Results tagged ‘ Joe Maddon ’

Are You Ready for Zilla-Mania!

All day long I have had Blue Oyster Cult’s classic “Godzilla” repeating on my truck CD player. Over and over the lyrics and words have amped me up to a point of mystic reality that a human “Godzilla” and the swallowing International entourage that encompasses his MLB mystic via frenzied Japanese media, a sudden influx of Asian fans with personalized and cryptic homemade signs around Tropicana Field.

You can bet the moment it was announced that the human version of “Godzillawas on his way to the hamlet of St. Petersburg, Florida, the Rays Communications Department’s cellphones and email addresses have been bombarded with requests both for video and photo of the historic first appearance of Hideki Matsui in a Rays uniform. I did not get into the Trop. early today to witness the explosion when Matsui finally ascended the dugout steps and into the media gasping and camera clicking frenzy.

Simply put, this might be one of the biggest moves the Rays have made in a while that could turn their Designated Hitter position into a true powerhouse spot in the nightly line-up. It is going to be extremely interesting to see how Rays Manager Joe Maddon juggles the animated Wolverine/ Luke Scott and Matsui in and out of the Rays line-up, especially since both smash the ball from the left side of the plate.

But think about this all for an extended second, with the addition of Matsui who is a finessed professional hitter, the Rays finally have a guy who Maddon can be put behind anyone from Desmond Jennings (when he returns from the D L) to Matt Joyce, Evan Longoria or Carlos Pena and they will automatically see more pitches that they might be able to clobber themselves. Matsui might finally be able to help elevate the DH position for the Rays the way we hoped Manny Ramirez would have in 2011 before his own personal substance debacle.

Even the idea of Matsui playing in the field is not far-fetched especially during the Inter-League slate of games in National League parks. With the idea Scott might play a bit of First Base or the outfield plus Matsui drawing time in the outfield too, it might take the usually lighting-quick Rays outfield and make it a bit more…positioned to keep the big play from dominating the inning.

Even though Matsui has 9 years in the major leagues, it has taken its toll on his knees, but with him missing almost 2 months of the grit and grind of baseball, his knees and health might be timed perfectly to get him through the Inter-League schedule, then DH and be a valuable pinch-hit weapon for Maddon.

Of course Maddon and the Rays will not elevate the call-up of Matsui and anything “special”, but the moment the whisper was first uttered he was destined for the MLB before June, people have been lying in wait for just his arrival. Of course he will have to get used to a new band of baseball brothers, who tend to keep their clubhouse loose and free of the media drama that unfortunately follows Matsui from his homeland.

But there is a hidden gem here some people have not realized yet, but they will as soon as the MLB and Rays Team site begin to see a run on personalized Matsui # 35 jerseys and any collectible that tends to fall the way of E-bay or the Rays Baseball Foundation’s charity online auctions. Instantly the Rays will get extra press and free advertising back to the television sets in the Far East nightly as video replays and Matsui box scores and highlights hit the Web.

Do not be surprised if you see more Japanese advertisements being showcased on FSN/Sun Sports during Rays telecasts, especially on the MLB Network where fans in Japan can watch the game at almost anytime, even in the middle of the night as they get their fill of Matsui. Don’t be surprised if the blue screen to the right of Home Plate gets a few more swirling Matsui-inspired signs that will rotate as Hideki digs into the left-hand side of the Batter’s Box.

This is a big thing people. Not only does the call-up of Matsui possibly give us a profession power hitting bit of muscle, but it will open a new segment of Rays marketing, far out-reaching into the Asian baseball market as well as bring some new faces and excited fans into the Trop. Going to be amazing tonight if Matsui gets a hold of a hanging curveball and deposits it into the right field stands. Do not be surprised if the Raysvision crew already have their own “Godzilla” inspired video clip keyed up and ready to go full ballistic on the Jumbotron at the crack of the bat. 

Coaches Behaving Badly

First off, I do not blame any of last nights beanball shenanigans and ultimate bench-clearing by both squads on Boston Red Sox reliever Franklin Morales. If you saw a camera view of Morales just after the plucking, you can see he meant no personal glory or want to throw behind or at Tampa Bay Rays DH Luke Scott, he was following the orders sent in from his arrogant Coaching staff. 

My anger and frustration is poised directly towards the Red Sox bench, and in particular 4 main characters. The first person was right at ground zero, and should of known better than to stand in front of a increasingly angry hitter still clutching a pine bat in his strong hand. Standing in front of a player, blocking his path is one thing, but to chest bump him….That only makes the anger vented towards Red Sox backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia and away from the true instigators in this plucking. 

I seriously felt Salti would of deserved a pop in the kisser with Scott standing over him grinning like a Cheshire cat. Even though Saltalamacchia made an error in judgment by bumping Scott, he is not the sole individual who needed a smack down. Instantly I lost all respect for the Boston Coaching staff. Suddenly they went from cunning rivals to blatant idiots, all in the time it took for the ball to leave Morales hand and hit Scott. 

What was the Boston bench thinking not only tossing the ball behind but at Scott for the second time in two games? Did they really think Scott would just stand there and chuckle as he made his way to First Base with the free pass? Worst yet, when the two benches did clear, it was two members of the Boston Coaching staff who made the most noise and provided the most pushing and shoving. Way to be positive role model gentlemen. You acted more like the small percentage of Red Sox hooligans than members of a MLB staff.

I expected more out of Red Sox Bench Coach Tim Bogar, especially since he spent time on the Rays staff and knows the demeanor and attitude of Rays skipper Joe Maddon. I know in his heart and mind Bogar knows Maddon would not start this kind of retaliation, and what happens now is firmly on Bogar and Boston Pitching Coach Bob McClure’s heads.

 Sure Red Sox Manager Bobby Valentine gave the head nod to start it all, but he was not out their with his hands firmly on Rays 1B Carlos Pena’s jersey and undershirt. Bogar was right up into Scott’s grill and possibly deserved a beat down, but Scott did the wise thing and took the verbal abuse and let it wash pretty much right off him. I mean McClure is the Coach who was jawing it with usual low-key guys Pena and Ben Zobrist when suddenly McClure grabbed Pena either trying to get him to see his way, or provoking an even more violent counter-action.

 I did not see a single Red Sox player come into the field of play with the hostility and bravado of these two Red Sox Coaches. Sure a few players did some pushing and shoving, but the vocal and physical action of these two Coaches demand some sort of suspension and definite fine. I can forgive Salti for his action of bumping Scott as a product of the first response to protecting a teammate, but I do nor and can not give the same pass to the Bogar and McClure.

What is kind of confusing me further is the fact Boston had just started a bit of a come-back in this contest, and did not need that extra emotional energy. That is what makes this all even more confusing. Your team is starting to figure out the Rays relief staff and then you throw a further monkey wrench into the plans of stirring up emotions and tempers? This was downright insane.

I am leaving Valentine out of the cross-hairs for this moment. Not that he should be equally guilty and subject to a future salary plucking my MLB, but he did not make matters worse after the fact. He did not go out there and berate Maddon or tussle with a player. When a member of an MLB Coaching staff goes out there and gets physical and vocally aggressive with a fellow player not in the main mix of the situation…heads should roll. Sure Rays Coaches Tom Foley and George Hendricks were also a bit animated during the bench clearing moments, but they did not make matter worse or hasten the situations, they voiced their opinions and tried to keep their players from doing anything to a Boston player.

It doesn’t matter if you are a Rays or Red Sox fan, some in that tussle last night went beyond their job descriptions and could of made the matter worse. I lost all respect for former Rays Coach Bogar last night, not for his overall actions, but for him bee-lining it to Scott and being sure he was in the heart of the matter as it unfolded. That was a poor bit of judgment by Bogar, but not as bad as the tongue-lashing and jersey pulling done by McClure on Pena. Good Coaches know better than to instigate further actions, for that I say “Shame on you, role models do not act like that.”

Rays Emerging as Modern Baseball Gladiators

A Gladiator is deemed one who is an armed combatant who entertained the audiences in the Roman Republic with violent confrontations and engagement with both fellow warriors, animals and in some cases, condemned souls. The term gladiator is actually Latin in origin meaning “swordsman” from the original word “gladius” or “sword”.

The first sighting of the rejuvenation of this classic Roman warrior reared its head on Monday evening when Rays closer Fernando Rodney (Maximus Savous Gameous) and his partner in battle Joel Peralta (Setus Gameous Maximus) donned the headgear of the Roman Centurions. It was quite a sight to see the pair of Bullpen comrades in arms sitting there stoic in the Rays dugout before their quest to the Bullpen.

Seems kind of apropos that the Tampa Bay Rays have taken on the historic persona lately of these grand entertaining warriors of old as the game of baseball has always been about the attack, the mano-on-mano engagement of pitchers and hitters and the ultimate entertainment ebb and flow that pulsates throughout the stadium on any given play or action.

Like their Roman counterparts, the end result is to gain the victory or die trying. Gone are the menacing lethal weapon of yore that combatants use to eliminate and produce pain and suffering upon their victims. Today clubs made of ash, maple and pine replace the menacing swords,and deadly weaponry. Leather padded fielding and batting gloves and other assorted protective gear aimed at diverting blows and direct hits have replaced heavy and restricting chain-mail, shields and armor. A sphere of white leather is the fondest tool of their trade. It can be thrust, scuffed and even propelled to heights and distances beyond the arena’s turf and into the hands of the new (Rays) Republic.

But today just as it was so long ago, the men who partake in these games do it as much for the adulation and cheers of the crowd as they do for their fellow combatants. For it is the cheers or jeers of the assembled masses that energize, vitalize and make these men want to fight to the last out, cursing a loss as if it was the admittance of an open wound. The Rays Republic have always been vocal to the cause and effect of their combatants, showing praise even in the dire times and pure adulation in the moment just after securing victory. In that manner, the two societies inter-mingle with grand clarity.

Then after last night’s heroics, 2 more legionnaires of Rays descent Carlos Pena (Hittus Ballus Longous) and Luke Scott (Wolerinous Magnus) made their on-screen appearance bearing the same garb and distinctive helmet accessory as Rodney and Peralta a day earlier. It really was a great interview, with the crowning touch of Scott looking deep into the camera lens possibly scaring a few young kids ( hopefully not).

But that goes to show the character of this team. They are a true band of comrades battling it out in a 162 game war that has seen its share of casualties and heroic moments. I always thought the 2008 team had that special something, possibly that extra sports chromosome that would bring them victory in November, but we all know of the Fall of the Rays 2008 Empire. This season’s team feels more energized and bit more prepared for the long journey again possibly into those cooler night when victories are savored and cherished for eternity.

This Rays team does bode well with their Roman counterparts as each fought to preserve their way of life or process. Both have brought innovative ideals and procedures to fill their arsenal and each reincarnated past winning strategies and forgotten maneuvers and thus them up for all to see and bask at as they take their victories. Like their Roman counterparts, these modern combatants live a better life compensated for their grand actions and reveled by the throngs of the Rays Republic for their game day deeds as well as their action off the field of battle.


And their mentor and Field General Joe Maddon instills the truth and balance that makes this whole unit stand united as well as loose and ready to change their battle plan at a tip of the cap. Fine tuned plays, signals and the rhythm of playing together as a single unit has strengthened their resolve and boasted their confidence as they strut onto the turf, just like the gladiators of old.

I think the Roman Emperor Commodus would give a robust “thumbs up” to these modern Rays gladiators.

 

Another Maddon-inspired Idea Grows Roots in the MLB

They say imitation is the best form of flattery. If that is true, Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon is one proud skipper. Ironically, the latest person to get on board with a Maddon idea has not only a Tampa Bay Rays tie when he was our Bullpen Coach back in 2001. going further into the ironic pot is the fact this person was also a former Los Angeles (of Anaheim) Angels Manager who Maddon replaced as skipper after his resignation 29 games into the 1999 season.

By now you might have guessed that current New York Mets skipper Terry Collins is the latest to follow a Maddon trend and institute it into his team’s rituals. We all know the rest of the Major League baseball world loves how Maddon reaches back into the past the pulls out past nuggets of baseball gold and wipes off their coating of dust and makes them shine brilliantly like the infield shift, the use of the 5-man infield, and walking in a run with the bases loaded to avoid a Grand Slam (Hamilton). All amazing blast from the past innovative ideas plucked by Maddon back into the 21st Century.

But Collins has taken one of Maddon most brilliant moves and inserted it into his own Mets routine recently of doing the themed road trips. Recently as they embarked for their road trip the Mets skipper decided since so many NHL teams in his region were fighting for the Stanley Cup, why not have a NHL-themed road trip. It hearkens me back to a past Rays road trip where the squad popped on either Chicago Blackhawks specially made unis, or got to flash their own favorites for the rest of their team to enjoy or tease them about.

Collins must have decided to take on this great idea after seeing the bonds and commitment the Rays teams have taken in not only deciding their wardrobe, but committing to themselves and their teammates as they grew closer and more focused with the themed road trip having a distinct cause and effect to the team’s chemistry and character becoming more solid and united.

If there was anything Maddon brought out of mothballs or introduced during his tenure, this road trip themed idea might just be league-wide before you can say “amalgamated”. And that’s a great thing since every teams needs something to take a bit of the focal point of a road trip and the perils that await them. I do not know seriously why all 30 MLB teams do not impose some sort of road trip ritual or theme as they head out on their excursions away from home. It seems to be a great bonding element for the team, plus the players seem to have fun trying to one-up their teammates or make a certain fashion statement. This is definitely one Maddon-ism I hope every team adapts ASAP.

“Lady Luck, You Got Some Explainin’ to Do”

Sometimes I think we forget how lucky this Tampa Bay Rays team has been on the injury front over the past few years. Sure we have had untimely injuries that set this team back a tad, but not since their 2009 season have the Rays had their rabbit’s feet and luck slap them in the face like this. It’s been a long time since this Rays franchise has looked more like a M*A*S*H unit than a competitive baseball team.

It befuddles me a bit that we have a winning record and yet the boo-birds have come out not only targeting the wrong people, but also forgetting injuries are a part of the game, that is why there is a DL and call-ups to the majors. Even before Rays skipper Joe Maddon and Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield got Rays starter Jeff Niemann to the Visiting Clubhouse last night in Toronto, fingers began wagging and spit and vinegar ruled the roost. Heck, it not so long ago a Rays team dealt with this same rash of unforeseen injuries and watching players fall like Dominoes…I would think we would have learned a bit of ranting restraint since 2009.

Back in 2009 12 different Rays hit the DL at one time or another and amassed a hysterical number of 752 games missed over that 162 game season. Some spent as little as 6 games on the pine ( BJ Upton/shoulder surgery), while others, like the trio of RP Jason Isringhausen (137 games), RP Troy Percival (119 games) and OF Fernando Perez (130 games) spent most of the season either on the mend or recovering from some sort of surgery. This 2009 season was also the Rays season Carlos Pena missed 25 games due to a badly placed ( cough, cough) CC Sabathia pitch inside with a duo of fractured fingers.

The 2012 season is starting to become a bit of a mirror image of that 2009 injury riddled team, and I think we have not seen the end to the injury bug. How weird is it that both this season’s squad and the 2209 ( June 16-26) edition had 8 players on the DL. Downright freaky to consider that team lost so many “games” to their injured comrades, and this 2012 team as of game time tonight have banked 153 games in the DL bucket this season, not counting Jeff Niemann’s possible 40-60 game estimate.

For some reason we all forgot that this Rays team might have finally used up all their “good luck” fairy dust and for the first time since 2009, the Rays well-oiled machine has broken down not from dis-repair, but from the possible stress and strain each team endures over that 180 days during a MLB regular season. Do not blame Porterfield, Paul Harker or Kevin Barr.

I am sure Porterfield’s training room at Tropicana Field will be re-named “ M*A*S*H 33701” as the Rays players begin to arrive to the Clubhouse on Wednesday. Funny how as soon as Niemann left the contest there were cries and yelps about the Rays Training staff and their Strength and Conditioning. Suddenly the same group of Rays personnel who are considered by many to be one of the best in MLB were being thrown under a speeding bus without even a slight bit of fact or visualization to promote any wrongdoing or mis-diagnosis.

I truly do not know how Niemann threw even a warm-up pitch last night without grimacing in pain after getting hacked by that drive. That determination to even try and stay in the game is a testament to the true guts and courage of this team as a whole. I bet each and every player , especially those nagging injuries they hold to themselves and that we know nothing about. But injuries small or large come with the salary, and sometimes letting them fester and linger are not worth the price paid in the end. Some players might even be playing right now on borrowed time, and that is not a good thing.

Sean Rodriguez has a lingering strained pectoral muscle. Think about that injury for a second. S-Rod has a strained muscle in the chest region of the lead arm in his bat swing. Add onto scenario the blatantly obvious condition of throwing the ball diagonally across his body from the Hot Corner and you have to either be impressed or think Rodriguez is crazy to set himself up for a possible long term injury. Recent errors might be more due to trying to play through the injury than his throws follow through. I seriously do not know why S-Rod is taking the punishment and not resting himself, but then again, the drive and resiliency shown right now by just this one Rays speaks volumes to the commitment of every one on this 25-man roster.

There is no conspiracy, no covert medical pandemic or lack of adherence to conditioning drills that have led to this recent outburst of injuries. The plan truth is this Rays team has been dodging huge bullets and taped up more than a few “walking wounded” over this season and some injuries go under the radar until they burst out into the daylight.

Sports fans today want to point a finger, find a viable scapegoat to focus blame and their anger towards, and sometimes the wrong people get caught in the cross-hairs. How many people know Porterfield last night called the local NBA team, the Raptors last night trying to find an over-sized set of crutches to make Niemann’s pain a bit more bearable. You can bet Porterfield and his staff including Strength and Conditioning Coach Barr have put in plenty of overtime and extended hours mending, taping and even discussing ways this team can keep its members on the field, even for a minimal of innings or effort.

 But still the finger wag and the voices get louder and louder. Maybe the Rays Republic needs to point their finger in another direction. Possibly there is another culprit who deserves your spit and vinegar. Possibly the bottle of luck the Rays have been pouring out since 2009 finally ran out of magic. Maybe we should point our fingers to the person who is suppose to keep it full. Lady Luck, as Ricky Ricardo once said, “You got some explainin’ to do! ” 

Tale of Two Gomes

Each stood facing the other last night trying to do damage. Each was hellbent within himself to defeat the odds and place their names upon our lips of the baseball world for at least for 24 hours. In the end it was an old Tampa Bay Rays soul, current A’s LF/DH who won the cosmic interaction while his last namesake counterpart could only watch from the discomfort of the Rays dugout as Gomes #1 strolled around the bases after the eventual finally happened. One hoisted up by the universe as the victor while the other could only watch it all unfold. This is the tale of two Gomes, and by the end of the night, each would walk a different path.

Brandon and Jonny Gomes are not related, but last night both of their names were on our lips and minds for reasons that could be considered by many as polar opposites. Each confronted his namesake on the field last night trying to make their own versions of history, each wanted their name connected with a moment that would be talked about, who’s image would be plastered on television screen as the other look on in disbelief and wonder. Last night they were the “Ying and Yang” of Tampa Bay, each of their careers set to move in different directions.

We all knew as Jonny sauntered to the plate for his final appearance of the night against Rays pitching stalwart Joel Puerperal, this “Gomes” could change the playing landscape with a swing or by imposing his own brand of “throw-back era” hustle into the contest. In that moment when the ball met the bat and screamed all the way out of the park we remembered why Jonny was so beloved by us all.

His personality was simply that of a human cartoon character (in a good way), his curly shaggy hair removed for the first wave of Ray hawks, his energy and action synonymous with the energy and vibrant nature of the 2008 Rays and their “Magical Season”. He was a game-changer even back then. His emotional power rivaled his physical. His antics amused and confused us, but they were done with the right intentions. Some loved his reckless abandon while other thought it cost the team chances, you either loved him, or loved to hate him. Each had their own army of followers.

As one “Gomes” triumphed, another would in fall on his Rays sword. Brandon did not factor into the final demise of the Rays last night as he fought valiantly tossing 2 innings of shut-out baseball, but one to his 2 walks in tonight’s appearance came to his Gomes counterpart on 4 pitches, and might have set into motion some of the events that would conclude his Rays tenure, at least for now. Even before their 10th inning lead-off encounter tonight each Gomes was on a different path.

5 straight batters came to the plate and Brandon factored significantly in the innings outcome as Kila Ka`aihue bunted a ball into the air to him, Kurt Suzuki was struck by a pitch, then Daric Barton walked on 4 pitches. Suddenly Jonny stood 60 feet at Third Base with 1 out from inflicting his own sword upon Gomes. But Brandon regained some sense of composure and got Brandon Inge to strike out the n finally let someone else play as he pitched inside to Jemile Weeks and got him to tag a dribbler to teammate Carlos Pena who stepped on the bag and ended the drama.

But this outing, even thought it was triumphant in the end for Brandon set into motion some post game decisions, possibly fostered by his outlandish 7.71 ERA. That first Gomes-on-Gomes event of the evening would be their only meeting of the night as Brandon got 3 straight ground ball outs in 2 plate appearances for the Athletics as Jonny stared in from the On-Deck Circle. As Brandon walked from the mound to the dugout you have to wonder if he felt the “Gomes” energy shift towards the other dugout.

Jonny headed to the plate in the top of the 12 inning poised and focused on somehow finding a hole in Rays relief stalwart Joel Peralta’s game, hopefully pushing this contest towards a conclusion. In true Gomes fashion, with 2 strikes on him in the at bat, Jonny turned on a Peralta pitch and deposited it 354 feet into the Leftfield stands. There was an awkward moment during Jonny’s stroll around the bases a some in attendance clapped for him while others seemed perplexed as to if they should salute or Bronx cheer the effort, not knowing yet it would be the final dagger in the Rays winning streak’s heart.

In a second, one emerged as the game’s hero while the other felt more like Nero watching his city burn to the ground. Each played the game with extreme confidence, brilliant expectations, but in the end it was a mighty stroke that pounded the white sphere while the other Gomes could only watch from the confines of the Rays dugout. Who would have guessed at that moment one Gomes was set for glory, and the other destined for an extreme moon-lite car ride to the airport.

After the game Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman were nestled behind a closed door in discussions on options. Who would have guessed at that moment as one Gomes celebrated in a locker room not 50 feet from the other, his counterpart would be packing his belongings sent back to Triple-A Durham once again.

But that is the way it is with baseball. No matter if you are the hero or the goat, or just a bystander to the final blow, you never know your fate. This ended the chance of another Gomes-on-Gomes encounter in this series, but even as both pack for different destinations today, I have a feeling this will not be the last time they meet in 2012. We still have 7 more games between these two squads in 2012, so possibly this is not the end of the “ Tales of Two Gomes”………..To be Continued.

Beckham Career Could Go to Pot

When I saw him during February in Port Charlotte, Florida weeks ahead of the report date for the Tampa Bay Rays field players, I thought he finally had his ducks in a row and was going to strike hard and fast to hitch his wagon to a Rays roster spot. His body seemed more toned and muscular than before, and his concentration in the cages showed he had a serious intention to stay in the “Big Boys” camp as long as possible this Spring.

It truly felt like Rays prospect Tim Beckham had made a decision in the 2011 off season to finally thrust his name into the running for a infield slot with the team, and I truly had the vibe that only thing that would defeat Beckham in this process would be himself. So it was beyond disheartening today to learn Beckham has been slapped for the second time in his minor league career with a suspension for a “drug of abuse”.

50 games is a long time in the minor league system. It is more than enough time for a fellow competitor to pass you in stats, experience and possibly be a direct link to your season ending around September 1st instead of having a month up with the parent club. I guess Beckham’s “drug of abuse” which was pot has its own opinions as to whether it should be legal or regulated, but it is still a banned and illegal substance. We could debate for hours, possibly days considering this substance, but the final say is that minor league baseball considers it illegal and a harmful drug and the suspension has merit.

Even though Beckham is currently on the Triple-A Durham disabled list trying to rehab and conquer his wrist ailments, immediately the focus has to be re-directed towards this “drug of abuse”. The most important thing right now is the first move Beckham makes post revelation of his pot smoking reveal. Does he do counseling, treatment or can he go “cold turkey” and beat the ganja gangster? Whatever his plan of action, it must be swift, concise and show an honest effort and chance for change both in his lifestyle and his demeanor…Without the combination, his career could evaporate.

Truly this event could not have happened at a worst moment for Beckham. You had to think the Rays would of at least entertained the notion of bringing up Beckham with Rays slugger Evan Longoria out of the line-up for at least 4-8 weeks with his hamstring injury. Possibly Beckham would of gotten ample chances at either side of the second base bag to leave a lasting impression on Rays Manager Joe Maddon just as he had this Spring, but now all that prior work, all that hustle and sweat might just be for not.

This suspension doesn’t mean the team will turn its head away from Beckham. The Rays have established a long history of helping their player conquer abuse problems, and have held players within their system fighting internal demons, some with success, and some to utter failure. The path Beckham takes now will determine if he is going to be a vital cog in the Rays future, or possibly just another example of great talent before the Draft, and a fall from grace while establishing himself.

I hope Becks finds the light, turns the corner and proceeds to get himself straight and ready to again claim a shot at a Rays roster spot. Wild how not even 90 days ago Beckham had his entire Rays world in front of him for the taking. He was more confident, physically and mentally prepared like no other time in his career and put up some impressive displays both at the plate and in the field this Spring. I still think Beckham has the right stuff to be not only a Rays player, but one we cheer and embrace for a long, long time.

But first, Beckham has to step forward, profess and cast off his demons, then work to get healthy inside and out, get back to playing the game he loves and the rest will take care of itself. I hope Becks can make that transition, find that serenity and peace to expunge his demonic partner and again thrive both on the off the field. If he can do that, I promise to be one of the first to stand and applaud and hopefully shake his hand and welcome him back not only as a Ray, but as a true baseball survivor.

“Oh No….Longo!”

I swear at that moment I saw the cloth fabric of Tropicana Field move like a sudden wind gust had enveloped it. The collective gasp and exhale after a botched stolen base attempt by Tampa Bay Rays 3B Evan Longoria made the Trop. silent as we watched Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield and Rays skipper Joe Maddon trot out to Longo. I immediately let out a long drawn out moan of “Oh No! Longo!” that made a few people laugh as it sounded more like the old SNL Mr Bill character than my usual voice, but it hit me like a rock that suddenly one of the true keystones of this amazing run by the Rays stood favoring his left knee and we all wanted it to heal instantly.

This season Longoria seemed to want to be the “go-to” guy, he wanted the pressure, the stress and the responsibilities that go along with being the player constantly in the spotlight for both praise and criticism. It is always a good sign for a player to leave the field on his own power, but when it is a central figure standing there trying to keep his weight off his sore and aching knee, the Rays Republic could only think the worst. Even before Longo hit the Rays dugout steps the dulled whispers and a active hum hit the stadium.

The early prognosis is that Longoria is suffering a bit of soreness in his left knee region, but then we heard the three letter that instantly horrified us all..M..R..I. That doesn’t mean as much today as it would 3-4 years ago as every athlete even with a minor aliment gets this imaging test nowadays as a precaution more than a insight to injury. Still, this one test can see deeper into the situation, and possibly bring to the surface our darkest fears, a extended bench vacation for the Rays offensive weapon.

That would put a deep crease in the Rays offensive machine as Longoria was a key figure in the Rays 5th ranked American League offense, and was experiencing a great start in 2012. Going into this match-up against Seattle, Longoria himself boasted a .550 average with runners in scoring position, which lead the majors. To put it into deeper prospective in Longo’s last 12 plate appearances with runners in scoring position before Monday night’s contest, he was an astronomical 9-for-10 with 2 doubles, 2HR, 2 walks and 11 RBI. Instantly by this you can see a major clog in the Rays machine has a sudden health issue.

Let’s expand a bit more into the offensive presence of Longo for this 2012 Rays squad. He already has 19 RBI in 95 plate appearances in 22 games. That is a huge improvement over 2011 when it took Longoria 151 plate appearances to hit the same mark. Longoria had 15 RBI in 13 road games this season as well as since last June, his 105 RBI in 120 games leads the entire tier of sluggers in Major League Baseball.

If Longoria spends any significant time off the field it hits the Rays in a multitude of areas. It takes a huge piece of the Rays hitting factor our of their 2012 equation as well as a team on-the-field General and leader. Even with his fumble-itus recently at the Hot Corner, his experience and solid foundation at Third Base will open a huge hole with only utility guy Elliot Johnson and possibly Jeff Keppinger currently on the Rays roster who can play the spot with any consistency. It would also throw a huge monkey wrench into the Rays winning formula that has already sparked an impressive 8-2 record over their last 10 contests.

It is too early to think negatively. Longo maybe needs a day or two off his feet in the field, possibly resting and icing the knee. I do not want to fathom the thought of 30 days or longer without the Rays spark plug at the Hot Corner, I would rather think of this as a short vaca to do some much needed R&R.

Possibly as early as this afternoon or tonight we will know more, so I will keep the negative Nelly stuff deep within me, hoping the MRI shows minimal or no significant damage. I know the Rays Republic are sending positive vibes and emotions to Longo, hopefully they have the power to heal and bandage this evolving Rays situation. I truly did have the shivers last night watching the event, and it was hard to stay positive. Hopefully Maddon will be the bearer of great news later today.

Time to Re-Joyce

The title says it all. How can you not even consider any act of rejoicing for the pure fact that Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Matt Joyce is not only off to a great start in 2012, but has gotten more than a fighting chance to show his stuff against left and right-handed pitchers this season. I understand the post-2012 thinking of Rays skipper Joe Maddon of Joyce wade into the Rays hitting pool slowly, but the guy has proven he doesn’t need a platoon partner. I mean what else does the guy have to do to get a full-time gig? It is time to finally throw Joyce into the deep end of the shark tank and see if he can dog paddle or swim like a cow-nosed ray.

Coming into the 2012 season Joyce was riding the accolades of his first All-Star selection, playing in 142 games during the season, and posting up some impressive number during his first season of Maddon loosing up the reins. So far in 2012 Joyce has posted up a .308 average with 7 extra base hits, including a current streak of going 8-for-20 over his last 5 games with 3 HR, 3 RBI and has scored 8 runs. Joyce has hit safely in 8 of his last 9 games batting .375 during this span. Unfortunately so far in 2012, Joyce has seen a bit of struggles against left-handers who have tried to expand the outside corner of the strike zone on him, but Joyce has pushed up a .222 average with a solo HR and 3 RBI.

 That might not get a resounding vocal of support from Maddon, but considering Joyce has only had 18 at bats against lefties this season, Maddon might still be playing the odds with Joyce. But seriously, hasn’t Joyce over the last few weeks proven he can stand tall in the box against hurlers from either side of the rubber? Why go back to the old Maddon mindset of putting Joyce on the pine when Joyce might be finally adjusting to the outside pitch offering and getting into a groove mentally of knowing what is in store for him during plate appearances against southpaws. Why not let Joyce mature and get some valuable plate time proving he is an all-around hitter, not just someone who can blast one against righties.

Of course a lot of this early 2012 success has also been on the heels of the Rays not having a legitimate tag-team partner to interweave with Joyce after Rays CF B J Upton went down even before the 2012 season after a Spring Training game collision with LF Desmond Jennings. Sure maybe Joyce has not posted up amazing numbers to get his name scribbled in daily against left-handers yet, but the guy is learning with each step in the box, and sooner or later he will find that rhythm and bat cadence that will produce the run scoring opportunities and boast his confidence at the same time.

Going to be interesting especially on Sunday to see if Maddon goes against his old judgment concerning Joyce and gives him a day on the pine against struggling Twins leftie Francisco Liriano. You would think this might be the perfect test for Joyce going against a hurler that has posted a 11.91 ERA and has given up at least 5 earned runs in his 3 2012 starts.

Still when you hit .290 against right-handers with 16 HR and 60 RBI during the 2011 season then mirror image that with a glaring contrast of a .219 average with 3 HR and 15 RBI against lefties, it makes a decision to bench you statistically solid. But if you look deeper at the splits, Joyce got 370 chances against righties while he only went to the plate 92 times against southpaws last season.

Before Joyce sent a pitch into the Rogers Centre seats in the top of the 7th inning against Toronto Blue Jays southpaw ace Ricky Romero during the Rays April 17th loss, Joyce has been feast or famine with round-trippers against his leftie foes. In 2011, Joyce got all 3 of his Home Runs against left-handers in a span of 13 at bats, and before his blast in Toronto, these were Joyce’s only Home Runs ever hit against lefties in his career.

Seems to me possibly Joyce is starting to find his moments against southpaws, possibly figuring out a wise and honest approach to putting bat on ball and producing results in his starts against the type of pitchers who used to “own him”. Since Maddon is a purveyor of the statistical elements, hopefully the recent actions by Joyce in the batters box will give Maddon the hope and confidence that Joyce can handle any pitcher, any time, in any situation and prove once and for all he is another valuable weapon in the Rays hitting arsenal no matter who is on the hill.

Rays Need to Wipe the Tarnish Off Their “Golden Arms”

Coming into the 2012 Major League Baseball season I do not think there was anyone connected with the game who had any major concerns about the Tampa Bay Rays starting pitching or their overhauled Bullpen. Most proclaimed them to be a pitching staff that was a year older, but considerably wiser beyond their years. From the only over 30 member of the starting rotation James Shields to rookie Matt Moore, the Rays were definitely a young staff to be wary of this season.

But how reality can change. How quickly things can go sideways, produce holes and show the Rays have a few situations, and not all of them have immediate solutions. Things looked up quickly for the Rays “Golden Arms” after sweeping the 2011 American League East champs, the New York Yankees at home. Quickly people were singing the praises of this young bunch of hurlers who seemed to have the midas touch, the “Golden Arms” moniker seem appropriate. Even after a hiccup of only winning one of three against the favored Detroit Tigers, the Rays seemed destine to head into the land of the Lobster and chowder with confidence and a chance.

Suddenly over a 3-game spread the Rays starters looked vulnerable, giving up extra base smashes that usually find a glove, or produce outs. Even though pitches were being placed perfectly in their quadrants, bats met ball almost like they knew it was going to be delivered there, without much sweat or guessing. Instantly eyes and fingers began to watch these Red Sox for clues or suggestions of a more clandestine reasoning for the Rays sudden fall from pitching grace. In an instant the once mystical Rays seemed bewildered and confused as speculation ran rampant that their secret formula had been deciphered and pilfered producing 3 straight dizzying losses to their divisional rival Boston.

The Rays seemed plagued by an aspiration more towards mediocrity than their acclaimed meteoric prediction. In a flash the Rays tumbled from the grace of promise to fall 0-3 and closer to the .500 mark before their ace, James Shields delivered them from the folly of losing all 4 contests to these Bostonians. Some say the difference was a change of habit, a visual game of hide and go seek where Rays catcher Jose Molina would do his best impression of hiding the corner and seeking the calls on the outside corners. Even if the strike zone did gain a few inches, it went both ways, but it did give Shields and the Rays a fighting chance.

You want to dissect the Rays starting staff and look for a fundamental reasoning for the Boston meltdown, but you will not find it. Tongues wagged that Moore was tipping off his pitches, but the same game outcome and hit barrage beset veteran hurler David Price and 2011 Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson. How could a staff that stifled the Yankees less than a week before suddenly fall flat against a divisional rival they had winning history against in their ballpark. It is not like the Rays came into Boston complacent or sporting a superior record, somewhere the dike developed a leak and not until Shields hit the hill did it get plugged with success.

Some might contribute this strange quandary to the fact of a plethora of afternoon contests on this road trip, but that is the easy answer. The hard answer is this young staff is still maturing at times and can be vulnerable. The real answer is Hellickson and Moore have the abilities to shut down any American League offense, but if their control ticks even an inch off the plate, the Home Plate Umpire might not give that extra inch. That comes with experience and knowing which Umpire might be open to balls skipping the corners and who runs a tight strike zone. Worst thing is on any given night that variable could change without warning or hint.

We all know already if Shields and Price have the motors revving and are on point, only they can cost themselves a victory. Worst thing that could happen to the Rays is one of these two going down, or experiencing even a short span of wildness or ability to sit guys down via the outside corner called third strike. There is a gap between the experience levels of these two and the duo of Hellboy and M&M. Not even sure the tallest member of the silent assassins, Jeff Niemann can put himself into that middle ground at times. Even though the 6’9” Niemann can show the skills of an ace during his streaks, when he is off his game, weird things happen. You might consider Niemann a liability compared to the other 4 starters on this team, but when he is in his groove and popping balls into the strike zone, he looks more like a #3 starter than the back end option at #5.

The Rays starters just have to wipe the tarnish off their “Golden Arms” and again show the wealth and worth of their abilities to get the Rays close games that their offense can overcome and post wins. The Boston series was a debacle by any sense of the word, but this Toronto series might be the true test for the Rays starters. If they can harness themselves and post a winning edge in this first series in Canada, it could be a great launching pad into their home stand and again having people feel “golden” about this starting staff.

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