Results tagged ‘ John Jaso ’

Time to Push Navarro From the Rays Nest


 
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Sometimes I can visually see vividly in my mind a few of the Tampa Bay Rays staff inside the dugout tunnels or near the clubhouse during games banging their heads against the wall in regards to the antics and misadventures involving Rays catcher Dioner Navarro over the past two seasons. The mire fact that Navarro is still on the Rays 40-man roster even at this moment just baffles me to no avail.


Navarro in my mind is one of those professional baseball players who just seems to be more of a heavy albatross around the neck of this franchise than any measure of a good omen. It just seems to me personally that Navarro must have had a few unflattering photos or video of someone somewhere within the Rays organization. I guess that is the rationale I have to put into my mind to explain how Navarro still has a coveted spot upon the Rays 40-man roster.


Soon the Rays front office could end all of this mind boggling insanity and possibly non-tender Navarro, thus setting set him free upon the rest of the MLB. Or could the Rays be hoping and praying for someone to be willing to trade even a few minor league prospects for their catcher who now seems to have his Rays days numbered.


Why in heck is this guy still got even a hint of possibly securing another year with the Rays after his blatant disregard for his own club after he walked away from the Rays on October 7th because his name was omitted from the American League Divisional Series 25-man roster. How in his mind could Navarro really think he deserved a ALDS roster spot over the more productive pairing of current Rays catchers Kelly Shoppach and rookie John Jaso?


Could his agent have possibly diluted his mind to such a state that Navarro took the omission as a disrespectful move by the Rays instead of the right personnel move considering Navarro’s 2010 track record? Might that roster omission by the Rays fueled Navarro’s frustrations and made him implode and pack up catching gear and leave the Rays clubhouse for maybe the last time?


Or was this another visual outburst of denial by Navarro of the ever increasing valley between the team and himself after Navarro spent his time from June 24th until his call-up on August 31st with the Rays Triple-A affiliate in Durham, North Carolina. The fact that Navarro openly told the team on October 7th that he was “going home” instead of staying with the club and working out in case of an injury to any of the Rays catchers’ should have pushed him beyond the confines of Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s doghouse and given Navarro an instant exit from the Rays 40-man roster.

 

But still, the Venezuelan catcher still sits upon the 32 names currently resting on the Rays 40-man roster this off season. Isn’t this the same Navarro who became certainly expendable in the Rays minds back during Dec 2009 when the Rays first had thoughts of trading away Navarro, but the return was not considered beneficial to the team’s future. Wasn’t Navarro the figure on the Rays roster who should have been more aware and concerned for his job when the Rays traded one of the Rays top farmhand pitchers Mitch Talbot to the Cleveland Indians for Shoppach.
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Shouldn’t that transaction by the Rays during the off season been a clear signal to Navarro that his Major League job might be in deep jeopardy? Instead it just seemed like Navarro, who had seen the Rays bring fellow backstop Gregg Zaun late in 2009 did not seem to heed the warning signals. Instead it seemed that Navarro just tried to do just enough to again hold onto one of the Rays two catching positions.

Even during the Winter of 2009 when teams like the San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays were hunting for catching options, the slow-footed Navarro did not peak anyone interest farther than a casual phone call to the Rays. During the 2009 off season the Rays did think long and hard about non-tendering the arbitration eligible catcher, but again he somehow had enough believers in the Rays staff to fend off his departure.


More and more in 2009 and early 2010 the Rays faithful had to witness the extreme casual attitude behind the plate when Navarro basically saw balls hit the dirt in front of him and he mysteriously missed the balls and had to chase them around the Tropicana Field backstop. It was if Navarro had stepped into a hole defensively that he could not get himself out of in time to save his starting job.


But now as another arbitration time is quickly approaching it is time for the Rays to send a loud and clear message to their one time All Star catcher. It is time to cut the string between Navarro and the Rays and set him along towards another team. With the emergence of Jaso and the stability of a contract with Shoppach for another season, it would be ill advised to hold onto an arbitration eligible Navarro who could demand a $ 2.9 million salary even with his demotion during 2010 to the minor leagues.

It is time to let the slow-footed catcher makes his way out of the fold of the Rays and into the glaring sunlight to see his true worth around the Major Leagues . They say a mother bird sometimes has to push a baby bird out of it’s nest to make it realize it has to fly. It is time for this bird to definitely get pushed out of the Rays fold. Some might call it a reality check for Navarro, but I consider it more a relief of catching albatross from around the necks of the Rays. Fly away little Navi, Fly away!

 

 

 

High Noon Rays versus Rangers Showdown

 


 

Did we possibly see the Texas Rangers today accidentally awaken a sleeping Rays ball club. Could the Rays offensive explosion in the 8th and 9th innings tonight be a by-product of the outstanding pitching performance being provided tonight by Rays starter Matt Garza. With this sudden burst of often elusive firepower coming from all sides of the Rays line-up, could this game prove that the heart and soul of this Rays squad is still very much alive and pumping some extreme energy ?


Tonight’s game truly looked like a team slowly awakening from a slumber of the lumber when the once offensively dormant Rays finally pushed across their second run of the American League Divisional Series in the top of the 6th inning. Could this Rays team have finally wiped the sleep dust out of their eyes and become the solid hitting machine this team needs for the rest of this series. Or could tomorrow be more of a return to form of Games 1 and 2 anemic Rays offense. Interesting sidebar point in this ALDS series is that the home team has not won a single ballgame, or been in a position to win after the 8th inning.

19 other times in modern baseball lore, an American League club has gone down 0-2 in a ALDS with only 4 teams (1995 Mariners, 1999 Red Sox, 2001 Yankees and 2003 Red Sox) having the stuff to fight back from the brink of defeat to solidify themselves and eventually take the ALDS series. Interesting enough, the 2001 Yankees were the only team (before the 2010 Rays) to fall behind 0-2 at home. Could it be a great omen that the 2001 Yankees completed their ALDS comeback and went on to win that season’s World Series?.

Before tonight’s 6-3 Rays victory, the Rangers had outscored the powerless Rays 11-1 and out hit the usually potent Rays offense 19-8 over the first two games of this ALDS. Tonight the Rays belted out a 11-6 hit advantage over the Rangers, and made the red clad Texas crowd take their brooms back home under their arms. The anemic Rays were truly pitiful at Tropicana Field, hitting a paltry 1-13 ( .077) with 9 strikeouts with runners in scoring position before tonight’s offensive awakening.

Tonight the Rays were 3-9 with Runners in scoring position, a massive improvement with the Rays trio of Carlos Pena, B J Upton and John Jaso all providing key hits to score or provide insurance runs to show support for the 4 Rays pitchers that took the hill tonight. It was a solid team effort from a team that looked puzzled and bewildered before they boarded a charter flight to Texas after Thursday afternoon’s contest.

Rays hitters produced an impressive 11 for 37 ( .336) mark tonight as the Rays saw a total of 173 pitches, 50 pitches more than the hometown Rangers. To throw a quick comparison with their prior two performances, in Game one the Rays saw 136 total pitches and only managed 6 hits with one Rays Ben Zobrist getting 2 of those hits and their only run. Game 2 saw the Ranger pitching staff throw 135 pitches with only 2 hits with only Willy Aybar hitting an extra base hit (double).

 

The way the Rays offense woke up today was remarkable since the rays offense had only produced 3 extra base hits and a solo run ( Zobrist HR) before the Rays produced 5 extra base hits tonight, including Home Runs by Carl Crawford (solo) and Pena (3-run HR). How dramatic was the Game 3 turnaround of the Rays? According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only one other team has begun a preliminary postseason series (ALDS/ALCS) with no more than 1 run and no more than 8 hits in their prior two contests (2009 Boston versus Los Angeles Angels). Tonight that statistic is just dust in the wind as the Rays kept from being swept and sent packing by the Rangers.


Finally this Rays team is beginning to hit the ball like the American League East Champions. All along you knew the power and the strength was within them, but now they are bringing it to the plate and providing more than enough ammunition to defeat the Rangers. But the hard work is far from over. Will the Rays formulize an effective hitting and pitching scheme on Sunday to provide the fourth losing game in this ALDS for the home squad.

The Rays will be sending rookie right-hander WD-40 (Wade Davis) to the mound tomorrow afternoon with a chance to again take the Rangers to the Trop. for a one and done possible rematch of lefties David Price and Cliff Lee in the decisive Game 5.

Some within the Rays republic have questioned the idea of starting Davis in this key Game 4, but I feel he has more than shown his maturity and value throughout this 2010 season. Davis has been one of the most solid rookie pitchers in the American League in 2010, but might have to throw the game of his career to get the Rays in solid position to win this contest.

But going into this game, Davis’s had won 7 of his last 8 starts, with only a non decision to blemish his record since coming off the DL. His only non decision came in Game 162 with Davis’s start last Sunday in Kansas City on the last day of the regular season. Since July, the Rays have won 9 of his previous 13 starts. Davis finished the MLB season leading all AL Rookies in ERA (4.07), winning percentage (.545) and was second in innings, starts and strikeouts behind only Baltimore rookie pitcher Brian Matusz.

More importantly, Davis has been gaining more consistency and control as he took the mound in his last 7 starts, and finally seems to be very comfortable in his MLB skin. That bodes well for the Rays, and a solid first five innings could prove to be a vital key to a possible Rays win. If Davis can keep this game close or possibly scoreless and let the Rays offense get their new found hitting on track, this series could definitely be headed for a fifth and final contest.

 

That has to be the front and center the motivational centerpiece for the Rays right now. If they take their new offensive awareness to Rangers starter Tommy Hunter tomorrow, then their fate will definitely rests in their own hands. But if they falter, it is going to be a long Fall and Winter for the Rays 25. But the ice has been cracked, the Rays once lifeless bats have been awoken to bring about a Game 4 old fashion Texas showdown.


Game 4 will officially begin just past high noon (12:07 pm CST) in the Fall Texas sun, but it will be definitely hotter and more humid with every hitter from both team’s who step in the Batter’s box tomorrow. Both squads desperately need a victory for another step towards bringing another page of history to their respective franchises. If the Rangers win, it will be their first postseason series win in their club’s Washington/Texas history.

If the Rays are victorious, they are still on track to become only the fifth team to come back from 0-2 to be in line to possibly win their once lop-sided ALDS series. It is time for the Rays ultimate “Feel the Heat” motivational scheme to further push the Rangers new fangled “Claws and antlers” into the background. Sounds like the perfect Texas mano-on-mano style gunfight. Wonder if the Rays will come firing blanks or multiple bazooka rounds in this high noon showdown?

Could Jaso be a AL ROY Dark Horse?

 

 

Some of the Tampa Bay Rays fans might have known that rookie catcher John Jaso plays guitar in the Rays team garage band, but how many of you knew if he was not playing baseball, he wanted to be a Mathematics teacher? I can honestly attest to not being the best at mathematical statistics and logistical probabilities, but I sure can predict with some clarity that Jaso will be a hard person to overlook when it comes down to voting for the 2010 Rookie of the Year in the American League.


Most people have two Detroit Tigers players high on their list as the potential one and two most likely candidates in rookies Austin Jackson and Brian Boesch, and they are excellent players to consider, but usually when two players on the same team go head-to-head against each other, there can be a secondary lapse of them cancelling themselves out in the process.

Other names to consider like M’s rookie Justin Smoak, and Indian infielder Jason Donald have also has solid years for their respective clubs, but if you truly consider how far Jaso has come since the beginning of Spring Training this season, he has out performed all of them. All this chatter about a possible ROY candidacy might not have even happened if Jaso had not impressed the Rays brass enough to get them all to collectively reconsider sending him back Durham (Triple-A) this season after Kelly Shoppach came back from his knee injury.

 

To even consider sending their long time starting catcher and former All Star Dioner Navarro down to the minors instead would have been out of the question if Jaso had not made his numbers at the plate and behind it pop out at you compared to Navarro or Shoppach. I would definitely say Jaso has already beaten some amazing odds to even still be wearing his Rays uniform every night.


Even if you think Jaso is not putting up the usual romantic offensive power numbers associated with most rookies who are considered for this ROY Award, Jaso has brought a great offensive level back to the Rays catching position, and his defensive skills get better with every pitch.. We already knew that Jaso possesses a big bat, but the Rays fans were a bit shocked, but pleasantly surprised to see an almost 180 degree shift in his catching defensive skills since his first Major League call-up in September 2008.

Jaso has basically had drastic changes made to his defensive stance, throwing motion changed by the Rays this Spring. Sure Jaso is still a little rough around the edges and learning behind the plate, but his mass improvement can be directly attributed with his extra time spent with Rays Bullpen Coach and former Catching Instructor Bobby Ramos and Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi. They both worked to simplify Jaso’s approach and skills behind the plate, and they made an immediate positive change in Jaso’s career path.

 
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With Jaso’s skills behind the plate beginning to shining brighter with every start, his offensive numbers have been consistent and a huge upgrade for the Rays in their quest for a second American League East title. Even though Jaso has less than 500 plate appearances ( 268 as of Sept 3), the left-hand hitting Jaso has amassed a .280 batting average with 4 HR and 42 RBI while seeing limited action, mostly against right-handed pitcher this season.

But the power aspect of this young catcher is firmly in hand when you notice in his brief plate appearances in 2010, he also has 75 hits and 15 doubles and has been extremely patient at the plate in getting 47 walks this season. Amazing still is the fact Jaso has hit out of the lead-off spot in 28 Rays contests and the first Rays catcher to every attempt the feat. According to Baseball Reference, no other rookie has ever started as many games as a catcher and batting lead-off in one season. To put it more into prospective, the previous record was 13 games by Philadelphia A’s Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane in 1925. Jaso was also the first rookie catcher to bat lead-off since Tiger Bruce Kimm in 1976.

 
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I know it doesn’t take a math wizard right now to see that Jaso has firmly planted himself as a vital cog in the Rays machine this season. To further boost up Jaso’s offensive display as a rookie, his .388 On Base Percentage leads all A L rookies, and would currently tie him with Yankee outfielder Brett Gardner for the 8th overall spot in the American League. And wouldn’t you know it, Jaso is also hitting .328 (22-67) since July 28th.


But before we finish this, let’s see where else he would rank among the A L Rookies. These numbers fully explain and demonstrate the pure fact that Jaso has been a prime ingredient in the Rays surge towards the top of their division, and has shown consistent offensive firepower for the Rays. Jaso is currently 3rd in batting average ( .280 ), 3rd in hits ( 75 ), 5th in doubles ( 15 ) 2nd in RBI ( 42 ), 2nd in runs scored (47) and the icing on the cake, Jaso leads all rookies with 47 walks against 32 strikeouts. This figure puts Jaso alone at the top in the Major Leagues as no one else with as many plate appearances has a better walk-to strikeout ration.

 
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When it is all said and done, Jaso will probably get a handful of votes for the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year. But like I stated above, with two Tigers expected to be the frontrunners in the race, Jaso could be the dark horse who could come charging to the front and snatch the award. Jaso has played this season like he has been here before.


He has not let the nerves or the stress of his position even taint him in any way as he charges forward with his team towards a playoff berth. But not winning the award probably will not phase the young catcher . Jaso has a special job to do, and a possible playoff berth in the balance right now. And anyhow, I would not bet on Jaso failing, so fair he has beaten the house consistently.

A Vital Dose of Redemption and Realization

 
 
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By now the whole baseball World knows that the Tampa Bay Rays lost twice last night. They lost the chance to push themselves past the New York Yankees and visualize the 2010 team dream, but that revelation is mute right now. They lost the whole bag of marbles last night against the dreaded Red Sox and their Southpaw boy wonder Jon Lester. The Rays further lost within their own misguided intention and advances than by simple game action.

But that is what this series is all about. It is either going to be a time of redemption (for the Red Sox) or realization (for the Rays). Redemption in the fact that some of the walking wounded among the Boston roster are seeing that odd shaped roster beginning to cement itself and play as a define and articulate unit, much to the chagrin of the home town Rays. Redemption that a Wild Card reclamation is as close as 6 simple games, and made closer with the knowledge both the Rays and New York Yankees are not playing at their highest levels.

Redemption that as their own newspapers and bloggers have not screamed out the battle cry yet that this 3-game vacation into the sunshine can make or break their 2010 season, even with 32-odd games to follow. Forget that the Rays have 24 more games against the American League East over the course of the rest of the season, including another foray at Fenway in the near future. Tonight’s win showed the Rays hopefuls that the Red Sox machine might seemed broken and battered, but it can still rev its engines at full RPM’s when needed.

 
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Realization by the Rays that this team is sometimes too slow to adjust and submit to changes at the plate as pitch after pitch goes by outside the zone and gets called for a strike. The Rays managed to suffice in the “Rays Way” for almost 6 innings before adjusting their game and swinging at those borderline calls that had been called by Home Plate Umpire Gary Darling all night long. It took too long for the Rays to up their game and swing at those pitches 6 inches off the plate that got the arm action of Darling and saw countless Rays rallies die an instant death with a still cocked bat at the plate.

 
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Forget the double plays by Evan Longoria and B J Upton in the first and third inning that equalized any sense of control issues with Lester by giving the Rays freebie base runners than have them dissolved instantly by a solid ground ball hit to either Marco Scutaro or Adrian Beltre, who quickly dished the ball off to second and first to squash any Rays rally like a bug. A brief realization by the Rays that Lester and Boston catcher Victor Martinez were not always on the same page, but not utilizing it to their advantage to get more than one solo run in the stressful bottom of the fourth inning.


Here was the Rays trying to produce runs via the “small ball” approach, but Lester was pitching outside to try and eliminate a bunt down the line, or even a solid contact with the ball. By the time the Rays realized and circumvented their approach, it was already the bottom of the fifth inning, then base running malfunctions became the letter of the day. First it was Sean Rodriguez being completely hung out to dry by Lester on a steal attempt of third base with two outs that further complicated the Rays game plan.

But the huge exclamation point on the “missed it by that much” game performance of the Rays is best illustrated in the base running of Upton , who began the bottom of the sixth inning by walking, then getting a smooth and clean steal of second base off of leftie Lester before committing the ultimate game faux pas on a single to centerfield that former Rays farmhand Darnell McDonald scooped in shallow centerfield then tossed a grenade to Martinez who got Upton at mid-body on his feet first slide into home. Aggressive base running is one thing, and hustling and seeking the plate in an instance where the ball was maybe 40 yards above the top clay of the infield is suicidal at best.

 
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Love the aggression, hated the result. But that is just another realization that night that maybe they were playing this game a click slower than the Red Sox. But this series already is showing high signs of a epic struggle for redemption by the Red Sox and the Rays did not have the ammo to fight back tonight. Six times in this contest the Rays either tried to get a man to third, or he advanced to either score or get thrown out. Six times the Rays had a honest and realistic chance to post more runs, but something jammed the Rays own engine every time, but once.

So I guess it is only right to tip your cap towards the players and fans wearing the big “B” on the cap tonight for playing the hands that were dealt to them and capitalizing on Rays mistakes or offerings. It was not as if either pitcher was brilliant, even though they both combined for 18 of the 24 strikeouts in the game. Fitting still was the last out, a called strike on pinch-hitter John Jaso that looked a few inches below and outside the strike zone to most in the stands.

An instant realization by the Rays that they let this game get away from them. But it also gave the Red Sox a realization that this series, and this season might just be beginning to heat up. I think I am going to bring a tube of sun block to the game tomorrow night because I some burning to be done, hopefully it will be the realization that the Red Sox might have woken a sleeping Rays giant. Or maybe it is the Rays this time who will seek a redemption for their play on Friday night.
 

The Red Sox are Coming, The Red Sox are Coming!

 
 
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You could just sense that something was coming. Your ears would begin to burn and vibrate with increasing velocity, and you could just feel the barometric pressure beginning to rise the minute the Red Sox plane landed. This was going to be the series where the Red Sox laid it all out on the Trop’s turf and by heck or high water would make their ultimate 2010 stand to reclaim a spot in the 2010 playoffs.

At first you were not sure if it their first attack was an ambush at you from the Northeast, or maybe a flanking move from their Spring home in the South (Fort Myers), but you knew that the Red Sox Nation’s spirits were going to be flying sky high the minute they opened the doors for this decisive 3-game series. And you know every swing and every pitch will have viewers in the seats in at home pulsing towards the television feeling every ebb and tide of this series this weekend.

With the Red Sox sitting just beyond the Rays grasp right now in their own divisional fight, it is imperative that they gain ground this weekend, or finally face the horrific truth that they will need allies to get back into either the American League East race, or get a helpful nudge into the American League Wild Card top spot. With word spreading like wildfire that Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who has been a thorn in the Rays side all year pretty much done for the year, another viable weapon is taken out of the Red Sox arsenal.

And with around 35 games to go before the end of this season, the Red Sox will have to start an incredible push of possibly going on a unheard of 20+ winning streak, combined with some timely Rays losses to again be in a visible position to fight another day after October 4th. So what are a few key situations to keep in mind during this weekend series?

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Red Sox Starters versus Rays Offense.

Rays have hit the combined Red Sox pitching staff with some consistency this season. But hold only a .226 opponents batting average against Boston this season. The key elements will be how the Boston starters hold the top of the Rays line-up plus adjust their pitching throughout the game. B J Upton is the only Rays hitter to hit more than one Home Run against Red Sox pitching this season, but the Rays have been patient and posted 53 walks.

Evan Longoria is not having a tremendous year versus Boston pitching this season, but has been on a bit of an offensive tear lately, which could work into his favor. With Carlos Pena now back behind Longoria, teams will have to pitch to Longoria more “straight-up” than pound his wrists and outer zones with the ball. Carl Crawford is definitely someone the Red Sox will want to keep off the base paths, but he has gone 8-23 (.348) at Tropicana Field this season against Boston with 13 total bases.

But in Boston’s favor is their first strategic move of the series, even before they landed in Tampa Bay when they scratched Daisuke Matsuzaka who was experiencing “back stiffness” on Wednesday and instead penciled in Jon Lester to start Friday night’s game. Granted, if you want someone with more spine, I would go to Lester too. The move might seem a bit hasty to some, but Lester holds a seasonal .182 opponents batting average over the Rays head, and a .052 ( 1-19) mark hitting in his only start in the Trop this season.

With a more solid chance to take a win in the first game, the Red Sox have pitcher Clay Buhholz ready to go Saturday night and holds a .261 average against the Rays this season. Combine that with 8 Rays strikeouts in their 23 plate appearances and you get a pretty provocative one-two punch to begin this series. But the problem is that this is a three game series, and John Lackey has not performed all that well within the roof of Tropicana Field this season. Lackey might be the Wild Card entry in this weekends games as the Rays hit him for a .308 average with 4 walks in his only Trop. Appearance.

 
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Rays runners against Red Sox catchers

With the Red Sox catching crew decimated by wild injuries right now with former Texas backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia out with a leg infection and Jason Varitek not able to run effectively yet on his injured right foot they are down to Victor Martinez and ex-Ray Kevin Cash. The Rays have stolen 22 bases off the Red Sox in 2010, and have only been nailed once by a Red Sox catcher. With the Rays possibly amping up their usual small ball offense this weekend, being a catcher on this Boston team right now might be one of the most stressful spots outside of their Bullpen. But the Red Sox also can not forget Ben Zobrist (6 SB) or Carl Crawford (7 SB) at any moment this weekend.

Another unknown factor for the Red Sox to consider is that the Rays have garnered 53 walks off the Red Sox in prior games, and the Rays now have more patient hitters like Dan Johnson and Matt Joyce in the line-up to bolster the Rays chances of base runners. This segment of the weekend series might play out the biggest in the end. If the Red Sox can stagnate the Rays running game along with their small ball tendencies, it could be a huge blow to the Rays usual game plan.


 
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Rays starters versus Boston Hitters

This is another area where the Red Sox might have a bit of the surprise factor as they started three outfielders in their game on Tuesday night who have limited at bats against the Rays this season. Former Rays prospect Darnell McDonald has appeared in only 5 contests between the two teams, but sports a .455 average in 3 games at Tropicana Field this season. Daniel Nava has played in four Rays vs. Red Sox games and is hitting for a .333 average with a triple. The third member of their unknown outfield from that night, Ryan Kalish has not faced the Rays this year.

But even with weapons like Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis sidelined until 2011, this Rays pitching staff will have to be cautious. The Red Sox still have their power options in their line-up with both Adrian Beltre and David Ortiz, who both have 2 Home Runs in the Trop this season healthy and ready to go Friday night. But the Rays are also sending their best weapon to the hill on Friday night to combat the Red Sox bats.

 

Rays Pitching will have to “Set the Tone”

American League Cy Young hopeful David Price, who has held the Red Sox to a .258 average in his only 2010 start against Boston on July 7th at home before the All-Star break. Working in Price’s favor is that in that lone start against Boston this season, he posted 10 strikeouts in the game. But Price has been more impressive since the All-Star break and this Lester versus Price match-up might be a pitcher’s duel until someone blinks.


Buchholz against Garza will have the same effect as the Lester vs. Price match-up in that two very selective pitcher will be wheeling and dealing until someone leaves a ball up and over the plate. And that was the case in Garza’s only start against Boston this season. He got rocked with 4 Home Runs in the outing and gave up 13 hits and 11 runs in the Red Sox’s 11-3 spanking of the Rays back on May 26th. But Garza has seemed more in control of his pitches in recent outings and better equipped for this pressure filled match-up.
Last, but not least will be James Shields coming in on the Nationally televised ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast against Lackey.

Shields has had his up and down moments recently, but he always seems to have a special 6th gear for Boston games. Shield has only faced the Red Sox three times in 2010, but held them to 4 hits and 2 runs and a .143 average in his only start against them at Tropicana Field on May 26th. Working in Shields favor is he is 2-1 against Boston this season and has held Boston to no Home Runs at home.


This series is going to be a bit of a :do or die” scenario for the Red Sox. They do not want to have to rely on any of the other American League East rivals to help their cause. This series might be all about the pride and the resolve of the Red Sox to show they can overcome and set the Rays down to get back into the Wild Card race.

If the Rays were to slip past Boston and sweep them in this home series, it could effectively put Boston near the double digit mark behind the Rays. This is going to be a great series, and one worth watching on ESPN on Sunday night.

I Think Hellickson Needs a Moving Van

 
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You could see his dedication to his craft this Spring when he pitched with the “Big Club” until they optioned him to the minor league camp on March 15,2010. The kid had something special about him. He projects a shy and reserved side to him, but the minute he brushes up against that pitching rubber, Jeremy Hellickson is all about the game.

Most Rays Republic fans thought we might have to wait until September call-ups before we got another shot to see the kid named “Hell Boy” compete again at the highest level. But after last night’s performance, I am thinking the Rays might not be in any hurry to give him another ticket back to Durham, North Carolina. Hellickson last night became only the third pitcher since 1920 to post 7 innings in a game and allow less than 3 hits in his first two starts. Hellickson also joined the late Joe Kennedy (2001 ) as the only other Rays starter to ever post two “W’s” in his first two starts.

But if you had watched any of the Rays Spring Training outings by Hellickson, you already knew the kid had a great understanding of the pitching process, and had some of the best stuff in the minor leagues, but needed a little polishing around the edges. But if Hellickson can keep up his consistent performances, he might just have to have someone motor on up to Durham and get his stuff and bring it down to Tampa Bay permanently. Sure you might think his 1.29 ERA over these two starts will gets his biggest test on Sunday when Hellickson get a chance for three wins in a row against the surging Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field. I have a feeling it isn’t in Hellickson’s pitching nature tot shy away from the big games.

All you have to do is go back in time briefly to the 2009 Triple-A Championship game in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to see a perfect example of his high standards and commitment to his craft. Hellickson ended up throwing 5 scoreless innings and earning the Bobby Murcer trophy as the games Most Valuable Player. But maybe you only need to go as far as looking at his Durham stat sheet for 2010 to see that he is ready for the step up to the Major Leagues.
Since his first MLB start against the Minnesota Twins on August 2nd to tonight’s start, Hellickson was optioned back to Durham, but got a call-up just yesterday to replace former Bulls teammate Wade Davis who was experiencing shoulder stiffness and went on the 15-day DL for the Rays.

Even with not starting a single game in Triple-A since the beginning of August, Hellickson still leads the International League in wins ( 12 ), ERA (2.45) and strikeouts (123). Hellickson’s 12 wins is currently the second best win total in the minor league baseball system. And Hellickson has gotten great run support from his Bull’s teammates in his 30 starts over his past two Bulls seasons The Bulls have gone an impressive 22-5 over that span when Hellickson takes the mound.


 
Steve Nesius/AP
But what might be even more impressive is his consistency over his minor league career that has now transformed so well in his first two Major League starts. Over Hellickson’s minor league career, he has maintained 9.8 strikeouts per 9 innings, plus posting a career minor league record of 49-16 with a 2.66 ERA in 103 starts. And if you need to bolster his credentials up a little more, Baseball America in their mid-season Top 25 list, posted Hellickson as the fourth best prospect in the game right now and the top pitching prospect in all of baseball.

And all of that hinges on the huge upward curve in Hellickson’s maturation process this season that draws nothing but praise from Rays catcher John Jaso, who also caught many of Hellickson’s starts in 2009. Jaso told FSN Sports in-game commentator Todd Kalas that Hellickson was coming to him before the game and between innings trying to devise a set of pitching parameters for them both to join together on when he took the mound last night.

Here is a guy who was pitching only his second ever MLB game, and he is already starting to try a dictate and formulate an effective plan to get the upper hand on his competition. That also speaks very highly to the competitive nature and fire that burns deep within Hellickson to want to take control of some of the aspects of the game as such an early stage. But you would expect that maturity and confidence level from a guy who started for the Team USA squad at the 81st All Star Futures game in Anaheim, California. In that contest, Hellickson only pitcher two innings, but secured the win after a resounding 9-1 victory by his Team USA squad.

 

All this from a guy who only appeared in 2.2 inning this Spring for the Rays and, posted 9 strikeouts, no hit or runs allowed in his short time in the big league camp. But he made an immediate impression on the World Champions as he struck out both Yankee hitters Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira in his 2010 debut on March 5th in Tampa. All this from a guy Rays Republic fans have been itching to see up with the big club. And now that Hellickson is here, he is earning every letter and syllable of his persona Hellboy.


Right now Hellickson’s Rays future looks bright as the team might be able to keep him within their 25-man roster right up until the roster expand on September 1st. Not bad for a Des Moines, Iowa farmhand the Rays drafted in the fourth round out of Hoover High School in 2005. It has only taken 5 years for Hellickson to develop, mature and become the Rays next big thing. And if his career preparation plans are anything like his in-game plans, he is here to stay for along, long time.
 

Hellickson has the Right Stuff


 
Jeremy Robert Hellickson started his lone walk out of the Tampa Bay Rays dugout at 6:40 pm. Here was an emerging Rays player who on first impression, might look more like a college baseball player than a pitcher about to get his first taste of life at the Major League Level. As Hellickson approached the Tropicana Field outfield, you instantly wanted the lone figure to get larger in stature based on the folk tales and lore that had trickled down from North Carolina, about his pitching.

We all knew the pitching accolades and the praise that proceeded him to Tropicana Field. His 2009 Rays Organizational Pitcher of the Year Award. The same player who won the Bobby Mercer Award as the Most Valuable Player of the 2009 Triple-A Championship. That during the 2010 Spring Training season, Hellickson amazed and tantalized us with visions of a future young Rays pitching staff that could envision all five starters amassing at least 10 wins.

 

It was said that Hellickson’s appearance tonight would be for only one start, and be a chance to benefit the Rays usual five starters by giving them a breather during the Rays current 20 games in 21 days stretch. But in reality it was another short peek at an important piece of the Rays future pitching puzzle. As Hellickson took the Rays Bullpen mound, his first pitch to Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi did not seem to have the force or the “pop” of the usual Major Leaguer. But it was Hellickson’s show now.


Eyes around the stadium began to focus towards the Rays Bullpen. Cameras and fans began to watch Hellickson’s mechanics, his grip on the baseball and especially the increasing speed and force of his pitches as Hellickson moved closer to his first pitch of the night. As his warm-up session progressed, Hellickson’s pitches got sharper, built up speed and right before his final pitch, a small smile appeared on that mound. The last pitch popped the glove of his catcher John Jaso, and you knew Hellickson was more than ready for the job in front of him tonight.

 

In the curve of the Bullpen Café, his cousin Joey Hellickson stood watching Jeremy warm up wearing the same red Team USA jersey that Hellickson’s wore for the 2010 MLB Future’s game in Anaheim, California during the All-Star game festivities. But not only Rays fans were proud to see Hellickson take the mound tonight.

14 members of the Hellickson clan had assembled just beyond the Checker’s Bullpen Café to watch as Jeremy readied for his first night in the Rays spotlight. Winning tonight would do nothing more than show he had the right stuff to be here.

Winning tonight would not garner him another chance to stride the hill this time, but could possibly open more potential chances come September. It was Hellickson’s moment on the mound tonight to finally show and acknowledge that his size and stature were not a measure of the abilities and heart that beat within him.

Hellickson’s performance would show why so many other organizations and scouting agencies coveted his right arm.

 

He showed the brilliance of a veteran pitcher on the mound tonight in taking back with him to Durham, his first Major League win. Over his seven innings last night, Hellickson scattered three hits and two runs to show the Rays ample reason why they have turned down trade after trade for the 22-year old right-hander. . Hellickson’s debut also featured him retiring the first 10 Twins hitters, the first time in five seasons that a American League rookie pitcher had performed the feat.


Sure Hellickson might have given up a Home Run to Jason Kubel in the sixth inning, but after that blast he retired the next five Twins hitters before Rays reliever Chad Qualls came on in the eighth inning. After his customary beer shower to celebrate his victory in his Major League debut, it was learned that the New York Yankees had lost their home game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Not only could Hellickson celebrate his win, but he also gave his Rays teammates the gift of again regaining at least a tie in the American League East.
Even with his win tonight Hellickson will again pack his gear and board a plane in the morning to rejoin his Durham Bulls team on the road in Indianapolis, Indiana.

 
Steve Nesius/AP

Hellickson will not leave the Rays Clubhouse tonight as the same player. He is now has confidently made his first appearance at the Major League level and gave his future fans cause to wait in anticipation for his return.

Hellickson has shown the Rays front office and staff that he is capable and ready to take the next step and contribute with confidence the next time the Rays call for his services. Hellickson gave all of us Rays fans just enough of a tasty pitching morsel last night that we are already salivating and anticipating his return again in the Rays uniform.

Rays Already have a Viable Power Option In-House

Sometimes it just gets to me how a highly productive baseball player ,in your own farm system can fly so low under the radar, even after doing something amazing. That in this advanced electronics age of scouting and information, a surging baseball player can somehow go completely “out of sight, and out of mind” to his Major League team executives as they collectively screams and frantically searches for a player with his already apparent talent? This same scenario is happening within the Tampa Bay Rays farm system, and for some odd reason, this productive player is still sitting in front of his Triple-A locker every night suiting up.

The Rays have been searching high and low for a formidable power bat option throughout the Major Leagues, and somehow have skipped over the current Triple-A Home Run Derby Champ in their own farm system backyard. What is it that this mystery ballplayer has done to make the Rays Major League scouting department forget his name, stats or his dramatic flair for the game? It is like he is a ghost in the machine right now. How else do you explain hitting one of the most memorable Home Runs in Rays history, then not being on your team’s Spring Training invite list the following season?

Sure you might have developed double vision at one point in your past MLB career when you got suntan lotion in your eyes before an afternoon contest, but you have rebounded and proven you can be a power hitter and a consistent bat in the line-up. But then this same Rays front office sent you on a Japanese vacation as you played for the Yokohama Bay Stars in 2009 like a baseball castaway. So you somehow got were sent farther out of sight and out of mind. But then these same Rays front office folks signed you in January 2010 for $500,000 and you again thought you had an honest chance to prove your worth in the Major Leagues. But again you were met with a career roadblock, and off to Triple-A obscurity you go again.

And during the 2010 Triple-A season you have gained a solid reputation for timely hits and huge Home Runs, but still you still sit in the Durham Bulls locker room waiting for that mystical call to “The Show”. You might have guessed by now, I am talking about Durham Bulls power slugger Dan Johnson. It has been a weird year for him, but what does Johnson have to do to show his willingness and abilities are just what the Rays need in their line-up without the Rays resorting to a trade? Does he have to hit 3 HR in a game? Steal a base? Or maybe Johnson just has to sit silently and watch as the parent team ache and pain for a talent like his without muttering a single word.

 
DurhamBull.com

I consider it a crime against great Major League talent here. Are the Rays so stockpiled with talent in their minor league system that Johnson has somehow slipped through the cracks without a head nod or mention as a in-house power option? It saddens me to think that a talent like Johnson has been relegated to being a second class citizen mired in the minors when he has the abilities to not only help the Rays, but produce runs, provide depth and bring a bit of fear back into the Designated Hitter’s spot. Currently there has to be no American League pitching staff that is in fear of the Rays trio D H force of Matt Joyce, Willy Aybar or John Jaso. But could Johnson the ointment needed to finally provide some relief to that burning lack of production in the Rays line-up, or are the Rays just seeing him as another quick fix bandage?


Considering Johnson’s statistics with the Bulls this season, you have to think he is the hidden treasure trove of multiple talents the Rays have been searching for during this seasons Trade Deadline. Johnson has played in all 83 games for the Bulls. Moving around the infield from his customary first base slot and playing third base, which provides more depth and versatility to his resume’. Could his “new position” be a viable reason Johnson is being stonewalled from being brought up?

Johnson is hovering at a .295 batting average with 24 HR and 80 RBI., but Johnson also has 87 hits, which currently leads the Bulls roster. Then there was his recent show of dramatic power during Monday night’s Triple-A Home Run Derby where Johnson blasted out 25 Home Runs, and ultimately won the title. But in the event finals, Johnson and Lehigh Valley Ironpigs slugger Andy Tracy each posted 10 HR each in the final round. So it came down to a HR shootout format and Tracy did not connect on any of his five swings. It took Johnson only one swing of his bat to decide the Home Run Derby, and proved once and for all, he still has a dramatic flair to his hitting style.

But this was not the first time drama had entered Johnson’s Rays life when it came to hitting the long ball. Most Rays fans remember the Coons Rapids, Minnesota native for his improbable Home Run during a September 9,2008 contest against the Boston Red Sox. Johnson was called-up earlier in the day by the Rays and was inserted into the starting line-up, but plane delays and slow meandering cab rides brought him to Fenway Park at 6:50 pm that evening. Johnson might have been scratched from the starting nod, but he got another chance to project his broad shouldered persona on the Rays as he went to the plate as a pinch hitter in the 9th inning against Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon.

 
TBO.com

Johnson had been called-up to the Rays after posting a .307 average with 25 HR and 83 RBI since the Rays claimed him off waivers on April 18th from the Oakland A’s. Johnson stood at the plate with the game on the line and put a Papelbon fastball clear into the stands above the Red Sox Bullpen in right-centerfield for the first pinch-hit Home Run of Johnson’s career. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time in the last 50 years that a player had hit a September Home Run in the ninth inning (or later) in his first at bat for a first place team. Johnson had made an immediate impact on his new Rays teammates, even before formally meeting most of them.


But why is it that the scouts and the Rays front office do not find Johnson so alluring right now for their slumping DH spot? Johnson is a guy who has toiled and done his time in both the minor leagues and abroad to show he has the innate ability and the broad confidence to hit both for average, and for power in dramatic settings. That is the type of player who is now being sought after by the Rays through the Major League grapevine. But it is really a tragedy that we have a proven asset sitting just up the Atlantic Seaboard Coastline in North Carolina who would not cost the team another single penny or a player from their packed farm system.

The Rays are actively doing their window shopping around the Major League right now looking for the same option they have in-house and who is ready for the phone call. It seems a bit illogical to send talent or even money to bring in a high cost alternative to hit for the Rays when you already have a proven commodity right in your system. Hopefully within the next few days, the Rays brass will somehow rediscovery Johnson and his talents because I would love to see him hit the ball “out of sight“, and if the Rays forget about this great player, and let him fester in the minor leagues, then they are “out of (their) minds“.

 

 

Never Play Cards with Friedman

Navarro’s Rays Clock Ticking Faster

 


RRCollection 

Somehow I knew the writing was on the wall for Tampa Bay Rays catcher Dioner Navarro. And not just because of the emergence of John Jaso, but because the once “stealthy” catcher had now become predictable. There was a time when Navarro would provide offensive mastery and blocks ball behind the plate like his dinner depended on it. But those days became far and end between in 2009, and beginning in 2010, you knew it was a make it or break season for Navi.


And with a Minor League option still attached to his name, it seems that a travel visa( ticket) is in the near future for the Rays former All-Star. But it has been a long time since Navarro has acted like his former All-Star self as his batting average and defensive skills have somehow diminished and all but guarantee his departure when Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett can come back off the disabled list on June 15th.

But is sending Navi down to the Triple-A Durham Bulls going to ravish his career, or will it be an immediate wake up call to either fight his way back to the Rays come September, or be vanquished to the minors and possibly traded later this year. It is truly a human gut check time for Navarro, and we might just see if the Rays own version of the Stay Puff Marshmallow man has the killer instinct and determination still in his belly to fight for his Major League Baseball existence.

Navarro has been down this road before after being signed as a free agent by the New York Yankees, he was thought to be the future catching star of the Pinstripes before his work ethic and his weight went different directions and the Yankees tired of his yo-yoing tendencies. He was quickly dispatched via a trade to the West Coast and the Los Angeles Dodgers where he was thought to be a buffer before current Dodger starter Russell Martin was ready to take the throne.

Even there, the effort and the talent seemed like polar opposites and he was again jettisoned to the Rays where it almost seemed like his last tango in Tampa Bay might be his last chance to show he had the talent and the ability to match up as a Major League catcher. And this team has never been known for their catching prospects, or even its starting catcher providing offensive numbers that make you take a positive second glance. Navarro had a middle-of-the-road beginning with the Rays before his 2008 explosion put him front and center in the company of the elite.

But just as fast as he risen to the top, he adamantly fell from grace in 2009 showing the “old” Navarro tendencies again and a lack of defensive fortitude in even remotely blocking balls bouncing all over the plate. He had relinquished the “stealth” side of his nature and again fell into the predictable mode.

RRCollection 

But the question now might just be which direction will he turn towards if demoted to the Bulls? Will he take it as a moral imperative to improve, reevaluate and resurgence to his career, or languish in pity and remorse for a bit before again striking out to rebuild?


This time June 15th might be the defining date of Navarro’s career. And the steps he takes from that moment on will define his Major League Baseball chances, or be the beginning of his demise. I have been a conscientious observer of Navarro over the last several months and have seen his bat come alive at moment, but also seen him falter when needed in the clutch. But with this Rays team striving now to revisit the “Promised Land” again, can Navarro regain his former self to rejoin and step with his Rays teammates into that hallowed ground again?

It is up to Navarro right now to impress a certain former catcher, Rays Manager Joe Maddon, that this decision was not needed. That he had the heart and soul of this team vested close to his own heart and hit the ground running in Durham. Most important might be his indication to the team of his sweat and grit while down in the minor so if Kelly Shoppach or John Jaso fall to fall to injury or their own offensive woes, he is ready to don his catching gear at this level with the full confidence of his Rays Manager.

Gail Burton/ AP 

This truly is going to be a gut check time for Navarro both as a person and as a professional athlete. How he reacts and interprets the final decision of Maddon and the Rays front office on June 15th will be critical to if they see him in the Rays future in 2010. I can end this with a few hundred different baseball cliché’s as to what Navarro needs to accomplish in his time left with the Rays. But in the end, it will be how, and what Navarro does with this last few impressions that will set deep within the Rays organization’s minds as to his viable future with this team beyond June 15th.

How Navarro carries himself out of that Rays clubhouse on that date could be the true telling point to his Rays career. Navarro can either stand tall and stride out of that Rays clubhouse with honor and a plan of action, or he can saunter out with bitterness and angst and hit Durham with a chip on his shoulder. This might be the biggest moment of Navarro career because it will define his future….even if it is not with the Rays.

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