rays Video Coordinator have always welcomed me into their post-game events and we have spent some good times in other cities. Places like Cleveland where we went after a game into the Warehouse District and did the usual pub crawls checking out the nightlife and the local club scene. Or maybe it was a great atmosphere of Swannee’s in Seattle when I went a few years ago and he told me of prior years when Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff were in this same small bar drinking a few beverages and there with the fans. I just wanted to give you guys another side of the guy former Rays broadcaster Joe Magrane called “The Enforcer.”
So when Cursi came over the other day before the game and we chatted for a bit I told him I was upset for finding out that he was getting married in December by seeing it in the Rays 2009 Media Guide. But what he told me next was exciting, even bigger to me than the fact he and Stephanie were going to tie the knot on the beach. Cursi sat there and told me he was going to get a chance to maybe catch during the 2009 State Farm Home Run Derby. I was not totally surprised since I knew he was going to be at the All-Star game in the Bullpen anyways as a member of Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s staff. But the added thrill of seeing Scott catch with the world watching him was simply amazing.
But in the last week there might be a small problem here with Cursi even catching in the Home Run Derby. You see, Evan Longoria can bring along his own pitcher for the event, and Cursi is one of the staff who almost daily throws Batting Practice to the Rays players. In such, you would think he would want a Rays staffer, since they are already there for the All Star game to throw to him. But there is a simple answer.
But to even throw more cold water on either idea is the fact that Longoria, who was imformed by MLB he was the highest vote getter in the American League to participate in the State Farm Home Run Derby, might bow out of the competition to save his ailing hamstring. With the health concern, that is a good idea for Longo, but hopefully he is not pulling out after a poor showing
in the 2008 Home Run Derby. Maybe teammate Ben Zobrist could take his spot? I wonder, have there ever been any switch-hitting home runs hit during the Home Run Derby? I will check on it and let you know the answer…..
It almost makes me want to find some way financially to make it to the game and see it in person. I do not want an outfield seat, but just something near the field so I could yell out to Cursi before he squatted behind the dish and watch dinger after dinger disappear into the St. Louis night. Think of how amazing that is going to be for the guy who has put in countless hours and time warming-up pitchers and coming in and catching pitching prospects and potential free agents over the years for the Rays. I thought 2008 might be the top of the proverbial mountain for some people in the Rays organization, but the hits just keep on rolling here for Cursi.
I am truly so excited that my baseball buddy get to live the All-Star dream on the field this season and also get to attend some of those exclusive and sought after events during the All-Star experience. I can not think of anyone else in baseball that I think deserves that honor than Cursi. Seriously here, the guy has bled Rays green, blue and even yellow for this franchise and this is another great life experience for him in his position with the Rays. But I think I need to let you know a little bit about Scott Cursi before I go today. He is in his 11th season with the Rays organization, and his 13th in professional baseball. He spent three seasons as the Bullpen Catcher for the Double-A Orlando Cubs and the Orlando Rays of the Southern League from 1996-1998.
And sometimes you will also see him late in the Rays Batting Practice throwing balls to the hitters on the mound. Cursi played college baseball at Seminole Community College in Orlando and graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in Physical Education. Before he made his trek to Florida, Cursi spent four seasons coaching for Bishop Waterson High School in Columbus, Ohio under Ohio baseball legend Scott Manahan. The guy knows baseball inside and out, and that has only endeared him more to the Rays.
So Congrats Scott. You deserve a spot in the television of the world, and you can be sure all of Tampa Bay will be watching for you to put your mask on and squat behind the plate during the State Farm Home Run Derby. I know you will have some great memorable chats with some of the hitters that night, and I hope I can hear some of those stories some night after a game over some cool, refreshing beverages with great company. But until then I will just give to the hand salute to the cap back every night and wish you a safe road trip, and tons of great baseball memories.