Results tagged ‘ Jim Hickey ’

Middle Reliever “Wish List ” for Rays Hot Stove Simmerings

 

 

 

Just wanted to let my fellow MLB bloggers and the rest of the world know about a huge soda promotion happening only this Sunday.  Dr. Pepper, one of the biggest producers of soft drinks in the world will be giving everyone in America one 20 oz Dr Pepper product FREE on Sunday.

 

This is because of a promise the company made during 2008 that if the band Guns & Roses were to release an album in 2008, Free soda for everyone. So starting at midnight on Sunday, you can go to the Dr Pepper website at www.drpepper.com and get a printable coupon for your FREE soda.  The only bad thing is that it is limited to  1 soda per household………….bummer.

 

 

 I seriously feel that one of the owrst jobs in the majors is to be a relief pitcher.  Think about it, you have to ready within a minutes notice and have to be abreast of the entire lineup and how they are hitting a certain pitch at all times during every game. And above all of that you have to be able to get loose fast and go in when you might not be totally loose and ready to throw.

 

It is a thankless job, but one that the Rays have proved in 2008 can be inproved in just one year. The Rays went from haviong one of the worst Bullpen ever in the majors, to posting a huge improvement and a great ranking in 2008. One of the reason the team got to the post season was based on their improvements in the Bullpen and the versatility fo everyone in the Bullpen to swap roles without problems.

 

So my “Wish List for 2009″  for our Bullpen might be  a bit small, but it could always get better. Every year you have to do some form of upgrade to your pen, or batters’ will figure out the pitchers and then you have problems.

 

There are 10 former Rays in the mix as free agents in 2009 in the major leagues. Guys from former starters Tanyon Strutze ( Dodgers), Casey Fossum ( Tigers) and Doug Waechter (Marlins). All 3 of these guys have positives that could land them again with the team, but I thiunk that the Rays Bullpen have moved beyond just filling positions now and can compete every year with some of the best Bullpens in baseball.

 

                    

 

We also have such guys as 2008 Rays, Gary Glover ( Tigers), Al Reyes ( Mets), and Scott Dohmann( Durham Bulls) looking for teams in 2009. I really do not see any of these guys getting another stay in Tampa Bay. I think that Glover is just a bandaid type of guy you can use with injuires on your staff, and Dohmann is just not the right guy for the Rays anymore.  

 

Dohmann made the 2008 roster and we sent Grant Balfour to the minor leagues. Where Balfour made the adjustments and did the work on his pitches, Dohmann did outstanding for the Bulls, but is not the sort of guy we need in 2009. Al Reyes, well he simply has not gotten the giddy-up back on his fastball since his first injury and might not even be healthy now.

 

The you got guys that have been gone from the franchise for a bit like Lee Gardner ( Marlins), who had a huge upsdie a few years ago and fought to be the team’s clsoer, but did not have the killer instinct needed to pull the trigger for the Rays. Or you guys like Todd Jones ( Tigers) who have retired, but might try to come back for a last paycheck. Jones was only here for a Spring Training run, but he did go on to produce for the Marlins and the Tigers after leaving the Rays.

 

                     

 

Then you have the enigma that is Jorge Sosa. He left the Rays and had a few great seasons rolling with the Braves, Nationals and Mets before inploding and becoming a liablity to your staff. He was released by the Mets and signed by the Mariners’ to a minor league contract only to get hit with a 50-game suspension for a drug related offense. He had a great future in the game, but might have resorted to help to get back to the majors. I wish him luck and more if he can get himself straight.

 

 

Okay, the only ex-Ray I want for my staff is also one of the guys that is hot right now in the MLB. Joe Biemel (Dodgers) is a great pitcher who has gotten better since we traded him to the L A Dodgers a few seasons ago. The guy is a leftie (plus) and he hit his marks in the strike zone ( plus).  His stuff is not overpowering, but his hard slider can do in the best hitters in the league at times.

 

Other guys that have hit my “Wish List” have a bit of an imtimidation factor to them. Doug Brocail ( Astros) is a huge leftie that can a hard fastball and a really hard breaking curveball. He can also sometime bring an amazing slider and a nice changeup and has been one of the most consisitant relief pitchers for years in the MLB.

 

 Ron Villone ( Cardinals) has a unique sliders that can cripple a right-hander at the plate. Mix that with his fastball and changeup and you have a effective reliever. He does sometime show his fastball by a head-jeck motion to the plate, but he can be unhittable at times.

 

                          

 

But the 2 lefties that I would “wish” for the Rays are actually guys that we have looked at and wanted to trade for in 2008 during the trade dealine. Will Ohmann ( Braves) is my number one choice as a leftie addition to the Rays Bullpen in 2009. The guy is a baller and can get the job done period.

He brings to the Rays a slider that he throws often, and for good reason. His slider breaks bats, and that is a great guy to have on your staff.  He can either be your leftie specialist or get a few innings for you. That type of versatility could means alot to the Rays in the late innings in 2009.

 

My other leftie of choice is a guy who has bounced a bit around the league and is no stranger to Rays batters’ Darren Oliver ( Angels) has imporved yearly on his pitches and might just be hitting the peak of his potential in the next year or two. He has found most of his success recently as a long reliver, but is also poised to go head-to-head with the big boys in the American League.

 

Oliver has been a pest to the Rays in the past with the Angels. Oliver has improved to the point that sometimes his moving fastball can miss bats at times. It has a great last second drop to it that confuses hitters and can be a great out pitch for him. He also has an above average slider, curveball and changeup to round out his selections.

 

When you think of righthander relivers, you think of guys who can pull the trigger and bring the heat to the plate. The Rays already have one guy like that in Grant Balfour, but to add at least one more pitcher who can throw heat would be a huge plus to the Bullpen. 

 

                         

 

One guy who comes to mind is the mind master, Julian Tarvarez ( Braves). He has a a great sinking splitter and a lurking slider that doesn’t have the bit it did in recent years, but is still a plus pitch when it is on. His mound antics can get you a bit upset at him, but he is a professional who can get you the outs and the innings along with the drama.

 

Another rightie that peaks my intrest is young Jamey Wright (Rangers). He is still learning at the plate, but has a up side to him that could be huge in the next year. He does get a few too many walks, but his moving fastball and biting curveball have shown mass improvement in 2008. He is also showing a great changeup that looks more like his fastball before it tails away from hitters. Mix in a daily improving cutter and you got a great reliever in the making just looking for the right team.

 

Juan Rincon ( Indians) has always had great stuff, but off the field situation in the past years have made a few clubs doubt he might be a 162-game guy. But to his credit, he does have still have three quality pitches to throw at guys, but he might be losing velocity on them.

 

Another guy who has peaked my intrest is Russ Springer ( Cardinals). He has been around a long time and can still bring it to the plate.  His cutter can bore in on righthander hard and leave them thinking it is outside the strike zone. He has a nice 12-6 curveball that he likes to use to get guys to swing and miss on alot at the plate.

 

He would be more of a temporary fit for the team. More for his experience and his knowledge than to be there long term, but the guys did improve under the watchful eyes of Trever Miller and Troy Percival last season. Maybe another veteran is the key to the lock for the Rays Bullpen.

 

                                

 

But the prize that I want as a rightie for the Rays Bullpen is a guy who has rattled the Rays cages a few times and is a great clubhouse guy. I think that the addition of Kyle Farnsworth ( Tigers) wouls send a rattle through the MLB about the Rays having2 of the best competitors on the mound in Balfour and Farnsworth.

 

Farnsworth is not shy and will throw up and in if you are crowding him at the plate. That is something the Rays did not have last year, a guy who can throw 97 plus to “buzz the tower” on guys leaning in on the plate. He would be a great tool to use against the Red Sox and Yankees batters’ who like to stick their heads and arms over the outside corner of the plate and dare you to pitch them inside.

 

Farnsworth brings to the table a  a really nasty slider and a knack for lack of control, that I think is more an act than a huge part of his game.  He also has a 4-seam fastball that can dart away from batters and his fastball is his trademark, sometimes hitting the upper 90’s without a problem. 

 

My second “Wish List” reliever with a right hand that has gotten better and better in recent years is Jorge Julio (Braves). Something I am finding alot this off season is the huge amount of ex-Braves out on the free agent market. Julio first caught my eye years ago when he was a young Orioles reliever. He has the fastball and the mound persona to make yo take notice of his pitches.

 

Because he has been on 7 teams since 2005, most people think it is for lack of effort. I think this guy is just a high powered pitcher that gets lost in his fastball sometimes. I think Jim Hickey, the Rays Pitching Coach can control this guy and show the league he is a quality pitcher.

 

His high 90’s moving fastball has gotten alot of baseball GM’s to take a chance on him, and time might be running out on him. But, his slider can be altered by his delivery point, and I think it has been a problem spot for him because of the change in delivery points. He might seem like a project guy, but he has a huge upside and might be worht at least a Spring Training Invite to check him out.

 

Well, there you go with my list of lfrt and right-handed relievers for my “Wish List” for the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays need only a few select guys to put into place to secure a solid Bullpen unit. An additional two or maybe three pitchers could make another huge impact on the team’s success in 2009.

 

 

David Price, Rocco Baldelli, and Jim Hickey Tidbits

 

       

 

Starting on Monday, November 10th and running until November 17th, Tampa Bay Rays fans can support Rays rookie pitcher David Price in his quest to be on the cover of the December 5th, ESPN, the Magazine’s  “Next” issue. This issue is the magazine’s yearly guess as to the movers’ and the shakers’ of the coming season.  It will be focusing on 4 key figures from 4 different sports who might be the people to watch in 2009.

With Price set to enter his second Spring Training this year with the Rays, even money will tell you that he will break camp on the 25-man roster for the team. A plus would be a  number 4 spot in the rotation, and a chance to finally prove to the league that he is the next great leftie in the American League.

With the pedigree growing daily, Price, who was the Baseball America choice as the Minor League Player of the Year this past season came up to the big club for the post season push and excelled beyond the team’s wildest expectations. Price became the first rookie in MLB history to record a win and a save in the playoffs without recording a decision during the regular season. 

His shining moment of the playoffs has to be his mastery of the defending World Champions in Game 7 of the ALCS at the Trop. against the Boston Red Sox. Price came in and dominated the final inning to put the exclamation point on the series and send the Rays to their first World Series appearance. 

Along with Price running for this spread on the cover will bethe NFL’s Atlanta Falcon rookie quarterback sensation, Matt Ryan. He has led the wingless Falcons air attack in 2008 on their climb back to the top of the NFC.  From the world of auto racing we have Joey Logano, who in the words of NASCAR  legend Mark Martin is the “real deal.” And winding up the quad will be Spanish basketball wizard Ricky Rubio.  He has been compared to the late great “Pistol Pete” Maravich in ability and range on the court.

 

 

So do not forget to go to www.ESPN.com  and vote for our next great pitcher  daily to earn him the right to be the coverboy on the December 5th issue of the publication. It is time for the Rays Republic to sound off and show that we have a voice and are not afraid to use it.

 

 

       

 

Forgotten in all the talk about free agents and the trade chatter going on last week was the forgotten fact that Ray’s pitching coach, Jim Hickey is currently without a contract with the team. In 2008, while most of the team’s coaches were given 2-year contracts, Hickey was given a 1-year deal because of an off the field activity.

The activities of the night of the last game in 2007 have played out in the media and the courts and I really am not going to rehash it out here for respect of the team and Hickey for taking a professional and responsible solution to the event. 

 

      

 

So, as of this time, the Rays are currently without an “official” Pitching Coach for the team under contract. With Andrew Friedman returning from both the MLB GM’s meeting and Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s wedding in California this weekend, this might be high on the agenda of thing to complete before the Winter Meetings in a few weeks.

To Hickey’s credit, the Rays Bullpen and their starter’s did perform absolutely outstanding during the season and during the playoffs. I put alot of that on the work he has done the last few years’ with the team and in letting the guys mature and evolve both on the mound and off during the year.

 

 

His philosophy of pitching to  location spots instead of letting his pitchers’ throw has sometime caught the wrath of myself and some of the Rays’ fanbase.  Some of the control issues of  young ace Scott Kazmir can be related to the action of changing his pitching style to throw to locations instead of challenging the hitters with his superior fastball. By making Kazmir conform to location pitching it has caused Kazmir to loose some of his velocity and confidence on his slder during the season. 

With off season training and work Kazmir will become a better pitcher in 2009 for the Rays. That being said, I do hope that the Rays retain Hickey for 2009 on a 1-year contract and see if he can perform another miracle season with his staff.

 

 

Joe McDonald of  The Providence Journal  sat down with Rocco Baldelli recently and asked him about his 2008 season and his aspects for the future. The article  covered how Baldelli’s year with the Rays was a rollercoaster that went from a huge low to the ultimate high of playing in the World Series with the Rays.

It also went into the subject of if Baldelli could see himself play for the Rays bitter rival, the Boston Red Sox. Considering the newspaper is based in the Northeast, it is no wonder that the article pulls a mostly favorable view for the Red Sox.  But with Baldelli also being raised in Rhode Island, it does go into the pride and the lifetime dream of playing in Fenway Park for family and friends.

I said that there were about 6 clubs currently looking at him and that the Rays have not been able to sit down with him yet and discuss any situations for 2009 with the team.  Considering the wild week at the GM meeting, and the nuptuials of his manager this past weekend, Baldelli might get a call to discuss thing during the next week.

 

 

I still have a gut feeling that the Rays will get the first chance to make an offer and entice Baldelli based on their past actions of working with him during his injury and having faith in him upon his return to the 25-man roster.

The ball might now be in the Rays court as to how Baldelli decides where he will play in 2009. He can be an effective right-handed bat off the bench and also be a truly effective 4th outfielder for any team in baseball. The fatigue situation can now be controled by rest, medication and monitoring, but the true measure will be in who wants him more, and to what extent in the upcoming year.

 

 

 

 

 

Garzas Shutout dooms Rangers

 

 

Rays 7, Rangers 0

 

 

Some nights you just turn on the television and want to see an offensive explosion on the tube. Going into this Texas series, the Rays are going to encounter the team that leads the majors in runs scored per game. This squad is even more potent tha the Chicago Cubs, who have won an easy dozen more games than the Rangers.

But the firepower on this roster is well documented. The stadium is a true hitters’ ballpark, and the incoming teams have to deal with the heat and humidity that only the Florida Marlins could love. Arlington Texas can be a boiler room during the months of August and September, the temperatures can read 90-ish, but feel more like wet sauna.

The Rays come in here cool, calm and relaxed, and a few more wins will make this feel more like the Artic than the Sahara. Winning breeds success, and right now, the Rays are a success story for the ages. Coming in an impressive 6-2 during this roadtrip can put an exclamation point on the roadtrip. The Rays have to go above .500 in their road series to truly envision a playoff berth for the first time in franchise history.  If last night’s performance is only a glimpse into the future, the the future is so bright………you have to wear shades.

 

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When the Rays looked into their crystal ball before trading for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett, did they see this kind of success this early for the pair. Did they see that Garza would come back to the scene of a major emotional and mental meltdown and redeem himself three-fold on the diamond. Could they have envisioned that Garza is considered by many in baseball right now to have the best stuff ( pitches) on the team’s roster. Do you think they thought Matt could mature and accept so soon to be a force on the mound every time he steps to the rubber?

 

Matt Garz threw his thrid complete game last night for the Rays. In the 7-0 shutout, Garza’s sinker ball was amazing last night, and was a true key to Gara winning his 10th win of the season. His sinker was hitting the spots last night with a great downward break at the last moment. Considering he throws it consistanly above 90 MPH, is true testement to his improvement on the mound.

Garza had Ranger batters’ swinging and missing at his pitches last night. Going into the 6th inning, only Josh Hamilton had reached base on a walk for the Rangers. Garza struck out 9 last night and looked totally in control on the mound.

 

 

 

 

Garza’s last start in Texas was a million miles away as you saw him pause before pitching each inning and look into his hat for inspiration and mental notes to get him focused in ths game. The only time Matt truly showed emotion in this contest was in the top of the 9th when he went over to Rays Manager Joe Maddon and  Pitching Coach Jim Hickey and asked to finish out the game.

It was truly a great night to be a Rays fan.

 

 

The Rays struck out 12 times last night against the Rangers. In the last 4 games, the team has now struck out 39 times at the plate. This puts the Rays at 890 strike outs for the season. This is pale in comparison with the major’s leading strikeout squad, the Florida Marlins, who have struck out 1,056 times this year.  But the Rays are within the range of the AL leading  Oakland A’s who have 930 strikeouts.

It brings about a glaring statistic that could play out more down the road for the Rays. There is a difference in being aggressive at the plate, and being a bit foolish and letting a player strike out looking at a pitch than swinging. The Rays have had more strikeouts looking lately than in a long time.

This has to be nipped in the bud a bit to be able to compete come  the September crunch time when baserunners will come at a premium for the team. In the coming weeks, teams will be bringing up the  young fireballers out of the minors to intice us to swing at air. We need to exercise a bit more plate discipline and either swing with authority or take the pitches.

 

 

 

 

Willy Aybar started the barrage in the 4th inning by slamming his 7th homer of the season to rightfield and give the Rays an early 1-0 lead. The homer was a impressive shot that curled into the Rangers pinic area above rightfield and maybe put the Rangers’ Marlon Byrd on the bench with an injury. Byrd went up for the ball and got his wrist or upper hand stuck in the railing area and came down without his glove.

At this point in the contest, the Rays had Rangers’ starter Kevin Millwood at 60 pitches and he was slated for an early exit to the game.

 

 

 

 

But the Rays put the game and Millwood on the bench in the 5th inning. Carlos Pena hit  a 3-2 pitch into the right field stands for his 24th homer of the season. Pena went 1-3, with 3 runs scored, and 2 walks in the game. Pena now has 9 homers in the last 20 games, and one on each of the last 3 contests for the Rays.

But that was only the start of the barrage for the Rays. Cliff Floyd, who was 2-5 on the night, hit his second double of the game to setup the next heroics for the Rays. After a Aybar srikeout, Eric Hinske came to the plate.

 

 

 

 

Hinske took a Millwood pitch to the deepest part of the ballpark and above a leaping Josh Hamilton to spot the Rays to a 4-0 lead over the Rangers. Hinske hit that ball into the grassy batter’s eye area in centerfield for his 18th homer. In his last 5 games, Hinske is batting .438, with 2 homers and 3 RBI’s.

But that was not the end of the big blasts for the Rays.

 

 

 

 

Rightfielder Gabe Gross also got into the action by hitting the first pitch he saw from Millwood into the Rays Bullpen area for his career-high 10th homer of the year. In the game, the Rays hit 4 homers for the 4th time this season.  Gross aslo got a stolen base off Millwood in the 2nd inning.

 

 

 

 

Jason Bartlett also started at shortstop for the first time since his in jury on August 3, 2008. Bartlett had been a DH a few times in the last week before finally taking thenfiled for the Rays tonight. On the night, Bartlett went 2-4 at the plate and  was the pivot man in the Rays’ only double play of the night.

 

 

Now for the upsetting news. You would have thought he got the message a week ago when Maddon benched him for slowly running to first base on a play, but B J Upton is again in the Rays doghouse. Maddon pulled Upton after he took 5.5  seconds to lollygag to first on a double play attempt.

Upton said after the game he thought the Rays had two outs at the time, but also commented that he now knows he has to hustle all of the time and not just take breathers on the basepaths.  Upton is a great young talent, and Maddon is truly not flexible on this action. He expects everyone to run hard and give maximum effort on every play.

That is a truly commendable trait, and one that Upton probably will have time to reflex on since he will be sitting out the Sat night game against the Rangers’ for his actions. Upton must understand that everyone on this squad is responsible for either its losses’ or successes this season. The Rays have a unique opportunity to change history and nothing short of 100 percent will do right now.

Beyond that, Upton will probably be wise to not get into this doghouse again this season. Maddon is quick to show that Cliff Floyd, who has two aching knees, gutted out two doubles last night, and score 4 runs in the Thursday afternoon game.

His knees were probably braking loud and clear before Friday night’s game. But as a veteran oin this club, Floyd also knows it is all about example and execution right now. And he has a World Series ring to prove it.

B J  has to consider himself really lucky to get such multiple chances from Maddon. In the not to distant past, Delmon Young wrote his ticket out of Tampa Bay on just such a play. And he only got the one chance to slack off before being shipped out of here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kazmir Blanks A’s

 

 

Rays 4, Athletics 0

 

 

During the M C Hammer show on Sat. night at the Trop., Hammer talked about how after the team got rid of the “Devil” moniker, we began winning. That as the devil went out, the winning began. 

 

That after the team threw away the old uniform style and became a fresh, radiant sunburst, we had new energy and a new purpose and began to win. You know, it might just be something beside the team play that is winning all theses games. I am not calling it devine intervention, just a energized fan base and crowds that actually get into the games can pump a team up emotionally to want to win.

 

But isn’t it amazing that Hammer picked up on that aspect of the team’s success and not the fact that this squad has flirted for about a year just on the razor’s edge of knowing how to win the close games. That the Rays pitching has been 1-2 errors away from wins rather than losses last year.

 

Maybe more amazing is that the new Rays uniforms have been one of MLB’s biggest seller this year, and are more inviting than any other uniform in our team’s history.  Or maybe the stars and planets are aligined to give maximum Ray-dom energy to both the team and the players. Quasi-physics might also have a hand in all of this.

Maybe we are finding out what the coaches’ and scouts’ have known for years. These guys can play. I think it is more simple than that. I think we finally have a reason to believe, and they are rewarding us for our faith. But that is too simple of an answer for the masses and multitudes who want a deeper reason for winning.

 

                                         

 

Rays starter Scott Kazmir was extremely relaxed and poised after throwing his warm-up pitches last night. It was a calm you have not seen alot of in Kazmir this season. He was so relaxed and focused, he signed an autograph or two on the side of the Bullpen without missing a beat talking with Dioner Navarro and Pitching Coach Jim Hickey.

                               

But what Kazmir did on the mound was dominate a team that is also over .500 and in their own divisional fight with the L A Angels for a playoff berth. But the A’s are also considered by many to be the real “giant-killers” for  teams hunting playoff berths this season. Kazmir pitched  7 stellar innings last night and gave up only 2-hits and no runs to shutout the A’s 4-0.

 

With the victory, Kazmir picked up his 8th victory of the year, and with his 9 strikeouts, is currently 11th in the AL with 100 for the year. Considering Scott lost 3-4 starts due to his elbow injury, he is in good shape to try and defend his Strikeout King crown.

 

Kazmir also picked off Mark Ellis on second in the 1st inning. Ellis had walked to lead off the game for the A’s last night.  Kazmir is also ranked 1st in the AL in Strikeouts/9 innings. Tonight’s start was his 11th start against the A’s, and he is now 6-1 lifetime against them.

Kamir gave up only 2 hits last night, all singles.  Kazmir gave up his first hit to Ryan Sweeney in the 1st inning on a blooper single to center that fell between B J Upton and Ben Zobrist. The second was a Jack Cust single to center.

 

 

 B J Upton was again active on the basepaths for the Rays. For the game, B J was 2-3 at the plate, but also had 2 walks. Upton stole second twice in the ballgame to raise his total to 30 bases this year. Upton is currently 3rd in the Al, but is within 5 bases of the league lead. 

 

Since moving up and down in the lineup from his old 3rd spot, Upton has gone 3-9 in this homestand, and has looked more relaxed at the plate. 

 

Jonny Gomes also stole a base last night hustling in after singling to center. Gomes scored on a Akinora Iwamura single to center. Gomes went  1-2 last night and raised his average closer to .200.  Gomes also walked in the 2nd inning. Gomes will get another start in Rightfield tomorrow night against the A’s.

 

 

Where do you start when you talk about Evan Longoria the last few nights. The rookie has now hit 3 homers in 3 nights and has one dynamic defensive play after another this year. Before the beginning of the second half of the season, Longoria was in a 0-15 slump and was 3-23 in his last 7 games.

 

Evan hit his 19th homer of the season, and is 2 away from the Rays rookie record of 21 set by Jonny Gomes in 20005.

 

But his defensive play moving through the hole at short in the 9th innig was the defensive play of the night for the Rays. Longoria scooped the ball up and moving away from first through the shortstop hole, threw a high throw to Carlos Pena at first. Pena stretch high and mightyl and brought down the throw to record the second out in the 9th inning. 

 

 He is currently leading all rookies with 43 extra base hits and is leading in Slugging Percentage with .522.  His 2 RBI’s last night also puts him at 60 for the season, which is 2nd among rookies in the majors. And the Rays are 53-35 since he came up from Durham in April.

          

 

Akinora Iwamura also had a great day at the plate going 2-4, with a single and his 18th double of the season.  Aki has now hit safely in 18 of his last 21 games for the Rays.

 

Willy Aybar also hit his 4th homer of the season. Aybar hit his solo shot in the 3rd inning.  Before his homer Aybar had gone 2-21 in his last 9 games.

 

Grant Balfour came on in the 8th and retired the side on 15 pitches.

 

J P Howell  then came on in the 9th inning to close out the game for the Rays. Howell threw 10 pitches, 8 for strikes to seal the shutout and  help the Rays record their 58th victory.

 

Howell’s last batter was the most important of the night to the crowd in the Trop. Howell probably endeared himself more to the crowd with the night’s 10th strikeout on the last pitch of the game.  That left the crowd with a win, and a free Papa John’s pizza.

 

Howell has now thrown 59 innings this year for the Rays. That is only 3.2 innings shy of Doug Creek’s franchsie record for a lefty set in 2001.

 

He currently leads all AL lefties in innigs pitched, and is on pace to throw 98 innings. That would be the highest relief innings since the Twins Greg Swindell had 112.0 in 1997.

 

Howell currently leads the majors in relief innings with 59.0, Twins reliever Brain Bass ( 58.2) and Senators’ Joel Hanrahan (58.1) are close on his heels.

 

 

Rangers Leave Rays at a Loss

 

 

Rangers 6, Rays 3

 

The following is a reprint of a St Petersburg Times article on the new stadium:

The evolution of the Rays design

RayscurrenttRaysevolve

I thought it might be interesting to see how the ballpark design has evolved. At top is the current proposal. On the bottom (from left to right) is a series of proposed designs from March 2007, May 2007, November 2007 and February 2008.

The deep black line in the bottom row is where the current seawall location is. The original concept called for filling in 2.55 acres of the bay and would have filled in the entire channel between the main land and Demens Landing. (You can click on the bottom row to get a better look). Now only .4 acres of fill will be needed to build the proposed stadium, which should help the Enviormental aspects of the construction.

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Trivia Fact of the Night:

Ebbets Field organist Gladys Gooding earned her stripes the second day on the job (May 9,1942. As umpires Bill Stewart,Ziggy Sears,and Tom Dunn strolled on the field for the game. Gooding played the classic,”Three Blind Mice.”

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I am again going to shelf “The Good,The Bad,and The Ugly” format and just write my opinions and views again on my hometown Rays.  I have been looking for a formative setup for almost 6 months to accompany my Rays coverage, but the Good,The Bad and the Ugly can sometime sometimes be  too one-sided during losing and winning streaks.

Thus, from today on, I am just going to report the things I see, and what I know about the stats and adventure of our favorite team.

                  

I do not know what it is about miscommunication in our outfields. Are our Rays outfielders and infielders a bit too timid at times in voicing their dominating position on flyballs in the game. Twice in Sunday’s contest there were play where the Rays players did not communicate with each other and a hit resulted in each situation. In one situation, between shortstop Jason Bartlett and leftfielder Carl Crawford, the ball ended up costing the Rays a run in the inning. The next batter, German Duran hit a 2-run homer to deep center.

                         

Another play happened between centerfielder B J Upton and rightfielder Gabe Gross. By the video, Gross had  a better bead on the ball and was about to make the catch when B J Upton came into his eyesight and prompted Gross to take his eye off the ball, which fell to the turf. Upton recieved an error on the play, but all could have been prevented if Upton would have just backed-up Gross instead of trying to make the play himself.

                           

BJ Upton and Jason Bartlett do alot to bring this team up to a higher level, but it is the same things that also bring the team down a notch at time becuase of costly errors or mistakes. Boith made critical errors again in the game both on defense and on the basepaths.

Jason Bartlett actually had a bit of a bad hop at short that prompted his error tonight, but he still did not get the ball in play to try and prevent the hit.

                              

B J Upton again was caught stealing second in the first inning and ended the inning by being tagged out. B J  might be 7th in the AL in steals with 20, but he is also tied for 2nd in the AL leader in being caught stealing 7 times this year.  Baserunning is a hit or miss situation most night, for Upton, it is more miss right now.

      

Now on a positive note, B J  made an awesome play in center to rob the Rangers’ Frank Cattalanatto of a basehit.  Upton has been impressive in his only his second season in the outfield making a boatload of showstopping play this year. But his errors and misplays unfortunately are the play that are being seen around the league. B J  is currently tied for 2nd with 7 outfield assists this year.

Let’s stay on the positive track for a minute here. Evan Longoria made an awesome grab of a short foul pop-up from the bat of Bobby Boggs in the 1st inning. Evan laid out in foul territory and took the ball inches fron the turf for the out.

That is only one of the play that will make this Rookie one of the best defensive third baseman in the teams’  history.  I personally have seen my idol, Brooks Robinson make those kind of plays, and he did very well for himself in the game.

            

 

Rays starter Matt Garza went to the mound today undefeated against the Texas Rangers. Garza was 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA before today’s start.

Garza never seemed to have his susal stuff today in the game. At one point, during a called pitchout by Dioner Navarro, Garza threw the ball to the backstop for a Wild Pitch. He never seemed to be in a groove and the frustration came to a head in the bottom of the 4th inning.

Dioner Navarro, being the new club house leader for the Rays, came out to try and calm Garza down after the incident. Garza was visibly aggitated and fumed with his catcher on the mound. As Navarro turned to go back to the plat, Rays pitching coach, Jim Hickey came out to try and get Garza’s head back into the game.

All seemed back to normal as Garza got David Murphy to ground out to second for the third out of the inning.

“[Garza is] an emotional guy out there on the mound and I was just trying to basically encourage him to channel his emotions more toward the task at hand versus just kind of wasting it out there,” Hickey said. “And I thought he did a pretty good job after that, because it was a pretty heated situation out there. I believe he retired the next two guys.”

In the dugout, Garza renewed his venom at Navarro and the two battery mates had to be restrained by the players and staff in the tunnel area of the dugout. That cued the end of Garza’s game as he gave up 3 runs on 6 hits for the night. After the game, both players and manager Joe Maddon said the tussle was just frustration and was getting worked out between each other.

“Really, you guys, just describe what you saw,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Write what you saw. It’s something we’re going to take care of. And we’re going to take care of it soon.

Just heat of passion,” Garza said. “We’re both competitors. Whatever happened, we’ll just keep it here and we’ll fix it. … This is a great bunch of guys and everybody is on each other’s side. We can fix it.”

Navarro said the problem was “just something that happened in the game.”

“It happens in the family,” he said. “I think everybody is going to be fine from this point on. It was really nothing.”

When asked if he was “square” with Garza, Navarro replied: “Yeah, we’re fine. We’re a whole family here. [Little] brother fights against older brother, stuff like that. Everything’s straight now.”

Let’s hope for Garza’s sake it is all water under the bridge. the talented righty does not need to develop a strained relationship with his starting catcher.

I have to make an observation here, and tell me if I am wrong people.  But is the umpiring this season a bit below par so far this season, or am I imagining bad calls against our team. The Rays have had a recent history of getting shafted by the men in blue, but some of the called pitched tonight were a bit wild to say the least. TV replays showed the pitches to be low and outside and one player was sure to voice is concerning with the set strike zone.

Eric Hinske, the Rays DH today, decided to question the umpire on a called third strike to him in the 6th inning. Replays showed by reading his lips that Hinske did not use vulgar or obusive language to the umpire, so the ejection is questionable at best here. 

 A few innings later, Akinora Iwamura also got a bad called third strike and did his Ichiro imitation and just looked at the umpire with a puzzled look. 

Jason Hamel, of all the Rays relievers right now, you might be the one Joe Maddon is counting on in this suspension situation for a spot start. You did not help yourself by giving up 3 runs in 3.1 innings tonight against Texas. With that, and the upcoming roster moves because of Troy Percival coming off the DL on Friday, you did not set yourself above the group of “maybe” guys.

I am thiknig that a pitcher will be the guy to go on Friday. There are several guys who are totally safe here, Dan Wheeler, Trever Miller, Grant Balfour, and J P Howell.

Guys who might need to show a bit more on the mound are: Hamel, Al Reyes, and Gary Glover.  My pick is Glover, not becuase of bad outings, I just do not see him in the futre of this ballclub and it might be to his best interest to get on with a club who could use his services every other nightl.

Okay all, that is it for tonight.  Remember, to vote for Evan Longoria as the Pepsi Clutch Performer of the Month on MLB.com. 

Also he is a Write-In candidate for the MLB All-Star ballot at third base.  He will get to alot more All-Star games in the future, but this is a chance to get his name out there for nest years’ honor.

I want to Thank Brenton here on MLBlogs.Com for mentioning by Blog on his in the last few days.

Rays fans are coming out of the closet and walking onto the bandwagon in alarming rates. It is great to see another veteran of the lean wins years on this site promoting the ballclub.  I siot in Section 138 at the bottom every game, come on down and say hello anytime.

Cliff

Here is a link to his blog for all my fellow Rays supporter to check out another great Rays writer:

http://Braverays.mlblogs.com

 

 

 

 

 

Rays Tidbits and Views for 2008

 

I used to cover a lot of sports in this area for a afternoon paper that ceased publication in the late 80’s. I also have played both in high school and college baseball for many years. It is with great local pride that I have followed my hometown team, the Tampa Bay Rays since their inception. I was lucky enough to be one of the first group of local people to put down an initial $ 20.00 as a deposit for Season Tickets.



In this vein, I feel I have ample experience to comment on the sport and my team. The Tampa Bay Rays recently began their second decade with an transformed logo, and an eager emphasis on a new outdoor stadium proposal(which I support, and will get deeper into in another blog).

 


Their is an air of positive energy starting with coaching staff, and spreading to the first-time Spring Training rookies. I have been out to the complex a few times in the last week, and have seen a more relaxed group with an intense attitude to succeed this year. Everyone seems to have a confident stride, and a renewed vigor and vitality this year. Prior Spring Training squads did not displayed this trait. We have players talking about positive moves within the organization, critical steps and moves that will set the stage for success this season.  Off-season moves that were viewed as ” filling the holes” on the roster, and bold statements of a new clubhouse leader-in-training.

 


The new Rays logo has been viewed as a reconstruction of a franchise, a signal and symbol  that this franchise wants to go upward this year and remain in that sphere for a long time.

 

Gone is the playful swimming “Ray” on the uniforms, to will still be included this tear as a sleeve patch, but  might not survive after this year. Gone is his likeness on the caps, and in the main uniform design.  You have to know where you have been to understand where you are going. A common misconception or oversight  is the fact that the “Devil” has been removed from the uniforms for about 4 years.

 

 

In 2004, the vest jersey sported the simple word, “Rays” blazoned over the chest with our friendly “Ray” character confined to the green undershirt sleeve. Not since the 2004, has the word “Devilray” adorned a uniform for this team. the original 1970-disco induced  acid-trip jerseys did have the word “Devilrays” adorning the rainbow hued uniforms.

 

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I will hit a real fast misconception on the proposed stadium plans. The big negative voiced by  this plan has been that the proposed stadium and monies from the selling of the current stadium’s property would better suit the city’s budget cutbacks and be used to retain and train new law enforcement and firefighters. I understand that this might be seen as the “city’s” money to be distributed in any manner it sees fit, but the tax situation concerning the stadium,  and its property is under the city Parks and Recreation Department, and its monetary windfalls  can not be used for capital or central city government improvements.


If any money is made from this sale,or lease of the property, it can only be used in certain areas, like the Pier, Mahaffey Theatre, or any park renewals and upgrades. The tax situation in the current stadiums’ future redevelopment/sale can not help the general budget demise that the city will feel in the near distant future.

 

 

I actually see the idea of the Rays giving $ 150 million upfront, instead of 10 years of rent payments, as a general promise by the ownership group to see this proposal and construction succeeds from day one.

 


There will be a few surprises this Spring that you had better be ready for here.


We currently have a top three pitching rotation that is  all under 27 years of age, and under team control for at least 3 or more years. The trio of Scott Kazmir (last years’ AL K leader), James Shields( getting better and better every outing in 2007), and newly acquired Ray, Matt Garza ( former Twins first rounder ), will be the envy of ownership groups around the league.


Even the guys fighting for positions, like Edwin Jackson, Jeff Niemann, Mitch Talbot. David Price and host of minor league All-Stars, will make this the most competitive and hotly contested  rotation slot battle in our  short history.



Never before in our franchise, have we had three slots filled by reporting date. David Price( LHP), out top pick from Vanderbuilt tossed his first 33 pitches in the live batting practice today. Pitching coach Jim Hickey did not show too much excitement about it, but I saw them sitting there talking the entire time. And I do not think they were discussing tee times. Coach Joe Madden said earlier in the week that he felt we could see Price sometime this year up with the big club. I agree with him in what I saw today, but it is only his first time out with the big boys, and a few months at Triple-A might actually prime him better for the future call-up.

 

My opinion is, that if Edwin Jackson does not win a starting rotation slot, he will be dealt to Seattle. The Mariners’ have been high on him for the entire off season, and with no minor league options left, might fetch something instead of a possible loss on the waiver wire. Now, I love watching Edwin “Action” Jackson pitch, I even have one of his Game-worn jerseys in my collection. So, to see him leave would not be good for my soul. In the second half of the season, I think that Edwin transformed his pitching style and saw positive steps to grow on this year.

 


Newly signed Outfielder Cliff Floyd told a local reporter the other day that he has not been in this great of shape and not hurting since his time with the Florida Marlins. By the way, that is where Cliff earned his World Series ring.

 


Troy Percival is already getting the clubhouse rolling. Ask any of the Clubbies about his water cooler next to his locker. Success has its rewards. It is actually a prank played by the Clubhouse staff when he yelled about water the first day. Welcome to the Rays, Troy, buckle up. it is going to be a wild ride this year.

 

The St. Petersburg Times also had a recent article where they asked All-Star LF Carl Crawford about the Delmon Young Elijah Dukes trades and situations. Carl commented, and the world took it wrong, that Delmon and Elijah were distractions and problems for the team last year. Carl is growing daily into the team clubhouse leader by example.


Carl is a pretty quiet guy. Those who have met him, know he is reserved guy, who has the passion of a warrior. In the past, I think he could have stepped up and been more of a force in the clubhouse, but probably did not feel it was his job to be “the Man” for people to look towards for inspiration or mire words. Carl reported in the best shape of his career to the complex, which going to mean trouble for the every AL pitching staff.


He built a gym and installed a pitching machine in his home in Arizona to get pumped and primed before the reporting date. Dedication like that will make him “the Man” this year. I think that second All Star nod also got him thinking that he has a chance to change the past of this team, and lead the guys towards respectability and new found glory. Go for it Carl, you are just the guy to be the face of this team. Smile, and let America see those dimples.

 

 

Let me get more into that trade smack talk here. Granted, Dukes had a mess of situations off the playing field that greatly diminished those pretty Home Runs in Yankee Stadium. He was given a bit too much leash to run and subsequently hung himself.


Another article in the Times, the the next day quoted Dukes as looking forward to his time with the Washington Nationals. You know, the team did him right from the start by having a staff member, James Williams tag along with Dukes daily to observe and keep and eye out on the 23 year old Outfielder.


We forget he is 23, and he is still learning who he is in life. His past is checkered and his future is as bright as the sun. Dukes was sitting in the Nationals locker room with his 3 year old son in tow, and looking forward to the adventure at hand. Here are a few quotes from Dukes in that article by the St. Petersburg Times:

 

“I was a real hard headed guy,” Dukes said. “It was at times hard for me to listen. I needed to be able to admit that I do things wrong and it’s okay to do things wrong, but to make good after that.” “I have tests in my life every day, trying to raise my son and stuff like that,” Dukes said. “I had my issues, but I overcame them without being on the front page or behind bars or something. So, obviously I kind of dealt with my things the right way.”

 

Dukes agreed with Rays All Star outfielder Carl Crawford, who told the Times on Tuesday that he didn’t think the “maturing part would have happened here,” for Dukes and Delmon Young. Crawford said that Dukes and Young had “too much free range to do whatever they wanted to do.” “You’re gonna need that veteran guy there sometimes to be able to stick it to you hard,” Dukes said. ” And we didn’t really have that many older guys that been through too much to experience things with. (But) not all people need that type of thing, so its not expected.” Before Dukes left, he offered one more – if not his last – promise, “From now on, everyone will get a chance to see the real Elijah Dukes.”

 


Let’s hope he becomes that big bat that he was destined to be in his career. Say Hello to Jesus Colome for me Dukes.

 

 

 Now on the Delmon Young tip, I have never been a big fan of him since he pulled that “he said/she said”, about not being called up in September. Now this is not the Durham Bulls area story touting Delmon and Elijah Dukes and B J Upton were bad-mouthing the Rays management, this was the 2006 season where it could not be confirmed if he ( Delmon ), or his brother ( Dimitri ) said the nasty comments.


Building the fire internally, was the actions while with the Bulls in 2007,  on that,  where he threw a bat at the umpire and got a major suspension and fine, did not put him in better company, or in my good graces. If you saw the video, the opponents catcher knew something was going to happen, because he went out of the crouch and to the mound. He knew a war was about to blow….hard that night.


It all came to head this past September when Young decided to “lollygag” his way to first. Joe Madden told Delmon he was going to sit him for the final game. Delmon spouted back he might not even show up to the stadium that day.

 

 I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for him. I had heard he was a bit abrasive in the Rays clubhouse, and looked extremely bored during the Fan Autograph session a few days earlier. His time had come, and he is going to be better for it. You got to remember, this is not the first time we have drafted a member of his family into the Rays organization.

 


Dimitri Young was an original expansion pick of our team, but we did not want him, so we shipped him to an NL team. Delmon might have started to get a “older brother” mentality and feel he deserved more than a “rookies” status on this team. My personal opinion and view of him is that he is not happy here and should of gotten out at the trade deadline, but he showed a late splurge in productivity in September, and that might have helped his case.

 

His attitude cost him the AL Rookie of the Year award. His little base running blunder blew up in his face.

 

The Twins are a better team with him, and we are a better team without him. I would not be surprised if he is a 10-time All Star somewhere else…as long as it is not here.


See you at the ballpark soon. Remember, we might only have 4 more years to enjoy our 70 degree weather inside before the elements get us on Opening Day 2012. Anyone who is ever at the Trop., come down to Section 138, near the bottom. I love talking baseball with everyone,even Yank and Sox fans.


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