Results tagged ‘ Justin Ruggiano ’

Joyce is making a Play for Roster Spot

 

 
 
Matt Joyce came into this Spring Training knowing that he would be playing in front of a home town crowd this spring. Added to that mix was the excitement and anticipation of fighting for a roster spot as either the right fielder, or as an outfield option for the team in the 2009 season. But the first couple of weeks were not kind to Joyce as he was fighting off some tendinitis and a severe ankle sprain suffered during the first weeks of camp.  But he fought long and hard to get back on the field for the Rays, and so far he has impressed the right people to get a late spring look-see from the Rays coaching staff.

Last Sunday against the New York Yankees, he came up and ripped a ball long and deep into the teeth of the wind that did not have enough to sail out of the ballpark, but the sound off his bat made an impression on Rays Manager Joe Maddon, and he wanted to see more of the young outfielder the Rays traded  14-game winner Edwin Jackson for during the off season.  Joyce did not disappoint in his second at bat either. Well, he did strike out, but not before leveling the bat on a hanging breaking ball and sending it almost into the Rays clubhouse and offices off of right field. the unfortunate thing is he pulled it just foul before finally swinging at a third strike.
 

But it showed the promise and the power that the scouting report had documented on the young player, who is still developing his power game. But with this weeks announcement that fellow outfielder Justin Ruggiano was optioned to the minor league camp, it might signal a different viewpoint on the Rays upcoming problem with B J Upton missing the first road trip of the year while he rehabs from his off season shoulder surgery. Could the Rays now be thinking of maybe using Joyce instead of Ruggiano and give him some more time to stake his claim to a 25-man active roster spot after Upton’s return?
 
 
 

Well the Rays quickly let him show his stuff as he was the starting center fielder for the Rays versus the Detroit Tigers match up this week in Lakeland. It was the first time he has faced his former team since his trade, and he was excited to just be back on the field again.  Maddon made a comment before the game to the St. Petersburg Times that Joyce “realistically, still has time” to prove he’s healthy enough to  maybe change some minds and even break Spring Training as the extra outfielder.  One reason why Joyce is in center
field tonight this is a great opportunity to test him out there a little bit.

 

 
 

“He does, realistically, he still has time (to make the team),” Maddon told the St. Petersburg Times, “Being healthy and getting him out  there enough, and us feeling comfortable that he is beyond the risk of injuring himself more. So we have to test him a little bit and get him out there, play and get some at-bats. I’ve really enjoyed his at bats, and I think he has a special swing.” As of Friday’s afternoon game against the Twins Joyce was batting only .182, with only 2 hits in 11 at bats. But he did hit a RBI single in the fifth inning of that game, and also walked on 7 pitches in another at bat against the Tigers. He also showed some speed on the bases getting his first steal of the season during the same game.

 
 
 

Maddon, for one, wants to see Joyce field. He’s never seen him do so in a game, other than a few stray innings last year when Joyce played for the Tigers. Maddon has heard the stories about his  rocket arm, and saw him play in bits and pieces earlier this spring. “We want to try him at different spots,”  Maddon added, ” We know how we feel about his arm, so all these things are there…And yes, he is still in the running for at the end of camp.”  He started at Designated Hitter on Friday’s game against the Minnesota Twins and went 1-2, with his second single of the spring. But he did not remain in the lineup long after James Shields got shelled by the Twins for 12 runs on 11 hits in that contest.

 
 
                  
 
 
Joyce made only one appearance in Saturday’s contest against the Cincinnati Reds coming in to pinch hit for Designated Hitter Pat Burrell in the eighth inning. Unfortunately, he  struck out in that at bat to lower his spring batting average to .167. No plans have been announced yet as to his next appearance, but it could be during Sunday’s contest against the Reds in another one of the Rays multiple home-and-home series this Spring.  Time is running out for Joyce to make his bat stick in the minds of Rays coaching staff memebers and front office personnel.



Even though the Rays offcial roster does not have to be set before next Sunday, you can be sure they will make a decision on Joyce before they leave for Philadelphia for their last two games at Citizens Bank Park on April 3rd and 4th. I have a feeling that the Rays are going to give Joyce every opportunity to make them change their minds and keep him up with the club this season. Now the decision is up to Joyce to see if he up to the challenge.
 
 

Photo credits:  1) www.detroittigers.com
                       2) www.tbo.com ( Brian Cassella )
                       3) www.raysbaseball.com
 

Rays beat Pirates in First Night Game of the Year

 
                      
 
I can tell you it has been a wild couple of days here in the old Renegade lair. I went to the game, as we all know on Sunday and my laptop worked pretty well during the draft. I was able to save my copy and only had to add the photos and the credits and it would be done. Well I charged the new little toy up and took it again to the game on Monday night to Bradenton and did my blog doing play-by-play with that game too. But when I got to the house, my new toy decided to act like a spoiled Christmas toy that stops working 24 hours after the kids play with it for the first time.
 

I was scared I might have gotten a virus or maybe even fried the hard drive already.  But I took it into a friend’s computer shop on Tuesday and he told me that there was  small cache of missing files that went along with Window Mail that would prevent the sending or even the opening of mail on that application.  Somehow the computer itself decided to deep six itself into the deep deep green of the cyber seas. So I took it to the store where I bought it, and they had a Tech Department. I told them how I had two word files and two recorded files on the computer, and I needed to extract them before I gave them the unit to send back or try and fix for me. I decided I just wanted to exchange the unit, but that I could not access them because of the touch pad and the odd files being missing in action.

 
Well, they attached a exterior mouse and got to the two Word files and downloaded them onto a disc for me that day, and I finally got Sunday’s game online tonight. I was only using the WIFI to connect to the Internet and check mail and do comments update left on my blog.  I had not tried to use the Mail system either on my Windows or Yahoo account until Monday night. But for some reason, and it had a time stamp of Monday afternoon, the files were missing that could coordinate those requests. He told me that maybe there was a glitch in the system at the source and during a update it might have erased it by mistake. So now I had to fear that a exterior source could swallow up a chunk of my internal programs.

 
 I asked if I did anything wrong here, and they stressed that sometimes things go wrong before we get our computer and usually programs inside them correct the situation , or at least alert you to a damaging scenario. I did not get a warning, a “Danger Danger Will Robinson” or any type of Bells or Whistles. But with the Cowbells around me the last few days I am not hearing all that well right now. Anyways, they happily replaced the unit and also threw in a 1 year maintenance program free of charge. Who say customer service is dead? But considering I paid about over $ 700 dollars for a top of the line system that will be obsolete by December 2009, I liked the gesture. So here I am finally getting Monday night game on here at 2 am on Weds.  No jokes, the things I do for my baseball love is sickening sometimes ( Not really, but it does tickle).
 

 
Rays 6, Pirates 4
 

 
During the second game of this home-and home series with the Pittsburgh Pirates the last two days, the Tampa Bay Rays have seen their offense and their relievers show some polar opposites in plus and minus situations. Today would mark one of the first night games of the season for the Rays and they now know that the season is just around the corner. With less than 21 days until the ball goes to the plate for real, the team can  now focus on their seasonal objectives and get ready for the second run at a divisional title or pennant. Starting for the Rays today will be their number four starter, Andy Sonnanstine. You know the thing I love about this guy is that he is the consistent member of the rotation in 2008. If it was not for a stroke of bad luck in late August and September, he would have lead this team with over 15 wins last year. No one has ever done that as a Ray, much less a guys less than the number 3 starter for the team.

 
 
               

 

Pittsburgh will take the field wearing their St Patrick’s Day green caps because this is their last home game before they hit the road tomorrow to play the New York Yankees in Tampa. On the mound for the Pirates will be Paul Maholm, who is predicted to be one of the front runners of their rotation this season. Leading off for the Rays tonight will be shortstop Jason Bartlett.  Maholm gets an 0-2 count on Bartlett before he get s nice call over the outside corner for a called third strike  and the first out of the game. Gabe Kapler then comes to the plate and hit a hard grounder to Adam LaRoche, who takes in the ball and throws to Andy LaRoche at first base tonight. Evan Longoria then swings at an outside breaking ball for a swing strikeout and the Rays are retired 1-2-3 in the top of the first inning.

 

 
Sonnanstine ends up with his warm-up tosses and  faces Nyger Morgan as the first Pirate hitter tonight. Morgan hit a long fly ball to Justin Ruggiano in center field for the first out. Freddy Sanchez, who is playing second base tonight then comes up and hits a soft grounder to Ray Olmedo at second base. He takes the ball and quickly throws it to Willy Aybar, who is manning first base tonight for the Rays. Nate McLouth then hit a swirling ball of the end of his bat that drops in front of Bartlett, but he can not get control of the ball in time to get the swift outfielder. McLouth is on with an infield single.  On the third pitch to Ryan Doumit at the plate, Dioner Navarro can not control a breaking ball in the dirt and McLouth scrambles down to second base, and into scoring position for the Pirates. Doumit then misses a great breaking pitch by Sonnanstine for a swing strikeout.
 

 
 
One of the wild thing about the stadium tonight is the green bases. That is right, the usual pearl white bases have a green paint job tonight in honor of the Irish holiday tomorrow, but there is no green beer in the stands.  Maholm again take the mound for the Pirates and faces Pat Burrell for the first time tonight. Burrell quickly strikes out to put one out on the board for the Rays. Aybar then comes up and hit a grounder to Sanchez at second base, that he quickly gets over to LaRoche in time for the second out.  Ben Zobrist then comes up and hits a single into center field for the Rays first hit of the night.  Dioner Navarro then comes up and hits a ball straight to Jack Wilson at shortstop and he flips the ball to Sanchez to complete a 6-4 force out of Zobrist to end the Rays chances this inning.
 



 

Sonnanstine again came out for the Rays, who will have St Patrick’s Day off and will probably spend the day working out at the complex. Tomorrow also marks the first day of the minor league players beginning to play inter-squad games with other teams to get ready for their season. The first batter to the plate this inning is Adam LaRoche. He hit a sharp ball towards third base that Longoria takes in stride and quickly throws to Aybar to secure the first out. Jose Tabata then comes up and is  a victim of Sonnanstine’s off-speed pitch for a called third strike, and the Pirates second out. Craig Monroe, who has been pretty successful on the base paths this spring then comes up and hits a long fly ball to Kapler in right field for the third out of the inning. It is an easy 1-2-3 inning for Sonnanstine and the Rays.
 
 

 
Maholm again comes out in the third inning and the sun is setting here in Bradenton, Florida and we get set for our first time under the lights this year. Ruggiano comes up first for the Rays and gets walked by Maholm to start off the inning. Olmedo then hit a sharp grounder to Sanchez, who tosses the ball to Wilson who then throws a strike to first base to get a nice 4-6-3 double play on the Rays. With two quick outs, Maholm is in control and get Bartlett to strike out for the second straight time tonight to end the inning.
 

Sonnanstine comes out again for Tampa Bay and first faces Andy LaRoche. He then hit a ball up the middle out of the reach of Bartlett and Olmedo to lead off the inning with a single. Wilson then comes up and hits a weak grounder to Olmedo, who turns and fires to first bases because LaRoche is almost to second by the time he gets the ball in his glove. Morgan then hit a sharp ball towards Aybar who get the ball and tosses it to Sonnanstine for an easy 3-1 put out. The Pirates now have a man in scoring position and two outs in the inning. Sanchez then hit a ball down the third baseline past Longoria that travels to the corner for a RBI double. LaRoche scores on the play and gives the Pirates an early 1-0 lead in the contest. McLouth however hit a grounder to Olmedo that he easily get to Aybar to retire the side.

 

Maholm then comes out again for the top of the fourth inning with his first lead of the night. Kapler is the first batter he faces and he drive a ball towards Adam LaRoche at third base that he misplays and over throws first base for an e-5 on the play. So that give the Rays a base runner to lead off the inning. Longoria then hit a ball off the end of his bat high in the air over second base, and Sanchez takes it in for the first out of the inning. Burrell then comes up and hit it towards Adam LaRoche at third base and he begins a perfect 5-4-3 double play to get the Pirates out of the inning.  At this point in the game, the Rays only have a single hit by Zobrist in the top of the second inning. 
 

Sonnastine does not come back out for the bottom of the fourth inning and the Rays send out reliever Brain Shouse. For the night, Sonnanstine went 3 innings and gave up 3 hits and a single run and two strikeouts. The first batter to face Shouse will be Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit. He hit a hard ball toward shortstop the handcuffs Bartlett and he can not get the handle on the ball in time to get Doumit. He ends up with an infield hit on the play. Adam LaRoche then  gets fooled on a sidearm breaking pitch from the Rays leftie for the first out of the inning. Tabata then hit a double down the right field line and puts both men in scoring position with one out. Monroe then hit s a ball to Bartlett that his only play is to first base and Doumit scores on the play.  Andy LaRoche then walks to put two men on base again for the Pirates. Wilson then hit a bouncer back to Shouse on the mound that he throws to first base to get the third out if the inning. At this point, the Pirates have a 2-0 lead on the Rays.
 

Maholm again comes out for the top of the fifth inning and faces Aybar first in the inning. Aybar hit a ball towards McLouth in center field for the first out.  Zobrist then hit a high fly ball to Tabata in left field for a quick second out in the inning. Navarro then comes up and hit a ball towards Wilson at short stop that he can not get a good handle on and  he is on the outskirts of the infield when he attempts to try and get Navarro at first base. He is awarded a infield hit and the Rays have a base runner with two outs. But Pirate Manager John Russell has seen enough and goes out to relieve Maholm with Dave Davidson. For the night, Paul Maholm went 4.2 innings and gave up only 2 hits and got 4 strikeouts for the Pirates. Ruggiano is the first Rays batter to face Davidson, and he quickly hit a ball to LaRoche, who fired to Sanchez at second for the force out of Navarro to end the inning.

 
The Rays send David Price to the mound in the bottom of the fifth inning. This is Price’s second appearance of the spring. the first batter to face him will be Morgan. He hit a solid liner towards third base that is snared by Longoria for the first out.  Sanchez then hit another ball towards Longoria that he easily scoops and tosses to Aybar for the second out of the inning. McLouth then walks to give the Pirates a base runner with two out. With Doumit again at the plate, Price ends up throwing a wild pitch and McLouth advances to second base on the play. Doumit ends up hitting a ball to Ruggiano in center field to end the inning for the Pirates.

 

Davidson again takes the mound for the top of the sixth inning. Olmedo then walks on 6 pitches and steals second base during Bartlett’s at bat. On the next pitch, Bartlett hit a ball down the third baseline past LaRoche for an RBI single. Kapler the  comes up and is walked on 5 pitches to put men on first and second with no outs in the inning. At that time, Russell again comes out and takes the ball from Davidson. In comes reliever Brian Slocum to pitch for the Pirates. To this point, the Rays have scored a run, and have gotten two walks and a hit in the inning. With Longoria at the plate, the Rays call for a double steal and both Bartlett and Kapler move to third and second base  safely on the play.
 
 

Longoria is also walked and the bases are loaded with no outs in the inning.  Burrell then comes to the plate and gets an RBI without hitting the ball as Slocum also walks him for the second straight walk of his outing and ties the game for the Rays.. Aybar then hit a hard shot to Adam LaRoche at third base for the first out of the inning, but he scores Kapler to give the Rays the lead in the game, 3-2. Zobrist then comes up and is walked to again  to put another runner on base for the Rays. Navarro then hit a shot down to first base that Adam LaRoche take unassisted for the second out of the inning. But on the play, Longoria came in to score to put the Rays  up 4-2. Ruggiano then came up and also walked to give Slocum 4 walks in the inning. But Olmedo hit a fly ball to Tabata in left field to get Slocum out of the inning. But the Rays had scored 4 runs on 1 hit and 7 walks in the inning.
 
 

Price again took the mound for the Rays in the bottom of the 6th inning with the first lead of the night.  He gave up a lead-off ground rule double to Adam LaRoche that was touched by a fan down in the right field wall ( wearing a Yankee hat ) area right before the Pirates Bullpen cut-out.  the ball would have been at least a double, but if the fan had not touched it, he could have stretched it into a triple. Tabata then struck out swinging for the first out of the inning. Monroe then hit a ball  that one-hopped to the wall in the gap in left-center field for an RBI double. Andy LaRoche then walked to put two Pirates on with one out. Wilson then came up and struck out swinging to give the Pirates one more out in the inning. Morgan then was called out on a called third strike and Price got out of the inning only surrendering the lone run.  But the Pirates pulled back within one run 4-3.

 
Darryle Veal came out to pitch the top of the seventh inning for the Pirates. Adam Kennedy got a single to left field to lead-off the inning for the Rays. Veal then walked  Ray Sadler to put two men on with no outs. Gabe Gross then hit a long fly ball to McLouth in center field, but it was not deep enough for Kennedy to advance on the play.  During Michel Hernandez’s at bat, Veal threw a wild pitch and both Sadler and Kennedy advanced a base on the play. Hernandez ended up being called out on strikes to give the Rays their second out of the inning. Morgan Ensberg then walked to load the bases for the Rays. But it was short-lived as Reid Brignac hit a foul pop-up to Adam LaRoche at third base for the final out of the inning.

 
Price again came out for the bottom of the seventh inning and Luis Cruz lead off for the Pirates. He ended up sending a Price change-up back up the middle for a lead-off single. Jeff Salazar then hit a ball to Ensberg, who took over for Longoria at third base and he threw to Kennedy at second to get the force out.  Rays Manager Joe Maddon then came out and replaced Price with Randy Choate. for the night, Price went 2.1 innings and gave up 3 hits and a lone run, but also had 2 walks and three strikeouts. The first batter to face Choate was Robinzon Diaz. He hit a single up the middle to advance the runners, but they did not test Ruggiano’s arm in center field. Garrett Jones then came to the plate with two men  on and one out. He hit a ball in front of the plate that new Rays catcher Nevin Ashley took and threw to Chris Richard for the second out. Both men advanced on the play.  Tabata then hit a ball to shortstop that Brignac threw to Richard to end the inning for the Pirates.
 
 

The Pirate then sent Jesse Chavez to the mound for the top of the eighth inning.  Ashley lead off for the Rays and walked on 6 pitches. Jon Weber then hit a towering shot to right field for a two run homer to put the Rays up 6-3. Richard then hit a liner to Tabata that he did not have to move to field for the first out of the inning. Kennedy then struck out, but the ball got away from Diaz behind the plate, but he regrouped and threw to first to record the put out. Sadler then hit a ball down towards third base that Neil Walker took in and threw to Garret Jones to end the inning.
 
 

Choate came out again for the Rays in the bottom of the eighth inning. Monroe was first to the plate and hit a single to left field to start off the inning.  Walker then struck out on a nice breaking pitch from Choate for the first out of the inning. Brian Bixler then was called out on strikes to get two quick out on the Pirates. Morgan then hit a ball sharply towards Brignac that took a high bounce near the side of the mound and he could not control it in time to get Morgan at first base. So the Pirate now had men at first and second with two outs. Cruz then came up and hit a ball towards Ensberg at third base. He took the ball and stepped on the bag to complete the force out of Monroe to end the inning for the Pirates.
 
 

Jeremy Powell came out for the top of the ninth inning. the first Rays to face him was Gross, who hit a ball down to Jones that he easily took and stepped on the first base bag for an unassisted out. Hernandez then walked on 6 pitches to give the Rays a base runner. Ensberg then struck out swinging to give the Rays one last out in the inning. Brignac also hit a slow roller towards Jones that he easily took for his second unassisted play of the inning for the third out.

 

 

The Rays Rule 5 Draftee Derek Rodriguez took the mound for the Rays trying to preserve the win for the team. The Rays will have to make a decision in the next 20 days to either return Rodriguez to his former team, or try and find a spot for him on their 25-man roster. they could also offer him back to his old team and then work out a trade to keep him in the Rays farm system. First up in the bottom of the ninth is Salazar who hit a fly ball to Ruggiano for the first out. Diaz then comes up and rips a ball down the first base line past Richard and it hits the wall and bounces out to Sadler in right field for a double. Jones then also hit a RBI-single down the line past Richard for his 8th RBI this spring. Tabata then hit a ball towards Brignac that he flips to Kennedy to get Jones. With Tabata on with a fielder’s Choice, the Pirates have a man on base, with the tying run at the plate. Steve Pearce then  hit a ball towards Kennedy, but the ball is rolling slow since Pearce shattered his bat on the play. Kennedy easily get to the ball in time to throw out Pearce and end the game with the Rays taking it 6-4.

 
 
Photo credits:          1) RRCollections
                                 2) Associated Press ( Keith Srakoci)
                                 3) Associated Press ( Tiffany Tompkins )
                                 4) Associated Press ( Tiffany Tompkins )
                                 5) www.Bradenton.com 
 
 
  
 

Rays Run and Gun Outfield

 

 
 

For a last couple of years, the Tampa Bay Rays have been one of the models people have used when they are considering re-tooling or acquiring players to fill their outfield slots. the team has used its draft picks and trades to fortify their outfield to be one of the youngest and fastest in the major leagues. And along those lines, they also have two of the best snipers in the outfield at gunning down runners from any angle or position.  And the Rays have truly done it from the draft and the trades they have made in the last several years.

 
This first piece of the current Rays puzzle arrived in July  20, 2002, when Carl Crawford made his major league debut for the Rays. All this guy did his first five years in the majors was increase his batting average and rule the bases in the American League. His speed has kept catcher and pitchers at bay since he first stepped onto the bag at first. In his first 7 years in the majors, Crawford has 1,111 hits and 84 triples. That figures out to 12 triples a year and around 159 hits a season. And you do not want to even try and consider what he has done on the base paths. Okay since you really want to know, how about 302 steals, or an average of  43 a season.

 
He might not have the strongest arm in the league by any means, but if the ball is in the air, there is a good chance he can get to it before it falls to the turf. He has one of the quickest reads in the league, and has demonstrated his ability to leave his feet to make plays countless times on ESPN Web Gems over the past 7 seasons. He is the 2-time All-Star who hit a monster homer in the 2007 All Star game in A T&T Park. He is recognized by his peers and the media alike as the cog that turns the wheels in the Rays outfield. With his two injuries in 2008, he did not spent his usual time in the Rays outfield last season.

 

 

His hamstrings and quad muscles seem to not play well on the turf at Tropicana Field. And an odd  finger injury shelved him for the last month of the 2008 year. A tendon on top of one of his fingers some how torn away from the tendon and it would flip and flap when he swung his bat. He tried to play through it, but it was no use. He finally opted for surgery, and made it back to the team in time to help the Rays in the 2008 playoff run. This off season he consulted a trainer to focus on his hamstrings and quads and strengthen this region and also learn better stretching and  observe more adaptability to the stresses of playing on turf. He is feeling better than he as in a long time coming into the Spring Training, and his 2 triples in a recent game shows he is here to play in 2009.

 

With left field pretty sewn up for the year, we turn out attention to center field and the budding star that decided to try his hand outside of the clay and grass regions of the infield for his place in this squad. B J Upton has become one of the rising young stars in the outfield because of his graceful effort  to gain ground an hard hit balls and make plays on them seem effortless and without stress. His long strides make him look like he is not running at full speed as he closes in on strongly hit balls even towards the gaps in the Trop. Some question why he plays so shallow in the outfield, but if you have watched the way he tracks the ball, you know he has the closing speed to get almost any ball hit within his range, at any time.   What is great about Upton is the fact he wanted to try out this new position.

 

That fact that he has had a few problems adjusting in the past have also been mirrored by the fact he has a rocket in his right arm and can throw out anyone, anytime, from anywhere on the field. His play is still a work in development, but it is rare for a ball to be out hit to him in the field. His arm was fully on display in 2008, when he gunned down a total of 12 base runners in 2008, third in the American League.  But where he is going to make the biggest impact in 2009 will be at the plate. Upton got off to a great start at the plate in 2008, but after suffering a separation of his shoulder in a series with Baltimore early on in 2008, he struggled a bit at the plate the rest of the year. But near the end of the year he found his stroke again and started to put up some power numbers that were very evident during the Rays playoff run.

 

 

During the 2008 off season, Upton underwent shoulder surgery to correct his problem and has yet to participate in Spring Training games for the Rays. He has been a recent participant in batting practice, but no tentative schedule is in hand for him to be back in the Rays lineup before April.  But the absence of Upton from the lineup has given certain Rays players time to show their stuff in hopes of securing a fourth outfielder spot on the Rays 25-man roster. Justin Ruggiano, who the Rays got in a trade for Toby Hall and Mark Hendrickson back in 2006. Ruggiano was the “player to be named later” of that trade.  His ability in the outfield has proven useful in the last year as he was the guy the Rays turned to when Crawford went down with his injury on September 19 of a groin injury.

 

He might have played only 7 games at the major league level in 2007, but his catch off the bat of Rod Barajas late in the game against the Toronto Blue Jays at home will be remembered for a long time. He went full bore into the left field wall catching the ball just as me hit the plastic of the outfield wall.  His bat was not his strong point during the 2008 season, but so far this spring, he is hitting .269, with a .423 Slugging Percentage. He has combined for timely hits and  has 2 stolen bases this spring.  He will probably get a long look by the Rays after the recent injury to Fernando Perez.  Ruggiano might get the call to start the season with the Rays during the first road trip as Upton gets in game shape to take over after the Rays return home on April 13th.
 

Fernando Perez has everything the Rays love in a out fielder. He had blazing speed on the field and the base paths, and he hit with intelligence. He came up late in 2008 and rallied the Rays with his base running abilities in the playoff run. He got 14 starts in 2008, 10 in center field for the Rays. In 2008, he was picked by Baseball America as being the fastest man in the International League. There was some talk around the dugout that he might have been able to supplant Gabe Kapler for the Rays right-hand platoon partner with Gabe Gross for right field in 2009. But his recent wrist injury will side rail him for at least three months with a dislocated wrist. This will put an end to the chatter in the stands  for him to break camp with the team in April. With Perez in the lineup, the Rays would have had the fastest outfield in the majors.

 


 

If you consider that Crawford stole 25 bases and Upton had 44  last year. Then if you factor in the 5 bases Perez stole in 23 games ( could be a total of 35 bases in 161 games) , you might have a trio who could steal over 125 bases in a single season. That would make the team threat anytime either of these three hit the base paths. But before his injury, Perez also was not lighting up the Spring Training scoreboards with hits or stolen bases. He might have only had 19 at bats, but he is hitting a lowly .211, with 2 stolen bases this spring.  But another face had emerged out of the darkness and might be on the Rays radar right now.
 

In a recent two-game home-and-home series against the Boston Red Sox outfielder Jon Weber was trying to make a name for himself on the base paths for the Rays. In that series he garnered 7 RBI’s in two games, with a timely home run and a 3-run dingle. Weber has been very effective in the field this spring and also is hitting .364, with 10 RBI’s and 5 stolen bases. He is making an outside run at making the Rays decision difficult for him to be sent down to Triple-A this year based on his spring numbers. But if his numbers are making the Rays salivate for their depth, the recent slump of Gabe Kapler is making them question his signing. 
 

 
Kapler was originally thought to be the right-handed part of the right field platoon action for 2009. But he is having and awful spring where he has only  1 hit in 18 at bats for a lowly .064 average. He has been great in the field, but the Rays need consistent power and hitting from that spot in the lineup this year.  He is one of the guys that the team is struggling to come to grips with on if he is just a slow starter, or if he might not be the right fit for the 2009 team. There is no question in his desire to play, but the hitting has to be there to make their decision easier this spring. But the left-handed piece of the combo also is not having a great spring, but he is contributing.
 

                 
Gabe Gross, who the Rays acquired on April 23, 2008 for minor leaguer Josh Butler, played in 78 games for the Rays in 2008. His bat and his outfield play were the reason for many of the Rays late innings triumphs, and his arm became a great weapon for the Rays. In one game against the Seattle Mariners at home, he was the first player to gun down Ichiro as he tried to stretch a double into a triple. He also combines to throw out a total of 5 base runners, which was second on the team. He is currently hitting .308 after getting off to a rocky start this spring.  He is currently tied with Pat Burrell for the team lead with 6 walks this spring.  Gross will be with the team this season in right field barring an injury. Who will be his combo mate might still be up in the air.

 


Another name that could be fit into the mix is super utility man Ben Zobrist. In recent games he has been a late inning replacement in center field as a insurance policy this year. He has regained an awesome power stroke and could be another guy who could help the team get over the first week absence of Upton by filling in for him until the home stand. No one can discount his abilities in the outfield where he played 3 games there in 2008. Last year was his first playing the utility role and he appeared in the outfield a total of 12 times in 2008. But his new power might be his ticket to getting more playing time this coming season. He hit 10 homers in only 189 at bats. This is a new addition to his game, which has always included solid defense on the diamond.

 

 
So the Rays are pretty set in the outfield in 2009. There are other names that have made huge strides for the team in spring training this year, but they might not get a chance to break camp with the big club. Another name to keep an eye on is Ray Sadler, who is currently playing a lot if the outfield for the Rays and is hitting a nice .316, with 3 homes and 7 RBI’s. But he probably a guy looking in from the outside of the current outfield package. All indications show that the Rays will have a great outfield in 2009. There is talk that Upton might have his breakout year this season following his off season surgery. He is capable of a 30-30 season, but his swing and his power will need to stay consistent during the year. Crawford, who feels fast and truly healthy this spring might also spell doom for catchers and pitcher this season.  This unit has a huge upside of potential, and they  might be the trio of outfielders’ to be feared both at the plate and in the field this year. But for the Rays to even consider making a run at their 2008 record, or another shot to the post season, this outfield unit has to play above its 2008 level. 

Photo credits for today’s blog go to: Associated Press Photo Corps. http://www.gettyimages.com, http://www.tbo.com.

Red Sox Dissect Rays Pitching for Win

 
     

 

Okay,
here we are with the second half of the home and home series today in Fort
Myers. The Rays kind of put the Red Sox fans in the back of their seats
yesterday, but today’s contest is a whole different ball game. Not only will the
Red Sox be in their home stadium, but they will have the multitudes of Red Sox
fans who love to cheer on their team. I do have to make a note that yesterday’s
game had a total of 7,148 fans in and around the stadium, which is a new record
for this young stadium location. I do have to say that at some point in the
berms and the outfield it was total standing room
only. 

 

 
I do
have a huge suggestion to the Rays and the Sandcrabs for future games in this
stadium. It seems that we need a secondary speaker system throughout the
outfield section of the stadium. Maybe a series of those upside down speakers
that look like  free standing light poles could be put in areas around the kids
area and near the boardwalk and Tiki Hut. You can hear the game, but you get a
delayed  sight to sound response because of no audio out in that area of the
ball park. I play my game day audio from my laptop to hear it no matter where I
am in the stadium, but some games are not on the radio.  Just a thought. Now
let’s get back to our Sunday recap of the Rays versus the Red Sox
game.

 

 
The Rays
sent Wade Davis, one of their top prospects from Triple-A to the mound today.
Davis has been tweaking a few of his pitches and has had a few outstanding
performances this spring. But he is penciled into be sent to the minor league
camp sometime in the near future to begin his season in Triple-A again for the
Durham Bulls. Davis will make his major league debut sometime in 2009 with the
club, but I do not see him winning the fifth rotation spot this spring. With
that said, another guy who might have pitched his way out of contention for the
fifth spot is Mitch Talbot. But if you really consider the top three pitchers
for the Rays at their Triple-A level in 2009 of David Price, Davis and Talbot.
There are club throughout baseball who would love to have that kind of
consistent staff starters in their
ranks.


                       
 
 
The
game got off to start with the Boston Red Sox sending Justin Masterson to the
mound. The wild thing about Masterson is that he can be in the same boat as Jeff
Niemann and Jason Hammel this year. He can be both a starter or a reliever for
the team and might make some heads turn with a great outing today. With Brad
Penny not throwing yet in Spring Training, he could get a start or two early in
the year, then settle into the Bullpen for 2009.  Fernando Perez lead off for
the Rays today and quickly hit a grounder to Julio Lugo, who was
playing shortstop today for Boston. Adam Kennedy then struck out. Evan Longoria
then hit another grounder to Nick Green  who threw out Longoria to end the
inning 1-2-3 for Boston.

 

 
Wade
Davis came out for the Rays and gave up a sharply hit single down the third base
line that eluded Longoria. Rocco Baldelli then came up and hit a ball to
Longoria that he quickly threw to Kennedy at second base to force out Lugo.
Jason Varitek then came up and struck out.  J D Drew then walked to put me at
first and second base. Lars Anderson then hit a RBI single through the hole at
short into left field and the throw to the plate was cut off and Baldelli scored
to put Boston in front 1-0. Zack Deages then struck out to end the Boston rally
stranding two runners on base.

 

 
Masterson again came out for the top of the second inning and got
Carlos Pena to strike out to lead off the inning. Dioner Navarro then hit a long
fly ball to left field that Zack Daeges caught for the second out. Gabe Gross
then hit a single to right center field for the first Rays hot of the day.Morgan
Ensberg then came up and struck out to end the Rays chances in the
inning.

 

 
Davis
also again took the mound for the Rays  and got Jonathan Van Every to hit a ball
down the first base line and covered first for a flip from Pena for the first
out. Green then took the first pitch from Davis and drilled it past the left
field fence and onto the adjacent field’s dugout for a solo home run. Ivan Ochoa
then put a nice bunt down the third base line to get an infield single. Lugo
then came up and hit a screaming RBI double to left center field to easily score
Ochoa. Baldelli then struck out. Varitek came up and hit a single to left field
that split the outfielders, but Lugo tired to score from second base and was
thrown out at the plate by Ray Sadler in left field to end the inning. Boston
was ahead at that point 3-0 over the
Rays.

 


 
Masterson came out for his third inning and quickly got Sadler to
hit a grounder to Lugo, who got him in time at first base. Elliot Johnson then
hit a  fly ball to Drew in right field for the second out of the inning. Perez
then came up and hit  a ball to the left of Masterson that he quickly picked up
and fired to first barely getting Perez in time. At that point, Masterson had
gone 3 innings and had given up only 1 hit, with 3 strike outs against the
Rays.

 

 
Davis
came to the mound in the top of the third again for the Rays and got Drew to hit
a quick fly ball to Gross in right field for the first out.  Anderson then
walked to give Boston their first runner of the inning. Daeges then hit a
2-run home run to right-center field. Van Every hit a foul pop-out to Longoria
and quickly the Red Sox had two outs in the inning. Green then came up and hit a
double to left field and after that Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out to make a
pitching change. The Rays brought in Calvin Medlock, who quickly gave up a RBI
single to Ochoa to right field.  Lugo then came up and hit a double to left
field that scored Ochoa. For the day, Lugo went 3-3 against Rays pitching.
Baldelli then came up and hit a foul pop-up to first base to end the inning with
the Red Sox up 7-0.

 

                  

In the fourth inning, the Red Sox sent closer Jonathan Papelbon to
the mound to face the Rays. He got Kennedy to strike out to lead off the inning.
Longoria then took his first pitch to right-center field for a single. Pena then
struck out to give the Rays one last out in the inning. Navarro hit a single to
left field, but Longoria stopped at second on the play.  Gross then came up and
struck out to end the inning. Even though Papelbon gave up two hits in the
inning, all three outs were
strikeouts.

 

 
Dewon
Day came out for the Rays in the bottom of the fourth inning. He quickly got
Varitek to ground out. He then fooled Drew with a nice breaking ball for a
strikeout.  Anderson then came on and hit a hard smash to Chris Richard, who was
now on first for the Rays. Day was backing up Richards on the play and Richards
tossed the ball to Day, who dropped the ball. Day was given an error on the play.
Daeges struck out to end the Red Sox
Rally.

 

The
heralded prospect Daniel Bard then took the mound for the Red Sox. In a recent
game, Bard had thrown over 100 mph on the stadium’s jugs gun.  He got Ensberg to
strikeout for the first out of the inning. Sadler then followed with a
strikeout. Bard completed the trio as he got Johnson to also strike out to send
the Rays down 1-2-3 in the inning. At that point in the game, the Rays had
struck out swinging in six straight at bats, with only Gross being a called
third strike.

 

Day came
out again for the Rays and walked Van Every to lead off the inning. Green then
hit a fly out to Sadler that he easily caught for the first out. Ochoa was
fooled on a breaking pitch outside for a strikeout. Lugo then walked to give
Boston two men on base in the inning. George Kottaras then pinch hit and was hit
by the pitch to load the bases with two outs. With Varitek at the plate, Day
threw a wild pitch and Van Every tried to score from third base on the play.
Navarro quickly got the ball to Day, who tagged out Van Every before he reached
the plate for the third out of the
inning.

 

                      
 

Japanese
pitcher Junichi Tazawa then came on to pitch for Boston. Tazawa was the young
pitcher that did not go into the Japanese Baseball League before signing with
Boston this off season.  He might not make the 25-man roster of the big club
this year, but this was the first time the Rays would see him pitch outside of
Japan.  Tazawa’s first pitch to Perez was rifled into center field for a lead
off single. Kennedy then hit a double into left center field that scored Perez
from first base.  Longoria then struck out for the first out of the inning.
Richard also struck out, and Varitek threw a strike to third base to nail
Kennedy who was trying to advance on the play for the final out of the
inning.

 

 
Winston
Abreu then took the mound for the Rays. He got Varitek to quickly fly out to
right field for the first out. Josh Reddick, who came in to replace Drew in
right field then hit a fly ball to Johnson at shortstop. Anderson then hit a fly
to Longoria to complete the first 1-2-3 inning for the Rays today.  But Boston
still lead 7-1 in the game.
Tazawa came back out for the eighth inning and quickly got Reid
Brignac, who came in to play shortstop to strike out. He then got Ben Zorbrist,
who came in to play second base to fly out to center field, The Ensberg struck
out to give Boston a 1-2-3 inning against the
Rays.

 
 

 

 

Abreu
again took the mound for Tampa Bay and he went straight to work striking out
Daeges to lead off the inning.  At that point, Abreu had gone 4-up, 4- down for
the Rays Maddon again came out and swapped Abreu for Chad Orvella with one out
in the inning. Orvella, who is fighting for a roster spot after coming back from
a shoulder injury gave up a towering solo shot to right field to the next
batter, Van Every. This is the second homer in two days against the Rays for Van
Every.  Gil Velazquez  then hit ball to Chris Nowak at third base. Nowak got off
a bad throw that seemed to two-hop before Richard dug it out at first for an out.
Ochoa ended the inning by striking
out.

 

 
The Rays
sent Rule-5 player Derek Rodriguez to the mound for the 8th inning.  Rodriguez,
who the Rays picked up off the Rule 5 draft from the Red Sox, quickly got
Argenis Diaz to fly out to right to start off the inning.  Kottaras also hit a
long fly ball to right that Justin Ruggiano caught for the second out. Pinch
hitter Carlos Maldonado then hit a slicer to Brignac at shortstop that he
quickly threw to first to get Boston 1-2-3 in the
inning . In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Red Sox sent Michael Bowden to the mound. Rugginao lead off the inning with a single to center field. He then stole second base to put himself in scoring position for the Rays. Johnson then walked. The Rays then attempted a double-steal with Johnson and Ruggiano taking second and third base respectively. John Jaso the  struck out for the first out of the inning. Jon Weber then hit a sacrifice fly to left field to score Ruggiano. Weber has no produced 7 RBI’s in the last two games for the Rays. Chris Nowak then hit a pop-out to first base to end the rally for the Rays.

 

 
Hunter
Jones took the mound to try and preserve the Red Sox victory. Jones is a
prospect in the Red Sox system who once broke his arm in three spots and had to
have multiple plates in his arm to heal the bones correctly. He gave up a
lead-off single to Richard to right center field. Brignac then struck out on a
nice called third strike. Zorbrist hit a ball to center that was easily caught
by Van Every. that left the Rays with one out to play with against the Red Sox.
Tim Beckham came up as a pinch hitter and hit a sharp ball to Diaz, but he
quickly threw the ball to end the game for the Rays. the final score was 8-2
Boston. It also marked the first win in three tries against the Rays this
spring.

 

 
For the
Rays, the game seemed to bring out some impatience in the Rays batters. For the
day they struck out 15 times, including 4 times to Tazawa in the game. For the Rays to
be productive against any team, mush less the Red Sox, they must be patient at
the plate. Tomorrow the Rays will again travel to Fort Myers where they will
take on the Minnesota Twins in a 1:05 contest. Leftie Scott Kazmir will be
making his spring debut on the mound for the
Rays.

 
 
Photo credits for today’s blog
go to www.boston.com,
and
www.tbo.com

 

Rays Make Red Sox Errors Count

 

 
 


Over the past weekend, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox played a home and home series for the first time this year. Much like the regular season in 2008, the home teams got the better end of the bargain in the final scores. But what is amazing is the set-up this is going to play in future Spring Trainings in Florida. With Tampa Bay moving down 2 hours from their regular season home to Port Charlotte, they have seen incredible increases in attendance and in merchandise sales this spring. But is much of that subject to the new location and the initial buying of the team wares by the locals, who also helped sell out the regular seating areas of the stadium before the first pitch was ever thrown in this ballpark. 

 

 
Rays 2009 Opening Day starter Jame Shields took the mound for the first time this spring.  Jacoby Ellsbury lead off the game with a fly to center field for the first out. Shields then  got Jed Lowrie to strike out to get two quick outs in the inning. Chris Carter then  came up and hit a nice single to get the Red Sox started in the inning. But he was stranded on base as Brad Wilkerson got a quick out to snuff the Red Sox attack.
 

Tim Wakefield then came out for the Red Sox and hit Rays lead-off batter Jason Bartlett to start the game.  He then stole second and Carl Crawford hit a grounder to short that pushed Bartlett to third base with one out. Gabe Kapler then hit another grounder to second, but Bartlett was already running on the play and the Rays went ahead 1-0 in the game. Gabe Gross then walked and stole second base before Adam Kennedy struck out to end the Rays inning.
 


Shields came back out to the mound in the second inning and gave up a lead-off double to Jeff Bailey who put the ball down the third baseline. Paul McAnulty then hit a shallow fly ball to left field, and Bailey did not advance on the play.  Then catcher Josh Bard came to the plate and Shields threw a wild pitch to the backstop that advanced Bailey to third with 1 out. Bard then hit a ball to second that Kennedy quickly got to Chris Richard at first, but Bailey scored on the play to tie the game at 1-1. Nick Green then  hit a fly ball to Crawford in left field for the last out of the inning.
 

 
Wakefield again came on for Boston in the second inning and Ben Zobrist quickly got on base after a Bailey error in center field. It seemed like Bailey had a good read on the ball, but was using his glove as a sun shade and totally misplayed the ball as it got to his glove. Bailey was given Boston’s first error of the game on the play. Shawn Riggans then came up and hit a RBI single to center field to score Zobrist.  Richard then hit a long fly ball that hit off the Carraba’s sign in right field to give Richard a double and score Riggans on the play. Ray Olmedo hit a ground out that advanced Richard to third. Bartlett then hit a RBI grounder to Green at second, but Richard was running to home on the play and Green’s only option was to get the out at first base. Crawford struck out to end the Ray inning.

 
Shields did not come back out in the third as the Rays sent reliever Brian Shouse to the mound. Argenis Diaz lead off with a sharp shot to Olmedo at third base, but he bobbled the ball and then overthrew Richard at first for an error on the play. That gave the Red Sox a runner at first base with the top of the order coming up in the inning. Ellsbury then hit into a 4-6-3 double play to erase Diaz from the bases. Jed Lowrie then hit a single into left field to give Boston their second base runner of the inning. Chris Carter then hit  a grounder to Kennedy that he quickly converted to first to end the inning.  Wakefield came out again for Boston in the third inning and got Kapler to hit a grounder to Lowrie at third base that he easily threw to first for the first out. Gross then hit a long fly to right field, and Kennedy hit a sharp liner to Green at second to send the Rays down 1-2-3 in the inning.
 
 

 
Grant Balfour came on to relieve Shouse for the fourth inning. This was also Balfour’s first action of the spring. Brad Wilkerson hit a fly ball out to Gross in right to start the inning off. Bailey then hit a ball to the right center field wall for a double. McAnulty then popped up to Balfour for the second out of the inning. Balfour then showed some of his own rustiness as he walked Bard to put two men on in the inning.  Balfour then had a liner hit right back at him by Green that hit him between the bicep and tricep muscle   oh his pitching arm. He quickly got the ball and threw to first to complete the inning.  Balfour just shrugged off the bruise and walked to the Rays dugout.

 
 
      

Wes Littleton came on in relief of Wakefield in the fourth inning and lead off the inning by walking Zobrist on four pitches. Zobrist then stole second base and put himself in scoring position for the Rays.  Riggans then hit a sharp ball down the third baseline that Jed Lowrie had a bit of trouble with, but got off a throw to Carter. But Carter could not turn and tag Riggans and he was safe with an error on the play.  Littleton then hit Richard with a pitch to load the bases for the Rays with no outs.  Olmedo then came on and got jammed and hit a ball back to Littleton that he threw to Bard to force out Zobrist at the plate. With the bases still loaded, Bartlett hit a shallow fly ball to center field, but Riggans did not try to advance on the play.  Crawford then hit a ball to the right of Carter at third base, but Littleton came over and took the toss from Carter to get out of the inning with no runs scored against him.
 

In the fifth inning, the Rays sent Jason Hammel to the mound. Hammel, who was still in the running for the fifth rotation spot also is being considered by the Rays for a reliever role.  He quickly got Diaz to hit a grounder to third that Olmedo got to Richard in time to post the first out. Ellsbury the hit a triple over the head of a pulled in Zobrist in center field. On the throw back into third base, they almost got Ellsbury, but the relay throw was a bit high coming into the bag. Lowrie then hit a sharp ball down to first that Richard snagged, but had no play at home and covered first unassisted for the second out.  With Ellsbury scoring on the play, it put Boston within two runs 4-2. Carter then struck out to end the inning. 
 

The Red Sox then sent Devern Hansack to the mound for the bottom of the fifth inning. Kapler lead off the inning with an infield single to third. Gross then hit into a 4-6-3 double play to erase both players from the base paths. Kennedy then walked to put another Ray on base. Kennedy then hit a grounder to Green, who quickly threw to first to end the Rays inning. Hammel returned to the mound in the top of the sixth inning and got Wilkerson to strikeout. He then got a called third strike on Bailey to get two quick outs in the inning. McAnulty then hit a sharp grounder to the right of Richard, who scooped the ball to Hammel, who came over to cover first for the third out.

 

 
 

Hansack again took the mound for the Red Sox, and Riggans took his first pitch to center field for a single to lead off the inning. Richard then struck out. then the Red Sox game plan started to come apart a bit on the field. Olmedo hit a hard grounder to Diaz, that he juggled but could not get either man out on the play. He was given and error on the play. Bartlett then hit another ball to shortstop that Riggans seemed to straddle and then break Diaz’s concentration and it lead to his second error of the inning.  Morgan Ensberg then  hit a sacrifice fly to center that scored Riggans. Kapler then walked to load the bases. Fernando Perez then came on to pinch hit and slammed a liner to Green at second base that he could not find the handle on and Olmedo scored on the play. Jon Weber then came up and hit a double down the right field line to score three Rays runs as the ball 3-hopped to the wall. Red Sox Manager Terry Francona then came out and replaced Hansack with Marcus McBeth, who got Zobrist to strike out to end the inning with the Rays on top 9-2.



Hammel again took the mound in the seventh inning and gave up a quick homer to right field to George Kottaras on a hanging fastball in the zone. He then hit Green with a pitch to put him on base. Diaz then struck out for the first out of the inning. Jonathan Van Every then hit a 2-run homer to left field into the Red Sox Bullpen. It was an opposite field homer for Van Every. Gil Velazquez then hit a single into the right-center field gap. Lars Anderson then was hit by a pitch and the Red Sox had two men on base with one out.  Chip Ambres quickly struck out to give the Red Sox one more out in the inning.  Bailey then hit a sharp ball towards third base that was quickly converted for the third out.
 
 

 
Billy Traber took the mound for Boston in the seventh inning. Justin Ruggiano lead off the inning with a grounder to Lowrie at third for the first out.  Rays Sadler the hit  another hard grounder to Diaz at shortstop, who easily threw to first for the second out. Olmedo completed the 1-2-3 inning by grounding out to third again. Jason Childers took the mound for the Rays in the seventh inning. He quickly loss control of the inning as he walked both McAulty and Kottaras to start the inning. With two men on base with no out, Green then hit a flair to right field that loaded the bases for Boston. Diaz then hit a RBI single to center that scored McAnulty. Van Every struck out and Rays Manager Joe Maddon emerged to take Childers out of the game.  Lance Cormier replaced him and got Velasquez to hit a ball to short that forced Diaz at second base to get two outs.Kottaras did score on Diaz’s grounder to give him an RBI in the game. Anderson then struck out to end the Red Sox inning. The score was now 9-7 Rays.

 
Dustin Richardson took the mound for Boston in the bottom of the eighth inning. He quickly got behind and walked Michel Hernandez on 4 pitches. He then walked Ensberg to put two on with no outs. He then walked Tim Beckham to walk the first three batters in the inning for the Rays. With the bases now loaded, Fernando Perez came up and hit a sacrifice fly to left field that scored Hernandez.  Jon Webber the  came up and hit a 3-run homer to left center field. That gave him 6 RBI’s on the day for the Rays.   Chris Nowak then hit a grounder to Velasquez at third that produced the first out of the inning. Francona then popped out of the dugout and replaced Richardson with Mike James.  Ruggiano then hit a grounder to Velasquez that was bobbled and Ruggiano reached on an error by the third baseman. Sadler then hit a 2-run homer into the pond beyond the left field fence. Olmedo hit a grounder to Diaz at short that he quickly converted to get the Red Sox out of the inning.

 
 
Cormier took the mound again for the Rays in the top of the ninth inning. He quickly got Ambres to pop out to Nowak at first base for the first out of the inning. Zack Daeges then hit a double to left field that gave the Red Sox a chance in the inning. But the next batter, McAnulty hit  a grounder down the first baseline that Cormier took a pitch from Nowak to record the second out. With one out left in the inning and a man sitting at third, Kottaras struck out to end the Red Sox hope of mounting a comeback.  Final score  Rays 15-7 over the Red Sox. The win gave the Rays a record of 5-4 on the year, their first above .500 this spring.  the game also saw Cormier get a save because when he came into the game, the Red Sox had the tying run at the plate.

 


 

So tomorrow they strap it on again and this time play in the Red Sox home park in Fort Myers.  One of the Rays top prospects, Wade Davis will probably be making his last start of the spring before being put into the minor league camp sometimes during the  next week.  The Red Sox will be putting Justin Masterson on the mound for the contest.
 
 

Dioner Navarro versus the Rays……….Arbitration 2009

 

 

 


With only two members of the 2008 roster still up for Salary Arbitration hearings, it was recently reported that Rays catcher Dioner Navarro will have his hearing in Phoenix , Arizona on February 9th . At that time an arbitrator will decide between the two totals, one submitted by Navarro’s representative, Kendall Americo,and the other from the Rays representative and then the arbitrator will submit their recommendation for the players 2008 salary for the Tampa Bay Rays in a few days. 


With the exception of Willy Aybar and Dioner Navarro’s arbitration award totals, the Rays are sitting at a round $ 60 million dollars in payroll for 2009. That is a great climb in salary for the Rays. In yesterday’s blog I went over the season for Willy Aybar and my prediction of his chances to increase his salary to around $ 1 million a year.  Rays G M Andrew Friedman better have some cards up his sleeves, or he might get his first loss at the Arbitration gaming table when Navarro’s turn comes up.
 


Today it is Dioner Navarro’s turn, and even thought the catcher lead  his pitching staff by example in 2008, it is well known that Navarro has stood up and taken the lead in the clubhouse and behind the plate for the team. His confidence and leadership have skyrocketed since 2007, and he is finally considered a force both at the plate and behind it for the Rays. Navarro has submitted a proposed salary of $ 2.5 million dollars for the year, while the Rays have countered with a $ 2.1 million dollar figure. That is a $ 400,000 difference, or almost his entire 2008 salary ( $ 412,500 ).

 

 

 

 

To begin with, let’s get to know a little bit more about Navarro, the player before I post my opinion on his arbitration hearing. Dioner Navarro was signed by the New York Yankees as a free agent in  2000. As he rose through the Yankees system there was a day they could see him behind the plate in pinstripes. He was suppose to be the heir apparent to Jorge Posada’s spot behind the plate and was to be with the system for a long time. But as we all know, baseball is a fickle mistress and she can change her mind in a matter of seconds about you and your worth to the club. 
 


So in 2005, after only 5 years in the Yankee system, Navarro was given a second chance as he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers to help behind the plate before prospect Russell Martin would man the dish for the men in blue. Navarro did his best in Spring Training in Florida and actually made the decision difficult for the team in choosing him over Martin as the Dodgers Opening Day catcher. But Navarro got an awful start and soon Martin was there breathing down his neck wanting playing time.

 
 

 

 

So after a period of time, the Dodgers decided that he would not be as adequate as a back up catcher and traded him along with pitcher Jae Seo and outfield Justin Ruggiano on June 26, 2006 to the Tampa Bay Rays for catcher Toby Hall and pitcher Mark Hendrickson. Navvaro came into the Rays lineup trying to prove too much too soon to the Rays and almost cost him his chance to start with the team in 2006. The team brought in experienced catcher Josh Paul, who had played with Rays Manager Joe Maddon with the Los Angeles Angels to push Navarro to that next step. 
 

 

Navarro did not hit well in the first half of the season, only posting a .177 average and had the Rays discussing his future with the team. But during the All-Star break, something finally clicked for Navarro and he posted the third best average after the All-Star break in the American League for a catcher ( .285). He also seemed to be able to execute a solid and hard throw to second base on steal attempts. In 2007, he also lead the major leagues in errors by a catcher with 14. Even with his great second half, Navarro was only able to post a modest .227 average for the season.

 

 


 

 

 But good things were on the horizon for Navarro. In a series against Seattle, Navarro gunned down speedster Ichiro twice stealing in consecutive games.  Navarro also upped his ante in slugging at the plate, posting  a .475 Slugging Percentage, which was the third best total in the majors for a catcher after the break. But in September 2007, Navarro began to experience pain in his right throwing wrist and he batted the rest of the season from the right side of the plate, limiting his switch-hitting skills. 2007 ended on a high note for Navarro, and he finally felt that he could lead the Rays behind the plate.



 

 


During the off season, Navarro participated in the Venezuelan Winter League leading his team with a .312 batting average. Navarro came into Spring Training camp in 2008 with a renewed confidence and a slimmer body as he dropped weight while playing in his home country and came into camp in better shape than before for the Rays. He also knew this was the turning point year for him as Maddon and the pitching staff would be taking their keys more from Navarro and he was up to the challenge. 
 


In 2008, Navarro’s batting average was consistently sitting around .300 the entire year. Only during a small slump in August when he hit for a .187 average and allowed his overall average to fall below the .300 mark, before finally settling in at .295 for the year. Still, that average was only 2nd among American League catcher to Minnesota’s Joe Mauer’s  American League batting title .330 average.  Navarro also had personal bests in almost every category but one. He did not steal a single base in 2008, and was caught 5 times during the year and the playoffs. But his 54 RBI’s were 10 more than he posted in 2007, and his timely hitting did produce amazing results for the Rays.  But his greatest hitting moment had to be in Toronto on May 8th, when he came up in the 13th inning with the bases loaded and hit a Grand Slam off ex-Rays Shawn Camp into the right-center field stands to give the Rays a victory over the Blue Jays.




 

 


In September. he batted .317 , including a career best 9-game hitting streak.  And on September 4th, during the night time half of a doubleheader he tied his career best with 4 hits in the game. He continued to produce for the Rays hitting a walk-off game winning single on September 16th against the Red Sox’s Justin Masterson to give the Rays their 11th walk-off win of the year.  And on July 6th, got notice of his selection to the American League All-Star game as a reserve catcher. 
 


In making the All-Star roster, Navarro became the first Rays catcher and the 4th youngest Ray to ever appear in the mid-summer classic. Navarro came in late in the contest and lead the American League to their victory by getting a 15th inning single that was part of the American League’s winning rally.  He caught a total of 8 innings in the game, and threw out 1 of 2 base runners.  But it was his familiarity with pitcher Scott Kazmir that finally got the win for the American League. Kazmir was the last pitcher out of the Bullpen, and because Navarro was his catcher, it created an instant confidence and relaxed atmosphere to take the game away from the National League in the bottom of the 14th inning.



 


 

 

Navarro also paced the Rays during the playoffs in 2008. He hit a robust .293, with 5 RBI’s and made several great plate blocks to get runners during the post season. He truly showed that he was becoming one of the best catcher in the American League and was learning to take control of this young starting pitching staff. But one adventure on April 4th in New York city almost cost him the chance to lead the Rays. While in Yankee Stadium for the game, Navarro cut his throwing hand on the netting in front of the dugout after slipping on the wet stairs leading to the dugout. 
 

 

He missed a total of 16 games for the team as he healed, but stayed alert and active working with the other catchers on the bench. This adventure almost took his season away from him, but after that he helped lead the Rays to a  record of 88-54 after coming off the disabled list on April 22nd. But that would not be the last time that Navarro would face adversity in 2008. During a televised game in Arlington,Texas on June 10th, the audience and his team mate saw the young, quiet catcher become a team leader. 



 


 

 

During the game, Rays starting pitcher Matt Garza got off to a rocky start and beginning to get angry and frustrated on the mound. During one mound conference the television audience could see that Garza was yelling into his glove out of frustration at Navarro and Navarro stood his ground and gave it right back to Garza. After the inning was over, both players had a short tussle in the landing leading from the dugout, but came out for the next inning and performed amazingly as if nothing had happened. That was the day the Rays got a veteran catcher who was going to lead his team to the playoffs.
 

 

Several members of the team expressed amazement that Navarro went after Garza with such confidence, but welcomed the sight as the killer instinct taking hold of him and sparking him to action. I know I felt that the event actually did more good for Navarro than he imagined at the moment. But from that point on, it seemed that Garza and the rest of the young staff followed Navarro’s lead and it got them into the World Series.  Behind the plate, Navarro also had one of his best seasons as a catcher.

 


 

 

In 2008, he carried a 984 fielding average in 2008, a huge improvement over 2007. And in that span, he did not commit his first error until July 1st, in his 428th chance.  He also was ranked 4th in the American League among catcher for the year, and was 2nd in the AL, and 3rd in the majors throwing out runners with a 34.8 percent success rate.  Among A L catcher with at least 100 games player, only Cleveland’s Kelly Shoppach     ( 36 ), also an ex-Yankee, allowed less stolen bases than Navarro’s 42 in 2008.



 


 

 

So as the statistics and the facts show, Navarro stepped forward in 2008 to help both the Rays lead the American League East champs to the World Series, but also step up as a clubhouse leader. He showed that the promise he had in 2000 was still alive and well in him and he brought it out for the entire league to see both during the All-Star game and in the 2008 playoffs. So is it enough for him to garnish a salary of over $ 2 million a year. In comparison with A L catcher, who have gotten arbitration raises in the last two years, he is in the top of the list.

 

 


 I can see the Rays losing this arbitration hearing, but it really is not a loss for them. They will still have the services of the young rising star in 2008, and he is ready to go for the Rays. I can see an award of at least $ 2.5 million dollars coming out of his arbitration hearing, and might see more if they arbitrator feels he low-balled his offer. Either way, the Rays will get  the playoff experience and confidence to go higher in 2009. Navarro might not be the household name anymore in New York, but in Tampa Bay, he is the shining star behind the plate gleaming and beaming with a smile.
 
 
 
 
 

Rays Win Last Gameof the Season in 11th Inning

 

Rays 8, Tigers 7

 

I was glad to see that Rays Manager Joe Maddon let Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi take out the lineup card today before the game. I have known Scott now for about 8 years and I know of no one else in the organization who has done more and wished more for every pitcher who has graced the mound at the Trop. From the late Joe Kennedy and Cory Lidle, to David Price and Mitch Talbot, Cursi has warmed them all up and made sure they were up to the task of pitching for the Rays. 

 He is one of the unsung heros of that Bullpen that most fans would never know die to his low key demeanor and style. But he ia also a viable reason alot of these guys feel so calm and secure going out to the mound. He is the silent Bullpen Coach. And the honor today was fitting for one of the Rays hardest workers over the last 10 years.

 

                      

I am saddened to know that after today’s game, Detroit Tigers’ Pitching Coach Chuck Hernandez was let go by the team. Hernandez was with the Rays in the minor league system before finally coming up tho the major league level and leading the team in t lean years. He was here in the infant days of Scott Kazmir, and as a leftie, he could illustrate and teach Kazmir about the tough job of a lefty in today’s game. I know who ever get this great coach next season will see how fast this guy can fine tune and turn a Bullpen into a winner.

I also want to alert fans of an upcoming video to be shown in the Rays Playoff games. The video will be members of Maddon’s Maniacs, that group that first brought the cowbell into a cult status at the Trop. You might know them more by their bright yellow shirts with the screaming baseball that looks like Rays Manager, Jow Maddon. This group was formed several years ago to act as a cheering conglomerate in their sections of the stadium.  So look for the video on the Jumbotron during the Playoff games, and Go Rays!!!!!!!

 

Rays 8, Tigers 7

 

                               

James Shields

It was just a formality that Rays starter James Shields even hit the mound today. The Rays were using the start as a stretching out period to get Shields some work before he starts the Rays first Playoff game in the Trop. next Thursday. Shields came out and threw 10 pitches in his 1 inning of work and got the Tigers to go down 1-2-3. All 3 outs were on ground balls and were alternated between the 3 infield positions.

 

Mitch Talbot

Talbot is in the mix as one of the guys the Rays were going to discuss before deciding if he was to be on the team’s first ALDS  25-man roster. After today’s performance, I have a feeling that the young rightie will have thrown his last pitch this season for the Rays. It has been a wild season for Talbot, first brought up for 48 hours before heading again for the Triple-A Durham Bulls. In today’s relief appearance, he never looked calm or in control on the mound.

Talbot had an eventless 2nd inning as the Tigers went again down 1-2-3. But in the 3rd inning, the tide began to turn for the young pitcher. Brandon Inge hit a smoker down the leftfield line into the corner and ended up with a double, with no outs in the inning. Inge moved to 3rd on a Wild Pitch by Talbot. Ramon Santiago then walked to put men on the corners for the Tigers. Curtis Granderson then took a 2-1 count the deposited the ball into the leftfield stands for a 3-run homer, and put the Tigers up 3-0.

In the 4th inning, Talbot had a few control issues and gave up 5 walks in the inning. Edgar Renteria singled to right to lead off . After Dusty Ryan flied out to center, Inge, Santiago,Granderson ans Gary Sheffield all walked to scored 2 runs in the inning. With those runs crossing the board, Talbot was done for the day. In his 2.1 innings of work, Talbot gave up 5-runs on 5-hits, and gave up 5 walks on 71 pitches for the Rays.

 

Rays Bullpen

The Rays Bullpen then combined to post 4.2 innings of scoreless work lead by  Rookie David Price going the first 1.2 innings and striking out 2 batters.  After Price, Dan Wheeler came on for 1 inning and posted 2 strikeouts and 2 walks in his time on the mound. With today’s appearance, Wheeler now has 4 straight years of at least 70 appearances in a game.  His 26 holds is tops on the Rays, and 4 short of the AL lead held by the Angels’ Scott Shields.

Then Troy Percival came on and got a hitless inning to boost his chances of being added to the post season roster.  Percival has been on notice that Maddon wanted to see a effort and control during his last  appearance this season. In his last 8 appearances, Percival has not been too impressive, he has given up 7-hits and 9-runs in 5.1 innings of work.  Opponent’s are hitting only .188 against him this year, good enough for 7th in the AL. Trever Miller then came on in the 8th inning and pitched another scoreless frame for the Rays.

 

                          

Edwin Jackson

Then in the 9th inning, Maddon inserted usual Rays starter Edwin Jackson to close out the game for the team. Jackson started the 9th by throwing some hard stuff around 96 M.P.H. plus against the Tigers.  But Sheffield ended up hitting a single into rightfield to lead off the inning for the Tigers. Magglio Ordonez then hit a 2-run homer on a 2-2 pitch to left to tie the game at 7-7 and send the game into extra innings. Jackson ended up pitching 2 innigs and gave up 4-hits and 2-runs, while throwing 43 pitches.  The homer gave Jackson his first blown save of the year.

 

            

 

Powerful 5th inning

 In the end, Jackson ended up winning the game when the Rays won the game in the 11th inning. With the win, Jackson joined fellow starters former Rays Rolando Arroyo and James Shields as the only Rays starters to win 14 games in a season. The win was Jackson’s second in the week and puts him at 14-12 for the season. This is a massive improvement over the 5-15 he posted last season.

 

In the first 4 innings of today’s game, the Rays went down in order and did not seem to have the offensive firepower today. But in the 5th inning, the Rays began to attack Tigers starter Zack Miner. Rocco Baldelli hit  a leadoff homer 423 feet to centerfield to put the Rays finally on the board. Willy Aybar the hit a double into the leftfield corner to put another Rays into scoring position. After 1 quick outs, Eric Hinske hit a 2-run shot to rightfield  402 feet over the scoreboard to bring the Rays to within 2 runs, 6-4.

 

         

 

Big 8th Inning Rally

In the 8th inning, the Rays sent 9 men to the plate and scored 4 runs to Rays up 7-5 in the game. The inning began with John Jason hitting a ball throught the hole between short and thrid for a single. Then Dan Johnson hit a liner about 15 feet off the ground to put 2 rays on base with no outs. Fernando Perez then walked on 8 pitches to load the bases for the Rays. Jonny Gomes then hit a ball that went over centerfielder Curtis Granderson’s head and over the wall for a Ground Rule Double.

Gomes got 2 RBI’s on the play. Aybar then walked after Baldelli struck out to give the Rays a man on with 1 out. Ben Zobrist then hit a grounder to right to score Perez and move Gomes to third base and Aybar to second base and Zobrist to first to load the bases again for the Rays. Ruggiano then struck out, and Hinske walked to score Gome and leave the bases loaded for Jaso.  Jaso  was till at the plate when Aybar was called out on a runner’s choice for the 3rd out of the inning. But the score was now 7-5 Rays.

In the 10th inning, with the scored tied, Gomes tried to turn his single into a double and was tagged out at second for the 1st out in the inning. The play was a bit too aggressive, but Gomes could have gotten the base if he slide to the infield side of the bag.  Aybar hit a screwamer into foul territory down the rightfield line that Mike Joyce caught for the third out.

 

             

 

Ben Zobrist

For the game, Zobrist went 2-5 with 2 RBI’s and a run scored for the team. But it was his solo homer in the 11th inning that sealed the win for the Rays. Zobrist has now hit 4 homers in 4 games against the Tigers this weekend.  In hitting his 12th homer of the season, Zobrist is showing a new power aspect to his game that was not there last season for the Rays.  His 12 homers this season have come in only 198 at bats for the Rays.

 

         

 

ALDS Opponent

The Rays might not know their opponent in the ALDS until maybe Tuesday because of the make-up game tomorrow between the DEtroit Tigers and the Chicago White Sox. The White Sox have to win that contest to advance into a one-game playoff for the AL Central division title against the Minnesota Twins.

If the White Sox do lose tomorrow, the Minnesota Twins will be the Rays opponent when they start the divisional series on Thursday at Tropicana Field. If the White Sox win both contests, they will represent the AL Central in St. Petersburg, Florida.

 

Apology

 

For some reason I have a mental block some night and get Ben Zobrist’s name wrong.  I want to send a apology through my  blog that it is not intentional, and I love your mohawk a bit more than Trever Millers’. Zobrist has been on fire lately, and I have smoldered a bit by messing up his name.  I am sorry Ben, and I will try and not let it happen again. 

Rays Lose Third Straight to Tigers

 

Tigers 4, Rays 3

 

If Rays fans remember, right before the end of the first half/All-Star break we also had a bit of a losing season and naysayer were predicting that the Rays were about to feel the heat of the closing in Boston Red Sox. We got through that debacle and came out like a rose winning the A L East last night.

 

 I think we are having the same kind of mental laspe and fatigue we suffered in that series versus the Cleveland Indians. If you remember, we came out of the All-Star break on fire and ready to be the dragonslayers of the world. I am of the mind that it is good to sometimes lose right before you need your big wins. It gets you into another mental state, and actually transfixes you on the goal at hand……..to win the ALDS in 4 games.

 

Not know who we will play is not a big thing. We have played the teams in the A L central enough to know that they will both be good opponents for us.  If I had to pick a opponent, I would pick the Chicago White Sox. I know we have had trouble with their lefty pitchers this year, but I also know that we can beat them at U.S. Celluar Field. We did win that series 2-1 earlier in the year, and I honestly think that we match up better with them for a series win.

 

To play against the Minnesota Twins so soon after out homestand debacle might work more into the Twin’s favor than into the Rays. We might have an excuse for the Sunday game (hangover city), but the 3 games played before that day were so closely contested that it was a crapshoot every night as to who might take control of the game. And their lefties also played a few numbers on our guys. So, here to hoping that Chicago wins on Sunday and takes the Tigers to task on Monday at home to win the division and get to come to the friendly confines of the Trop. for the first 2 games.

 

Matt Garza

 

Coming into this series against the Tigers, Rays starter Matt Garza has gone 0-3 in th 4 career starts against the Tigers and has posted a 4.84 ERA against them.  The Tigers Magglio Ordonez has feasted on Garza in the past going 5-11 against him prior to this start.  Garza was making his 30th start of the season. Garza comes into the game with an Opponent’s Batting average of .246 this year, the best on the Rays staff this year.

 

In the game, Garza got off to a great start getting the Tigers to go down 1-2-3 in the 1st inning. But in the 2nd inning, on a 3-2 count, Garza hung a breaking ball that Miguel Cabrera deposited in the leftfield stands for his major league leading 37th homer of the season. Garza got out of the rest of the inning without incident. In the 3rd inning, after issuing a walk to Brandon Inge, Garza got a 3-6 double play to end the inning.

 

In the 4th inning, Ramon Santiago came up and slap a ball to the right of Garza that the pitcher picked up and 1-hopped to Dan Johnson at first base. The play pulled Johnson off the bag and Santiago was safe at first on Garza’s errant throw.  The error was only Garza’s 2nd of the year. Ordonez then got on base on a single to centerfield to put 2 runner on base for the Tigers. Rays catcher Miguel Hernandez then committed a pass ball and the runners advanced to put men on third and second with no outs in the inning.

 

Garza had a bit of bad luck on the first ball hit to leftfield in the 5th inning today. Mike Joyce hit a ball high in the air to Justin Ruggiano in left, and Ruggiano looked prepared to catch the ball for the 1st out, but it missed his glove and bounced over the outfield wall for a ground rule double. This would have been the first out of the inning. Edgar Renteria then hit a high chopper to Ben Zobrist at short and Zobrist took the play to thrid, but the tag on Joyce was not in time. This put men on the corner with no outs in the inning. Inge ten came up and hit a deep sacrifice fly to score Joyce from third and score Detroit’s 2nd run of the game.

 

Granderson then came up and hit a ball down the first baseline that Johnson fielded and threw to 2nd, ten Zobrist tried to complete the double play, but a high throw pulled Johnson off the bag. That put Granderson at first with 2 outs. Santiago then walked, and Ordonez hit a single into rightfield to score Granderson and notch the score at 3-3. For the start, Garza went 5.1 innings, and gave up 4-hits and 3-runs in the game on 74 pitches.

 

 

Jeff Niemann

 

The Rays went to the Bullpen after the top of the 6th inning, and Jeff Nieman came out to pitch for the Rays. Neimann started the inning by walking Gary Sheffield on 6 pitches. Sheffield then tried to steal 2nd base, but Hernandez overthrew the base by 10 feet and the ball sailed into centerfield. Hernandez was given an error on the play, and Sheffield was standing on third with no outs in the inning. Neimann got two quick outs before Renteria hit a double down the leftfield line and put the Tigers up for good today 4-3. Neimann got the Tigers to go down 1-2-3 in the 7th inning.

 

In the 8th inning, Cabrera lead off the inning with a double to right on an 0-2 count. Sheffeild walked for the second time in the game to put 2 men on for the Tigers.  Tiger’s catcher Dane Sardinha then came up and  put down a bunt to the right of the 6’9″ Neimann, and he slipped and fell to the turf not able to complete the out.  Neimann did get 2 quick outs to keep the Tigers from adding any runs in the inning. Niemann ended up throwing the Rays last 3 innings,and gave up 3-hits and a lone run to take the loss for the Rays. The loss evened his 2008 total to 2-2 for the year.

 

 

Ben Zobrist

 

With the Rays resting a majority of their starters’, the Rays put Ben Zobrist at short for the game. Zobrist made several key plays for outs in the contest, but it was his bat that did the most damage in the game. Zobrist went 3-4 on the day, with 1 RBI and 2 runs scored in the contest. In his first at bat, he hit a ball to shallow left-center for a single.

 

The play moved Fernando Perez, who had walked to start the game to third with no outs.  Zobrist lead off the 3rd inning with a single to deep center. And in the 5th inning, Zobrist hit his 11th homer of the year on a 1-2 count to put the Rays up 3-1 at that moment.  For this series, Zobrist has now hit 3 homers in the 3 games in Detroit. In his last 4 games, Zobrist has now gone 7-14, with 3 homers and 5 RBI’s for the Rays.

 

 

Rocco Baldelli

 

Coming into the game, Baldelli is hitting .260, and has played in 25 of the last 44 games for the Rays. He was the D.H. today for the Rays against the Tigers. Baldelli went 1-3 today, with 2 RBI’s. It was his lone hit in the 1st inning that set the pace for the Rays. After Perez and Zobrist were on 2nd and 3rd respectfully, Baldelli hit a smash that 1-hopped to the right-centerfield wall and scored both men to put the Rays up 2-0 in the game. Baldelli also got on base in the 3rd inning when Detroit starter, Dontrell Willis hit him with a pitch.

 

 

Better Defense

 

With the Rays 2 errors today, they have now committed 90 errors for the season. That currently puts them as the 4th best defesne in the American League. Even with this decrease in their defensive mistakes, the Rays are making their mistakes come back to haunt them this season. And in the playoffs, a single error can change the scopre of the game in an instant.

 

 

Twins and White Sox

 

With neither of these teams seeming to want to win the American League Central Division, it looks like the Chicago White Sox will have to conclude their season with a Monday make-up game against the Tigers.  The Twins currently lead the division by 1/2 of a game after both teams lost again today. Both teams will be playing at the same time tomorrow, and if the Twins lose and the White Sox win, it will  come down to the make-up game for the White Sox to take the title and move on to face the Rays on Thursday night at the Trop.

 

 

Cowbell Kid

 

I was on my Myspace page today and got a bulletin from the Cowbell Kid. He was urging fans who might have an extra ticket to share to contact him and he will buy it from you. He was unable to get a ticket through the regular channels and was hoping a generous Rays fan would help him out. He is willing to pay for the ticket and maybe give you a Cowbell lesson.

 

Seriously, I might not agree with the guy on a few issues, but he is a fixture at the stadium and should enjoy it with the rest of us regulars.  And, I feel he has toned himself down a bit in the last few months to the point of everyone loving him again, even the old ladies in the front row.

 

So if you have an extra ticket and think you can spare it for the guy, go to his Myspace page and let him know as soon as possible. He would really appreciate it……………. 

 

 

 

 

Rays Get Clobbered in First Act 13-5

 

 

Red Sox 13, Rays 5

 

I have always loved to write about sports. When I was a lot younger, I idolized the guys like Tom McEwen and Bob Chick of the Tampa Tribune.  I wanted to be able to ask that tough question right after a bad loss, or be there for the celebration of a magnificent win. I did get to do both of those, but I was on the other side of the pen and paper. This is the time that the hard questions have to be asked. That the players’, coaches’ and team officials have to be honest with themselves before the press gets into the locker room.

They all have to ask themselves the worst questions in the world right now. “Are we ready for all this?”, “Was this a stumble, or a prelude to a fall?”  All these questions and more will dig into your psyche and erode a level of your confidence. But, they have to be asked to cleanse yourself of a game like this. When you have a game that put doubts in people’s minds you have to re-evaluate yourself a bit here.

It is nothing personal. It is not a frontal or rear attack on your character, but people are curious about the smallest cracks in the armor. Rays Manager Joe Maddon is very mystical when he chats sometimes with the media. His “Joe-isms” have become buzzwords in the league this year.  I was not there for the post-game press conference, but I can imagine that last night, Maddon simply said that the Rays will play another day, and that this game is behind them and they will regroup for the next one.   They will play another day for the next 13 days, but what happens tomorrow could effect what is on the table after September 28th.

 

Red Sox 13, Rays 5

 

 

                        

 

 

Scott Kazmir

I am going to get this out of the way fast and furious today. I know of no other guy in that locker room who has called out teammates, and said comments that were meant to pull his team up, or question heart and hustle on this team than Kazmir.  He is the first player to even say the “P” word, and this was during Spring Training.

For the Rays to get to the playoffs, it will need a confident Kazmir. It will need the guy who has been balls to the wall for the last 3 years. Who has carried this team on his pitching arm for so long. It will need the youngest of the teams 5 starting warriors to again  mount up and battle to the death. We are too close to the prize now to become an afterthought. And if you believe it or not, Kazmir is the key to that journey.

 

 

 

 

Jaso gets First Hit

It was a great sight to sit there in the Trop. last night and see John Jaso come up to bat. Here is the guy everyone was thinking could replace Dioner Navarro as the Rays catcher in the near future. Jaso came on to pinch hit in that wild 7th inning and got a nice grounder to right-center for his first major league hit.

 The Red Sox almost put the ball back into the pitchers hands before First Base Coach George Hendricks asked for the ball. You will want to keep that one John.  Jaso then went behind the plate to finally get his feet wet at this level as a catcher. He should get used to this staff, because he will be catching them more next year as Navarro’s back-up. And, in the great at bat in the 7th, he also got to cross home plate for the first time on Justin Ruggiano’s homer to right for his first run scored in the majors.

 

 

                  

 

 

Kazmir,Part 2

Scott Kazmir is the youngest member of our starting rotation, but he is also the Rays all time leader in Strikeouts, ERA, Innings Pitched, and Quality Starts( 61).  Now Kazmir might be the all-time leader in quality starts, but last night will be the top entry in his bottom 5 all time games. I have always watched the Bullpen warm-ups of our starters for years from my seat in 138, and I have noticed a subtle change to Kazmir’s warm-ups the last few starts.

Scott used to be a big “long toss” guy. that is where you start about 30 feet from each other tossing soft to loosen the muscles and proceed outward at intervals before coming back in the same way and then throwing off the mound. Scott used to get to a maximum of about 250 feet away from the catcher and wing a few balls to deep stretch out his muscles. I have only seen him go maybe 100 feet,125 tops in the last few starts at home. Could this small change in his pre-game routine not have him loose enough by the time he hits the pitching rubber?

I will try and get with him on the side soon and see if this is just a change in routine because of the time of the year and he has a bit of arm fatigue that hits every pitcher sometime during the season. Whatever it is, it sure came at the wrong time for the Rays.

Scott had his worst outing of the year and threw 72 pitches in those 3 innings of work last night. And for Kazmir to give up 9-hits and 6 runs in that span is something he has never done while he has been with the Rays. Time that with his previous worst start giving up a few homers  was a  3 homers against  start against the Baltimore Orioles on April 6,2006. Last Night Kazmir gave up 4 in just those 72 pitches.

Something that also came to light was the fact that he did not hit his spots in his first 9 pitches to the plate. That set up another sub-par Kazmir event of walking the first two batters of the night. Kazmir did not hit his worst walk totals last night, but the 4 he did give up were not spaced out enough to give him any comfort room for error in the game.

 

 

 

 

 

Aki to the Rescue

Akinora Iwamura made this crowd cheer last night. With the Rays already down 4-0, Aki hit a nice blast into the left off of Daisuke Masuzaka that breathed a bit of life into the Trops crowd. It was only Aki’s 6th homer of the year, but it was an important blast at a moment that the Rays faithful had their heads down a bit.  4of his 6 homers have come against Boston this season.

Justin Ruggiano’s 2nd homer of the year in the 6th inning against Red Sox reliever Chris Smith. His 2-run blast put the score at 13-3 and looked like the Rays were going to try a bit of a rally in the inning.  But after his blast, Hinske and Gomes went down in order for the Rays. Dan Johnson wishes we still had 16 games against the Red Sox. In his two games against Boston, Johnson has hit 2 homers out, and seems very comfortable at the plate for the Rays.

 

 

Talbot Gets Rude Debut

Poor Mitch Talbot. He got to see another team earlier in the week celebrate on his home stadium’s turf, and tonight the Boston Red Sox ruined his major league debut by pounding the ball all over the Trop. on him. Talbot came in to relieve Kazmir in the 4th inning, with no outs, and gave up run scoring plays to Dustin Perdroia and David Ortiz and a homer to Kevin Youkilis before settling down and getting the next two batters out to end the inning.

He had a better 5th inning until Jacoby Ellsbury hit a homer to right for the only score of the inning. Talbot was in control of the Red Sox until the Youkilis came up again in the 6th inning and doubled home Chris Carter to tack on the 13th and final run of the night. 

 

 

Jason Bay

Oh how Andrew Friedman must be pacing and thinking “what ifs” about Jason Bay right now. Bay was the Pittsburgh outfielder the Rays coveted in the Trade Deadline before the Red Sox swooped in and grabbed him right before the clock struck 12.  You got to even wonder yourself, what if?

As you remember, he is the guy who beat the Rays with a extra inning homer in the Pittsburgh/Rays series in Riverfront. He is the guy who  homered on September 9th off Dan Wheeler in the 8th inning to bring Boston back in that game. And he is the guy who set into motion Edwin Jacksons bad 1st inning in the first game of that last Boston Series on Sept. 8th by hitting a 2-run homer to put the Red Sox up 3-0 in that game.

This is the guy that many Rays fan envisioned playing our Right Field for a few years with the determination and spunk needed to be a Rays. Instead, we get to watch this guy who is now 5-11 in his last 3 games, and as hit safely in 30 out of 40 games since being acquired from the Pirates. It is beginning to look like Bay is the true “one that got away” from the Rays.

 

 

Yankees Take the Night Cap Against The Rays

 

 

Yankees 6, Rays 5

 

By winning the first game today, the Rays have vanquished the New York Yankees plans to embarrass us again with a sweep in the 3 game series. As you might remember, before the All-Star break, we came inot the Bronx and were tossed around a bit before leaving town for Boston and getting kicked a few more times up there.

 

Today starts a streak where the Rays will be playing 16 games in 15 days, with another doubleheader planned for the last series in Baltimore on Tuesday, September 23rd.  With boston losing the first game to Toronto today, it puts the Rays back up 2 games  above the Boston Red Sox.  It also reduces the Rays number to make it into the playoff to 9 games.

 

 Rays Magic Number:        14

This is the combined number of Rays wins and Boston losses to secure their first A L East Crown.

 

            

 

During the early parts of this second game in the doubleheader against the New York Yankees, Rays starter, Matt Garza did not look comfortable on the mound . Garza’s focus was not great tonight and it got him in early trouble against the Yankees.  Garza led off the game by walking Brett Gardner on 4 pitches. Derek Jeter then came up and set down a sacrifice bunt in front of the plate that was handled by Garza. Garza threw a low throw to first that was scooped by Carlos Pena for the force out, but the play moved Gardner into scoring position at second  base.

 

He then walked Bobby Abreu on  6 pitches to put men on the corners for the Yankees.  After a  Garza balk moved both men into scoring position, Alex Rodriguez hit a sacrifice fly to centerfield that Fernando Perez had to make a leaping catch for the out. Gardner tagged up at third base and scored to put the Yankees up 1-0. For the night, Garza went  5 innings and gave up 6-hits for 3-runs. He threw 83 pitches on the night. Garza’s lack of control got him an equal 3 walks and 3 strikeouts in the game.

 

                              

 

The night did not turn out any better for the Rays in the 2nd innig as Ben Zobrist lost a Robinson Cano looper down the leftfield line to lead off the inning. Cano did not harm the Rays in that inning, getting stranded on second to end the inning.

 

              

 

During the 4th inning, Wilson Betemit hit a Garza 2-seamer to rightfield for a solo shot to pull the Yankees within 2 runs of the Rays, 4-2. Garza seemed still upset about the homer as he pitched to Ivan Rodriguez.  Rodriguez then singled to left on the first pitch from Garza. 

During Cody Ransom’s at bat, Rays catcher Dioner Navarro tried to throw out Rodriguez stealing second, but threw the ball to the right of Akinora Iwamura and into centerfield. Rodriguez advanced to third on the throwing error by Navarro.  Rodrigues scored on a  Brett Gardner grounder to second to put the Yankees within one run 4-3.

 

In the top of the 4th inning, the Rays scored  4 runs and went ahead of the Yankees 4-1.  Navarro lead off the inning by walking on 6 pitches.  Gabe Gross the hit a liner to rightfield for a single and put Navarro in scoring position at second base. Perez then hit into a 1-4  play to force Gross out at second base. 

 

 Akinora Iwamura then walked on 4 pitches to load the bases for the Rays. Ben Zobrist then came up with the bases loaded.  Zobrist then hit a 1-2 pitch for his 8th homer of the year, and his seond Grand Slam of the season. Zobrist hit a Grand Slam on August 29th against the Baltimore Orioles in the 4th inning of that contest.

 

J P Howell came on to pitch in the bottom of the 6th inning and put the Yankees down 1-2-3 in the inning. In the 7th inning, the Rays began to unravel a bit behind Howell when Jeter reached on a infield single to third that Aybar could not handle. The next batter, Bobby Abreu, hit a ball to Zobrist at short that Zobrist threw towards the second base side of the bag and beyond the reach of Iwamura. The ball went sailing into rightfield and Gabe Gross was given an error on his over running of the ball in rightfield.

 

Jeter ended up scoring on the overthrow and Abreu advanced to second on Gross’s outfield mistake. This put Abreu in scoring position, and the Yankees and the Rays were tied 4-all at this point.  Carlos Pena then went for a foul ball on the firstbaseline near the infield tarp and appeared to have the catch before falling in between the tarp and the stadium wall and losing the ball out of his glove.

 

Abreu moved to third on a wild pitch by Grant Balfour during Xavier Nady’s at bat. Nady then hit a ball up the middle and scored Abreu from third to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead in the game. Robinson Cano then  came up and hit the bag at third and it settles near the foul line for another double in the inning. Betemit then struck out swinging to end the inning for the Yankees.

 

 

The Yankees then got an insurance run in the 8th inning off  Rays reliever Chad Bradford.  Cody Ransom reached base on a infield single to shortstop that Zobrist could not get to first in time for the out.  Gardner then hit into a fielder’s choice, taking out Ransom at second base. Gardner then stole second on the 2nd pitch to Jeter. Jeter ended up walking on 6 pitches and set up men at second and first for Abreu.  Abreu then hit a blooper single to rightfield thast scored Gardner and put the Yankees up for good, 6-4.

 

The Rays came out in the top of the 9th against Mariano Riveria and gave a valiant effort to tie this contest. Gabe Gross lead off the inning with a single to leftfield. Gross ended up going 3-3 on the night for the Rays.  Fernando Perez then popped out on a bunt single to the pitcher for the first out. 

 

In 3 innings tonight, the Rays Bullpen gave up 3 runs on 5 hits, and only one of those runs was a earned run tonight.  In his 1.2 innings, Howell did the most damage tonight by getting 4 strikeouts in the game. It is one of the first times in a while that the Rays Bullpen did not hold the lead for the Rays.

 

                                

 

 Aki then struck out on three pitches before Evan Longoria came up as a pinch-hitter for Zobrist. Longoria hit a RBI single to rightfield, scoring Gross and pulling the Rays within 1 run, 6-5.  Justin Ruggiano then hit into a 6-3 force out to ends the game for the Rays.

 

                          

 

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